Saturday, April 13, 2013

[Album Review] Lee Hi 'First Love'

The worst thing you can do after taking a listen to Lee Hi's debut album is call the arrangements lazy. But what you will or might have already done so is call many of the songs boring. On one hand, you are diminishing the foundational basis of the composition while the other is simply a reflection of your musical preferences, albeit limited in range. The sounds of each track in the album musically collide to show the colors of its many respective composers (Choice37, Teddy, Lydia Paek, Tablo, Realmeee, etc). It's fair to say that there hasn't been an album such as this one where one can abstractly decipher each composer's bread and butter by listening to each one's interpretation of the R&B & Soul genre. As it is with interpretations, there are some clear flaws but the production is far and above anything we've heard in awhile that it overcomes those flaws and exceeds normal listen-ability while going beyond its specific genre without diminishing it. Lee Hi sounds better than ever and the soft methodical tones tug at your heart. The sounds of the album are much more subdued than but still manage to make a strong statement.

Overall, all the tracks complement each other highly and go well with each other. The only regrettable aspect of the album is that the intro and the two title tracks, in terms of grandeur, overshadow many of the other compositions that are much truer to the modern blues form. It's truly a shame they won't be appreciated as much. The heart & soul of the album exists in its true form in the other tracks. There is widespread depth in the arrangements and Lee Hi's vocals that make the album a standout. What's highly admirable is the meticulous restraint the YG producers show in keeping the excess elements of pop mainly out of this album. That's not saying that everything's perfect but for an album in a saturated field, it comes pretty close.

Album: First Love
Release Date: 03.07.2013 (Pt. 1 - Online Release) / 03.28.2013 (Pt. 2 + Full Album)

Buy digitally on Itunes - Part 1 / Part 2
Buy the physical copy on YesAsia here.

01. Turn It Up (Intro)
02. Special (Ft. Jennie Kim of YG New Girl Group)     
03. It's Over *[Title]
04. 짝사랑 (One-Sided Love)
05. Dream
06. Rose *[Title]
07. 바보 (Fool For Love)
08. Because
09. 내가 이상해 (Am I Strange)
10. (Album Bonus Track)
The producers establish the strengths of Lee Hi early on and direct the album with a collective sound that works beautifully. The album is freed from the usual YG reins and present themselves only in the two rap verses and the in between transitions of the two title tracks. What establishes the album as one of the premier quality releases of the year is that the various pieces fit perfectly into place and that there isn't a single let down throughout. Even Scarecrow is given the boot but does manage to creep up secretly, albeit hidden.

The lyrics themselves are excellent and present in their tones and placement the YG attitude we've grown so accustomed to and root for. Lee Hi's young age and personality help the lyrics flourish more than your usual k-pop song. What works strongly in Lee Hi's favor is that she knows her own boundary and comfort zone better than anyone out there singing their lungs out. While she may not have the strongest voice, the resonance in her voice and its layer of depth are astounding.   

The album starts off on a high note. Quite literally, the decibels are turned up particularly high in Turn It Up and fittingly so. It's pre-release raised the expectations so far ahead that the first part of the album, mainly the title track, failed to live up to. In that, it is most similar to K-Indie artist Lucia's 2012 EP Décalcomanie, which had a similar length-ed intro that almost overshadowed the other tracks in the album.

The sampling of The Miracles' Give Me Just Another Day at the beginning is seamlessly put that it adds to the overall appeal of the song. The prevalent drum beats along with the Tablo penned lyrics such as "Higher than the time you fell down cuz my name is HI" give off a very confident feel. There is fair amount of repetition of the drum beats throughout its interval that holdsthe verses captive, which is not necessarily a bad thing, since it keeps the intro highly engaging. Basically, being critical of this track would fly in the face of all the other intros (many of which don't add any spark to an album, there are exceptions; 1, 2) released so far in popular music. Turn It Up stands alone as the revolutionary in terms of intros. Props to Lydia and Kush.

