With the close of their four-part ‘Hello’ series six months ago, CIX are now beyond introductions. Their first full-length album, ‘OK Prologue: Be OK’, finds the five members of the boyband – BX, Seunghun, Yonghee, Bae Jinyoung and Hyunsuk – out to sea, adrift in the twilight of their coming of age. “Go beyond the wave,” comes their siren call, even as the quintet are unsure what lies ahead.
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That transition to adulthood can be turbulent, in spite of any apparent tranquility. “The war that wears the mask of ocean / Keeps swinging me with the soft face,” raps leader BX on the lead-up to title track ‘Wave’’s thumping chorus – the calm before the storm, if you will. The song builds, reaching its peak, and comes crashing down, as BX and Hyunsuk chant, “just like thunder, thunder, thunder.”
Always attentive to the fourth generation group’s key listeners, the entire ‘Be OK’ record takes a stab at encapsulating these wild ups and downs of youth – including challenges specific to today. With the (possibly) waning pandemic, it’s hard not to draw a parallel between the misty shores at the end of CIX’s voyage with the cautious real-life optimism beginning to percolate through the months of despair.
Rumbling guitars set the tone on album opener ‘Bad Dream’. An eleventh-hour deep house drop amplifies the nightmarish atmosphere, distorted voices stuttering “I can’t wake up, up / Bad dream, bad dream” to screeching synths. Its sonic volatility veers into darker waters – but never fear, because ‘Off My Mind’ quickly follows. A glimmer of distant hope in the form of a retro R&B groove, the duo teases ‘Be Ok’’s push and pull.
Traces of South Korea’s ‘newtro’ – a portmanteau referring to the mixture of retro and newer elements – fever similar to those found in ‘Off My Mind’ feature all over the band’s discography, usually to great effect. In ‘Lost’, ’80s Moog bass and the vaguest of city pop influence (they’ve been toying with the idea for a while now) gloss CIX’s unease in a bright sheen. “Until this world and my dream fall into place / I’m so lost, lost, lost,” sings Seunghun, lively as ever. But ‘Genie In A Bottle’ sees that concept in a rare bit of stagnation, the clinky percussion leaning more dated than refreshed. Still, the song is bouncy and easy on the ears, if not particularly memorable.
With slow jam ‘ICE’ and the smooth ‘In & Out’, CIX take a chill detour through some twinkling R&B cuts, but don’t be fooled by the songs’ superficial lightness – their lyrics detail feelings of being frozen in an unmoving world. Over a faint jazzy piano, the latter narrates the story of a creature caged in glass under the ocean’s surface, looking out at the unreachable expanse. “Now let me go,” Seunghun wails, his breathless vocal climb into the stratosphere nothing short of magical.
Flipping the formula of their previous EP ‘Hello, Strange Dream’, which gets a slow start before shifting into high gear, ‘Be OK’ instead tapers off into a softer note with piano ballad ‘Confession’ and acoustic English track ‘Here For You’. True to its country roots, ‘Here For You’ douses its whistled riffs and optimistic outlook (“Please remember, the times you cried / Never last and out came the light”) in a heaping spoonful of melancholy. All in all, the pair are a bittersweet sendoff to the vacillating emotions of ‘Be OK’.
Yet the album’s heart lives not at its close but at its candied centre with ‘20’, a bubbly slice of pop that epitomises the turning page in the five-piece boyband’s career. Musically, it’s a bit of a retread of ‘Wave’, sugarcoating any trepidation of the future with nostalgic snaps and pulsing synths (not to mention a few more impressive high notes courtesy of Seunghun), but it takes the album’s abstracted themes and lays them bare.
“Bump into me more / Find me / My every day,” Yonghee sings – a callback to those waves of fate cited in the album’s title track, which heave us along invisible, seemingly incidental paths. With all five members rounding the corner into their third decade (the youngest is 19 and the oldest, 23), each is eager to discover what waits for them beyond the bend: “Chasing the lengthened tail of the sun / Looking for the answer at the end.”
Despite their vow to stay “forever, forever young,” ‘20’ celebrates this dawning chapter of their careers, past the ‘Hello’ series. ‘Be OK’ captures them in these vital first steps and, with a handful of B-side writing credits from BX, beginning to put words to the changing landscape of their lives. Boasting the group’s most cohesive sound to date, this new entry promises even bigger and brighter things on CIX’s horizon.
- Release date: August 17
- Record label: C9 Entertainment