[Review] The Man BLK’s sound doesn’t stand out, but the members do on “Free Fall”

As the year draws to an end, it feels like we’re suddenly seeing more low-level (ie: not from a huge agency) debuts. The first time I heard The Man BLK’s name, I wondering if this was a reinvention of boy group BLK, who released one album late last year before disbanding. It turns out, the two share nothing in common beyond a missing “ac”. In a rare move for K-pop rookies, The Man BLK seem to a have an older, more mature vibe about them. Of course, it could just be the group name that’s throwing me off. After all, their youngest member is only nineteen years old.

“Free Fall” doesn’t exactly conjure youthful vibes, either. It has the weighty tone of a song like Seventeen’s Don’t Wanna Cry, but it’s let down by an unimaginative hook and overly-familiar instrumental. I’m not nearly as tired of these The Chainsmokers-esque, future-bass synth ballads as other current trends, but it’s hard to find any originality within “Free Fall”’s tried and true template. Every moment feels like déjà vu. We’ve heard this song before.

Luckily, The Man BLK’s skill level seems to trump their awful group name and unoriginal debut. Their vocals keep the song afloat, and “Free Fall”’s moody verses point toward better things to come. The track has a nice build to it, especially as the percussion opens up for the pre-chorus. And as disappointingly straightforward as the hook is, its simplicity has a way of crawling under your skin. The contrast between the lofty refrain and its deeper-voiced, English-language response is effective, if underdeveloped. Like so many K-pop debuts, this shows promise. The guys need to follow it up with a more daring comeback that begins to develop a signature sound. Copycats like “Free Fall” just won’t stand out.

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