Quick Reviews: Hyangni, IZ*ONE & Sultan Of The Disco

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Hyangni – 2

Release: October 26, 2018
Label: Independent
Distributor: Poclanos
Genre: Psychedelic rock, post-punk

Hyangni’s first EP in four years positively crackles with nervous energy. Hazy distorted guitars, stuttering loops, and eerie echoes just hang around these tracks and congeal into thick atmosphere. Its uncomfortable lyrical themes – fear of the unknown, abandonment, loss of self – then seep in and take persuasive hold. What distinguishes 2 from the work of many good psychedelia and shoegaze bands, though, is that Hyangni knows when and how to convert that tension into sweet release. The EP is packed with moments of exquisite explosion that illuminate all the darkness: incessant riffs, and crashing synths meet a haunting chant in “Anxiety Hell”, bold descending melodies dominate the chaos of “Obey Addiction”, and a sentimental mood sets up the seemingly endless escalation that closes “End of My Room”. Lee Ji-hyang’s hyperactive keyboard and dramatic vocal work shine in this emotionally complex and constantly unpredictable ride, in my mind the best work in this area since Silica Gel’s debut.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

(All tracks written by Lee Ji-hyang and composed/arranged by Lee Ji-hyang, Lee Jun-gyu, Shin Seung-gyu, and Park Je-sin.)

  1. 불안지옥 대환영 (Welcome To Anxiety Hell)
  2. 불안지옥 (Anxiety Hell)
  3. 복종중독 (Obey Addiction)
  4. 우주소년 (Cosmic Boy)
  5. 엄마 몰래 문신 (Got a Tattoo and Mom Won’t Know)
  6. 다이빙 (Diving)
  7. 내 방의 끝 (End of My Room)


Release: October 29, 2018
Label: Off The Record Entertainment, AKS
Distributor: CJ ENM, Genie Music
Genre: Dance, electronic

Project groups coming out of the Produce series have kept up a standard of quality, and there’s no shortage of polish in COLOR*IZ, the Produce 48 winners’ debut. The rich lushness of “Colors” is an auspicious introduction, and title single “La Vie en Rose” is a sonic joy, with a sumptuous bass-driven melody and understated tropical devices distinguishing it from the summer crop. (One qualm is that the chorus maybe tones down too much, even for a house track – especially following the promisingly bold prechorus melody shared between Eunbi and Chaeyeon – and the busier arrangement in the outro seems more attractive.)

It’s a well-rounded debut effort and among the year’s better ones, but the EP doesn’t show off a defining characteristic like earlier Produce projects had: I.O.I.’s earworm appeal, Wanna One’s genre versatility. I wondered if the group would lean on its diversity, perhaps mixing in some J-pop influences, but I’m not sure that’s happening on the album scale here. (We do get the Japanese track used on the show, but that’s it.) Fortunately it sounds like IZ*ONE is aiming for a longer active life (2.5 years), so there is plenty of time to do some interesting things.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

  1. 아름다운 색 (Colors)
    Written by Tenzo, Kebee, Fixman; composed by Tenzo and Fixman; arranged by Tenzo, Fixman, MUNA
  2. O’ My!
    Written by Cho Yun-kyung, Hidden Sound (HSND), Hangang (HSND), Shin Jae-young (HSND); composed and arranged by Hidden Sound, Hangang, Shin Jae-young
  3. 라비앙로즈 (La Vie en Rose)
    Written, composed, and arranged by MosPick
  4. 비밀의 시간 (Memory)
    Written by Boombastic and So Jay; composed and arranged by Boombastic
  5. 앞으로 잘 부탁해 (We Together) (IZ*ONE ver.)
    Written by Baeggom (Bumzu), Ppaekkom (Baekho), So Jay; composed by Baeggom, Park Gi-tae @ Prismfilter, So Jay; arranged by Park Gi-tae
  6. 반해버리잖아? (好きになっちゃうだろう?) (Suki ni Nacchaudarou?) (IZ*ONE ver.)
    Written by Yasushi Akimoto; composed and arranged by Hayakawa Hirotaka and Belex
  7. 꿈을 꾸는 동안 (夢を見ている間) (Yume no Miteiru Aida) (IZ*ONE ver.)
    Written by Yasushi Akimoto; composed and arranged by Iggy & Yongbae
  8. 내꺼야 (Pick Me) (CD Only)
    Written by Produce 48; composed by Flow Blow, Airair, Louise Frick Sveen; arranged by Flow Blow and Airair

Sultan of the Disco – Aliens

Release: October 30, 2018
Label: BGBG Records
Distributor: Poclanos
Genre: R&B, funk, disco, urban, dance

I’ve long since given up on classifying Sultan of the Disco’s music (though I’ll have to try for the year-end review…), but I think its three central ingredients have been groove, danceability and fidelity. In Aliens, the band leans a bit more heavily on groove as the album introduces clear-eyed jams and moments of heartfelt emotion. Co-title track “Hide Out” (MV) is Nahzam Sue at his most vulnerable (“I have dreams of disappearing into the air // I depart looking for a place to hide”), and I think the centerpiece is lead single “The Slide” (live), a warm soul/funk duet revolving around a gorgeous, drawn-out, melismatic chorus and a satisfying instrumental twist in its latter half. It’s a legit contender for 2018’s best song.

That’s not to say that the disco part of the band’s name is dead, of course. The album retains several uptempo tracks that are as rhythmic and kitsch as ever, powered by Nahzam and Honggi’s omnipresent guitar work. “Tong Bei Quan” is so slick that its completely nonsensical (but artfully constructed) lyrics almost sound credible, while “Super Disco” (MV) features a dynamic, rocking chorus. “Rocket Man” perhaps gives the most exciting prospects: it mixes a grungy form of Sultan’s analog sound with the EDM influences glimpsed in Nahzam’s solo album. Nobody can quite replicate what Sultan do already; in Aliens, I think they just went and added a bunch more tricks to their seemingly bottomless bag.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

  1. Playaholic (Feat. Qim Isle)
    Written by Nahzam Sue and Qim Isle; composed by Nahzam Sue; arranged by Baek Chang-yeol
  2. 통배권 (Tong Bei Quan) (Feat. Bassagong)
    Written by Nahzam Sue and Bassagong; composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  3. 사라지는 꿈 (Hide Out)
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  4. Super Disco
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  5. Manic Depression
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  6. Aliens
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  7. 미끄럼틀 (The Slide) (Feat. Sumin)
    Written and composed by Sumin; arranged by Sumin and Nahzam Sue
  8. 로켓맨 (Rocket Man)
    Written by Nahzam Sue and Sumin; composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  9. 어쩐지 (Somehow)
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  10. 갤로퍼 (Galloper)
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue
  11. 깍두기 (Kkakdugi)
    Written, composed and arranged by Nahzam Sue

Album cover images from Bugs Music (1) (2) (3). Lyric translations by author.

Related writing: Nahzam Sue – Cyberstar Adam (2016 Year in Review)