Album Review: Yi Sung Yol – V
The change occurred around Why We Fail (2011). That was a plenty difficult album already, not only to write about but just to try and comprehend.Yi Sung Yol threw off the restrictions of ballad and rock, blues and folk; instead he embarked to tell a massive spiritual narrative, embracing memorable melodies and abstract soundscapes alike as but tools. The result was an album unlike any other – an enduring milestone in both storytelling and meaning.
V (it’s his fourth and not fifth album, by the way) doesn’t bother with narrative: this time, the focus is on sound and what that does to people. We often say artists “use sound to tell a story”, but that’s not quite appropriate here – the object is musical composition, chaos and order itself, and whatever is evoked in the listener is purely visceral. He doesn’t completely eschew lyrics, like a post-rock band might, but in many tracks they are much too cryptic for us to believe that Yi intended for them to be interpreted literally.
The album is drawn in broad strokes. There are many devices that are designed to stand out at the forefront: a French excerpt of Camus’ The Stranger found in Minotaur, extensive usage of đàn bầu in the first half of the album, exotic and sometimes ritualistic utterances, and Satin Camel‘s dreamy guitar outro are all easy to characterize as hallmarks of high art, if we are to make such distinctions. The devices are tremendously effective, of course: the narrations and gutturals build stormy atmosphere, and Le Hoai Phuong‘s performance in We Are Dying could not have conveyed insecurity and discomfort any better.
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These are also usually the same elements that make an album inaccessible. And yes, you won’t exactly be rocking out to V anytime soon. The songs are long (most range from six to ten minutes), and the melodies are not catchy and do not stick very well – you can’t expect a melody like 시간의 끝 (The End of Time)‘s (2007) to return, but Yi doesn’t even give us anything on the order of Why We Fail. But it’s also not as difficult as you might imagine. By essentially eliminating the role of lyrics and concentrating intensively on the most effective way to deliver sound, the album has a way of bringing the experience to the listener. Minotaur is the best example: driving guitars, constantly shifting riffs, and ceaseless cadence simultaneously keep the track marching ahead and give us more than enough sound to engage with. Fear turns down the energy and extracts a sense of longing amidst struggle with effortless piano and ambiance. It doesn’t take a lot beyond your full and undivided attention to soak in this album.
V not only brings the experience to you, it also packages it in a different way. According to the artist, six of the tracks here were recorded live at Café Veloso with the full band in one take. With no track splicing and no post-production, instruments blend together and infringe upon each other in a way you’re not supposed to hear in studio albums. Here’s an easy comparison: listen to the two renditions of Who?. The Veloso version is noticeably more muted, the acoustic strokes lacking the sharp edges and separation present in the studio version (which was also recorded full-band in one take) but with more scale and echo. There’s a raw feel to these live tracks that make them come alive.
It’s awfully rare for established artists to change the philosophy of their music, but Yi has struck boldly – and hit gold. V gives us a lot of tough emotions, from desolation to confusion to inevitability, but Yi Sung-yol’s treatment overlays a certain carefree attitude on top of it all. It’s as if the album is a long dream: it deals with things that are just outside the grasp of comprehension, launches nightmarish attacks, shows visions of indescribable beauty… and then you wake up, secure in the knowledge that it’s but a grand display. V doesn’t come together as perfectly as Why We Fail did – an album like this never does – but its daydream is a lot more fantastical and a lot more sensual than that album’s transformative tale of apocalypse and healing. Two masterpieces now adorn Yi’s career, and they couldn’t be more different from each other.
Tracklist (recommended tracks listed in bold)
2. We Are Dying
3. Who? (Veloso Live)
4. 개가 되고 (Dog Etc.)
5. Satin Camel (바다였던) (Ocean Once)
6. Fear (Don’t Let It Get the Best of You Darling)
7. Who? (Fluxus Studio Live)
8. Secretly (Wouldn’t You Like to Know…) – Originally 솔직히 (Secretly) from Why We Fail (2011)
9. Bluey – Featuring Jang Pil-soon
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the reviewer and not of hellokpop as a whole.
Agree or disagree? Or have a recent release that you’d like to see reviewed? Let us know with your comments below! Requested albums will be considered each week and may be selected to be reviewed in the subsequent week.