After a year and a half, EXO’s first official subunit—excluding the Korean-language and Mandarin teams of their early days—has had their first comeback. EXO-CBX, made up of members Chen, Baekhyun and Xiumin, has finally ended the long drought since their debut with new mini-album “Blooming Days.” Yes, there was a (phenomenal) Japanese mini-album at some point along the way to tide us over, but there’s nothing quite like the hype of a fully teased and promoted Korean comeback. And hype is exactly what new title track “Blooming Day” delivers. The genre-bending jam pushes boundaries as far, and as well, as any of EXO’s best songs, adding to SM Entertainment’s recent string of stunning pop feats that are honestly starting to make my head spin.
“Blooming Day” is one of those tracks that subverts expectations at every step, and yet—and yet—it never once feels disjointed. The opening sees blinking synths dancing across an inventively bright chord progression, in a way that feels vaguely funky and yet simultaneously sweet. The upbeat mood has you gearing up for the jazzily bombastic chorus of debut song “Hey Mama,” but before you know it, you’re plunged into a comparatively subdued prechorus where the most salient elements are a viscid bass and CBX’s crooning. Even as higher sounds are toned down, the beat picks up energy, eventually rolling without a hiccup into a similarly bass- and vocals-driven hook whose only new texture is the muted plunking of an electric guitar. It’s strange to see a chorus so spare that it’s auditorily less busy than the verses, but here the dynamic reversal is more than effective, making “Blooming Day” as sensual as it is fun. There’s something just slightly moody, dark even, in the yearning “Oh baby, oh baby” of the brilliant hook, which in the hands of seasoned performers Chen, Baekhyun, and Xiumin becomes simply mesmerizing. Wait, how have I not mentioned ChenBaekXi until now? Their vocals, and more, the flirty bravado that made “Hey Mama” so fun, are if anything even more integral to the success of “Blooming Day.”
Of course, any song on the album would just about fall apart without CBX’s distinctive vocal characters and attitudes. R&B this imaginative couldn’t be pulled off by just anyone. You’re seeing the same incredibly creative composition that made EXO’s 2017 winter album so amazing, fit into smooth and fresh textures that echo the season and the album’s title “Blooming Days.” Though every song on the album bears that brand of impressive composition and production, I’d be lying if I said “Monday Blues” doesn’t jump out. Its hook is perhaps the fastest to take besides the title track, and once its languorous bass and honied melodies grab hold, they don’t let go. If you don’t listen through the whole album (PLEASE do!) then at least check out “Monday Blues.” Everything about “Blooming Days” is a triumph (well, if you ignore the fact that CBX STILL have yet to drop a ballad in Korean—a travesty! At least we have the magnificent “Diamond Crystal” from the Japanese album), and it has renewed my anticipation for EXO’s next full-group comeback.
BLOOMING DAY: KAYBOP OR KAYFLOP? Boooooop.
Take a look at EXO-CBX’s “Blooming Day” MV below: