Ah, summer. That time of beaches, lemonade, and long aimless days spent under the blaring sun. Summer is a very evocative time and for years, K-pop acts have worked hard to bottle the season’s magic through the power of song. Some summer-song hall of famers include Red Velvet, f(x), GFriend, and the queens of summer themselves, Sistar. While not necessarily on these notably all-female MVPs’ level, SF9’s newest album, 9loryUS (pronounced “glorious”), is a breath of summer fresh air. Even better, the nine-member boy group manages to deliver this dose of seasonal sweetness without sacrificing their signature sophistication.

9loryUS is nothing if not consistent. Lyrically, it is one never-ending ode to love and lust, punctuated by numerous calls to let it all go and dance the hours away. Musically, the album is full of bouncy beats, silky vocals, and production-wise, dominated by synths. A good example of this is the laid-back track “OK Sign”. Despite its chill melodies and languid raps, the whole song is propelled forward by an unrelenting beat. This makes “OK Sign” suitable for both kicking back with a glass of iced tea, and hitting the dance floor.

Another track with contrasting yet complimenting elements is the energetic “Go High”. The song swerves between smoothly harmonized vocals, gravelly raps, and shouted exclamations of the track’s title. All this is backed by another propulsive beat. It is right on the edge of being too much, which means it is just perfect for a summer hype song.

“All Day All Night” is something of a hybrid of “Go High” and “OK Sign”, combining the former’s contagious energy with the latter’s relaxed confidence. While that makes “All Day All Night” yet another summer jam, it is not ideal that half of the album’s six songs so closely relate to each other. The three tracks, which play back to back, are all enjoyable, but blend together in a way that is detrimental to the overall experience of 9loryUS.

On a more positive note, these three songs do successfully interweave the chic sound SF9 is known for with 9loryUS’ comparatively brighter musicality. This melding of moods was clearly intentional, as demonstrated by SF9’s teasers for the album, which included two sets of concept photos. “Golden Chaser” featured ethereal images of the members among nature, while “Black Chaser” had a decidedly darker and more sophisticated aura. There are also two versions of the physical album which follow these contrasting motifs. Through their visual and marketing choices, SF9 clearly signaled that they are aiming for a unique combination of summery vibes and mature elegance in 9loryUS.

The aforementioned trio of tracks accomplish this by backing their bounciness with club-derived beats, calling back to some previous standout SF9 tracks like “Now or Never” and “Good Guy”. “Summer Breeze”, the opener and title track from 9loryUS, also stays true to SF9’s signature qualities while embracing a seasonally-appropriate playfulness. Again, club beats are present, but more significantly, “Summer Breeze” incorporates SF9’s keen sense of theatricality. 

The drama arrives in the very first seconds of “Summer Breeze”, with the introduction of a blared five-note hook and a whistled line, both of which recur throughout the song. The track doesn’t let up from there, throwing country-influenced sounds, aggressive raps, hard dance beats, and one fiendishly infectious chorus at its listeners ears. “Summer Breeze” also contains some bizarrely memorable lyrics, partially penned by members Zuho and Youngbin. For instance, in the back half of two out of three choruses, following the main lyric “The summer fragrance makes me dance”, the whole group joins together to shout-sing:

Bang Bang Bang
Let’s giddy up Giddy up
Giddy up Giddy up now

Bang bang what? Giddy up where? Who even cares. “Summer Breeze” is wildly overdramatic and downright silly, but it is so much fun, you will be on board to go wherever these club-frequenting cowboys want to take you.

One of the things which grounds even 9loryUS’ most bombastic offerings is SF9’s excellent vocal line. The quality and depth of the group’s vocals are on full display in one of the album’s best songs, “Into the Night”. The track has a pleasantly retro quality, complete with a spoken intro and the use of horns and strings in the backing instrumentation. Its chorus is a delightfully cheesy burst of pure pop delight, featuring the alternating talents of Inseong, Jaeyoon, Taeyang, Dawon, and Rowoon. Each sings with their own distinct vocal color, but a shared smoothness and strength.

Besides highlighting SF9’s vocal prowess, “Into the Night” is also the most structurally inventive track on 9loryUS. There is no rapping until two and a half minutes in, but when it comes, it adds an enjoyable punch of modernity. Rappers Chani and Zuho also eventually close the song, ending “Into the Night” in an intriguingly abrupt and ambiguous way.

Regrettably, the final track of 9loryUS, “My Story, My Song”, is its least impressive. “My Story, My Song” is a pedantic ballad that not even SF9’s impressively belting vocals can rescue. The song’s lack of fun or creativity put it at complete odds with the rest of the album, making it feel tacked on rather than a cohesive part of the whole. Consequently, “My Story, My Song” prevents 9loryUS from going six for six on quality tracks.

Despite this regrettable conclusion, 9loryUS is a thoroughly enjoyable album. By melding summer’s playful brightness with their own trademark theatrical elegance, SF9 have created a unique and delightful collection of songs. So, turn on your disco ball, kick of your flip-flops, and put on 9loryUS: “The summer fragrance makes me dance”, and so does this album!

(YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Images via FNC Entertainment)