Red Velvet want you to know: they're just a cut above the rest. To the unfamiliar eye, this would surely reek of ego, but for these K-pop favorites, it feels more akin to pure exuberance. A restless drive, not to be contained. Closing out a banner year that has seen them release not one, but two of 2017's best and most successful girl group releases – including the burst of joy that is The Red Summer – they've somehow returned again already. Forget a victory lap mini-album, Perfect Velvet arrives as a full LP.

As the current record-holding K-pop girl group for albums that topped the Billboard World charts, Perfect Velvet arriving so swiftly on the heels of competing superstar's TWICE's debut full length is perhaps not a coincidence, but the music here couldn't sound less concerned with competition.

To the contrary, Red Velvet's only true interest appears to be dodging what's expected. Especially in the harsh hype vacuum of K-pop, pop stars interested in deconstructing their success and pushing forward are an oddity indeed.

For those not already invested, it has to be understood: a “concept”, as arbitrary as the idea may seem to an outsider, is a buzz word that can make or break interest in a project. One can bemoan the focus on presentation over material, but delving deeper into the scene, at its best, the two aspects only complement each other, giving fans something to latch their anticipation onto, and allowing for groups to distinguish themselves in an overcrowded field.

Still, all too often, girl groups are relegated to the “cute or sexy” quandary of concepts, but stars have increasingly found room to play within limitations. The aforementioned TWICE, for example, managed to cram a goofy mess of fantasy (Fairies! Pirates!) imagery into the video for their otherwise tidy-on-paper hit “TT”. Nonetheless, groups tend to settle into comfort zones, such as TWICE's squeakily clean, so-cute-you-could die flawless presentation, or recently disbanded SISTAR's sexy summer vibes.

Red Velvet, by comparison, simply refuse to be pegged down. Members have made a point of valuing their versatility, talking openly about never wanting to be “the group that does ____.” In the space of two releases, they've gone from literally interviewing fruit to trying to murder a pizza delivery boy in the goofy B-horror schlock of Perfect Velvet's “Peek-A-Boo.”

Naturally, they wouldn't be worthy of such much credit for simply trying to mix it up: they've succeeded flawlessly. The album plays like something of a challenge, constantly seeking to top itself. “I Just” seems ready to burst with energy, only to give way to the irresistible emotion of “Kingdom Come”, with a beat and vocal grooves that would make the likes of Tinashe jealous, followed by the charming, stomach butterfly inducing “My Second Date”; across its admittedly brisk 30 minutes, Perfect Velvet just never lets up.

Red Velvet have closed a deliberately executed, perfect year with a title that shows they know it. Such moves might feel obnoxious elsewhere, but when it's achieved with such grace, it's impossible to find genuine fault. The truth is, the unstoppable TWICE juggernaut may stand as the bigger group, but the Velvet ladies continue to challenge themselves, and what's more, craft irresistible pop that doesn't lose an ounce of sheen once the buzz wears off. So long as they keep showing and proving, hey, keep the hits coming.