Just in time for the spring, talented duo Bolbbalgan4 have returned once again with Youth Diary 1: Flower Energy. True to their usual style, Bolbbalgan4 use light-hearted melodies to present an introspective and slightly heart-wrenching tale about love and youth.

In this short mini album of five tracks, Bolbbalgan4 further strengthens their musical identity and injects new flavour into their musical repertoire. This is most obvious in “Seattle Alone”, a track centered on lost love and loneliness. It highlights the irony of being in a city full of people but still feeling hopelessly lost and alone. The track reflects this, with a marked move away from their usual light acoustic instrumentation to a heavier, more crowded sound. It speaks to the strength of this track’s mixing that the percussion is appropriately emphasised here, creating a throbbing pulse that fits the representation of a bustling city.

The setting and overall sound of this track stand out compared to the rest of the album. For one, the music videos for their title tracks “Bom” and “Stars Over Me” are both bright and colourful, filmed at scenic locations like beaches. In spite of this surface-level difference however, a similar irony carries on through the tracks.

“Bom” in particular portrays the wide-eyed wistfulness of spring in a nuanced way. Behind its cheerful melody and light-hearted instrumentation is a story of the heart-fluttering excitement which comes with love, but also of longing and insecurity. The fear of rejection, of your loved one leaving your side – the duo capture these sentiments perfectly through this track.

Diving deeper, there is “Mermaid”, a song which powerfully uses the famous fairytale to show the pain of unrequited love. It’s the most emotional ballad of the album, and Jiyoung‘s iconic voice truly shines here. The gradual way the instrumentation builds up and the spaces the song leaves for Jiyoung’s words to sink in — it’s a work of art.

If you disappear, I disappear too
I might disappear to the quiet sea
Though you may believe I love you so much
Though I won’t be able to say anything if you disappear
Very quietly

The repeated refrain of “very quietly” ties in nicely with the quiet way the song begins with just a simple piano accompaniment, but it also speaks about how insignificant the protagonist is to the one she loves. Just as the Little Mermaid was unable to speak when she came onto land, the protagonist is unable to say a word, unable to question anything that he does. She has sacrificed so much of herself to him that she is prone to every decision he makes, even if it is to leave her side. This loss of individuality is heartbreaking, especially as she has no direction beyond being with him. The protagonist realises this in the bridge of the song, creating an emotional climax that is effectively conveyed through the string ensemble and electric guitar instrumentation.

Of course, this being a spring album, the downsides of love are balanced with genuinely cheerful tracks that express the joys of youth, friendship and love. “Stars Over Me” and “Picnic” both feature simple lyrics painting pictures of fun outings with friends/lovers. The carefreeness of youth, the ability to just gaze in awe at the stars while enjoying the companionship of a friend, these are fleeting blessings that tend to disappear with age.

Both these tracks, but perhaps “Stars Over Me” more successfully so, encompas the beauty of simply living in the moment. While it is unfortunate that resident rapper and guitarist Jiyoon had less parts in this album, the duo’s harmonies in this track were especially beautiful.

Bolbbalgan4 never disappoints, and Youth Diary 1: Flower Energy redefined the typically breezy season of spring this time around. Their masterful way of invoking emotion with their music, and of writing relatable lyrics which prick deep, speaks of their boundless talent. I cannot wait to see what else they come up with in this series.

(Youtube, Klyrics, Images via Shofar Music)