As the list of K-pop groups selling enough on this side of the planet to be featured on this website expands ever further, 13-member strong SEVENTEEN’s fourth studio album comes in the wake of their Western TV debut last year and the announcement of their most comprehensive tour through North America yet, set to kick off this summer. While keeping the tracklist relatively short as many groups in the genre do, it works to SEVENTEEN’s advantage – as this feels like one of the most consistent, filler-free collections of K-pop tracks from a massive act in recent memory. Impressively mostly self-produced, the often-engaging melding pot of genres and influences that characterize the genre all serve to underscore some truly memorable and catchy melodies that linger in the brain regardless of their language.
Since the often-admirable attempts to shove as many different vibes as possible into a single song can sometimes result in some jarring tonal shifts in the realm of K-pop, as long as you can get past the pretty awful one near the beginning of opening track “Darl+ing,” you’re safe for the remainder of the project as SEVENTEEN prove that they can tackle the many different areas required of them better than most of their contemporaries. The power of having a massive membership is often highlighted on projects like these – there’s always some kind of an entertaining contrast, and in moments where listeners don’t know what to expect, it’s probably going to be handled by the best person for the job. With such a strong central hook on the opener, the breathier high voice offset by a stronger baritone keeps listeners on their toes and delivers the message, the track feeling like some classic cheesy 90s boy-band material as the band deliver their first all-English single. “HOT” rides over some guitar parts straight from a Western movie as the group dive into a more hip-hop influenced song – complete with actual beatboxing. With both trap hi-hats and some old-school whoops mixed into the beat, the vocalists respond by interspersing the raps with falsetto melodies as the vocalists get involved, finally taking over during a more soft-spoken bridge.
The cowboy vibes shift a couple centuries back for the track “DON QUIXOTE,” another track where the group blends together a chorus that feels like it could have been produced during Max Martin’s 90s heyday with some heavy-percussion verses featuring some rapped vocals. The incendiary chant at its core feels like it’s tailor-made for choreography and shouted responses from an arena of thousands. While this track represents the only appearance by a big-name producer on the project in R&B wizard Tommy Brown, you might have expected him to have shown up on the more soulful “Domino,” which has a fun swung feel, a bouncy synth bassline, and experimental electronic sections that feel hyperpop-adjacent. With some of the more toned-down and charismatic raps on the project, the chorus dropping back to just the bassline proves that even in K-pop, sometimes less is more. In between these two tracks is “March,” a play at a distorted prog-rock sound that is so badly mixed it’s rather unlistenable. Adding the typical brighter synths into the muddy sludge of guitars makes for a truly overwhelming experience.
The constantly surprising mix of genres persists through until the end of the project. “Shadow” brings some drum n’ bass energy on board while dropping back for an acoustic chorus – and the moment it transitions back to the big beat is much better than it has any right to be. The tune’s not incredible at times on this one, but the highly technical raps on the back end make up for it. The track “’bout you” follows an almost identical blueprint of amped-up gospel chords as tracks like Demi Lovato’s “Sorry Not Sorry” and Chance the Rapper’s “No Problem,” but alongside the energy of a 13-member group it’s such a fun sound that it’s impossible to deny. Featuring some highly satisfying harmonics, it’s the best track of the bunch.
Things close out with “IF you leave me,” a dramatic piano ballad that allows the group’s singers to fully take the spotlight, and “Ash,” which almost feels like it was inspired by cutting-edge quirky rappers like Playboi Carti and others who profit off of “rage beats.” With vocal manipulations like they’re trying to capture the “baby voice” energy, a lot of repetition and breathless, staccato bursts of sound rather than a more connected flow, it’s a final sonic surprise to leave a lasting memory.
While quite a few of the biggest K-pop groups’ projects can fall into inconsistency due to the genre placing such a strong focus on the singles, this might be one of the rare occurrences where the deep cuts truly rise above. Playing to the strengths of each member and nailing quite a few different sounds, it’s no wonder that SEVENTEEN have joined the ranks of groups that fans are spontaneously combusting over.
Favourite Tracks: ’bout you, DON QUIXOTE, HOT, Domino, Darl+ing
Least Favourite Track: March