The classic story, The Secret Garden, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is a strange sort of book to base a song or an album. Misrepresented at the time of its release, the story of a spoiled, ill-tempered orphan girl and her isolated cousin learning to be kind and find their own magic didn’t resonate with audiences at the time. Although the story became an established work of merit in Hodgson-Burnett’s canon of work posthumously, it lacked the right promotion when it counted.

It’s ironic that Oh My Girl, who has been bubbling under the commercial radar, should find attention and success with an album inspired by this book. The group could certainly claim to be underrated with their previous releases. Their innocent, feminine concepts haven’t managed to set them apart when competing with the multitude of other girl groups attempting a version of the same theme. They’ve stuck with it for this comeback, leaning more into the fantastical, dreamy elements and tackled a concept that feels perfect for them.

The music released by Oh My Girl has consistently shown depth and potential, trying interesting albeit subtle takes on established pop variations. Much like the secret garden described in the inspiration for their album, the distinct appeal of their charms takes time to uncover. The challenge set but this album would be to strongly assert their identity as a group, playing up their strengths. Swedish producer, Andreas Öberg who had a strong influence on Pink Ocean, worked on three of the five tracks on this extended play, and it shows. There’s a touch of the same hand across the different styles of pop being attempted on the album.

“Everything is made out of Magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us.” – Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

An ethereal mood speaking to youth and enchantment is really what sets the tone of all of the songs. It is difficult to bring a cohesive musical concept to a mini-album without sounding monotonous but Secret Garden sounds like a well-integrated body of work. All the songs touch on a theme of love but they’re by no means five songs pining over a crush.

The title track has less to do with the romantic object of the song than an assertion of the lyrics’ protagonist’s potential. The lyrics speak about love but also about potential. The references to dreams and magic interwoven with nature recall the novel, The Secret Garden while making use of similar themes of rebirth and creativity.

There’s a precious place inside of me
It’s still nothing special
If you wait a little more, you’ll see
Something great and amazing is planted inside
Although you still can’t see anything

Esoteric natural parts of life are what are highlighted throughout the album: fantasies, dreams, and the passing of time are topics in most of the song. The second track, “Love O’ Clock” doesn’t just evoke the passing of time lyrically but a giant clock sound dominates the instrumentation as well. Rather than the concept of time, “Sixteen” is about memories of a first love and a moment of summer and happiness. Nostalgia in “Sixteen” is fully indulged during the clap and sing-a-long breakdown that uses the seven members’ voices to great effect.

Vocally, Oh My Girl performs an impressive variety of pretty harmonies across all five tracks. The producers make use of the contralto ranges which effectively moderates the tinkly, saccharine vibe that can become sickly if goes on for too long. Mimi raps in all but the title track of the album and she performs competently. The sugar-coated dream atmosphere that permeates every song needs the crunch of the rap interludes and the deeper aspects of the vocals.

Sweetness is a common feeling in the instrumentation of all the songs but it’s not one note. It’s not all dreamy synth, “Secret Garden” uses cinematic, atmospheric sounds in an interesting way. “Butterfly” features a prominent acoustic guitar line that’s classic bubblegum pop. The bass and handclaps in “Magic” provide a tight backdrop for the members’ vocals to really shine. The variety and experimentation in sound don’t ever feel discordant, it’s a natural flow of highly listenable pop.

Overall, there isn’t a skippable track on Secret Garden; there’s something to appeal to anyone who really appreciates honeyed poppy music. It doesn’t have any sharp edges or deep, dark moments but it doesn’t need it. It easily moves between high energy and gentle, lush moods, all the while emphasizing the musical strengths of the group. All the choices made are self-assured and take steps to further musical and lyrical themes the group has previously explored. There isn’t major risk-taking but with music this delightful to listen to, it hardly makes a difference. Secret Garden establishes a sound for Oh My Girl that should be in the K-pop landscape for many years to come.

(The Guardian, Lyrics via Pop!Gasa, Youtube, Images via WM Entertainment)