Laboum is one of those groups who could never seem to catch a break. They had minor hits like “Hwi Hwi” or the stroke of luck of a member getting a place in UNI.T, but never managed to capitalize on those moments. Yet, they’ve always remained an extremely likeable group, if only because they always seem like a group with their heads screwed on straight. There was no rotating door of members, they took opportunities to move into writing and composing their own works, and when their contract was ending, they just made plans to move on, either to other aspects of the entertainment industry or to a new phase in their lives.
Yet when they got one last break, when their 2016 track “Journey To Atlantis” was featured on Hangout With Yoo and returned to the charts in March this year, four of them decided to seize this chance. Leader Yujeong has decided to move on, but Seyeon, Solbin, Haein, and Jinyea (formerly ZN) signed with a new company, Interpark Music Plus, for one last shot. The now-quartet have returned with their third EP, Blossom.
Blossom is a delightful listen. It is not likely to set the world on fire, but stands out by its pure loveliness–honeyed but not saccharine, the lovestruck perspective tempered by clarity and maturity. It is a very “back to basics” release, leaning hard into R&B and showing off all the talents of the members.
The first thing one notices about Blossom is how clean the production is. It’s stripped down but not sparse. The sound is crisp, there is plenty of space in the mix, and the vocals of Laboum are placed front and center. And the way those voices are used is brilliant. Laboum don’t have any vocal powerhouses, tending towards lighter, and let’s be honest, frailer voices.
But Blossom lives in that frailty. Haein and Jinyea are used to give the EP a sense of vulnerability and sweetness, and Soyeon carries the harder vocal lines, while Solbin gives the bite that keeps it from becoming treacly. The end result is an EP that is sincere in its optimism and brimming with a tenderness that pierces the heart.
The instrumentation is a little bland. The synthy, late 70s/early 80s R&B sounds melt into the background. They are pleasant, but not impressive in their own right. The touches of disco on “How I Wish” and the percussion meshing with the emotional beats of “Repeat” add some pop, but they are mostly a blank slate. And yet, the quality of the performances honestly makes it more of a feature than a bug. It provides a solid foundation for Laboum without overpowering them, and lets their vocals shine. When the fuller instrumentation comes in on “Love On You”, it’s so jarring that you wish it hadn’t, and highlights how good it would be a capella.
Placing the emphasis on Laboum’s performances has the added benefit of emphasizing the songwriting. Blossom is a showcase for Laboum’s talent behind the stage just as much as on it. Soyeon wrote the music and lyrics to three songs, while Solbin wrote “Repeat”. And it definitely shows, because Blossom sounds like women in their late 20s who have had adult relationships. Not just in the inclusion of double entendres or references to sharing a bed, but in the presence of maturity that comes with age. They are women who have some life under their belts and are bringing it to the table.
“Kiss Kiss” and “How I Wish” are lovestruck, but not in the naive, first crush way. No, those are women who have had relationships, had their hearts broken, and now know to savor that happiness. “Love On You”, meanwhile, shows the loneliness of having someone, wanting to be together, and knowing that is not a realistic option but working it out anyway. Solbin’s “Repeat”, in comparison to Soyeon’s more optimistic tracks, nails the mundanity of a failing relationship. Things are tense and awkward, the persona’s boyfriend is pulling away, and she knows this cannot continue but also cannot bring herself to end things. It’s the kind of fizzle no one really talks about, but everyone has been through.
Above all, Blossom is a masterclass in working with what you have and flipping weaknesses into strengths. Are you a seven-year-old group that signed to a just-established label? Well, no one has any expectations, so make whatever you want. Don’t have a lot of money? You’ve got two talented songwriters, let them loose. The groups’ vocals are lighter and more fragile? Lean into that as hard as possible. The end result is an EP that sneaks up on you and burrows into your heart. It paints Laboum themselves as hopeful, but self-aware of the risks and downfalls of life. (The casting of Solbin in upcoming drama Idol: The Coup about a failed girl group only lends this further credence.)
Blossom is Laboum’s best work, and while it is too mature to launch them into stardom, it is very easy to see them becoming cult stars, speaking to those who have lived a little and want music that reflects that.