Album Review: Urban Zakapa – 02

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Release: October 30, 2012
Distributor: Neowiz Internet
Genre: Pop ballad, R&B
Rating: 

The relationship between Urban Zakapa‘s two studio albums – sequentially titled 01 and 02 – parallels that between their respective covers. This is the cover of the 2011 debut album (which was also my pick for R&B/Soul Album of the Year). It remains one of my favorites from that year: its austerity, the solitary chair, the clean lettering, and even the superimposed “01” are all evocative. The 2012 edition, which you can see above, keeps some of the same motifs but ends up feeling very different – the colors and image do more of the work here. Likewise, 02 preserves the basic identity of Urban Zakapa. The trine harmony is intact and arguably better than ever.  The album’s core still remains calm, and is filled with breezy ballads. Yet there are a few key changes that make 02 feel like a very different album, and it’s not all for the better.

Frankly, the overwhelming sensation at first is how similar this is to 01. For starters, the opening moments of 재회 (Reunion) could well be a remake of the previous album’s first track, 그날에 우리 (Us On That Day). From Breeze to 내게 다시 (To Me Again) to River, the focus is on making songs that are as not abrasive with liberal usage of empty space (sonically and structurally), falsetto, and chord-centric arrangements. There’s even the token jazz track in Back In The Day – a spiritual successor to Inevitability.

The defining distinction between the two albums is subtler. 02’s instrumentation does not vary much from track to track; it’s the same piano, snare, and sprinkles of string and acoustics that  entirety drives the album. While that’s not in itself a problem, it does become an issue when the songs themselves are not distinct enough to ward off album fatigue. Yes, 01 suffered from this too, but there was enough richness in its varied rhythms and dramatic setups to escape most of it.

In other words, the album’s fate is entirely dependent on composition – with little variance in performance or arrangement or lyrics to assist it. Reunion and River benefit from this simple approach, because they have the engaging melodies and moods to help Urban Zakapa thrive. Lead single 똑같은 사랑 똑같은 이별 (Same Love, Same Parting) has a harder time because its progression is more trite. 문 (Door) is just about the only track that succeeds even with pedestrian composition, largely on the strengths of its gut-wrenching lyrics.

That’s not to say that the trio doesn’t know how to break from the formula. The three solo tracks adorning the latter half of 02 are exhibits one through three. Jo Hyuna‘s No Love follows the smooth jam formula we saw earlier this year in Nam Soo-rim‘s He Doesn’t Love You. Accompanied by soulful brass and syncopating elec-organ, she puts down a freeform performance. Park Yong-in is stoically electric in the final minute of his rushing Brit-rock piece 날아가다 (Fly Away). Kwon Sunil has the only disappointing song of the three in 허무하다 (Empty), a feature-lacking ballad, but he can more than carry himself vocally.

The fact that Urban Zakapa does not apply these approaches to the group tracks tells volumes. It says that, at least for now, this is a band that has no intention to give up its current place and position – a indie-mainstream limbo and one of Korea’s premier contemporary R&B groups. As long as these are true, this trio won’t have a serious problem with quality. Making their music truly hard-hitting is another issue altogether, and whether they’re committed to this is a question that 02 does not, indeed, answer.

Tracklist (recommended tracks listed in bold)

1. 재회 (Reunion)
2. Breeze
3. 내게 다시 (To Me Again)
4. 똑같은 사랑 똑같은 이별 (Same Love, Same Parting)
5. Back In The Day
6. No Love
7. 날아가다 (Fly Away)
8. 6월 14일 (June 14)
9. 허무하다 (Empty)
10. 문 (Door)
11. 니가 싫어 (I Hate You)
12. River

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the individual and not of hellokpop as a whole.

Sources: Photo – Bugs Music; Video – fluxus on YouTube

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Jung is a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in Economics. He joined Hellokpop in 2011 as News Writer and has been serving as Assistant Chief Editor (Reviews) since 2012, primarily writing and editing music reviews for Hellokpop. Lately he’s been jamming to F(x), The Solutions, LeeSA, and Jerry.K. As writing interests go, he is particularly fascinated by trend formation in K-pop and the interaction of genres and scenes.