A Pink has long been associated with soft hyperfemininity in K-pop; having stuck with that concept for their first seven years. Last year’s “I’m So Sick” saw them adopt a sultrier, more house-driven sound. Now they’ve returned with Percent, their first Korean comeback since, sound change intact, and thank goodness. Percent allows them to build on that, mixing the sharper sound with a retro influence.

Percent is an interesting listen, pulling tones and influences from the 70s through the modern day. There’s the funky horns on “Enough”, the New Wave-esque synth tones of “Push & Pull”, and “Hug Me”, which is pure 90s R&B in the best way. There’s also traces of dreampop, synthpop, pop rock, and reggaeton, all mixed up together. While this can result in discord, especially on the title track, the overall result is fairly cohesive.

This is acheived by Percent adhering to one hard and fast rule– soft vocals, hard instrumentation. Throughout the EP, A Pink’s vocals remain on the dulcet side. There is variety in the vocal dynamics, ranging from airy to cooing to icy, but it’s always soft. The instrumentation, likewise, also covers a decent range– techno on “%%”, prominent bass and synth lines across the mini, and a bouncing guitar riff on “Enough”. While there are softer tracks, “Hug Me” and “Memories” they still have instrumentation with a hair more edge than the vocals. This creates an aura for the album of A Pink as sensitive, cautious women trying to cope with a world they fear can hurt them deepy.

This perspective is mirrored in the lyrics. Percent is filled with songs about love tinged with apprehension and doubt. They are women who are very aware that many relationships end badly, and are trying to stave off heartbreak any way they can. It starts out with “%%”, which frames A Pink as pushing away a perspective beau due to their belief that he doesn’t know them– which is true, but clearly because they won’t let him in, unwilling to bet on anything but a sure thing.

That fear of vulnerability is also present on tracks such as “What Are You Doing To Me”, “Push & Pull”, and “Enough”. The former showcase stress and anxiety from A Pink over their lovestruck feelings and their bae’s apparent mixed messages, while the latter has them trying to hit the brakes when a crush might like them back. Instead, they want to stay in the crush phase, where they can imagine a picture-perfect romance without reality’s risk of real pain. However, humans are social creatures, and as demonstrated by “Hug Me” the desire for a lover’s reassuring presence is still present, placing A Pink in the position of having one pain brought on by their unwillingness to risk another.

This is why “Memories” is the perfect payoff to Percent. It is yet another album-ending ballad, but I’m willing to give it a pass, because it’s not a song of heartbreak. Instead, “Memories” is a tribute to their partner, who is supportive, loving, and devoted. Despite all the fear of being vulnerable and being rejected, A Pink took that risk, and it paid off in the best way.

It’s a shame, though, that despite the great emotional journey and eclectic instrumentation, that Percent has a massive flaw — the production work is atrocious. This is one of the worst mixed albums I have ever heard; even earning a place on the unfortunate list “Albums That Have Literally Induced Headaches”. Black Eyed Pilsung produced “%%”, and while I like a great deal of their work, this is an example of their tendency to over-mix. “%%” bounces from dreamy to techno, with marimba rhythms and synth lines crammed in. There’s no room for anything to breathe properly; with the various sound layers clashing in unpleasant ways.

“What Are You Doing to Me” is another victim of bad production. The post-chorus riff can only be described as sqonky, with the overpumped bass often squealing due to being mixed too close to the synth lines and drowning out the vocals, which are buried far deeper than they should be. The same tendency for overly close layering runs though “Enough”, “Push & Pull” and “Hug Me”, though lessened. “Memories” is spared by being an acoustic ballad, whereas the mixing problems are centered around the synth lines.

Percent has a lot going for it as an EP. The varied instrumentation makes for an engaging listen, the emotional growth is realistic and relatable, and “Hug Me” is just gorgeous. Unfortunately, the poor mixing and production drags down an otherwise great release to decent at best.

(Images via Plan A Entertainment, YouTube)