Samuel has returned after a hiatus of four months with One, his second mini album with a title track of the same name. The teen sensation — who has high expectations riding on him — just turned sixteen. Age is a commodity in K-pop and Samuel has been quick to capitalize on it. One comes at such a juncture in his career where he must choose between sustaining his boyish image or forging a newer, better one.

Samuel has had a roller coaster ride of sorts through what the K-pop world has to offer. He has persevered and tried his hand at a multitude of platforms to debut. His solo debut with “Sixteen” was lukewarm at best and it was difficult to predict the route his career would take next. “Candy” did not rise to the expectations either. Suffice to say, his prospects did not seem to be the most promising but “One” has dispelled all such notions for me. I hadn’t listened to much of Samuel’s work before and was quite apprehensive about how One was going to pan out, but this mini album’s synth-pop and electronic beats are stunning. Every track is coated with this brand of music with excellent effect.

“One” is the second title track by Samuel that features another artist. BtoB’s Ilhoon has intermittently rapped throughout the track and his segments have been strategically placed at points when the track is at a lull. Thankfully, Ilhoon is not the star of the song for Samuel has held his ground. His stable voice has kept the song engaging and fast-paced.  The performance of the dance is in sync with the flashing lights that characterize the music video.  There was a bit of rock right at the beginning but it was too subtle to go anywhere. Also, the electronic drop as a bridge instead of a chorus was a brilliant move. The lyrics, too, are darker than usual:

I want you to only be mine

Into your deep eyes

Place me babe

Fill me babe

Choosing a title track has become an increasingly arduous task. But “One” has ticked all boxes of the title track checklist because of its versatility. The song has an uncanny ability to stay afloat despite the heavy tones trying to bring it down. This is probably accomplished because of Samuel’s vocals. The track could have definitely been spaced a little better, with more breathing space both for the listener and for Samuel– but this is not much of a criticism at all and I am nothing but praise for “One”.

“Clap Your Hands”, my second favorite track from the album and also a public favorite, begins with powerful military-style drums. With a bad boy image in mind, the jarring and phenomenal drop is a highlight. I was surprised that Samuel’s voice was auto-tuned because he has the skill to pull off harder notes, yet the artificial tinge to his voice makes for a good effect. The subsequent timbre of his voice enhances the dance quotient tenfold. The instrumentals also suddenly degenerate into an eastern kind of beat which was an impressive twist.

“I Can’t Sleep” is characterized by a beautiful guitar segment throughout its length. The electronic foundation is high on this one and makes it have an old-world feel, akin to soundtracks from retro movies.  Even the ticking of a clock adds to the mix and reinforces the film-esque rendition. “Jamsiman”, the last song in the mini, is what I originally thought would be the token ballad of the album. It came close to being one but ultimately wasn’t. Surprisingly, it also delved into a completely unnecessary beat drop. Quite frankly, I was disappointed in this song alone from the whole album because it couldn’t capture Samuel’s dreamy and smooth voice. “SOS” is another track heavy on auto-tune. The grating electric beats that run through it get unnerving after a point. It is a song that tries to be sexy and has taken flight in the right direction but is unable to sustain it.

“Princess” would have been the idyllic end to the relatively loud mini. Excellent use has been made of the backing drums but the overall instrumentals are far too overpowering. Samuel’s voice, unfortunately, fades into the background at times. “Princess” is sung creatively though, with surprising breaks between words that make it far more interesting. There was a bit of blow horn and I wished it had been retained for a longer period.

There is not much variation in the backing tracks themselves and on breaking them down they tend to sound quite identical. Coupled with Samuel’s powerhouse vocals (although understated), the instrumentals have created an album that is beyond one’s expectation from a sixteen-year-old. Samuel’s songs from one have been made to be played records, in a dramatic fashion! Only then would the cinematic grandeur that the album wants to achieve would be evident to the listener. This mini album is larger than life and a true representation of the teen spirit that has kept Samuel going strong in the K-pop world.

(YouTube, Lyrics via Klyrics, Images via Brave Entertainment)