EXN’s EP is just as her artwork promised: an upside down head, bright colors, and five q’s all at different angles, looking like knobs. Unlike her name which stands for “dreary” or “bleak” in Korean (을씨년), [QQQQQ] is colorful and quirky. Paired with the three music videos that are equally playful, the EP as a whole is a fun introduction to singer-rapper EXN.
The EP kicks off with a groovy bass line. EXN starts singing in English, asking “What do you know about this? What do you know about this one?” Her voice is nasally and sounds lightly processed or distorted, a vocal color that I didn’t expect but adds interesting texture to the instrumental that’s overall smooth.
The smooth groove of the previous song continues in “REVERSE.” The track is more padded than “EXN’s QUESTION” and has bits that are fun to listen to, like an arpeggiator that weaves between left and right ear and snippets of a conversation that you can’t quite understand.
The music video for “REVERSE” reminds me of an 80’s coming of age film with the lighting and stylistic choices. In it, EXN is a student wishing to be a musician, which she gets a chance to do when she flips a pancake. It’s a music video that matches the vibe of the song well and also shows us that EXN likes to have fun.
Scared Straight / 무서운 게 딱! 좋아
The Korean title of this track translates to “I really like scary things.” This is reflected only in the beginning of the song which starts with drums but also the sound of someone dragging something over a hard surface. It’s slightly unsettling but before lingering on how that feels, there’s other ASMR-like sounds like tapping different surfaces.
And then the song shifts away from that space towards something that’s bouncy and almost childlike. The melody of Scared Straight is more conversational and has cheeky moments where EXN literally asks “What is this? What is it?”
I was surprised to see that EXN herself created the animation for the music video. It’s a cheeky thing, starting by announcing that “This video is scary” in English, Korean, and Japanese. But it’s not scary like a horror film; it’s more like Coraline or Courage the Cowardly Dog, a lightly grotesque but still somehow cute style of art.
Law of Gravity
The EP suddenly slows down with “Law of Gravity,” which starts with what I think is a sample paired with a wobbly synth that makes me think of outer space. After a robotic voice says “Gravity,” EXN starts singing, saying “I don’t have any breakfast, I don’t have any break.” The soundscape feels like it’s trodding along.
But the second time the robotic voice announces “gravity,” it’s as if the song literally loses gravity, like the thicker instrumental just flies apart into blobs of sound. After this, the song becomes more involved with pieces of ear candy scattered throughout as it bounces between tempos and as EXN switches between singing and rapping.
It makes a lot of sense to have a music video for this song and EXN didn’t disappoint. Set in a futuristic world, it features EXN working in an office that’s literally a cube in a machine that eventually is ejected into the ocean. It’s weird but works with the song and is yet another different style from the previous two music videos.
Law of Cooling
After the experience of Law of Gravity, this song gives a bit of space to breathe while still having clever EXN touches. “Law of Cooling” is the most straightforward track in the EP. It’s also the only track to use hi hats, a more traditional hip hop instrument, in the chorus, which cut through the murky instrumental well.
The EP could have ended with “Law of Cooling.” It’s lowkey and ends with a dreamy touch.
But it doesn’t. Instead, it ends on the song that EXN first released: “EXN’s ANSWER.”
Continuing from the dreamy ending of Law of Cooling, the final track on the EP starts likewise, which made me think that the track would be similar to it. There’s a warm synth as EXN sings something that sounds like “Do you hear it?” But then there’s a crowd counting down and then, fifteen seconds in, EXN swerves.
“I don’t like showing cool things,” she raps over a beat that incorporates sounds from video games. The beat changes once again as she sings in the hook:
“Can’t do, i chill as like a fire
Can’t do, i chill as i like
Can’t do, i chill as I like, ay shit”
And then she goes back to the beat, this time riffing off of word play between the words art and alcohol. Matching the crisscrossing puns, the track also has fun sounds mixed in like water, a text notification, and more video game sounds. Paired together, it’s a riot of texture and sound that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Right as the track slows down to an electric piano and a drum, EXN takes us for one last spin with a sudden key change. But as we’re finally adjusting to the new key, the track ends along with her voice.
Ending with “EXN’s ANSWER” is making a statement. It made me finish the EP reeling from the abrupt ending. By saving a dynamic track like that for the end, the lasting impression is that EXN is glittering, clever, and someone to anticipate.
This is a strong start for EXN’s career and through the music and the music videos, she’s done a good job in showing her artistry and style. Each track had clever sounds mixed in that was fun to notice on various listens and kept me engaged. The EP feels like a promise that what comes next will be equally fun and weird and I’ll definitely be tuning in to see what’s next.