I’m officially pushing for rock guitar to be the defining trend of 2018. It’s an unlikely scenario, but the fact that a big name rookie group like Stray Kids seems to be using this instrument to craft their signature sound is quite promising. Of course, this being k-pop, they also have to throw in a healthy dose of aggressive hip-hop that feels slightly more anonymous. New single District 9 rises and falls on the strength of its moments, but luckily the good outweighs the bad in the end.
Let’s start with the fantastic, because that juggernaut chorus is a total keeper. Not since B.A.P’s debut year have we heard such a bombastic burst of guitar used to bolster a rookie’s sound. District 9‘s hook crashes in with single-minded intensity, unveiled with a powerful vocal courtesy of leader Chan. This energy level is telegraphed from the song’s very first moment. The song opens with a siren and never lets up, framing its goldmine chorus with sharp verses that play around with percussion as the rappers deliver a blistering performance that takes full advantage of the passion of a rookie group.
District 9‘s only misstep is its reversion to a standard hip-hop/EDM drop following each chorus. Given how familiar this structure is, I wouldn’t be surprised if the breakdown ended up as many listeners’ favorite moment. But for me, the noisy instrumental break can’t possibly maintain or build upon the energy unleashed by the chorus. It feels like an afterthought, tacked on to please k-pop’s obsession with trends. It’s not enough to completely ruin the flow of the song, but it does feel like a missed opportunity to expand the sonic landscape by incorporating even more guitar and distortion. Still, this is very promising debut.