The music industry is a fickle and unpredictable beast. It can be nearly impossible to tell when to follow trends or when to buck them; to pinpoint the thing that will give an act their first taste of success. That big break can come from anywhere, at any moment — an unexpected hit, a variety show star, a meme going viral.
For ONF, their breakthrough came from their appearance on Road To Kingdom, getting a smorgasbord of publicity and new fans to go with it. They might have technically placed second, but for what each group gained from their appearances, ONF are a clear candidate for the argument of the runner-up taking it all. Now, they’re in a very delicate situation — their next release needs to be able to maintain the increased interest and convert that casual name recognition into new fans. Luckily, Spin Off is rather excellent.
As one of the many who are new to ONF’s music, their latest EP is my first foray into music that is purely their own, and it is a good introduction. Spin Off is not a groundbreaking piece of artistry, but it is a prime example of the value of doing something more commercial extremely well. It is 23 minutes of the best summer vibe music you will ever hear. The two things that elevate Spin Off above the typical late-summer jams are the organic instrumentation and the tone, both of which feed off each other to craft an EP that, as a whole, manages to outstrip the already high-quality parts.
Spin Off’s most noticeable quality is the usage of real instruments over programs. It starts off with “Sukhumvit Swimming”, which uses saxophones and guitars to build a reggaeton sound. Paired with the choral vocal arrangements on the chorus, and the title track is a languid embodiment of sex on a beach. However, the best example is the disco-influenced “Gepetto”, a track that, like the original disco, gains much of its tension from the juxtaposition of some truly frenetic guitar lines against the colder synths.
The absolutely masterful guitar and basslines are the musical ties that bind Spin Off together. From understated on “Belle Epoque” to warm and regretful on “Cactus”; they provide a consistency that helps balance the genre roulette ONF are playing. Even on “New World”, which leans much closer to rock, the familiar instrumentation helps defray the shift in sound. Then there’s “Good Good”, whose bouncy bass give the synths something to work off of and build the playful atmosphere of the track.
That brings us to the second key to Spin Off– a consistent tone. Across much of the mini, ONF craft a feeling of embracing the good around you by placing the listener in a headspace of sunshine and good times. “Belle Epoque” is an ode to falling in love, letting yourself get lost in the rush of a shiny new relationship. It lacks the immediate punch of the other tracks, but the sing-song chorus and lyrics that invoke the freedom and artistry of the Belle Epoque era keep it on repeat. The indolent “Sukhumvit Swimming” and “Good Good”, which flows over the ear like water, also keep up the tone of unabashedly getting while the getting’s good.
Even when ONF turns to heartbreak, Spin Off manages to keep the tone on the lighter side. “Cactus” is a break-up song, but a sensitive and honest one — this relationship is not working, so ONF are choosing to end it so both partners can find someone that makes them happy. The honeyed acoustic guitar and deft vocal layering make it clear that the farewells and warm wishes are genuine, and the breakup is a consequence of caring, not a lack of it. “Gepetto” is the closed Spin Off gets to bitterness, but ONF still have a core of sincerity underneath the angst. This relationship has changed them, and they need to find out who they are as individuals now. If this girl had not mattered, self-evaluation in the wake of her would not be needed.
Of course, there are a plethora of other things that make Spin Off so special. The mixing and layering is masterful; perfectly clean and crisp while giving every element enough space to breath in the production. The vocals are top notch as well. ONF have range, power, and emotion in their deliveries, turning Spin Off into an EP where the feelings are clear even if the specifics are not. Then there’s the timelessness of it. Spin Off delves into a wide variety of genres and influences from disco to mid-2000s pop rock the club boom of ten years ago. Yet, each sound is so precisely recaptured these don’t sound like modern throwbacks but undiscovered gems of the eras.
The only issue with Spin Off is the inclusion of two songs that do not match the production and tone, though they are solid in their own right. “Message” is a track devoted to their fans, a song of gratitude for the support they have received, and a fine example of that type of song. However, the stuttering, skittering production does not mesh with the rest of the EP. The same goes for “New World (Spin Off Version)”. Of course their finale song from Road To Kingdom was included, but the aggressive tone and rock influences are jarring after an EP of relaxing fun. To be clear, these are both good songs and I understand why they were included, but the sudden shift in musical and emotional tone is weird if you’re not expecting it.
Spin Off is an EP that was clearly made with the goal of being top-tier summer vibe anthems, and it succeeds, hands down. If you need music to grab some drinks and sun yourself too, soundtrack a new relationship, or just chill for ten minutes, this is the perfect EP. And if you don’t, listen anyway, because it will make you feel like you did.
(Images via Stone Music Entertainment, YouTube)