Boy group SF9 always seem to be at the top of their game when they bring the classic 2008-2012 K-pop feel to their music. Such is the case with new title track “Now or Never,” whose clonky throwback beat meets traces of R&B for one of their all-time best songs. While preceding titles “O Sole Mio” and “Mamma Mia” deviated from the group’s nostalgia-washed brand of hip hop, and thus felt like a loss of forward motion, “Now or Never” is an achievement that has put SF9 back on my list of groups to watch.
The highlight of “Now or Never” is the way it takes two different styles, places them alongside one another so that they contrast, and then combines them into one immediately afterwards with a seamlessness some K-pop songs could only dream of. The song begins by introducing us to an elegantly plinking synth, whose viscous chords have an R&B echo that bounces back in the stacked vocal harmonies leading into the chorus. Having established a poised pop tone, the song suddenly dives into a spare dance drop that picks up high hats and momentum in short order. Soon after the chorus layers the R&B-touched vocal harmonies over that gritty dance beat, and neither component feels out of place. The elements of surprise in both the drop and later amalgamation of the two styles take the song’s energy a long way. In fact, I wish that those two moments—the surprise of the drop, and the gratifying moment where the two styles combine in the second half of the chorus—had been given more space between them so the effect of both could be fully felt: for example, if the first chorus had been shortened to only include the initial dance beat, and the second chorus had introduced that latter half where the vocals stretch out over the beat.
The rest of the tracks on fifth mini-album “Sensuous” leave more to be desired than the title track. SF9’s side tracks are usually pretty solid, which makes the underwhelmingness of this EP feel strange, but the unfortunate truth is that none of the B-sides on “Sensuous” could hold a candle to recent songs like “00:00” or “Midnight Road.” None are bad, but nor do they have the same effect as the title track. Still, I’m glad to see SF9 back on a track that feels like their own, because the genre-exploring wasn’t taking them anywhere as exciting as “Now or Never.”
NOW OR NEVER: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? She’s a bop, your honor.
Take a look at SF9’s “Now or Never” MV below: