During the years of 2013 and 2014, VIXX delivered a string of hits that, taken together, represent one of modern K-pop’s strongest imperial phases. This isn’t to say that their post-2014 material is bad (“Dynamite“ and “Chained Up“ would certainly argue to the contrary), but over the past two years their sound has taken a dramatic turn. The bombast and energy began to dial down in favor of music that put a stronger emphasis on ambiance than melody.
This stylistic shift gradually led to last year’s subdued “Shangri-La“, which new single “Scentist” (not scientist, as I kept reading it) almost replicates. VIXX are working with different producers this time around, but the same skittering trap-inspired beats and murky synths are omnipresent. This particular blend of instrumentation does absolutely nothing for me, and puts “Scentist” at a disadvantage right from the start. Luckily, the song’s slow-burn approach has a few tricks up its sleeve.
At the risk of paraphrasing so many of my recent reviews, “Scentist”’s verses feel pretty much useless. They flit this way and that without a strong sense of direction, incorporating rap and hushed, languid vocals in equal measure. This leaves plenty of heavy lifting for the song’s pre-chorus and hook. Neither is particularly impactful, but taken together they offer a beguiling atmospheric build and creeping drop that sparks a bit of drama. But like “Shangri-La”, this is a song best experienced alongside a music video and performance. Taken on its own, it’s missing the sense of cohesive, dynamic construction that used to be a hallmark of VIXX’s music. I selfishly wish they’d return to that sound, simply because it’s so sorely missed in today’s K-pop landscape.