2021 has certainly been a year for peaches. Maybe not the fruit, but certainly the music named after it. First, there was the chart-topping song by a relatively well-known Canadian singer that took nearly every boy group idol and their inner fanboy by storm. Now (and at long last), there’s Kai’s highly-anticipated EP Peaches, the follow-up to his smash of a solo debut, which only promises to do the same, if not more. 

Exactly a year after the release of KAI – The 1st Mini Album, the Exo and SuperM member and industry veteran finally has his answer to a year’s worth of questions of how he could possibly top his colossal debut. Unsurprisingly, he puts any fears or doubt to rest with this new release. 

The differences between Kai’s debut EP and Peaches may be both subtle and stark, but that’s by no means a knock on the latter. The wholly R&B KAI possesses an unmatched level of cohesiveness, as each song seamlessly blends into the next, so much that listening to it one time through feels like being transported to an entirely different world built by Kai himself. Peaches takes a surprisingly lighter and softer approach, mostly absent of the weightiness and intensity of tracks like “Mmmh” or “Nothing on Me.”

This new EP doesn’t have quite the same level of sonic consistency as its predecessor, but that’s all part of its draw. What’s growth without variety? Peaches has all of the makings of what makes Kim Jongin “Kai,” including a sensuous and sultry R&B-inspired sound. It still transports listeners to a new world, only this time one made up of several smaller spheres that represent a nuanced and diversified taste of what’s next for Kai in his solo career. Suited for a sophomore release, it digs deeper into the subtleties of who Kai is as both an artist and a person, resulting in a triumphant display of his self-discovery since his solo debut. 

The EP opens with the eponymous title track, “Peaches,” a fuzzy, celestial number with mesmerizing backing instrumentals fitted to its name. While not initially as catchy melodically as “Mmmh,” “Peaches” still arrives at the same conclusion by way of a slow, unsuspecting build-up over time. The track begins with sounds of strums and plucks of traditional East Asian instruments and the soft ripple of crashing waves, instantly transporting listeners to an alternate space and time. Kai’s instantly recognizable, honey-coated vocals enter the track as he sings “Pretty girl you’re like peaches,” signifying that the remainder of the lyrics are set to liken dreamy moments of love to the idea of peaches themselves. 

Even without watching the track’s accompanying MV, which flawlessly translates its sound and lyrics into an ethereal array of visuals, it’s hard not to be instantly transported to a lush, auditory garden, much like the one featured in the MV. As the track’s addicting R&B beat and hypnotic synths repeat, Kai’s vocals continue to shine through. The combination of these elements make for a catchy, delectable track that will leave the line “feels good to be the bad guy” in your head for days, if not weeks or even months, to come.

In a slightly unexpected turn, the softness of “Peaches” continues into “Vanilla,” an art-pop track featuring even gentler but all the more magnetic vocals from Kai. “Vanilla” is so earnestly subdued, even in comparison to the already-subtle “Peaches,” that it’s impossible for it to not stand out amongst the other tracks on the album. The track features Kai repeatedly singing staccatoed syllables of the English word “va-ni-lla” in varying rhythms over soothing backing instrumentals. When “Vanilla” reaches its second verse, Kai switches to his higher register, providing contrast to the chorus. The track is a glorious proof point of Kai’s prowess as a vocalist, and not just as a dancer, and of his ability to adapt his voice pending sound and genre. 

The end of “Vanilla” is marked by atmospheric horns that leave listeners wanting more, as each lingering horn note signifies a near yearning that almost takes the track into an entirely new dimension seconds before it ends. As soon as the horns subside, however, the hyper-trap “Domino” quickly begins next, ushering in a more upbeat and familiar-sounding section of the album that also includes tracks “Come In” and “To Be Honest.” 

While completely unlike “Peaches” and “Vanilla,” “Domino” confirms Kai’s affinity for hip-hop-based, dance-inducing tracks, much like those included in his first mini album. It would make no sense to ditch a number of this genre, as he undoubtedly dominates the sound as if it’s truly his own. His lower register makes itself known during the chorus, traversing to depths so low his voice could be mistaken for that of fellow Exo member Sehun

Whereas “Domino” reaches levels of intensity unmatched by the other tracks on Peaches, “Come In” and “To Be Honest” follow a similar suit, but in a sweeter, mellower manner that demonstrates the newfound nuances of Kai’s R&B sound. As its title suggests, “Come In” welcomes listeners with warm, open arms, not only as a result of its affectionate lyrics, but also by way of layers of revvings synths and R&B beats. “To Be Honest” takes things in an even more refined direction, as a poppy trap beat and upbeat flute-like synths practically mask Kai’s apprehensive qualms over an ambiguously-defined relationship:

Baby, instead of merely some words

I want your honest heart (I want it)

The one word that will settle our ambiguous relationship

In this moment, wе need to be honest.

The track’s breakdown during the bridge, which puts Kai’s sweeter-than-ever vocals at the forefront of the melody, makes “To Be Honest” even more of a (deceptively) buoyant breakthrough track on the EP, albeit fittingly so. There’s freedom in being honest, and the melody and vocals of “To Be Honest” reflect that as such. 

It’s arguable that every track on Peaches is a standout of its own, but none is more so than “Blue,” the final track. “Blue” takes everything full circle, transporting listeners back to that rich auditory garden first visualized in “Peaches,” but goes one step deeper. Backed by a melancholic lo-fi guitar riff and fronted by Kai’s emotive vocals and soothing vocal layering during the post-choruses, “Blue” is a near-perfect sonic representation of the distinct feelings of loneliness reflected in its lyrics: 

I don’t even know what I want now

Am I lonely or do I just want to be lonely?

I see my absent-minded reflection in the mirror

The ‘me’ I knew is stopped here.

“Blue” is wondrous not only due to its nostalgic, atmospheric tune, but also thanks to Kai’s scintillating words, both in terms of lyrical word choice and how he sings them. As a listener, it’s nearly impossible not to hold onto every lingering note and syllable Kai sings, as his emotions are translated through effortlessly via his voice, regardless of whether the lyrics are in Korean or English. 

With Peaches, Kai does something of the unimaginable, as he takes us to new worlds through his melodies while also bringing us, and himself, back down to earth through his words. Peaches isn’t another KAI, but for good reason: instead, it’s just Kai himself, self-actualized. 

(YouTube [1][2][3][4]. Lyrics via Genius [1][2]. Images via SM Entertainment.)