Coming off the heels of an incredibly slow December, 2023 in K-pop is off to a similarly stagnant start. I’m waiting to hear the first track of the year that’ll knock me off my feet, and Puzzle‘s propulsive teasers seemed to point in the right direction. SF9’s music has grown more consistently slick over the years and last summer’s Wave of SF9 album was stuffed with great tracks. Puzzle isn’t perfect, but even from one listen I could tell it would be a January standout.
Much of this goodwill is fueled by the production, which finds its pulse quickly and never lets up. The instrumental harnesses the kind of programmed bassline most boy groups are using (we heard it just last week on Moonbin & Sanha’s Madness), but this energy is laced through the entire track. And when the full brunt of the production hits during the chorus, it feels like a natural climax. There’s a fullness to the musical palette, giving Puzzle a larger-than-life appeal. It helps that the track remains laser-focused on its mission, never swerving into some disconnected segment that could break momentum.
As usual, I’m more hesitant about Puzzle’s melody. The first half of its chorus feels repetitive and clunky with awkward phrasing that doesn’t quite match the slickness of the groove. The second half is much stronger, offering a soaring refrain that feels suitably grand. These elements come together during Puzzle’s final moments, sending us out on a densely-packed high.