Since celebrating their seventh year together — oftentimes a dreaded “curse” of a milestone in K-pop that signifies impending disbandment — it may seem like Seventeen have already shown every possible side and version of themselves to the world (including what it would look like if the members weren’t part of Seventeen anymore). After all, seven years is still a long time to be consistently putting out new music. However, coming fresh off their 2021 contract renewal slating them for another seven years together, the 13-member group has far more tricks up their sleeve than ever before, and their newest album, Face the Sun, is proof of just that. 

As their first full-length release since 2019’s An Ode, and their first full-length album since the onset of the pandemic and a semi-regular schedule of mini album releases, there was almost no telling what exact shape Face the Sun would take until its release. During those two years away from their fans, Seventeen made it their mission to continue to grow and prove to the world how much they can do with their music, performances, and sound, and most importantly make a name for themselves while doing it. And that they did. As a follow-up to their four wide-ranging mini albums and fast-paced rise in global stardom during the past two years especially, Face the Sun feels like both a culmination of those achievements and experimentations, plus the birth of something completely new altogether.

Musically, Face the Sun can best be described as an ideal combination of something old and something new. Its charms are familiar, stemming especially from each member’s own recognizable strengths, which come through loud and clear track to track. But there’s also a distinct newness in sound across Face the Sun overall. The production on the album is some of Seventeen’s best, and it’s some of their most experimental yet as a full group. 

That’s Face the Sun’s other particularly unique quality. It’s the group’s first album without unit tracks since 2020’s Heng:garae, which took a similar approach as an emblem of the group’s togetherness just a few months after the world went into lockdown. Similarly, the lack of unit tracks on Face the Sun again signifies Seventeen’s closeness and oneness, this time as they enter a new era of their career. Although the group’s three distinct unit teams (vocal, hip hop, and performance) are one of its most unique features, Face the Sun excels without them thanks to a variety and balance of genre, style, familiarity, and novelty. There’s something for every listener, and there’s also something for all 13 members. 

Genre-wise, the album is still nestled comfortably within Seventeen’s pop roots, although each track has its exploratory moments that ensure that one doesn’t sound like the next, nor like anything out of the group’s previous releases. As a point of familiarity, Face the Sun features notable “freshteen” moments, a pet name of sorts for Seventeen’s canonical bright and fresh pop sound. “Shadow,” “Domino,” and “‘bout you” in particular fall into this category, even though they couldn’t sound any more different from each other; even “Darl+ing,” the album’s pre-release single and Seventeen’s first all-English track, feels like some semblance of a sleepier, toned-down version of their upbeat persona.

Pop characteristics aside, it’s “Darl+ing” that feels most out of place across the album, even as its first single. Springy but somewhat lethargic in style, mostly due to the chorus’s anti-drop, “Darl+ing” is also Face the Sun’s least energetic in comparison to the stamina of the rest of the tracks (even as Seventeen sweetly sing the lyrics to Carats, their fans). “Shadow,” on the other hand, a contender for the title track, feels like Seventeen at their most Seventeen. Musically, it’s one of the most upbeat tracks on the album, as each member’s upbeat vocals shine in front of a backdrop of glistening synths and a lone acoustic guitar. The vocal team’s bright vocals are a treat during each post-chorus, and Dino’s rap comes at a pleasant surprise during the bridge while the rest of the hip hop unit members sing their lines with their own classic, powerful delivery. 

While also pop-dominant, “Domino” has its own pockets of funky surprises. It especially makes the concept of an anti-drop and largely empty chorus work. As it progresses, it weaves almost seamlessly through a series of memorable instrumental curveballs, from piano glissandos and revving electric guitar riffs to futuristic, glitchy synths. “‘bout you” has a similar degree of sophisticated playfulness to it, but in a way that also likens it to songs of Seventeen’s past. It’s racing with youthful energy, not only in its sweet, upbeat harmonies but also in its extraneous ad libs, sound effects, and onomatopoeic lyrics and rap deliveries, including Vernon’s “pew pew pew pew” and Dino’s “boom boom boom boom.”

Where there is light, there are also shadows, and thus where there is “Lightteen,” there also must be “Darkteen.” Again, Face the Sun offers a healthy balance of variety in genre and style, as well as in lightness and darkness. If “Darl+ing,” “Shadow,” “Domino,” and “‘bout you” are reflections of the lightness and brightness of Seventeen’s conquest for the sun, the remaining tracks offer something on the other side of that. 

Hot,” the album’s title track, is one of those “other-side”, practically otherworldly Seventeen songs. Vastly different from any of the title tracks they’ve released previously (perhaps similar in vibe and energy level only to “Hit”), “Hot” is a busy, explosive, auto-tuned-filled track either built perfectly for or constructed wholly out of the age of viral TikTok music. The production and vibe is also completely different from any of their previous title tracks. A Western-inspired guitar riff and whistle-like siren sound ground the members’ mostly auto-tuned vocals, but it somehow works, and still doesn’t feel outside the realm of who Seventeen is. 

“Hot” fittingly leads directly into a series of loosely cowboy-inspired tracks, including “Don Quixote” and “March.” Although referencing the Spanish literary character of the same name, “Don Quixote” is surprisingly a pop-forward track, but several moments within it make it difficult to qualify it as belonging to just one genre. As with “Domino,” “Don Quixote” takes several twists and turns, albeit set against the backdrop of a harsher, edgier tone. It begins with a series of upbeat claps along with a light piano, as Woozi sings “I just wanna feel the vibes.” Later, it breaks down into beat-forward, rap-forward verses, and Wonwoo particularly shines with his lines: 

Say my name Don Quixote, there’s nothing to be afraid of

Pay my day, I’ll bet everything on tomorrow

I know me, you don’t know me well

I’m born of fear, and I got back on a horse without fear

The track breaks down even further when Mingyu enters the bridge with his powerful singing voice (“My hands up, I keep ’em high/The thing I fear is me within myself”), then quickly returns back to its buoyant beat and more delicate vocal delivery. With all of its standout moments put together, it certainly makes for one of the standout tracks within Face the Sun overall.

The remaining three tracks — “March,” “IF you leave me,” and “Ash” — are the most diverse genre-wise on the album, but still harness the same kind of sophistication, familiarity, and charm as the other tracks. In “March,” the members sing of doing as they please “like a cowboy.” It is Face the Sun’s only truly rock track, but feels especially built on b-sides like “Crush” and “Anyone” from their two previous mini album releases. “IF you leave me” is a gently sung, pointed ballad; not only do the group’s vocalists excel expectedly, but the rappers do too — another nod to the members’ many matured skills over the past few years. “Ash,” a heavy trap track, is another standout. Co-produced by Vernon, the track’s clangs and pangs are reminiscent of “GAM3 BO1,” another heavily processed, autotune-filled, glitchy hip hop unit track from 2021’s Your Choice

Throughout the album, Seventeen seemingly use the sun as a metaphor for the kind of global success they strive to achieve, especially with this release in particular. Sometimes they are the sun (“Hot”), other times they face it or fly too close to it (“Ash”), and still other times they choose to avoid it (“Shadow”). Lyrically, the group has evidently come to an understanding of what their success means to them, where they are headed with their career, and what it means to “Be the Sun,” as their upcoming tour is also called. Whatever that measure of success may be, with Face the Sun, they’re undoubtedly just within reach of it.

(Seventeen Magazine. YouTube. Lyrics via Genius. Images via Pledis Entertainment.)