Album Review: IZ*ONE – One-reeler / Act IV

[Off The Record Entertainment; 2020]

In a year that has been astonishingly prolific for K-Pop girl-group IZ*ONE, it would be remiss to say they have finally returned. Having already released two Korean albums (Oneric Diary and BLOOM*IZ) alongside their first full-length Japanese album Twelve, the group have contributed more than their fair share of bright, escapist bops to remedy this depressing year. However, as we stumble and desperately lurch towards 2020’s conclusion, it can be considered a victory that IZ*ONE have released their fourth mini-album One-reeler / Act IV, giving us an extra boost to get to the finish line.

In this year where people were confined to their homes and reconnected with the arts, it seems doubly appropriate that One-reeler is built upon a cinematic concept with the message that love can be exactly like the movies. The majority of the sound stays in IZ*ONE’s lane: frequently decadent, rich and bombastic while still retaining a sense of elegance. Across six tracks, the members build a wondrous and epic world around the central theme of romance while also showing a progression in maturity. The 12 members, each possessing their own unique vocal colour, have been assigned parts that highlight their strengths across the sumptuous production. High-octane in energy, this is an album for those who enjoy pop at its maximum capacity.

 The album opens with “Mise-en-Scène” – a film term referring to the setting of a scene – which is a bright pop-R&B number complete with glitchy beats, explosive synths and orchestral flourishes. Across the epic production, the group sing about how they are main characters in a fantasy where every element is perfect. It also – as implied by the title – establishes the album in a movie world and sets up what we can expect from the forthcoming tracks. This easily joins the ranks of the group’s previous album openers such as “Colors” and “Eyes” – tracks so great that you are compelled to continue on to the next.

The next track is lead single “Panorama”, which is, quite frankly, phenomenal and could be “Fiesta”’s older sister. Across a sweeping, fast-paced soundscape of twinkling synths, finger snaps and goosebump-inducing strings, the song is kaleidoscopic and relentless in energy. It seems the song itself is the panorama – a sonic spectacle that is fantastical and wondrous to behold. With particular highlights attributed to the breakdown in the second verse and the orchestral stabs in the pre-chorus, the song is powerful and frenzied that it’s guaranteed to distract you from the life’s burdens for its four-minute duration – or longer, if you just press repeat.

The album continues with “Island”, which has more cute production but still deviates from expectation. The group sing of flying through the stars on a journey towards this “island” and has a bright energy that could easily soundtrack a fantasy-romance anime. However, production switch-ups add quirky flourishes – much like “Panorama” with yet another breakdown in the second verse – that elevate this song above the cliché.

Following track “Sequence” is not just an album highlight but a standout in IZ*ONE’s whole discography. A funky dance track incorporating clicks and groovy bass-lines, this is undoubtedly the most mature song on the album. With the catchy “That’s the sequence!” as the iconic line of this track, the group sing about being a “bit old school” and needing reassurance that their love interest’s feelings align with theirs. It’s fresh, it’s bold and will undoubtedly be hailed as the track that could’ve also been the lead single.

The high-octane energy of the album simmers down somewhat in the final two tracks. “O Sole Mio” (which roughly translates to “My Sunshine”) is a Latin-influenced pop song with a swinging rhythm and romantic guitar. Although the vocals on this song are incredibly strong – with a particularly amazing run by Yuri towards the end – the production is a little generic by IZ*ONE standards. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a straightforward pop track but this just isn’t as interesting as the previous offerings, especially following the showstopper that is “Sequence.”

The album’s conclusion is the straightforward and pleasant “Slow Journey” (where member Chae-won has writing credits), which is about walking hand-in-hand with the person you’ve found love with. Primarily driven by guitar and finger snaps, the song is a sweet slice of ballad-pop that feels classic. If this album was a film then this song implies that a happy ending has been found.

One-reeler is yet another great album in IZ*ONE’s discography that is completely committed to its concept. Refining the sonic lane the group have occupied since their inception, this epic and varied collection of tracks showcases more confidence and versatility. Although the themes of romance are not unique – you would have to go back many centuries to find the point where singing about romance was considered “unique” – it is nice to be reminded that love can be magical. Like your favourite film, this is an album that can be revisited again, and while not every frame is perfect, it is still a dazzling experience.