In K-pop, it’s easy to pay little attention to the sophomore comeback. Debuts need attention to detail, hype, and musicianship. They’re the metaphorical first date: meant to get the butterflies in your tummy flying. The first comeback should deliver on the promise of the debut. It’s the tenuously managed kiss under the porchlight of music, a joy if done right, a disappointment if bungled. You can recover from a bad sophomore effort like people ignore knocking teeth in a first kiss, but delivering on the potential of a great debut makes for something unforgettable.
Rookie group, ONF has returned with their second mini-album, You Complete Me and it feels like the beginning of something exceptional. They’ve stuck with their initial energetic sound and this time have found new avenues to explore while maintaining consistent excellence. The decision to stick with buoyant, electronic influences is a smart move, the group’s performance sounds self-assured throughout. Consistency is one of ONF’s greatest strengths in this mini-album; they don’t seem to take a wrong step.
You Complete Me has six original tracks, coming in at just over twenty minutes run time, and it’s a tightly produced display of the group’s strengths. There’s a mix of upbeat tracks and balladry that show their versatility and it’s pretty incredible how effortless it all sounds. It’s pleasingly consistent in style with synthy production elements subtly woven into the slower songs to connect it all together.
With only six songs, the album doesn’t leave much room for error and thankfully, there aren’t any. Every song is polished and flows seamlessly into the next. The continuity between instrumental components of successive songs is particularly satisfying. “Complete” prominently features a sunny horn section that grows up into a sexy sax solo in “Fly Me To The Moon”. Percussive touches like handclaps and finger snaps keep recurring in distinctive ways. The group’s performance strengths like their vocal harmonies are highlighted, giving them an individual sound. The synths are never repetitive but they are related so each song sounds harmonious within the tracklist.
Consistency doesn’t mean there are no high points in the album. The title track “Complete” sets the tone musically and shows off a lot of why ONF is so good. It’s trendy without pandering, clever without being alienating, and a rip-roaring good time. The strong chorus features strategic vocal distortion to make an interesting earworm. Wyatt’s baritone in ad-libs and his rap section is one of the stand-out features. His voice brings a little balance to the chorus of tenors.
“Complete” is matched in energy by “Fly Me To The Moon”. Where “Complete” has more ebullient orchestration, “Fly Me To The Moon” uses synthy noises and interesting percussion to set the somewhat pedestrian but still catchy melody apart. The production on the mid-tempo tracks like “Fifty Fifty” and “Incomplete” is stunning. Synthesisers and modulated instrumentation are combined with celestial harmonies in the best way. “Fifty Fifty’s” shouty chorus hits a little harshly for it to be to everyone’s taste but it’s still a great slice of electro-pop. “Incomplete” is quieter than some of the other dancey tracks but it’s one of the gems of the album.
ONF’s dreamy harmonic skills are best displayed in the sugary, sun-kissed ballad “Good Morning”. The song has the least automated sounds in its orchestration and is mainly led by the members’ vocals and sparkling keys. There is a waterdrop effect and some muted brass in the background so it doesn’t sound out of place in the rest of the album. It’s one of the most likeable songs as it unabashedly pushes the group’s ability to convey sweetness through finely executed euphony. There’s no rap break, as with the other ballad “86400” and it doesn’t need one. It’s refreshing when groups are able to strategically use member’s skills.
Listeners looking for innovation in sound or lyrical content might be disappointed by You Complete Me but there’s nothing else to really criticise. It’s excellently executed pop music from the start to the finish. The members never sound uncertain or uncomfortable with the material. The performance is joyful and exuberant. It feels polished but not soulless or overly manufactured. It’s the best kind of mainstream music: squeaky clean, wholesome, and fun. If a sophomore album is the first kiss, You Complete Me is the kind of perfect that has you giddy with anticipation for the next time.
(YouTube, Images via WMF Entertainment)