The structure of Special, for lack of a better word, is special. Composed by Choice37 and Lydia, with lyrics by Tablo, the arrangements are simple yet there is an undertaking at complexity with the impromptu Gomawo (Thank you) and other tiny breaks. The simple piano melody along with the incorporated soft synth beats make this pop ballad track feel heavenly and delicate. The song could have done without the rap verses but it's inclusion does add a certain spark.

Fellow YG'er Jennie Kim does a commendable job with her featuring but sounds her best softly singing the last line. It had the potential of being a much greater track but it's current state isn't a steep falloff. What the song has going for it are the simple melody lines and the slight restraint on Lee Hi's vocals; which give off a trendy feel. Special brings forth a different volume previously unexplored by Lee Hi and provides the prototype for future releases. It is one of the stronger tracks among the many strong tracks. The album could have benefited heavily if it had more songs like Special.

In what would be best defined as "soft-jazz with strong pop sounds", It's Over begins with delicate cymbal taps rolled alongside melodic piano sounds that lead the transition into more pop-sounding piano tunes and drums. It's Over is fresh and what's heartwarming is that it rolls along smoothly to the beat of its own drum. But by choosing to remain in its own little world, it paves its own path quicker than usual title tracks towards redundancy and the characteristics that make it refreshing at first listen quickly wear off. 

It doesn't try to go over the edge like but there is something quite defiant about the way in which the song plays out. The transitions from the pre-chorus to the chorus are smooth and tasteful by the way in which the jazzy instruments switch out. The song and the music video (too cute!) match Lee Hi extremely well to show how aegyo should be done without much left hanging in excess. The song could have stood toe-to-toe with the other stellar tracks had it gone with a more creative middle eight right after, "I said, I said, I said over." Overall, it is a title song that brings something different but stills leaves room for improvement.

The verses of One-sided Love could have used more creativity and that is saying a lot, considering singer-songwriter Sunwoo Jungah (It Hurts, Oh Yeah) composed this track. That is not to say the song doesn't have its merit, it retains its composure without a hitch. The jazzy instrumentals are withdrawn in the beginning and act as a guide. Lee Hi could have infused more emotions in the verses even if she does manage to transition strongly into the chorus where the instruments and the notes are up a notch. The verses in One-sided Love are the filler in the album, which is a testament to the strength of the album.

The efforts put to make this album stand solely along the lines of R&B & Soul show clearly in One-sided Love and Dream. The instrumentals in both are heavily controlled and subdued. Dream, a collaborative effort between Realmeee and Sunwoo Jungah, draws much from Adele's Turning Tables. Laid over a simple piano melody, the track follows  the blue-print set by One-sided Love. The calamity that the track radiates is heart-warming, however one-sided.

In terms of quality, the second part of the album triumphs over the first. The underrated stars of the album, female composers Sunwoo Jungah and Realmeee take bigger risks and shine more in the second part. Their compositions in the second part, Because and Am I Strange stand out more than One-sided Love and Dream because they display more of their own sounds and color. The first combination stands as a smooth mixture of water and sugar, mixed perfectly but without any colors. The second combination is like a mixture of water and diamonds, which doesn't mix but still, it's diamonds, which are forever!!!

The improvement is on full display in Rose. Composed by 1TYMers Teddy Park and Song Baek Kyung, the mellow and fast-paced tune of Rose presents a confident Lee Hi. The beautifully implemented verses along with the tiny details (supporting vocals, ad-libs) function in unison to create a dynamic, powerful and intense title track. The song is by the books very YG and a memorable one at that with its soft guitar strums laid over chilling vocals and an underlying synthesized beat. Its instrumentals share a distant relationship with Blue structurally (the final 3 seconds seals it) and in that is similar to an electronic ballad but more toned down.

The guitar sounds crisp and refreshing and mixes in well with the beats. The killer verses are sprinkled with just the right amount of color and therefore work effectively in elevating the chorus. It's astounding how well Lee Hi works her way around a song and that may be an indication of the comfort she takes in her voice. Rose begins and ends with the prevalent chorus and the verses that literally flow with rhythm and bite. 

