HA:TFELT (Ye Eun) - "Me?"

YeEun has always been my favorite voice in the Wonder Girls, and actually one of my favorite female voices in K-Pop -- there's something about her smooth and feminine, yet powerful voice that drew me in the second I heard it. And I respected her even more when I found out that she was responsible for the Wonder Girls' re-arrangement of "Me, In" -- a stunning voice and promising composition chops? This is too good to ignore. It's safe to say that I've basically been waiting for a solo album from her for years now, so the day this EP was announced I flipped.

When the teasers were being released I got a bit scared though. Considering JYPE's history of ruining perfectly good artists with sub-par songs and pretentious packages, even if their recent releases have all been home runs, I didn't think the "artsy" vibe would do justice to YeEun's capabilities as an artist. But my fears were put to rest when the album clips were released, and even more so now that the full album is out. Of course. YeEun had a significant hand in the album's production and so I'm over the moon that she and JYPE got this right.

Or rather, they hit it completely out of the ballpark with "Me?" It's probably one of the most consistent synchronizations between a K-Pop album's visual, aesthetic concept and technical, musical execution. If you saw the teasers, if you look at the album art it's about YeEun baring herself, physically and emotionally. And if you listen to "Me?" with or without that knowledge, whether or not you understand Korean -- you'll get more or less the same impression from the music.

For a pop releases this is rather bare, but in the sense that there are no distractions. Bare in the sense that every instrument, every element, is relevant. It's bare, not empty. It's also a lot easier to push hooks this way (I touched on this possibility of scarcity on my "Rising Sun" review) because instruments or specific melodies stand out against the relative quiet. This bare quality is also very ingenious for a solo release because it allows the focus to be on YeEun and what she can do as a soloist. At the same time, the wide range of material and the strong conceptual front keeps listeners from getting bored since it's just one voice -- the dynamics that are usually achieved by having a variety of voices are taken care of by the songs themselves.

"Iron Girl" starts the LP with guns blazing -- it's every inch the "strong independent woman" song. It's slightly ethereal at the verses with the echo-like vocal treatment accompanied only by a sharp guitar line perfectly synched in terms of beat to those gorgeous drum rolls. By the time the bridge hits it's the most powerful point of the song, and the graceful yet powerful melody brings out the exact same qualities that YeEun's voice is known for. The chorus is what brings the pop element -- it may not sound catchy especially with this specific raw production style, but it's catchy and it's what you remember by the end of the song. Lim's parts, though I think could be lessened a bit in favor of more melody, give the song an edgy, more forceful kind of power to further contrast and give a third dimension to the melodic contrast between YeEun's smooth vocals and the over-all raw production.

While "Iron Girl" was epic in its seemingly nonchalant rawness, "Truth" is the gripping kind of epic. The focus is clearly on YeEun the whole time -- she leads the dynamics of the song from the soft, vulnerably emotional verses to her soaring vocals on that attention-demanding chorus. Those dynamics are really what drive the track, and they show that to strip emotions down to their most raw is to bare all their different complexities. Loud, soft, gentle, urgent, pleading -- that's all reflected in the music through Ye Eun's belting, her vibrato and other vocal techniques. through the quiet verses, the build-ups and transitions.

"Ain't Nobody" is probably the most straightforwardly "emotionally raw" track on the album, so it makes sense that this is the lead single. It's also a very well-executed combination of the real instruments on the other songs and more trendy beats -- they contrast each other nicely. The drum line and piano bring an honest, earnest element and the beats turn the chorus into the epic affair that it should be. The melody takes care of the smoothness and in a sense is the constant middle ground between the verses and chorus. "Ain't Nobody" is the battle cry of the EP, and it's a very good one at that.

"Bond" was the song that I personally like the least because the melody isn't as gripping as the other tracks, but nonetheless it continues the EP's parade of outstanding songs. This is the stylish song, and I think at this point it's interesting to point out that the song titles are all spot-on -- they perfectly reflect the sounds of the songs. "Bond" is all about the slick instrumentation -- those running loops, the James Bond trumpets (!), all make for a surprisingly epic sound. And this is juxtaposed against the mischievous melody that teases with all the gliding notes and ever so slight sex appeal. So while it didn't grab me at first, the dimension of the song, which is consistent with the over-all concept of the album, definitely makes for an interesting listen.

