As K-pop returns as a hot trend in the West, groups like BTS and EXO are the poster children of what to expect from the pulsating scene. They're certainly proving to the non-converted in the West that there's more to K-pop than 'Gangnam Style', but are they the best examples of what a Korean boy band can bring? It’s debatable, especially when a group like VIXX exists.

VIXX (which stands for “Voice, Visual, Value In Excelsis” and, no, I am not joking) burst onto the scene in bright colors and infectiously adorable energy with 2012’s 'Super Hero'. Their second single, 'Rock Ur Body' retained those qualities, but it was 2013’s 'On and On' that revealed a glimpse of what a darker, more subdued VIXX would look and sound like.

Fans of the group – known as Starlights, again, not a joke – are often divided on what VIXX concepts (the K-pop lingo for what essentially amounts to presentation) they like. An overwhelming majority prefer their grittier, sometimes macabre work with the most talked-about being 'Voodoo Doll', while others enjoy their brighter, funkier side with songs such as 'Dynamite'. The one thing that’s never questioned, however, is the fact that VIXX are considered one of the most versatile - and best - groups working in Korea today, both musically and conceptually. Korean media has even dubbed them “concept-dols”, a combination of “concept” and “idol”, and so far has kept that title solely for VIXX. You can expect experimenting and uniqueness when it comes to Jellyfish Entertainment’s lead idol group, and this is no different with their latest album, Eau de VIXX.

VIXX capitalize on the success of their turn towards futuristic R&B from 2017’s 'Shangri-La' with their latest single, 'Scentist'. The title presents the theme of the lyrics, describing an obsessive scientist narrator looking to craft and absorb the perfect scent, or lover. With lyrics like “Inhaling deeply / Inhaling you again, and again / Locking you up in my body / Locking you up so that you won’t be gone”, it’s hard to tell whether the obsession is unrequited and erring on the creepy side, or if it’s 3 minutes and 5 seconds of poetic wooing that’ll be accepted, but the instrumental undoubtedly brings the groove, which sets a seductive mood for the song. If you don’t have at-the-ready translations of VIXX songs, you can surely depend on the instrumental to give you a hint.

In addition to instrumentals, one of the best qualities about VIXX’s music is the variety of their voices. A common characteristic of idol groups is positioning each member based on their primary skill – so there are main and lead rappers, main and lead vocalists, sub-vocalists, main and lead dancers, and visuals. Some groups stick to this formula and don’t often leave room for improvement or change, but VIXX is one of the few who has been diligent over the past six years about changing up line distribution and overall sound regardless of position. This hard work is on full display in not only “Scentist” but the 9 other new tracks on Eau de VIXX.

Main vocalist Leo brings the drama and strength he’s known for primarily in “Scentist”, along with a surprising section of speedy delivery, almost like a rap break. Eldest member N is labeled as a sub-vocal but by no means hides behind the others, as he leads the haunting “Resemble” with a breathy, delicate sound. On the opposite end, youngest member Hyuk, who can sound similar to N, asserts his vocals with more sharpness and stability as heard in the house-inspired “Trigger”, a song he helped compose. Rapper Ravi has gone from the early days of sticking out like a sore thumb to being one of the more memorable and anticipated parts of a song, with the way he’s been able to either weave his raps and flows into songs (“My Valentine”) or adapt to the instrumentals. The latter brings me to second main vocalist Ken, who is known for his loud and proud voice and adlibs that are on full display in fan-dedicated track “Navy & Shining Gold” (named for the group’s official fan colors). But it’s in the other club banger “Silence”, however, where he exercises a deeper tone and speedy delivery like Leo, alongside Ravi absolutely attacking a beat switch-up in the second verse.

Last but certainly not least, the whom I would label as the dark horse of VIXX, Hongbin, has gone from having literally one line (two at the most) in past songs to taking over a whole album with his own versatile vocals. I give him his own section because it’s legitimately in every track that you hear the seemingly endless range of the one labeled as the visual of the group who previously wasn’t known for his voice. Hongbin truly stands out in the sultry tunes “Odd Sense” and “Escape”, where he utilizes both sweet vocals and hip-hop-influenced chanting. Hongbin’s previous one–two lines were purely singing lines, so hearing him add that extra edge that would normally go to Ravi is a welcome and refreshing change of pace - and just damn exciting.

As much as this review was meant to introduce you to VIXX in case you didn’t know a thing about them, it also needed to emphasize the growth the group has gone through. This is their third full-length Korean album and judging by the showcase they had for it on its release date, with the excitement exuding from every word spoken and every tear welling up in their eyes, they put forth more effort than ever to present a new side to them. The perfume concept they have for Eau de VIXX is especially interesting because when I think of scents, I don’t think of them as long-lasting. At some point, a scent fades from your nose. But it doesn’t fade from your memory, as one day you can smell something else completely unrelated, but its scent will be exactly like one you remember. And that’s the feeling VIXX gives you when listening to their albums no matter how many experiments in music genre or visual concept; you’ll hear a different sound, but your memory will always be triggered because it is, in fact, VIXX.