Lee Hi surprisingly holds her own during the spoken rap part yet the sudden transition takes away much of the smoothness. The arrangements marvelously showcase Lee Hi's vocal strengths while resting its merit on its theme of expressing a woman's stark warning to her admirer. Every point the album tries to convey comes together in this track and concept wise, the representation of roses as both fragile and deadly along with the indifference in the lyrics are simply brilliant.

The track proves that Teddy as a composer is ever-evolving and able to better than anyone shift across different genres while retaining qualities that make him dynamic. The track would have achieved an immortal status had it incorporated a more smashing high note, either way, it still gives fans plenty of reasons to be hopeful towards future Lee Hi releases. Particularly gorgeous are the lyrics, "Emotions? That's an extravagance to me / Love? That's Obsession's best friend." 

Lee Hi shines brightly in Fool For Love, composed partly by the rising star Lydia Paek with lyrics by Tablo. The beginning starts off with old-school drum beats and vocal harmonies that set the tone early on for the track. Fool For Love is nostalgic and remains true to itself as a combination of Blues and Jazz. Lee Hi controls the chorus with ease and the gentle restraint cements the track as one of the more underrated releases that has it all. It is with these soft sounds that Lee Hi captures our hearts as she sings, "I'm a fool...I'm such a fool for love..."

Because is simple yet elegant in the way it carries itself. It doubles as the more creative version of DreamLee Hi's voice in this track itself carries a very hypnotic effect and the hushed instrumentals makes the track feel intimate. The song (a collaboration between Realmeee and Sunwoo Jungah) finishes by introducing another beautiful piano melody.

Am I Strange sounds like a mixture between Indie & Blues. It might simply be the most enchanting track on this album; there is something exceptionally relaxing about the overall melody and how Lee Hi sounds. It induces a state a calamity with its slow rhythmic states. The lyrics match perfectly with the tune and the overall feel of the track.

The album is heart-warming and retains the Lee Hi of (Review) while slightly altering her environment to create a fusion of old-school sounds that retains its modern touch. 

YG should be highly praised for employing the up and coming female composers that run in its family circles (Lydia, Realmeee, Sungwoo Jungah, etc). The company has always stuck to its core of producers and sometimes, that can come off as intimidating. It has not suffered as heavily because of its small lineup of artists and the fact that most of its exclusive composers are able to think freely. The atmosphere of the album shows the considerable influence of its diverse composers and comes off as authentic. The album will probably go a long way in establishing Lee Hi as an artist in her own own right. She remains true to herself in this album and therefore succeeds with a take on rhythm and blues that is fresh and believable. 

The tracks in the album provide many different prototypes for future Lee Hi releases. The gorgeous piano melodies, soothing background vocal harmonies and light vocals effects all push the album to the forefront as a singular breath-of-fresh-air release. The album offers many different sets of vocal variety but does leave room for minor improvements. The merits gained through this album should be harvested and used effectively moving forward.


Where I Stand (my thoughts) - 

For this particular album review, what I wanted more than anything was to create a listening experience, evident by the inclusion of the sounds of each track. I wanted to steer clear of the usual personal album commentary and tried looking at the bigger picture. What you have before you here then is my utmost reviewing effort trying to match a release that goes beyond the usual exchange.

High Point: 'Turn It Up', 'Special', 'Rose', 'Fool For Love', 'Because', 'Am I Strange', ''
Higher than the normal middle: 'It's Over', 'One-sided Love', 'Dream'
Low Point: None

  • The great first step for Lee Hi towards a life long journey
  • An authentic sound that doesn't try to do too much
  • Compositions that bring something of merit to the table
  • Great lyrics and tunes that reflect the diversity of its many composers

Result: 4.6/5 

[Part I - 4.5/5] [ Part II - 4.7]


[Image Source: YG-Life]
[Audio Source: Lee Hi @ Soundcloud]
[Info Source: YG-Life, pop!gasa lee hi]
[Video Source: OfficialLeeHi, SBSradio100 @ YouTube]

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