[JYP; 2021]

K-Pop is often at its brightest and most exuberant when the summer arrives. It’s the season where groups release effervescent bubbly concepts that highlight the happiness of life without a micro-particle of cynicism. This is precisely what girl-group TWICE deliver on their 10th mini-album Taste of Love: a set of six slickly-produced songs that take place from sunset into the hazy summer night.

The album possesses a more unified sound and primarily delves into retro-influenced dance-pop in a sparkling array of synths and basslines guaranteed to please the ears. This is also TWICE at their most lyrically mature, infusing this project with concepts that are coy and assertive. In fact, most of the album follows the same vein of “Make Me Go”, a highlight of their previous project More & More, in their overt romanticism and maturity. Also, with the members Jihyo, Sana, Dahyun and Nayeon writing five out of six tracks, their creative energies are consistently being utilised. Perhaps, we might be getting ever closer to a TWICE-written lead single?

Taste of Love begins with lead single “Alcohol-Free”, which is far from the teetotaller anthem its title implies; rather it explores the intoxication of romance (“I’m drunk on you”). With an unexpected bossa nova swing, guitar, animated piano and cinematic strings, the song is a surprising genre switch-up for the group and while this remains a trademark TWICE bop – it’s significantly more chill than what we’d usually expect from a lead single. Instead, this is a very immersive listen that allows you to dreamily swoon as if you had consumed the drinks they list in the chorus (“Mojito with lime / Sweet mimosa, piña colada”). It possesses a shimmering magic that perfectly captures the warmth of summer and love while consolidating the versatility of the group.

Following this is the propulsive and sexy slice of funky R&B “First Time”, which is more overt in its maturity (“When I’m loving you / I’m always satisfied”). Quite frankly, this is one of the best album tracks TWICE have recorded, combining the modern with nostalgia to create amazing results. The song builds up adding more exciting elements, whether it’s an emphasised bass riff or spontaneous harmonies, while exploring a relationship that refuses to diminish in passion.

“Scandal” is a phenomenal track that combines the worlds of 90s dance-pop and 80s rock with a cheeky wink. The title alone feels risky in the best way, a sort of inside joke for K-Pop fans who dread hearing that particular word. Rather than giving ‘scandal’ a negative connotation, however, TWICE spin it into a track about a simmering, tantalising romantic tension that is too good to resist (“Baby we’re a scandal / Way too hot to handle / You can’t keep your eyes off / And it’s just the way I like”).

Next up, “Conversation” is an up-tempo with burbling synths whose stripped back verses allow the propulsive and catchy chorus to really shine. It’s yet another sexy tune about the eager anticipation of meeting someone you’re really into and how you want to have “a little less conversation” once you see each other. The track builds upon the themes of prior tracks, showing their confidence in approaching a love interest; “Tell me did you dream about me? / Don’t run away.” Then follows “Baby Blue Love”, which is the most retro-influenced song on the project and shows new colours of TWICE’s vocals. With its bright synths, bass, strings and dynamic drumming, this track is a compulsive 80s treat from instrumentation to lyrics: “Hey boy play that track / ’Cause you give me heart attack / You’re my baby blue love and/Get that body rocking.” The production also takes a goosebump-inducing electronic breakdown that is downright euphoric and will be sure to get an automatic replay.

Taste of Love concludes with the phenomenal throwback dance-pop track “SOS”; a dazzling combination of neon synths, burbling keyboards and deep basslines. This type of production feels geared towards the nightclub on a late summer’s night and has TWICE playing damsels in distress on the dancefloor. They sing about being caught up in negative thoughts before the catchy chorus hits: “SOS oh baby / You gotta, you gotta save me again / SOS I like you like that.” It feels like a perfect track to bookend an album that has been nothing but bop after successive bop.

Taste of Love is one of TWICE’s most cohesive and dazzling albums thus far. It’s fun, mature and makes a great contribution to our current pop-sphere with its retro-sonic aesthetics and escapist feel. TWICE really have gone through a renaissance that has allowed them to explore different genres and deliver complete knockouts. Even after many years in the industry, the group are still surprising listeners with their growth and it really can’t be predicted what concept they will try next. Whether, due to the nature of the hemispheres, you are currently experiencing seasonable warmth or a frigid winter – let Taste of Love be your accompanying soundtrack.

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