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Album Review: 'Poet/Artist' by Jonghyun

Marcel Thee

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Fri, February 9, 2018  /  08:57 am
Album Review: 'Poet/Artist' by Jonghyun

Kim Jonghyun's second and final album, the posthumously-released Poet/Artist, thus works as a tragic-reminder of his talents as both a musician and producer, and the sort of talent that has been lost. (S.M. Entertainment/File)

Korean artist Jonghyun’s suicide in December dealt a shocking blow to K-Pop fans and the industry.

His second and final album, the posthumously-released Poet/Artist, thus works as a tragic-reminder of his talents as both a musician and producer, and the sort of talent that has been lost.

The album contains all the elements that would be familiar to K-Pop fans — namely, post-retro electro beats; immediate vocal hooks drenched in effects; mash ups of Korean and English languages — but it’s all draped within a particularly-lush, layered production.

That last element has been what set Jonghyun’s (real name Kim Jong-hyun) solo work apart from his main boy-band Shinee (which will continue to perform following his passing).

The expected lavish attack that comes prepackaged with most Korean pop groups is toned down, putting forth a slightly-minimalist — at least in a K-Pop context — presentation.

Jonghyun’s knack for melodies is at the forefront here, with the futurist R’n’B production taking a mild backseat when required.

The songs are mostly short and to-the-point, resulting in a catchy pop record that isn’t particularly ambitious but is remarkably-dependable in its straightforward immediacy.

As is the wont of the Korean music industry, all of the songs feature co-writing credits by professional songwriters.

While hindsight is always 20-20, there is an apparent sense of melancholy in Jonghyun’s melodic approach.

His falsettos almost-always provide the hook for each track (not rare in K-Pop), and they are rarely without some sense of bittersweet turn from the more-obvious contemporary R’n’B sections of the songs. Falling atop K-Pop’s identifiably minor-chords-laden melodic structure, it lends most of Poet Artist an ironically catchy wistfulness.

The opener and first-single “빛이 나 (Shinin’)” (most of the songs are subtitled in English) comes closest to Jonghyun’s main gig in Shinee. It is a flashy dose of beat-driven Soul-Pop and catchy staccato refrains of “always be with you-you-you-you.” An undeniable slice of commercial pop, the track’s joyful exuberance lands with an air of tragedy, considering the pain its maker must have gone through during its creation.

Not dissimilar to that track, “와플 (#Hashtag)” rails against social media gossip and rumors with a more hushed arrangement; electro-keys lay down a soft R’n’B foundation while minimalist electronic percussion stands alongside careful-layers of whispered vocals.

“Take The Dive” is short and immediate, with reverb-heavy 80s percussions and buzzing synthesizers playing against a slightly-distorted fingerpicked electric-guitar. Again, a falsetto refrain of the title provides the hook.

“하루만이라도 (Just For a Day)” again puts Jonghyun’s vocals front and center while its rather-unremarkable melodies and arrangements makes it one of the record’s weaker moments.

The record’s best moments are instead its most-reserved.

The club banger “환상통 (Only One You Need)” starts off as a soft ballad before shifting gears into a full-blown R’n’B track without losing the gentler pensiveness of its intro. Layered production that never feels overwhelming drives the track, similar to “어떤 기분이 들까 (I’m So Curious)” and the obligatory-but-it-works closing ballad “우린 봄이 오기 전에 (Before Our Spring)” — the latter sung almost-exclusively in falsetto with an accompanying solo piano and slightly-unfortunately, unabashedly-sappy strings.

While the K-Pop industry will undoubtedly continue to produce even more stars like Jonghyun, this record will hopefully sustain its unfortunately-tragedy-infused momentum to remind fans what a talent the musician was. It’s simple approach doesn’t loudly proclaim itself as anything but a solid piece of K-Pop, but those willing to dig a little deeper will find a songwriting gift that would’ve done nothing but grow had it had the opportunity.

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