Following their debut in October 2018, JBJ95 made a return with their second mini-album. Comprising members Kenta and Sanggyun, the duo released Awake, an album which displays their diverse musicality and serves to strengthen their identity as a group.

Kenta’s voice is more on the gentle side, but he definitely shows off his vocal prowess through the various ad-libs he does throughout the album. His voice has also improved significantly since his debut, and his growth is wonderful to watch. Sanggyun, on the other hand, is a very talented and aggressive rapper. While their styles are vastly different, they complement each other quite successfully.

The tracks feature a lot of experimentation with various sound effects and instrumental riffs. Despite the fusion of styles that takes place, this becomes a somewhat predictable pattern for JBJ95’s songs. While this is not bad in itself, given that this is a solid music identity for the duo, the album is a little less fresh when listened to in totality.

The funky and playful “Friend Zone” is a great opening to the album. With the protagonist tired of being a best friend instead of a boyfriend, the track is light-hearted with a tinge of exasperation. While the transitions between Kenta’s delicate melody lines and Sanggyun’s heavy raps are sometimes sudden, the duo plays off each other’s energies well most of the time. The layering of their voices work well here too.

“Friend Zone” and the album’s final track, “Lookin’ 4 Love”, work together to frame a narrative for the album. While the former expresses hope for an unrequited love to be reciprocated, “Lookin’ 4 Love” is a little more despairing. The protagonist laments about how he remains alone despite the effort and love he has poured into the relationship.

Fittingly, the instrumentation for this track is more muted and the vocals are less spirited. While it is catchy, it is also one of the less polished tracks of the album as the rap does not flow in as seamlessly here as in other songs. The contrasting energies of the vocals and the rap are too big to ignore here.

The title track “Awake” sets the tone and pattern for the rest of the album. Its instrumentation is particularly clever in the way its layers build up throughout the song for the chorus, which is a literal musical explosion (the music video cleverly reflects this as well). The mix of sounds is most impressive in this track. While “Awake” is quite the earworm, it is also pretty repetitive, lyric wise and instrumentation-wise, especially with its refrain of “You wake me up with your mind”. The subtle attempts to switch up the track’s instrumentation by alternating the positions of rap and vocals in the two verses is commendable though.

“Leave It To Me” is one of the more laid-back tracks in this album, and from its overall sound it seems like a world apart from tracks like “Awake” and “Friend Zone”. When you dive deeper into the track, however, the trademark of JBJ95’s music style re-emerges. Beginning with an acoustic guitar intro, the track quickly takes a turn when the familiar fusion of sounds appears. Vocal effects are used well here as catchy interludes between various sections of the song.

Albeit in a different way, “Who I Am” also features great use of vocal effects, which adds to the richness of the track. With an instrumental strikingly similar to Bruno Mars‘ “That’s What I Like”, this is the most flashy song of the album. Sanggyun takes the spotlight in this flashy track with his astounding ability to play with diverse beats throughout the song, but Kenta complements him well especially with his ascending melodies. This, together with “Milky Way” are easily the highlights of the album, in terms of how they allow JBJ95 to shine.

“Milky Way” is littered with high pitched synth sounds, which could be risky to work with but are effective in this case. The galactic feel it creates for the track works nicely with the duo’s sweet voices, and it is nice to hear a different side of Sanggyun’s vocals.

All in all, while the beats used and the instrumentation are not as fresh and creative, JBJ95 still adds a special flavour to each and every track, making Awake recognisably their own. They have so much potential and a bright future ahead of them. I’m looking forward to their growth and the innovative music they will bring to the table.

(Images via Stone Music Entertainment, Youtube)