Bolbbalgan4 has been a staple of Korean indie music ever since their explosive hit song, “Galaxy“, in 2016. With multiple tracks from their 2016 album “Red Planet” going viral and charting high, Bolbbalgan4 has been deemed as “digimons”—digital monsters or artists that do exceptionally well on the digital charts. Every year since then, the duo made up of main vocalist and songwriter Ahn Jiyoung and guitarist, sub-vocalist, and songwriter Woo Jiyoon have put out hit after hit. Their title tracks, b-sides, collaborations, and even OSTs have all performed very well, thereby cementing them as this generation’s leading indie artist.

Despite their huge popularity, there have been some criticisms they’ve had to face over the years—one of the main ones being that they had a very distinct sound that they stuck to. A primary reason for that is Ahn Jiyoung‘s unique vocal color and the fact that they write nearly all of their songs on their own. While most Koreans seemed to love their songs, evident in how well their songs chart, some did voice concerns about the longevity of their careers if they were to continue releasing such “same-sounding” tracks every year. “Two Five“, Bolbbalgan4‘s newest EP released in September, was their answer to these worries.

Two Five” is undoubtedly Bolbbalgan4‘s most distinct album. Each song has a darker undertone compared to many of their previous tracks, which centered more on bright, happy, and youthful themes or a melancholy melody. If Bolbbalgan4‘s previous discographies focused on puberty (the meaning behind their name, which directly translates to ‘Red-Cheeked Puberty‘) and youth, this EP concentrates instead on transitioning into adulthood and finding your individuality and worth as an adult. All in all, this album is much more mature.

The first song on the EP is the title track “워커홀릭 (Workaholic)“. The song kicks off with Jiyoung‘s addicting “na-na-na-na-na” on top of a steady bass beat. Jiyoung, who usually sings with a light and airy tone, sings at a much lower register for the verses (you can immediately hear the maturity in both her voice and the instrumentals). The lyrics—especially true in Korea—are about the working culture and how tiring and taxing it is for workers. Jiyoung sings about the repetitive days and how “it’s the same thing every day, I’m getting tired of it, I just want to make it through today…”. The chorus starts with the addicting line “everyone hands up, beer cheers”, which is referencing the drinking culture in Korea as well.

Even the MV follows the theme of the song, showing Jiyoung waking up and going through a work day with a look of desperate weariness. It shows her patience wearing thin, and by the end she eventually ends up letting go and partying—taking revenge on her overbearing boss. However, the ending scene is a bit despairing, as it displays the singer waking up to the subsequent morning by the sound of her ever familiar alarm.
Rating: 8.5/10

The next track, “25“, starts with a riveting synth beat. Jiyoung once again sings with her lower register, but this time she uses her trademark ‘rolling’ pronunciation to make the song more interesting. The chorus is more subtle, but it still has that Bolbbalgan4 catchy sound. The instrumentals are pretty minimalistic throughout the song, and there isn’t much change (the only big change being the drum coming in and out). This is a coming of age sort of tract, as Bolbbalgan4 reflects on turning 25 and how much they’ve learned and experienced in life so far. They also sing about how there is more to come, and there’s a sense of desolate loneliness and hope in the melody as well as in the lyrics.
Rating: 7/10

XX” opens up with a beautiful piano, leading into a slow ballad singing. It sounds a lot like their songs from the “Red Planet” album and has Bolbbalgan4‘s famous melancholy melody and lyrics. “XX” talks about the regret of a lost love and the late realization of how special their lover was. The singer was the one to break off the relationship, which is evident in the lyrics, “I can be a good person now, I’m confident I won’t be leaving you, I didn’t know I needed love then.” However, even if she regrets it now, she knows that there’s nothing she can do to take her words and actions back.
Rating: 8/10

The fourth track is one of my personal favorites from the album. Taste sounds mysterious from the beginning, and I love how Jiyoung uses intonation to make this mystery carry on throughout the song. It’s reminiscent of Bolbbalgan4‘s earlier tracks, especially tracks like “Blue” and “Seattle Alone“. The vibe of the song has a city-like feel to it with its sophisticated melody. The chorus is as catchy as expected, and “Taste” utilizes Jiyoung‘s vocal color so well that it never gets boring.
Rating: 8.5/10

The last official original song in the EP is titled “낮 (Day off)“, and immediately you notice a lot of interesting instrumental choices. The song starts with a clock ticking, then the sound of a train or a car passing that’s followed by some static noise, radio, and a phone buzzing. The sound effects perfectly fit the first couple lines of the lyrics about sitting in your room, lonely and quiet despite the harsh sounds of busy life passing by outside. The track’s lyrics deal with finding inner peace and taking time to yourself. This is emphasized when instead of focusing on the noises of the busy city life, the lyrics are fixated on finding the beautiful sound of the “day”. Day Off fits the album’s theme flawlessly. Moreover, although the song is Bolbbalgan4‘s typical acoustic sound, it has a hint of maturity.
Rating: 7.5/10

The last actual song is the acoustic version of “XX“. It’s really similar to the original “XX” version, but instead, the instrumentals are a lot more laid back and toned down. I felt that Jiyoung‘s voice shone even more in this version.
Rating: 7/10

This album was fantastic from start to finish. I can always trust Bolbbalgan4 to deliver consistent, thematically cohesive albums, and I’m so glad they did once again. “Two Five” gives those who are sick of the duo’s typical sound something new but also gives their long-time fans that nostalgic and melancholic sound that they’re known for. As true with Bolbbalgan4‘s earlier mini that was released this year, “Youth Diary 1: Flower Energy“, I really loved every single song on this album and was definitely impressed. In my opinion, considering that “Two Five” is an EP with only 5 songs (excluding the acoustic remix), this was one of the best flowing and high-quality albums released so far this year.

Artistic Creativity: 9/10
Vocal Quality: 9/10
Music: 7.75/10

Album: 8.5/10