For Stray Kids, and their fans, the phrase “nine or none” is sacred. It’s a vow leader Bang Chan made on “Mixtape #4” — to move forward together, to approach obstacles as a team. But what happens when the path ahead diverges?
On their latest album Cle 2: Yellow Wood, Stray Kids find themselves at a crossroads, both lyrically and sonically. The boastful adolescent confidence of Miroh is nowhere to be found on lead single “Side Effects,” an industrial EDM track that, true to its name, unpacks the effects of such willful bravado. Self-doubt seeps over a heavy, thumping bass line, while the members confront the side effects of growing up — pain, anger, confusion, and anxiety, to name a few.
“I threw myself with trust in me,” vocalist Seungmin sings. “But why am I just being hurt?”
Like “Miroh” before it, “Side Effects” — produced by members Bang Chan, Han, and Changbin, otherwise known as 3racha — is a bold choice for a single. In fact, it’s the group’s darkest, weirdest track yet. It doesn’t follow any kind of familiar structure — there’s no real melody either — but it does take the more experimental elements of “Miroh” and amplify them: growls, chants, and electrifying spoken-word bits. In many ways, “Side Effects” is less of a song and more of an auditory experience. And the visual is equally disorienting.
Marketed as a “special album” with only two-and-a-half new songs, Cle 2: Yellow Wood feels like experiment, a place for 3racha to try different things with relatively low stakes. “TMT” is more palatable to mainstream ears, a healthy balance of hip-hop and playful EDM — with a bit of Autotune thrown in for good, stylistic measure. Meanwhile, the woefully short intro track “Road Not Taken” showcases Stray Kids’ relentless energy and boundless potential over another pulsing EDM beat. Fittingly, it’s also a song about following your own path. (Stray Kids are many things but subtle is not one of them.)
In addition to three new songs, Yellow Wood also includes the group’s four previously released mixtape tracks, featuring lyrics from all nine members. These special tracks speak to the members’ doubts and adolescent uncertainty on a more intimate level.
Overall, Yellow Wood is disjointed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the intent. True growth comes from taking risks, from facing obstacles head on — no matter how insurmountable or disorienting they appear, or how scary the path ahead looks. With “Side Effects,” Stray Kids continue to evolve as artists and creators. And in doing so, they’ve avoided the worst side effect of them all: complacency.