The only complaint that you’re likely to have with ONF’s ‘Goosebumps’ might be this: why is it so short? If this is a “see you soon” message – all five Korean members of the boyband are set to enlist in the military this month, in order for the group to spend as little time out of commission as possible – it’s a painfully short one, especially since the group are quickly shaping up to be one of the best and most versatile K-pop acts of recent years.
The best part about ONF as a musical act is that they are masters at wielding the element of surprise to their advantage. The rich instrumentation in their songs is riddled with unexpectedly delightful tidbits: a change in pitch here, a beat drop there, an Acapella introduction in one, a complete roundabout to a power-packed rap in another.
Like the chemistry sizzling between two partners matched equally in power and proclivities, ONF tease and titillate on ‘Goosebumps’, creating a heady, dizzying effect on the album that traps you in a spiral of layered orchestration and exciting vocal arrangement.
Take, for example, the juvenile yet delightfully charming ‘Fat and Sugar’. The hip-hop-leaning track is surprisingly minimal throughout, backed only by a steady guitar riff and beats, relying instead on the group’s vocals. On the pre-chorus, however, we slow down to let the atmospheric effect seep in, before finally bursting into a thousand pieces of crystallized sugar as the chorus kicks in – the only addition? A series of delightful beeps, that feel much like candy ricocheting off the floor.
On ‘Goosebumps’, their mastery of the element of surprise also combines with the dark fascination we have with things that go bump in the night. As a chill creeps up our back and the weather turns unforgiving, ONF serve up a delicious dark take of their own on the supernatural, and boy are we in for this ride.
Case in point: the seductive, fantastical ‘Whistle’, where a dance-pop number is elevated to a mysterious plane thanks to the looped whistling in the background. As we follow the tale of a shape-shifter who implores the object of his affection to release him from a curse and turn him into a human using a melody, you get the feeling that you’ve heard this tune somewhere else. As things of the supernatural often are, the effect is intense, but ephemeral – by the time we’re released from the heady effect of the track, the memories are hazy and chopped. All we’re left with is an earworm of a whistle.
A similar magic takes over during the title track ‘Goosebumps’, which is layered with synth loops reminiscent of horror flicks circa the late-’80s and early-’90s. Paranoia lingers throughout the song, the sense of danger only letting us breathe in the milliseconds where the music abruptly pauses and starts again.
“It’s time baby, I’ll appear in front of you soon / I’ll fill up the night you were scared of with my voice,” they say on ‘Goosebumps’, but it isn’t entirely reassuring. The allegory that comes to mind, instead, is that of a person trapped in a dark room, waiting, unmoving, with bated breath. Just when you think you’re safe, a soft disembodied voice next to you whispers “boo”.
Every darkness, however, has its own sunlight, and on ‘Goosebumps’, it’s the wonderfully soft and restrained ‘Alarm’. Invoking imagery of a love that warms even the coldest of hearts, the track harnesses the group’s impressive vocals to proclaim love in what is the most millennial way possible: if they’re willing to sacrifice sleep for you, they love you.
Every dream, however, has to end. As sweet as it is, ‘Alarm’ serves as the wake-up call that brings us back to reality to gear up for the imminent farewell. No matter how unprepared we may be, as ONF say, the ‘Show Must Go On’. Despite its disheartening title – especially in the present context – the fast-paced, pop-leaning song is infused with a cheerful warmth.
“Stars light up on that black drawing paper / Draw my beating heart / Our endless universe that doesn’t stop or expand resembles this moment / It’s spreading even more now,” they say on ‘Show Must Go On’, and it seems as if this is their proverbial gentle caressing of the face, their words of encouragement. “Hang in there,” they seem to be saying. “We’ll be back soon.”
- Release date: December 3
- Record label: WM Entertainment