If there’s one thing SF9 are synonymous with, it’s “sexy.” Coming off the heels of their last mini album, Turn Over, featuring title track “Tear Drop,” plus their participation on Mnet’s Kingdom: Legendary War, SF9 have firmly cemented themselves as the “homme-fatales” of K-pop, consistently exuding a level of seductiveness and sensuality via their discography (and visuals) that is mostly unseen from other boy groups.
On their newest mini album and 10th EP Rumination, the group firmly solidifies their brand of sexiness and provocativeness, clearly building off of what they started in Turn Over. Although SF9 have explored several concepts and genres over the course of their seven-year run, it wasn’t until Turn Over that the group finally nailed down their signature sultry, R&B-meets-house sound. Now, thanks to Rumination’s dark and moody thematic concept, SF9 have managed to carve out an even more matured and sophisticated version of their own particular brand and musical identity.
The EP’s title track, “Trauma”, demonstrates the group’s maturation well, serving as a darker, older sister to the group’s previous title track, “Tear Drop.” If “Tear Drop” was about a breakup, “Trauma” discusses the results of that breakup, as do the remaining songs on Rumination:
Oh you are not my trauma
Inside my mind
I’m nothing without you
I don’t like this drama
The lyrics suggest nuanced emotions as the result of a relationship turned sour, reflecting SF9’s maturity and grown-up aura. Musically, the track does the same, featuring a sleek set of tropical synths on top of a deep bass line, which contrast the members’ softer vocals and autotuned rap verses, all to propel the group’s sultry image one step further. The chorus of “Trauma” largely zeroes in on a looping ebb and flow of the synth instrumentals, rather than the vocal melody, which makes for a somewhat unmemorable, less intense tune. However, the loose, peppered-in melody of the chorus matches the dark and moody instrumentals and overall vibe of the track well, making it a standout amongst other title tracks in SF9’s discography.
The next track, “Memory,” a standout b-side on the album, follows the storyline of Rumination that “Trauma” introduces. “Trauma” may have been the members’ reflections on the bad and the toxic from their past relationship, but “Memory” slows things down as they ruminate on their lingering and inescapable feelings and memories.
The track begins with an atmospheric lullaby tune, which loops throughout the remainder of the song alongside a low, R&B-inspired bass and steady rhythm. While the instrumentals are already earwormy enough on this track, its melody and vocals create several captivating moments. One of SF9’s best and perhaps more underrated characteristics as a group is the members’ deep voices and singing and rapping tones, which make for constant contrasting between belts in higher registers and low rap verses. For example, during the first post-chorus, Dawon belts a high note as he sings the lyrics “Faded love,” which are immediately contrasted by Chani’s deep rapping of the lyrics “Yeah faded memory.” This back and forth between higher and lower registers, and even hard and soft singing styles, occurs throughout the track, showing off the members’ vocal skills and maturation since their early days.
While “Memory” has a more unexpected sound for SF9, it still demonstrates their growth fittingly within the themes of Rumination. “Gentleman” and “Scenario,” on the other hand, fall into the familiar SF9 genres of house and EDM. Backed by airy synths and a fast-paced EDM beat, “Gentleman” initially sounds like any other track within the group’s discography. Upon first listen, Youngbin’s cadence of rapping sounds entirely familiar. But as soon as Taeyang’s breathy vocals come in during the pre-chorus and Inseong’s hefty vocals enter at the top of the chorus, a swath of strings suddenly swarm the track, and “Gentleman” becomes something entirely unexpected and unpredictable. The strings remain throughout the verses of the track, but become deeper and more muted, enhancing its overall dark feel. “Scenario” follows a similar suit as another sultry dance-house track on the EP. With a rhythm and melody half reminiscent of “Gentleman,” minus the string instrumentals, “Scenario” isn’t as much of a standout on the EP, but it emphasizes the group’s consistent sound nonetheless.
“Dreams,” on the other hand, has a different take on SF9’s affinity for EDM and dance tracks. It’s more intense than “Gentleman” and “Scenario” thanks to a more energetic and fierce beat, plus sharper electric synths that create a swelling feeling during particular moments of the track. It’s also faster-paced and slightly less sultry than the other EDM tracks on Rumination, but showcases the group’s ability to adapt their breathy, velvety vocals to a different pace and speed of song. “Dreams” also lyrically illustrates the repetitiveness of “rumination” well, this time going beyond the members merely reminiscing on their memories to revisiting the pain points of their memories in their dreams.
Aside from “Memory,” “On And On” and “For Fantasy” are the other more ballad-based tracks on the EP. “On And On” is the only unit track on the album, featuring Youngbin and Inseong. As the group’s main vocalist, Inseong’s vocals lends itself well to a ballad of “On And On”’s nature, but Youngbin’s rap verses again provide a necessary and earwormy contrast to powerhouse and hard-hitting singing vocals. Lyrically, “On And On” represents a turning point within Rumination’s narrative, suggesting that the members are ready to move on from their past to enter a new day. Unlike other SF9 ballads from previous albums and EPs, “On And On” succeeds by avoiding cheesy, contrived lyrics, and even cheesier backing instrumentals, instead serving a meaningful purpose within Rumination as a whole.
“For Fantasy” is the group’s love letter to their fans, and for that reason sits outside of the narrative of the rest of the EP. It’s a meaningful, heartfelt bonus for fans of the group, and is a testament to SF9’s ability to not just be seductive and sexy in every single one of their tracks.
There’s no denying SF9’s identity as a sensual group. On Rumination, they make their status and sound undoubtedly known as such, firmly carving out an even more nuanced definition of what it means for them to be “sultry” and “sensuous” thanks to the moody and melancholy themes explored throughout the EP. Much like their signature suave suit looks, rumination looks good on the group.