October was quite a busy time for the K-pop scene with an impressive lineup of notable artists. The big names were surrounded with much excitement but apart from them, the month also boasted several releases from young, up-and-coming acts including fresh solo debuts and engaging comebacks performed by different rookie groups.

 Jini ft. Aminé – “C’mon”

After almost a year, former Nmixx member Jini has returned to the stage with a new start as a soloist. Embracing light melodies, her debut single “C’mon” draws a clear line between the daring ‘mixx pop’ concept of her previous group and her current solo activities. The song fits nicely amongst many other subtle tracks from this year, but its atmospheric electropop instrumental helps make it stand out a little more. Paired with Jini’s gentle vocals, the tune is an entrancing and mysterious piece.

Additionally, American rapper Aminé has a small feature just before the final chorus, though its inclusion is a bit puzzling. It doesn’t quite disrupt the relaxing ambience, but it also does little to elevate the song. This portion feels like an unnecessary bump in the road before getting back into the dreamy chorus. Other than that, “C’mon” is a pleasant first step for Jini as a solo artist.

tripleS EVOLution – “Invincible”

Following their sister subunit LOVElution, EVOLution have also released a single of their own titled “Invincible.” Fans probably recognize the tune from last year’s voting tournament where it was simply known as “Song F.” Though, hearing the full song is exciting all the same. The cool synths create a mystical atmosphere while the drum and bass beats propel the track forward as if taking listeners on a whirling roller coaster ride. And like other projects overseen by Jaden Jeong, the production is slick and stylistic.

However, the airy vocals can be a bigger drawback than one would expect of an ethereal track. Previous tripleS numbers offered a glimpse of the group’s various charms, but “Invincible” attempts to remove any difference between the girls’ vocal colors. The dynamic vocal sections feel weak even with the intriguing melodies and prompts the question of whether the song would be more compelling if the girls’ individual voices could shine.

Lightsum – “Honey or Spice”

Despite having debuted two years ago, Lightsum as a group have remained ambiguous thus far. “Vanilla” was spunky while “Vivace” was more elegant. “Alive” sounded like an edgy, understated blend of the differing concepts and also felt like an opportunity for Lightsum to form their own musical identity. But rather than continue to explore this path, the group has been on hiatus for over a year and also experienced the departure of two members.

With that, “Honey or Spice” is a reintroduction of sorts. While the track retains playful elements from earlier releases, it has a noticeably more mature attitude. At times sweet like honeyed candy and other times bold like hot spice, its dizzying mix of sounds and fluctuating topline are peculiar and definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless, this is an interesting direction to go in and hopefully, a comeback showing how Lightsum develops this isn’t too far in the future.

Jay Chang – “Rockstar”

The debut title track for former Boys Planet contestant Jay Chang may be misleading, considering it’s a new jack swing number named “Rockstar,” but it certainly isn’t a damper on the actual song. In fact, the fun and groovy production sounds tailor-made for his strong and captivating vocals with a spirited energy that matches well with Jay’s charisma. Pointing out the catchy chorus for being fully sung may sound trifling but in the current K-pop landscape where anti-drops are still trending, the centerpiece of “Rockstar” is a breath of fresh air and even more satisfying when performed by a confident talent like Jay. From the funky guitar, lively percussion, and of course Jay’s smooth voice, the elements hit all the right notes.

I’ll Be There,” the other single on the EP, is less vibrant but still stands as a charming tune that lets Jay show off his clear vocals. Whether it’s as a soloist or a member of upcoming boy group One Pact, the singer’s next move is sure to create much anticipation.

Billlie – “Dang! (Hocus Pocus)”

Since their first appearance in the K-pop scene, Billlie have been gradually shaping up to be one of the industry’s most eccentric acts. And their latest comeback “Dang! (Hocus Pocus)” is another quirky addition to the group’s unconventional discography. Boasting an odd combination of polka rhythms, electropop, hip-hop, and synth-pop tunes, the track’s lyrical theme of having an identity crisis is aptly conveyed. The hooks in the chorus and post-chorus are earworms for sure, though, they’re likely to cause the most divide as they can either be addictive or aggravating depending whether the fuzzy humming effects on the vocals suit your taste or not.

On the other hand, the group’s prerelease single “BYOB (Bring Your Own Best Friend)” appears to be less divisive. The dream pop number is a wistful experience with slight disco vibes that help prevent the song from feeling too muted. Even though it’s a bit different than what most would expect from the ever experimental Billlie, its melancholic sweetness is hard to resist and makes for an interesting contrast to the more zestful title track.

Riize – “Talk Saxy”

Riize made quite the splash with their debut a couple of months ago. The seemingly unmemorable “Get a Guitar” has proven to be a huge hit, quickly selling over a million copies and charting high on various music platforms. Its simple and easy listening appeal is unexpectedly charming, and the feel-good “Memories” made the group’s debut even more refreshing.

Regrettably, Riize’s first comeback “Talk Saxy” follows a different direction. As the title hints at, the song puts a spotlight on the saxophone riffs in the instrumental as well as 808 drum beats. Being the main feature of the tune, the saxophone sounding distorted is disappointing. And its part in the first half of the chorus is accompanied by scratchy “Ra-pa-pa-pa” lines, producing a dull and lifeless hook.

Fortunately, the second half of the chorus fares much better with an R&B-influenced portion that allows the members to showcase their vocals more. This vibe continues during the bridge, and the sections afterwards are the track’s brightest moments. The ad-libs and vocal harmonies are stunning, so much so that they make the song a worthwhile listen despite the grating brass hook constantly looping.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4][5][6]. Sports Dong-a. Korea JoongAng Daily. Image via Cube Entertainment.)