"Wherever Together" is my personal favorite -- I could listen to that glorious-sounding melody and those pretty synth loops all day. (And once I finish writing this review, I probably will!) If Craig David's eternally effortless chill on "Fill Me In" had a dance/techno equivalent, "Wherever Together" would be it -- this is practically Daft Punk-level mastery of the dance track. And you see how this was achieved with very little instrumentation compared to all these one-dimensional EDM/Eurotrash you hear these days. Again, dynamics are key.

Sure there are "beats" on "Wherever Together," it's a dance track after all and you can't do without them. But the synth loops run around with all these pretty, catchy melodies and an actual, structured arrangement with the transitions to and from beats really emphasizing the explosions -- all of that is done with a sense of effortlessness. When the beats drop, they drop in the coolest, chillest way possible. The melody is smooth, it structures the song and YeEun's vocals reinforce the effortless quality of the arrangement -- her high notes are just as smooth as her normal range, and they're nicely rounded. This is music that will make you want to dance (I admit, I burst into dance for a few seconds before I realized how much I was embarrassing myself), because something actually happens on the song, it's not just a few generic computer-generated beats looped for five minutes.

To pop audiences "raw" usually means the kind of acoustic of "Peter Pan." But while most acoustic arrangements make songs boring, YeEun goes the Younha way. Not quite "The Real Reason We Broke Up," but the same kind of sincere, quaint acoustic that Younha is known to do well. YeEun does it well too, and in her own way -- again with the strong sense of dynamics and mind-blowing build-ups to epic explosions. The strong electric guitars sound more sombre, the drum line is more gutsy than crisp, and the production is grittier and emphasizes the quirks and individuality of each instrument instead of smoothening everything out. Because if this, "Peter Pen" is a lot more raw, which is not only consistent with the rest of the album, but also brings out the hardcore side of pop-rock which we all know YeEun has pretty much mastered just by hearing "Me, In" and now "Peter Pan."

"Nothing Lasts Forever" is a haunting end to the LP, and it definitely ends this spectacular album on a high. Quite literally, it haunts you (not in the scary way though!) and it leaves you stunned in the best way possible -- it put me in a thinking mode, "what did I just hear?" And that's something I hardly ever get from pop but have always wanted. At the same time, on the surface it also sounds haunting in a beautiful way. The simplicity of the song grabs you -- the piano is both sombre and cheerful in its grace, the bass and percussion give weight and intensity, and the vocal treatment brings us back to the motif set by "Iron Girl" with those echoing, gritty vocals. One of the teasers had YeEun in the shower as part of that baring-of-the-self concept, and it extends to the music as well -- the vocal treatment most evident on on "Nothing Lasts Forever" and "Iron Lady" literally sounds like YeEun's singing in the shower. "Me?" ends on a strong front not only in terms of the music, but also in terms of the concept.

Grippingly powerful melodies, a solidly-grounded sense of the technical, and practically mind-blowing aesthetics. Every single aspect of "Me?" was thought through -- from the concept, to the execution, to how production decisions will affect the over-all impact of the package, down to the most minuscule details. You can't jump over hoops and fire unless you know how to stand on your two feet -- and "Me?" is YeEun showing us that she can do both, and do them well. Every second, from beginning to end, was a moment. But over and above that, the most important achievement of "Me?" is that it actually has a concept that stretches beyond the visual, beyond the teasers and serves as the foundation of the music itself. These are all pop songs through and through, but they have underlying artistic meanings and relevance. Each song on "Me?" has a role that defines both its individuality and its place in the collective. It's rare that this happens in K-Pop because the assumption is that pop is mindless and doesn't really have to "mean" anything. But look at this EP. Look at how it's able to take a concept like "bareness" and bring it places -- visual, musical, maybe even lyrical. Look at how it's able to bring a diverse group of sounds to make for an interesting listen while being extremely cohesive. Take notes everyone, this is how you do "artistic" pop.


1 comments:

  1. GREAT REVIEW!!! Just listening through the album and you can tell each track has been carefully thought out and executed. YeEun really did an amazing job on her solo debut... I seriously hope she gets the recognition that she deserves. Let's hope the industry doesn't blindside this... This is just too good of an album to not notice...

    YENNY FIGHTING!

    ReplyDelete

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