Debuts are always exciting, offering the chance for a rookie act to paint the first brushstrokes of what might become their sound. Beyond the hope for a strong, quality track, a debut is free from the kind of crushing expectations that can sometimes derail the comeback of more established artists. I went into A.C.E’s Cactus (선인장) without knowing anything about the guys. And while the track hasn’t quite converted me into an instant fan, its adventurous nature definitely piques my interest.
Cactus crams more ideas into its three-and-a-half minutes than many k-pop songs dare to explore. Its most unusual touchstone is the sub-genre “hardstyle,” which combines a heavy, double-time kick drum with distorted electronics and bass. I don’t think I’ve ever heard this sound attempted before in a k-pop track, and its inclusion will likely polarize opinion. The noisy breakdown following Cactus‘s chorus is not for the faint of heart, and I’m still not entirely sure if it works or not.
Luckily, the rest of the track impresses with its commanding energy and dance pop smarts. The instrumental’s skittering synth creates a tense, frantic environment that balances well with the more restrained verses. The sound is bright throughout, but with an aggressive sense of catharsis that gives the song a lot of drive. This is most evident as the immense chorus sweeps in, though I wish the hardstyle beat had been brought in during this moment instead of the ensuing breakdown. Things feel just a bit too fragmented, causing Cactus‘s more left-field touches to stand out in a way that may be off-putting to some. But then again, I’d much rather have this kind of ballsy debut than yet another retread of sounds we’ve heard a million times before.