In the two years since ‘Look’, many things have changed for Apink, not the least being Na-eun’s decision to leave Play M Entertainment (now IST Entertainment). Yet, the girl group seem just as comfortable as they’ve always been on their comeback album, curiously named ‘Horn’. But it’s actually an apt metaphor for their return as six – much like the cornucopia of ancient Greece and Rome (cornu meaning horn and copia meaning abundance in Latin), this 11-track collection overflows with copious amounts of aphrodisiacal daydreams, lovelorn nightmares and everything else in between.
Above all, ‘Horn’ is a delicate expansion of Apink’s mature, adult sound as they slip back into their roles as emotionally perceptive lovers. The girl group amplify the sultry, dark synth-pop melodies found on their post-reinvention hits, such as ‘I’m So Sick’, ‘Dumhdurum’ and ‘Eung Eung’. It unfolds best through the album’s title track, ‘Dilemma’ – where they vocalise the all-consuming yearning for a lover’s return, despite a one-sided romance.
“It’s okay even if the flame died out, oh / It’s okay to pretend that it’s love,” they bargain without care for any reason. “I don’t care if I get hurt / It’ll hurt more if I’m no longer in your mind.” The moody lyrics are underlined by a synth that seesaws, but are careful to never overpower the song’s true jewel: Apink’s gentle, forlorn voices. Leave it to hitmaker duo Black Eyed Pilseung (who also worked on Apink’s last three comebacks) to produce a heartbreak anthem as sleek and sharp as this.
The sparkle and sheen of ‘Horn’ never dulls even as we approach the rest of the record as Apink treat listeners to a plethora of genres and offerings, the most striking of which is ‘Red Carpet’. This confident anthem is lifted to stratospheric heights by its tinges of retro funk and delicately contrasted by a dirty bass line. It’s so good that the group return to this old-school magic later on the debonair ‘Free & Love’, with lyrics by Chorong, and it’s just as good the second time around.
Wedged between the duo is the equally funky and surprisingly introspective ‘Single Rider’ – if not as energetic – which touches on the spectre of hesitancy that follows us all as we step foot into different stages of our lives, never really dissipating even with age. It’s defined by a catchy, bubbling, bouncy synthline that, just like said shadow, is hard to shake.
On the other side of the retro spectrum is ‘Holy Moly’, which immerses itself shoulder-deep in dreamy city-pop. Its twinkling instrumentation frames the song’s infectiously lovesick lyricism – co-penned by Na-eun – delicately and precisely. The record even makes space for lo-fi chillwave on ‘Just Like That’; Namjoo’s lyricism takes flight as she captures the warmth of a first love, with vignettes of “the scent of falling flowers” and “the sunlight shining through the clouds”.
In what by now seems like a whirlwind trip through the decades, Apink arrive in the 2000s with two offerings. ‘My Oh My’ recalls early-aughts teen pop, with twinkling synths and a floaty, layered vocal mix. On the flip side, Chorong, Eunji and Namjoo safeguard their hearts on the fiesty ‘Nothing’, its buoyant piano-laden tempo complimenting their “better off” attitude. Both tracks simply hit all the right notes.
The duds on ‘Horn’ are few, but the prosaic ‘Dream’ and ‘Trip’ stand out for all the wrong reasons in a sea of great. Both are your obligatory, and more importantly uninspired, pop ballads – a phenomenon that, for better or worse, appears on most K-pop albums, old and new. While ‘Dream’ highlights Eun-ji’s lyric-writing ability, the production itself falls flat and brings nothing new to the table. Meanwhile, the inclusion of the nearly one-year-old ‘Thank You’ feels impersonal; perhaps it would have come across more sincere if it were a fresh track that better reflects Apink’s current sentiments towards Pink Pandas (the name of their official fanbase).
Despite flirting with a miscellany of soundscapes, ‘Horn’ never strays from Apink’s core: the ways they convey the richness of the human emotion. It’s remarkable how the group navigate the songs on ‘Horn’ with ease, highlighting the overarching motifs of love and its trials, tribulations and celebrations. As the group near their 11th anniversary, ‘Horn’ could not have come at a better time – or in more grandiose fashion – letting the K-pop world know Apink are back and here to stay.
- Release date: February 14
- Record label: IST Entertainment