Most of the time, a k-pop group’s title track is the best song on their album. But, sometimes b-sides deserve recognition too. In the singles-oriented world of K-pop, I want to spotlight some of these buried treasures and give them the props they deserve.
The past few months have given us a handful of spectacular mini albums, and ATEEZ’s One To All easily joins that list. I’ve been a fan of their work since debut, but song-for-song I think this is their strongest collection yet. Though the group’s music is largely hip-hop-based, they perform with a punk energy that makes each song pop. Add to that some dynamic vocalists (I can’t get enough of Jongho’s powerful style), and you’ve got one of K-pop’s most exciting rookies.
I have a feeling that the album’s title track, Wave, will end up as one of my favorite songs this month, but opener Utopia is even better. What starts as a tentative mid-tempo is quickly bolstered by a thumping dance beat. The fireworks kick off during the stirring pre-chorus, which elevates the song’s energy with anthemic heft and commanding vocals. But, this is only a precursor to Utopia’s mammoth hook. The instrumental ramps up here, heightening the tempo as the guys’ vocals are layered with gritty, buzz saw texture that feels like K-pop filtered through glam rock. Utopia takes a victory lap as it cools down for its final moments, adding an extra dose of lighters-in-the-air melody that acts as an excellent introduction to the rest of the album. Coming off the heels of NCT 127’s similarly-widescreen Highway To Heaven, songs like these give me hope that the K-pop industry is moving back toward an era of big melodies and surging instrumentals.