Critic’s Corner: Far East Movement – Free Wired

Yes, we know this album is 5 months old. But we’re still digging ourselves out of the perpetual backlog of album reviews and we definitely couldn’t leave out one of the most significant releases in years for the AA music scene. Free Wired is the album that helped propel the Far East Movement from the “up and coming” stage they have been at for years to the “they’ve made it big” stage where you can hardly go a day in public without hearing one of their songs. So is Free Wired the result of great marketing and luck? Or is it truly worth the mass exposure and recognition that it’s gotten?

Free Wired marks the major label debut for the quartet known as the Far East Movement. Before signing on with Interscope/Cherrytree, they were doing the independent grind – releasing numerous albums and mixtapes through their former management Catch Music. At that point in their careers, they achieved some regional success on the west coast but it wasn’t until they had major backing did they blow up on an international scale; namely via the two main singles of this album, “Like a G6” and “Rocketeer“. In fact you’d be hard pressed NOT to hear either of those songs at least a couple times in a week; as they have received constant radio spins and placements in TV shows and ads alike. This is all in good reason since they are incessantly catchy and well crafted pop singles with the former relying on incredible production (courtesy of The Stereotypes) and the latter featuring a dependable hit maker, Ryan Tedder of One Republic.

But Tedder isn’t the only high-profile feature, as Snoop Dogg & Keri Hilson (among others) make appearances on “If I Was You (OMG)” and “Don’t Look Now” respectively.  Both are strong dance tracks (of which there are many on this release), however I did find it odd that Snoop was only present for the sung hook which seemed like a half-hearted effort. Stylistically, much of the album follows the same mold, making heavy use of synths and high energy electronica influenced beats. After a while, some of the songs blend together with cuts like “White Flag” and “Fighting for Air” struggling to differentiate themselves from the pack by the end the LP. It’s for this reason that I found “So What?” to be a pleasant change of pace, relying more on percussion and bass over melodic synths; it’s a little more Hip-Hop and less Electro-hop. Lastly, while “Girls on the Dance Floor” was a very strong single a couple years ago, its inclusion here feels like an afterthought- thrown into the mix to get a few more spins out of FM’s newly widened audience.

If you were to view this album as a DJ set, then this is a high-octane, non-stop dance mix. As a whole, the album feels very cohesive and focused; more so than any other release from FM. They’ve dove completely head first into the electro-hop genre, catering nearly every song to the dance club crowd and aiming for that mass appeal. In the process, I’ve seen their music gain more and more breadth but lose depth over the years… and this is the epitome of that – heavy on style but light on substance. That being said, it’s a fun album and overall better than their last effort (which in hindsight we would knock down a point to 7.5).

But what makes this album especially notable is that this is arguably the biggest splash any Asian-American act has made on the public pop-culture consciousness. Whether their impact and influence will have any longevity remains to be seen but it’s a very good start. Culturally, this may very well be the most important release for Asian-American artists in breaking down barriers that have largely kept us out of the scene for a long time. The fact that so much significance is placed on a “party album” is interesting, causing me to wonder. Perhaps instead of complaining about mass media not allowing us to break through, we should have just invited everyone to come hang out and have some fun.

Must Listen: Like a G6; Rocketeer; So What?; Don’t Look Now

aTunes score8/10

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