ONF’s “Complete“ was as close to perfect as 2018 got, and wound up as my favorite K-pop title track of the year. This puts the group in a difficult position. Very rarely is a song as stellar as “Complete” followed by something just as good, as expectations are simply too high. But if anyone was set to buck this trend, it’s ONF. New single “We Must Love” drafts the same composer (the brilliant Hwang Hyun from Monotree), and borrows many of the synth-fueled hallmarks of the group’s best work. Yet, as solid as the track is, there are elements that hold me back from fully embracing its charms.
Let’s get the quibbles out of the way first, because I’d rather gush. When it comes down to it, I can’t fault “We Must Love” for its construction or performance. I just really don’t like the future bass sub-genre. I never have, and I don’t think I ever will. ONF are able to twist its tropes into something more substantial, but those lurching synths that support the chorus just kill the energy. Modern EDM can often feel too stop-and-start fitful, and “We Must Love” would benefit from a more streamlined arrangement that kept the tempo pumping. We get a bit of this during the propulsive bridge, but I want more.
With that said, there’s much to like about the track. The icy synths that herald the opening verse bring a moody sense of texture that instantly draws interest. This leads to a standout pre-chorus that gathers steam before dropping into that aforementioned chorus. The second verse brings in even more elements, utilizing keys and guitar to outstanding effect. I love that Hwang Hyun borrowed the distortion from the breakdown of “Complete” and laces it through the best moments of “We Must Love”. It adds a wonderful sense of drama to the second pre-chorus, and makes me wish the guys would embrace this sound with even more aplomb.
An impressive power note from Hyojin rounds out the track as we enter the final chorus, supplying a satisfying spike of catharsis. But even with all of these dynamic ingredients, “We Must Love” is no “Complete”, and it’s going to take a pretty special song to exceed the high-water mark ONF set for themselves. Still, this feels like a very enjoyable side step.