Jun 22, 2015

"27" Makes A Refined Comeback For Kim Sunggyu

As you may or may not know Sunggyu is my absolute favorite member of Infinite, and also one of my main biases overall. I've always liked him not only for his wonderful personality and many talents, but because of his flawless music taste. Sunggyu's love for Nell is one that I share, and that love is reflected immensely in his solo work. His first solo album "Another Me" was amazing, and much thanks to the involvement of Nell frontman and main composer Kim Jong Wan. For that reason it was truly exciting to hear he would be the brain behind this one too.

The first track is a one and a half minute long instrumental intro titled "27" like the album, and it's actually what Sunggyu's Korean age is right now. It's hard to believe when you look at him and see his cute hamster cheeks, I know. As an intro it works more than well, and right when I heard it the first time I thought of Nell, so I guess there isn't much doubt it's Kim Jong Wan who has composed it.

"The Answer" is the name of the main title track (because officially there are two but this one is the one being promoted), and it's a soft pop-rock track with heavy Nell influences. The track is quite light and easy-going, and features a mix of both classical rock instruments and electronic synths all whilst Sunggyu sings his heart out about his undying love. The lyrics are simple but firm and absolute in their simplicity, and although this song isn't very complicated there is an added dimension thanks to the various musical influences. When the violins make their entrance at the end and the layers of sounds make a perfect harmony along with Sunggyu's voice I'm completely buying into it.

Next up is "Alive", and it's a song I'm a bit conflicted about. The song starts off with nothing but a piano and vocals, and the potential for the song to build and grow is endless, but it takes so long for it to get there. There's nothing wrong with the melody, in fact it's quite beautiful, but the way the structure works is more frustrating than anything. Right when you think it's finally going to get bigger and greater it slows down, and even at the final chorus I'm still waiting for it to explode.

I guess it does to a smaller scale as the background instrumental gets more complex and layered, but it's still a bit of an anti-climax for me. Even the painfully beautiful lyrics cannot save the situation, but what makes me the most upset is that I probably would have liked the song better if Jong Wan sung it instead. It makes me think that maybe some songs written by him aren't meant for other people to perform.

"Kontrol" is the second official title track, and like the first one this is too about wanting someone back, but somewhat more desperately. It's funny that it's called what it is because the lyrics portray a person with no control over the situation at all, and I'm sure that was very intentional on Jong Wan's part. This is probably the most mainstream-pop-sounding song on the album, because the melody is very easy to like and hum along to, but it's still not quite that ordinary. Part of it is thanks to the majestic work of the synthesizers incorporated into the instrumental, which gives it a complete different feeling than had it been any other modern pop song.

The song that follows next is my absolute favorite on the album and probably one of my favorites so far this year. "Daydream" is one of the least complex songs on the album musically speaking, but it speaks to me more than any of the other ones. The majority of the track is built around a loop with only piano, drums and some guitar, and it's not until the end that the synths kick in and take the song to new heights. That, if anything, is a structure and build-up done right.

Having Sunggyu's voice heavily auto-tuned and edited is not something everyone will find pleasant listening to, but it's clear that it was a conscious choice made by Sunggyu and his production team to determine the style of the song. I actually don't mind it at all, and after hearing him sing it live I think I might actually like it more as it sounds on record. However, the main highlight of this song is the guest appearances by not only Kim Jong Wan himself but Tablo of Epik High. I usually don't care too much for rap cameos but when Tablo started rapping I lost it. The delivery, the lyrics, everything was spot on. Hearing this song from start to finish is an experience, and this kind of genuinity and realness is not something I usually find in K-pop.

I kind of would have wanted "Daydream" to be very last track, because the real one isn't much of a closer in my opinion. "Replay" is a sweet acoustic number featuring female soloist Park Yoon Ha, with sensitive lyrics sung by two people in love. I love the way the two singers sound, both individually and together, and I love the innocent love it portrays and captures. However, after listening to the song I'm waiting for the actual final song to start, because it feels like such a careful way to end the album. Either there should have been another, more powerful song after it or the song before should have been twice as bombastic. It's cute, definitely, but it's a bit too safe for me.

My main critique after listening to the entire album it would be that compared to "Another Me" I didn't like any of the songs individually on this album as much as I did with his first. While I think this album is lovely and I love the sound of it because I love Nell, none of the songs (apart from "Daydream") speak to me on the same level as "Shine" or "41 Days" did. Although I can appreciate the beauty of the final product, because it's one of the most cohesive albums I've heard in a while, the songs aren't as appealing when listening to them on their own. I also feel like there wasn't enough of Sunggyu in it, because although he is singing the songs I don't feel like he's personally connected to it in the same way. The focus, as mentioned, was obviously on making a gorgeous record, and I personally would have wanted it to be more on Sunggyu himself. Having Jong Wan as your mentor can be great, but I also think Sunggyu needs to develop his own musical identity that sets him apart from both Infinite and Nell.

However compared to Sunggyu's previous album there is one big improvement with this one. "27" as a whole piece is gorgeous. The sound is clear and developed, and the songs float together without sounding similar to each other. It's literally a dream scenario in terms of cohesiveness. Another positive is the improvement seen in Sunggyu's vocal abilities, and hearing him actually sing songs that work for his particular voice. I find that in Infinite sometimes, because of their sound, he gets stuck singing very high-pitched lines and thus resorts to using a very nasally tone which I'm not a fan of. On this record he truly shines as he instead sings in a register more suited for this specific voice, and that alone makes the album worth listening to.

Highlights: "Daydream"
Least Favorite: "Reply"

Total Score: 4,25/5

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