Working off their success with last year’s Midnight Circus and consolidating it with another two strong comebacks this year, LOEN Entertianment‘s resident adult-dol group Sunny Hill is seeing off the year with their 2nd mini album Antique Romance, the first major release since leader Jang-hyun‘s enlistment in late January.

After Sunny Hill became a quintet (Jang-hyun, Jubi and Seung-ah debuted in 2007, while Kota and Mi-sung were added on in 2010 and 2011 respectively), their work could be described as being critical. While Midnight Circus was largely a display of melancholy, the sharp satire in their lyrics is what carried through to their next releases, exemplified by “The Grasshopper’s Song” “Princess and Prince Charming.” Antique Romance, though, takes a break from that and instead presents the ladies of Sunny Hill in a softer light.

This is the first time since their debut album that Sunny Hill has had more than three songs in a release. The first is main vocalist Jubi’s duet with SBS K-pop Star finalist and new LOEN recruit Yoon Hyun-sang, “Cold Day,” a sad ballad about the warmth that leaves a person along with their love for another. Jubi sounds beautiful singing in a higher register, while Yoon’s strong notes ground the song. It may be the sound mixing, because piano notes do not blend well with the smooth vocals; but the introduction of the drums and strings manage to cover this and make the song sound less jagged. It’s a nice enough ballad, and the way the vocals remain at the forefront as the music fades away is a nice touch. However, I personally prefer the version the pair recorded for Loen TV is still worth a listen for the soothing vocals. Stripping it back to just a keyboard allowed me to appreciate Jubi and Yoon’s singing much more.

While the piano notes caused problems in “Getting Cold,” the drum and piano combination that starts off title track Goodbye to Romance instead prevents the song from becoming too sweet and sugary, which would definitely have been the case with the strings, the optimistic lyrics and the ladies’ own melodious voices; even rapper Mi-sung chips in, her alto a welcome addition (though she seems to be having a bit of trouble with it live). Kota’s voice can at times come across as squeaky (particularly when she raps), but “Goodbye to Romance” saw none of that, allowing the maknae to sing in what may be the perfect range for her voice.

The lyrics are about the letting go of a first love, a crush, where they “want him to remain as a good memory,” without any bitterness at the non-realisation of one’s love. This statement forms the climax of the song, and while snare drums and Kota’s ad-libs kick in right after, the lack of a crescendo in the bridge cannot be not easily ignored. While the desire to remain understated for this kind of light song is understandable, a bit of drama would not have gone amiss. All in all, a warm song that kindly lets you know that, no, senpai will probably never notice you — and that’s OK (even though the language and culture are different).

“Do You Want To Get Married?” feels like summer, particularly that quiet thrill of anticipation that arrives with the warm weather. The Spanish guitar and maracas liven up the song, while percussion and brass take it to the next level; the live band sound is a lively addition to this album, and the flute weaving its way through the song is so delightful to listen to. The members’ own saccharine voices manage to perfectly complement the sweet and, dare I say it, sunny song. “Do You Want To Get Married?” also stands out by featuring what is inarguably the best English in any Sunny Hill song ever in Mi-sung’s breakdown verse.

The fourth and final song, “3 Out,” features a simple keyboard melody (which reminds me of S Club 7), but the the brass and percussion are the highlights. “3 Out” becomes more appealing as it progresses, the gradual build-up of the instrumentation and vocals making it more interesting. The rap  has hints of labelmate Fiestar‘s “Wicked,” and while it introduced different elements to the song, they were not incorporated into the final chorus, something that could have really lifted the song and not made the rap appear so out of place. In fact, it’s almost like a cruel reminder to the listener expecting something high-energy of what they’re not getting from this album.

Antique Romance is Sunny Hill au naturale; there are more real instruments and less synths, along with less autotune. This is the big positive of this album, its more mellow sound and lack of post-production interference allowing the ladies’ vocals to really shine. For a group often lauded for its live performances, it was frustrating to not hear any of that in their otherwise great music (The Grasshoppers being the biggest culprit). But while Antique Romance is different from the group’s previous works as a quintet, it strongly resembles the sound of Sunny Hill circa 2007The original trio’s tracks like “Ringback Tone” and “Love Is All I Know” share the same sound, eliciting a sense of fond nostalgia for older fans.

This album lacks the bite for which Sunny Hill is known, but is a Christmas-appropriate release by the group that allows listeners to acquaint themselves with the group’s more emotional side. As such, it works as an unassuming and relatively old-school pause in Sunny Hill’s discography; but the main joy of Antique Romance is in hearing the clear and (mostly) unadultered voices of the Sunny Hill ladies, their shining vocals deserving of a score of 3.5 out of 5.

What did you think of Antique Romance? Did you miss the sharp lyrics, or were the vocals enough for you? Leave your thoughts below!

(Loen Entertainment, Nega Network)