Since their 2019 debut, boyband CIX have proven themselves as a group who can make any sound or concept firmly their own, no matter how eclectic. The first three chapters of their ‘Hello’ series, released between June 2019 and October 2020, saw them discuss issues facing today’s youth (‘Hello, Strange Place’), take on the dark realm of hell (‘Hello, Strange Time’) and go through fatal encounters with the unknown (‘Hello, Stranger’).
Now, four months after their last comeback, CIX are throwing things back to a time before the events in this series began to unfold. Their latest EP, ‘Hello Chapter Ø. Hello, Strange Dream’, serves as a prequel to their previous releases and, once again, sees the ever-improving group showcase their impressive versatility.
If later instalments of the ‘Hello’ series are winding trips down dark paths, then ‘Strange Dream’ acts as the calm before the storm. It’s far lighter and leaves the weighty topics to one side; the perfect antidote to our current bleak winter. Title track ‘Cinema’ conjures the feeling of lovestruck summer nights through gently bubbling synths, its lyrics using silver screen analogies to detail a youthful relationship.
“Sometimes the takes may be delayed since I’m unskilled,” Yonghee sings. “But I still have faith in the frame called ‘us’.” Even amateur filmmakers can fill their work with heart and warmth, though, and that’s what CIX – inexperienced cinematographers but gifted idols – do here, resulting in one of their best title tracks so far.
CIX bring in rock riffs on ‘Young’ to drive the anthemic song’s headstrong spirit. Although, the song is not as musically experimental as the rebellious lyrics would suggest (“I will never be obedient, never change myself,” Jinyoung promises in the opening lines), instead keeping things mostly polished and pretty, in spite of the distorted chords that propel it. At times, though, those chords threaten to drown out the band’s voices and the production can feel choppy, making an otherwise golden song lurch in and out of awkward phases.
True to the variety CIX have already shown fans so far, ‘Strange Dream’ doesn’t just stick to infectious bangers. It opens with ‘Stairway To Heaven’, a piano-led ballad with elegant, poignant strings woven into its fabric that details finding someone to lift you out of your darkness – “Look for you, who shines brightest even as the fog thickens,” Seunghun sings. ‘Round 2’ takes a different turn still, bringing together jazzy piano chords, trip-hop beats and spaced-out R&B. It’s an enchanting combination and one that pulls you in more with each listen.
Sometimes, the group surprise even within the songs themselves. ‘Cinema’, for instance, takes the unusual approach for a title track by not featuring a rap verse, instead showcasing BX and Hyunsuk’s smooth vocals. The guitar-pop of ‘Everything’, meanwhile, dips from rich and colourful to a moodier bridge, the rapline growling out their words over foreboding beats.
‘Strange Dream’ might be a retrospective look at the ‘Hello’ series, but it represents a big leap forward for CIX. Diverse and dexterous, it’s proof that this boyband on the rise won’t be tumbling back down to Earth any time soon.