Almost a year after their appearance on Kingdom: Legendary War, iKon have returned with their fourth mini-album Flashback. The aptly titled album brings listeners on a journey through songs of various genres which allow the group to display their vocal prowess. The members, particularly Bobby, were heavily involved in the composition and songwriting process of these five tracks, all of which reflect different aspects of iKon’s musical identity. For better or for worse, Flashback stands out amidst other recent K-pop releases with its significantly more laid-back energy, and is proof of iKon’s comfort in their own skin.

The album kicks off with “But You”, a chill synth track that grows on you the more you listen to it. iKon’s vocals are particularly suited to the retro instrumentation and nostalgic vibes of the track (Chan‘s smooth vocals really shine here) and this makes the repetitive song enjoyable, even if it lacks musical complexity. Apart from the synthesised bridge, which features stunning adlibs from DK, the song hovers around the same melody lines and maintains a consistent energy level, illustrating melodically the protagonist’s story of being unable to move on from his past lover. “But You” is certainly not the most bombastic track off the album, but it best captures the essence of Flashback through its eclectic mix of hip-hop and nostalgia, rendering it an appropriate title track.

iKon pick up the pace dramatically with their second track “Dragon,” a fierce proclamation of their superiority in a song full of fantastic beats and attitude. There is a lot to enjoy in the song, from Bobby’s addictive rap verses, to the strong vocal performances by Jay and Ju-ne amidst everything. The disorienting transitions from one part of the song to another cause this listening experience to feel like a rollercoaster ride, but the pre-chorus and choruses draw you in enough to keep you sufficiently hooked. The mix feels delightfully unpredictable, and there is something playful in the way they chant “fee fie foe fum” (evoking the advances of a giant) as they close out the track. Strokes of genius like these definitely leave you wanting even more from iKon’s music:

No one could have ever imagined

I can’t believe I was born in a stream

My horn stands so high and on point

The new pinnacle peak of the chained race

We are dragon, dragon, dragon

The group return to a more familiar colour (of late, at least) with “For Real?,” which is another laid-back hip-hop track about love. Penned by DK and Bobby, it seems to follow the formula of past hits such as “Love Scenario” with its ear-worm melody and simple song structure. While this song is definitely enjoyable in its own right, the diversity and playfulness that the group demonstrate in “Dragon” are all but gone here. Instead, the group show off their sincere and charming side, served in part by Song‘s soulful crooning and Jay’s stunning high notes.

While “Gold,” like many other songs on this album, is also centered on love, it takes a slightly different angle as it depicts an inevitable attraction, a gripping pull that the protagonist feels would be “a foul to reject.” Throughout the song, the protagonist proclaims that nothing else is more important or precious than their love, particularly wealth. The saccharine melody of “For Real?” is completely absent in “Gold,” but its lyrics carry a sweet (if slightly cheesy) weight in our increasingly materialistic world:

Your heart is worth gold

I’m gonna be rich

This place where you and I are together

Is a land of gold

Ending off the album with a requisite ballad, “Name” ties back to “But You” in that the protagonist is once again longing for his lost love. Rather than trying to distract himself with new relationships, however, this song is one of quiet reflection and remorse. Another DK composition, the members have several standout vocal moments here. Ju-ne’s raspy vocals, which appear rarely on this album, are particularly enjoyable. The emotional climax led by Song, Jay and DK at the end of the song brings this album to a bittersweet finish.

The members of iKon are all so incredibly versatile, and they have constantly proven their talent over and over again in every piece of music they release. Flashback shows once again that they are more than able to navigate through different styles of music while making each sound their own. Still, there is a lingering sense of dissatisfaction. Rather than create more of the same comfort-fare (which, don’t get me wrong, is still great and enjoyable), it is to be hoped that iKon might bring something different to the table. They did to some extent with “Dragon,” the only genuinely exciting track on the album. It feels as if they have more potential yet unlocked in their music, more limits to break through. Flashback isn’t that breakthrough, but I anticipate the arrival of that day.

(YouTube. Lyrics via Genius [1][2]. Images via YG Entertainment.)