During the years of 2013 and 2014, VIXX delivered a string of hits that, taken together, represent one of modern k-pop’s strongest imperial phases. This isn’t to say that their post-2014 material is bad (Dynamite and Chained Up would certainly argue to the contrary), but over the past two years their sound has taken a dramatic turn. The bombast and energy began to dial down in favor of music that put a stronger emphasis on ambiance than melody.
This stylistic shift gradually led to last year’s subdued Shangri-La, which new single Scentist (not “Scientist,” as I kept reading it) almost replicates. VIXX are working with different producers this time around, but the same skittering trap-inspired beats and murky synths are omnipresent. Those who read The Bias List often will know that this particular blend of instrumentation does absolutely nothing for me, and puts Scentist (향) at a disadvantage right from the start. Luckily, the song’s slow-burn approach has a few tricks up its sleeve.
At the risk of paraphrasing so many of my recent reviews, Scentist’s verses feel pretty much useless. They flit this way and that without a strong sense of direction, incorporating rap and hushed, languid vocals in equal measure. This leaves plenty of heavy lifting for the song’s pre-chorus and hook. Neither is particularly impactful, but taken together they offer a beguiling atmospheric build and creeping drop that sparks a bit of drama. But like Shangri-La, this is a song best experienced alongside a music video and performance. Taken on its own, it’s missing the sense of cohesive, dynamic construction that used to be a hallmark of VIXX’s music. I selfishly wish they’d return to that sound, simply because it’s so sorely missed in today’s k-pop landscape.