Quick Reviews: Surim’s “Simply but Surely”, Jung Seung-hwan’s “Dear, My Universe”, and Twice’s “Fancy You”

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Surim – 쉽고 확실하게 (Simply but Surely)

Release: April 17, 2019
Label: Greenerymu
Distributor: Poclanos
Genre: Folk, electronic

Surim follows up her debut EP – one of our favorite folk albums of 2018 – with a more synthetic and brooding flavor. Simply but Surely is built on warm synths and big-band sounds as much as on the acoustic guitar, making it a stark departure from her strictly analog debut. The expanded soundscape is used to dramatic effect: the diffusing and breaking backdrop of “The Day You Died” and the nearly liturgical somberness in the adaptation of Yun Dong-ju’s “The Cross” are both made possible with electronic help, and “Simply but Surely” gets its uplifting progression from rich brass harmonies and roiling synths that bounce on the toms. The lyrics, gentle but fiercely personal, document Surim’s various convictions on faith (“The Day You Died”), on having stories to tell (“This Is Why”), on undeserved, blinding love (“Simply but Surely”). The EP fits within the body of recent non-traditional folk by Lee Gwon-hyeong, Sujin, Dhani Song, and more, but this is a creative mixing of ideas that remains distinct from any of those works.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

  1. 시 (詩) (Poem) (Intro.)
    Composed and arranged by Edith
  2. 그대가 죽은 날 (The Day You Died)
    Written and composed by Surim; arranged by Edith
  3. 쉽고 확실하게 (Simply but Surely)
    Written and composed by Surim; arranged by Edith
  4. 그래서 (This Is Why)
    Written and composed by Surim; arranged by Edith
  5. 십자가 (윤동주) (The Cross – Yun Dong-ju)
    Written by Yun Dong-ju; composed and arranged by Edith

Jung Seung-hwan – 안녕, 나의 우주 (Dear, My Universe)

Release: April 18, 2019
Label: Antenna Music
Distributor: Kakao M
Genre: Ballad

Antenna remains a hub for traditional ballads with a healthy dose of tinkering for contemporary tastes, a niche that Dear, My Universe fills well. There’s nothing shocking here, just more of the analog backdrops and lively melodies, effortlessly rich vocals, and fine-grained lyrics that we’ve seen in Jung Seung-hwan’s past two albums polished to pleasant excellence.

At its best, the EP is sonically dynamic and emotionally rewarding. I love “The Voyager”‘s escalation, capping off a whirlwind final minute with an extra couple chorus bars for intensity. (The melody there reminds me of the ending of “가슴 아파도 (Though My Heart Hurts)” (2007), and I think Jung’s music more generally has some commonalities with Fly to the Sky’s best stuff.) Hwang Hyeon’s extra flairs – the little synthesizers going off in the distance – accentuate the vacuum surrounding of its austere arrangement, and though the lyrics don’t lean heavily into its space metaphor, they’re different enough to hold attention. With “You’re Coming” – an exuberant modern-rock frolic – serving as another centerpiece and an array of nice sidetracks, Dear, My Universe is one of the more memorable ballad albums of the year so far.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

  1. 안녕, 나의 우주 (Dear, My Universe)
    Composed by Kwon Young-chan, You Hee-yeol, Jung Seung-hwan; arranged by Kwon Young-chan
  2. 우주선 (The Voyager)
    Written by Hwang Hyeon (MonoTree) and You Hee-yeol; composed and arranged by Hwang Hyeon
  3. 네가 온다 (You’re Coming)
    Written by Kim Eana; composed and arranged by Andy Platts
  4. 믿어 (Promise Me)
    Written by Kim Eana; composed by You Hee-yeol and Hong So-jin; arranged by Hong So-jin, Kim Seung-ho, Choi In-sung, Kim Dong-min
  5. 자꾸만 반대로 돼 (Going In Reverse)
    Written and composed by Kyo; arranged by Jung Dong-hwan
  6. 뒷모습 (Behind You)
    Written, composed and arranged by Shin Jae-pyung
  7. 옥련동 (Ongnyeon-dong)
    Written by Jung Seung-hwan; composed by You Hee-yeol and Jung Seung-hwan; arranged by Kwon Young-chan and You Hee-yeol

Twice – Fancy You

Release: April 22, 2019
Label: JYP Entertainment
Distributor: Dreamus
Genre: Pop, dance

Twice and Black Eyed Pilseung is a trusted pairing, but “Fancy” doesn’t quite replicate the satisfying kitschy balance of “TT” or “Likey”. The chorus melody takes more measured breaths and is more complex to parse than those tracks, which is an interesting decision, but the refrain here ultimately feels overly long and cluttered. The theatrical flair, pulsing retro beat, and tropical back-end elements blended into the arrangement do mesh reasonably well (if without distinction), and provide some points for close listening.

The rest of Fancy You is a fairly pedestrian EP, populated with attitudinal but nondescript dance tracks, but playful lite-pop piece “Strawberry” is seriously entertaining – Twice does these deliberate, slower-paced songs with such verve. I’d also be remiss to not mention another big crop of writing contributions by the members as a plus, and Jihyo in particular turns in the EP’s best lyrics for the second (arguably third) album in a row in “Girls Like Us”.

Tracklist (recommended tracks in bold)

  1. Fancy
    Written and composed by Black Eyed Pilseung and JeonGun; arranged by Rado
  2. Stuck in My Head
    Written by Lee Seu-ran; composed by Matthew Tishler, Andrew Underberg, Philip Bentley; arranged by Matthew Tishler and Andrew Underberg
  3. Girls Like Us
    Written by Jihyo; composed by Uzoechi Emenike, Dimitri Tikovoi, Maya von Doll, Charli XCX; arranged by MNEK, Dimitri Tikovoi, Maya von Doll, Charli XCX
  4. Hot
    Written by Momo and Kang Eun-jung; composed by Jonatan Gusmark & Ludvig Evers (a.k.a Moonshine), Moa Anna Carlebecker Forsell (a.k.a Cazzi Opeia), Josefin Glenmark; arranged by Moonshine
  5. Turn It Up
    Written by Sana and Earattack; composed by Earattack and Louise Frick Sveen; arranged by Earattack and Larmook
  6. Strawberry
    Written by Chaeyoung and Kim Eun-soo; composed by Ryan Jhun, Maestro the Baker, Jake Tench, Kloe; composed by Ryan Jhun, Maestro the Baker, Jake Tench

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

Related writing: Twice – YES or YES (review)