It’s indisputable that the K-pop market has shifted to minis and even digital singles over full albums, but sometimes that has weird ripples. For instance, a group passing it’s four year anniversary but just now releasing its first album. Such is the case of Oh My Girl, who’ve just come back with The Fifth Season. Now, we tend to hold a first album from an established act to a higher standard, as they’ve had the time and experience to iron out the kinks. And when it comes to meeting that bar, I wouldn’t say that The Fifth Season meets it. I’d say it surpasses it.

The Fifth Season is a good album; not great, but damn good. Clocking in at 9 tracks, it hits the perfect balance of classic Oh My Girl tracks and songs that push them into new territories without sacrificing the core of their appeal.

Oh My Girl’s biggest draw is their vocal style– light, bright, airy, and infused with longing and genuine sweetness, like some benevolent fairies made a pop group. This has been typically been paired with synthpop, veering towards dreampop and a lot of lyrics about first kisses and innocent crushs. The end result is a sound that’s sweet, ephemeral, and extremely distinct, but doesn’t leave Oh My Girl with many places to go.

Rest assured, fans of Oh My Girls’ sound will find plenty to enjoy here. Title track “The Fifth Season” is a masterful example, delicate and careful vocals against dynamic instrumentals. The strings in the chorus provide a wonderful lift and play against the higher range of Oh My Girl beautifully. It’s a very energetic track, setting vocal runs against synths against drum rolls; a lovely showcase of seeming chaos that’s really perfectly controlled.

“Shower”, “Case No. L5VE”, “Gravity”, and “Underwater Love” also fall into that classic sound of light delicacy, “Shower” especially. However, they also contain touches that show Oh My Girls subtle exploration into newer sounds. “Case No. L5VE” is built around some very stactatto piano that adds both some sass and a firm presence to the track. “Gravity”, meanwhile leans more towards pure synthpop, with wilder, more aggressive synths in the verses before being restrained by the chorus.

The other four songs all fall outside that classic sound, but retain the key to Oh My Girls appeal– the light, airy vocals. “Tic Tac” is a much bouncier, more grounded track, but the richer bassline is nicely balanced by the softer delivery. It also retains the sweetness typically found, but presents in a richer context. “Crime Scene” sees Oh My Girls taking a turn for the aggressive, with more mainstream EDM production, but again, balanced by the vocals, most effectively on the prechorus. The electric guitar that kicks in on the bridge is just the cherry on top.

However, it’s the final two tracks that really show what Oh My Girl can do. Album closer “Checkmate” takes a turn for the Latin. Starting off with what has to be the basic chord for latin brass musicians, it’s playful and coy as Oh My Girl weave deft circles around their crush. The only issue is the drop, which feels clunky and out of place against the more organic production.

Then there’s “Vogue” which I consider the album standout. It’s dark, sleek, and almost gritty. Built off a thrumming bassline and powerful percussion, it’s seductive. Yet, it’s still got those bright vocals, and honestly, it wouldn’t work half so well without them. The contrast between the borderline sinister synths and soaring vocals just makes Oh My Girl pop, highlighting their control as they lure in their prey.

What really pulls The Fifth Season together is the production. This album is expertly mixed. The vocals are always placed at the front of the mix, ensuring they don’t drown in the mix on tracks like “The Fifth Season” and “Gravity”. They are given enough space to fully highlight the airy, soft performance and layered carefully enough to pick out each vocal line. It’s a clean, perfectly polished production that is honestly one of the best sounding of the year.

As someone who’s always respected Oh My Girl’s niche, I’m delighted that The Fifth Season is a release I enjoy. They’ve got plenty here for their fans, but there’s also enough to prove that Oh My Girl can evolve and grow while remaining Oh My Girl.

(Images via WM Entertainment, YouTube)