Stray Kids – ‘Maxident’ review: loved-up latest from K-pop’s most experimental force

After topping the charts in the US with their last release, the eight-piece group show off their growth once again – this time by diving deep into romance

Since debuting in 2018, Stray Kids have forged a reputation for constantly breaking new ground, each release moving their sound and artistry forward. ‘Maxident’, their ninth mini-album, continues that approach, this time using both fresh sounds and fresh subject matter to follow up the group’s Billboard 200-topping record, ‘ODDINARY’.

Love might have come up here and there on the boyband’s discography in the past, but they’ve never fully jumped into the topic as much as they do here. ‘Maxident’ explores romance deeply for the first time, but doesn’t compromise Stray Kids’ unique musical DNA in the process.

Album opener and title track ‘Case 143’ makes that immediately clear. Where love might often be broached softly and tenderly, the eight-piece group come in with something more brash and disorientating. The song is built around an ever-changing rush of sounds, some dark and ominous, others teetering and tumbling. It all adds up to an accurate depiction of when someone enters your life and tips it upside down with their mere presence. “Why do I keep getting attracted? / I’m drawn to you like a magnet,” Hyunjin, Changbin and Felix ask on the infectious chorus throughout.

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Later, ‘Give Me Your TMI’ – all driving guitar riffs and growling bass – describes the feeling of stuttering through the start of a new relationship. Rapper Changbin compares those first steps to digital connection issues – “I’m trying to connect with you, but it keeps lagging again / Why do I keep crashing?” – before Seungmin and Bang Chan join him in bemoaning their crush’s effect on them. “What the hell are you doing to me?” they ask. “For you to make me freeze like this / I promise this isn’t an obsession.”

‘Taste’ – penned by Lee Know, Hyunjin and Felix – offers a more poetic take on that feeling of uncertain but intense infatuation (“It’s like bad red roses / Crazed by the scent, I feel shortness of breath,” as Hyunjin alluringly puts it. “Dark and thick thorns hidden by beauty”). Meanwhile the bouncy pop-rock of ‘Can’t Stop’, written by Seungmin and I.N, describes love as something that takes over their whole lives. “No matter whatever I do / I can’t escape it / I must like you a lot,” the former reasons on the bright track.

It’s only ‘Chill’ that approaches things from a hugely different angle, tackling the narrative of a doomed love. “We’re just too different,” Han assesses on the deceptively bright piece of R&B-pop. “Was the idea that we thought wrong in the end?

It’s not just new topics that pop up on ‘Maxident’ – there are also new styles tested out too. ‘3RACHA’, composed by the group’s songwriting force of Bang Chan, Changbin and Han, sees the trio dipping into drill for the first time. They largely pull it off, matching the fire of the originators of the genre on this diss track, but there are some questionable moments. “Pull out the shivs, chopping up sounds faster than lightning,” Bang Chan raps in his verse, a line that feels a little too close to a pastiche.

Slight missteps aside, Stray Kids’ latest release should have no problem in furthering the reputation they’ve been building for themselves. This is a group of true experimenters and artists showing their thrilling progression in real-time. With ‘Maxident’, it feels like there’s no limit on what they can do – and certainly no stopping them as they push ever forward.

Details

fzpz Singapore producer album review Death Signs
  • Release date: October 7
  • Record label: JYP Entertainment
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