Though they didn’t win Road to Kingdom, ONF have proven to be the series’ biggest beneficiaries so far. Like agency-mates Oh My Girl, the series raised their profile big time, making the release of new mini album Spin Off highly anticipated. If ever there was a time to pull the rabbit out of the hat with a killer track, this is it. And, that’s what makes Sukhumvit Swimming (스쿰빗스위밍) so frustrating. Rather than go big and fully embrace the most exciting elements of their sound, ONF have opted for a much more generic approach.
You can almost feel the strain on Monotree’s Hwang Hyun – an incredibly compelling producer – as he tries to craft something mainstream and inoffensive enough to appeal to the widest audience possible. That’s never been the formula for an outstanding pop song, nor does it lead to standout ONF tracks. Sukhumvit Swimming is perfectly fine and enjoyable, with a polished arrangement and performance. But, it’s easily the weakest title track in the group’s (admittedly excellent) discography. In this case, that’s down to the song’s fundamental nature. Rather than bring something new, Swimming attempts to place ONF’s quirks over the kind of mid-tempo tropical trap-pop that countless other boy groups have already covered.
Those quirks come in the form of ornate strings accents and a repeated chant that makes up the song’s post-chorus. Hwang Hyun’s choice of synth textures remains excellent. I only wish they were in service of a more dynamic song. Swimming’s verses pulse along a languid beat – highly reminiscent of the more “island” inspired moments in EXO’s 2017 hit Kokobop. The chorus isn’t much more interesting. It largely sidesteps melody in favor of a languid chant. The vocal blend is gorgeous as always, even if the underlying refrain disappoints. ONF’s sheer talent elevates the track, yet Sukhumvit Swimming feels more like a b-side than a continuation of their incredible singles run.
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