(A promotional teaser for Red Velvet’s new album. Courtesy of allkpop.com.)
K-Pop act Red Velvet stumbled onto something interesting with their second album “Perfect Velvet.” They took a change in direction that deserves credit for boldness, bravery, and – in spots – execution. “Perfect Velvet” has some of the most and least interesting tracks I’ve heard in K-Pop. When Red Velvet leans into boldness and into their new halfway-to-noise-pop direction, they make dynamite tracks worth replaying. When they lean away and fall back into the generic slow, smooth, and sappy K-Pop angles, they make forgettable tracks.
The standout track is the lead single and the opener – “Peek-A-Boo.” “Peek-A-Boo” sounds unique and even challenging at points. It’s a wildly infectious song with a fun rhythm that blends heavy and light sounds. Xylophone chimes coexist with rumbling bass and the synthesized sounds range from low scratching sounds to a robotic bird-whistle that’s so high-pitched it hurts. I love the variety and contrast. The whole track is so rich and fun and loaded with character that it’s hard not to love all aspects right down to the little things. The “ow!” at around 40 seconds and the witch cackle at 1:15, are small human touches that feel so charming. Inside the overwhelmingly electronic beat, those little vocal touches feel twice as strong.
“Peek-A-Boo” shows what Red Velvet can do, and how they can reach a sound K-Pop doesn’t usually touch (especially with girl groups). Red Velvet’s music works well when they embrace noisy, aggressive beats that feel 30 percent of the way towards Sleigh Bells. “I Just” lowers the tempo compared to “Peek-A-Boo,” but it leans into the noisier, almost staccato style they do very well. The band modulated their voices into chants and strange beats that blend well with the start and stop singing on most of the track. “Attaboy” works a lot like “I Just,” using a staccato style of singing that fits into the beat really well. The high pitched singing and heavy auto-tune contrast well against the bass. The weird noises hold the song together as it moves away from the glitchy, and sharp high pitched sections into the smooth r&b parts.
For me “Peek-A-Boo”, “Attaboy” and “I Just” are the highlights of the album. Those songs shine because they’re where Red Velvet adapts their vocals to their beats and leans into their noise-pop lite style. When they lean into their directional change and sing as choppily and aggressively as their beats move, they have a sound I haven’t heard any K-Pop girl group gets close to. The result is awesome.
When they lean away, however, it feels like the same old girl group routine. The last three songs on the album use the same sounds as the rest of the album, but the compositions are so different they never felt like they fit the album to me. “Perfect 10” is a fine r&b song, but it feels tame compared to so many other tracks on “Perfect Velvet.” “About Love” feels like it belongs to old Red Velvet or a lot of other girl groups that aren’t that unique. “Moonlight Melody” is dull and un-energetic.
Red Velvet hits the middle mark, too. “Look” has interesting moments and works as a solid mid-tempo r&b song. It uses much more interesting vocal effects than “Perfect 10” and has a solid mix of smooth and choppy sounds. It doesn’t quite reach the highlights of the album for me, but it feels like it fits on it. “Kingdom Come” and “My Second Date” are similar, not leaning in enough to the new style to reach full potential, but still sounding fresh and fun. “Second Date” uses odd sounds to create a beat that’s difficult to describe. There’s an off-kilter string twang, some light chime-like synth sounds, and weird glitchy vocal modulations. The “HEY!” chorus that BTS likes to use also shows up — to really interesting effect since it’s usually used for more uptempo songs.
After a lot of listens, “Perfect Velvet” felt a challenging album to slap a number on. “Perfect Velvet” feels deeper than a simple number rating because it shows a lot of growth and a lot of sides of Red Velvet. “Perfect Velvet” is Red Velvet at their most and least interesting. It can get schizophrenic, seeing noise pop elements and r&b elements and standard K-Pop girl group elements forced to sit together. Because “Perfect Velvet” still seems to be searching for an identity, I give it a 6/10. Though that seems low, I think “Perfect Velvet” deserves credit. Red Velvet (or, as it too often goes in the K-Pop world, label executives) chose an interesting route to take their music. When they hit the right note they really knock it out of the park, and when they miss it, they sound generic.