Review Summary: !aeroK morf B&R taerg erom
Y’know how, apropos nothing, you can make comments such as “Um, the Dutch are pretty good at techno”, “Japan is actually the busiest country for shoegaze” or “So, France is alright for black metal” if you want to earn an excitable double-take from your token rookie friend alongside or a no shit
eyeroll from anyone within earshot with even the vaguest awareness of the styles in question?
Well, yeah, South Korea is a good place for R&B.
I’m a little lost as to the whys and wherefores, but the bottom line is that no-one caters to those with a (*sigh*) bias for silky, cosmopolitan, lounge-appropriate smoothness quite like the Koreans. You’re hoping to keep your chillout playlist from veering any further into sadboi territory? You want a soundtrack to sync with your mood lights? You need something vaguely listenable that will earn points from your [prospective] s.o. for both sexiness and sophistication? Well, it turns out that a Korean release has got exactly what you need nine times out of ten, and the only obstacle is your lack of awareness. Good thing there’s an easy fix for that!
Enter Seori. Seori is a silky Korean lady who makes excellent R&B and thought it would be a smart idea to entitle her first EP ?depacse ohw
. For any of you simps still reeling from the shock of Korean R&B??!
, that’s “Who escaped?” backwards, not romanised hangul. The reason it’s backwards is that you’re likely reading it on the opposite site of the globe from where Seori intended. Or something. So, uh, who escaped? Fuck knows. Perhaps she did - she’s done a fine job of escaping the notice of the usual cyberhubs thus far: Rateyourmusic hasn’t got a page for her (ha!) and kprofiles.com have yet to acquire intel on her blood type or zodiac sign. On the other hand, she’s apparently on a big enough label to be distributed by Warner - that’s the internet for you! Cursive research told me that she clawed her way up as a cover artist on YouTube; further research tells me that she has a writing credit on every song on this EP. Good for her.
Wonderful as this is, the real reason that Seori’s debut is a mandatory use of your next eighteen minutes and not just another dispensable overproduction for your cuddle puddle has to do with the nuance of its borderline impeccable presentation. Seori’s vocals and lyrics (the English ones, anyway) are easily up to standard and, appropriately, carry the EP, but its real star value comes from its arrangement and production. We’ve checked off smooth
already, but the urtrope of this style is lush
; this kind of R&B is expected to cater to saturation, immersion, floatation and whatever other cognates of that awful word for aqueous dreaminess come to mind. In the wrong hands, this aesthetic lacks contour or definition; in the hands of Seori and co-producer Graphix, it finds itself subtly subverted.
Rather than drenching their tracks in the wet-toned synths and überreverberated beats that would likely content your common-or-garden Koreaboo, the pair present just enough of the textbook tones for ?depacse ohw
to feel like familiar ground, only to underscore it with a strikingly crisp edge; the choice of instrumentation is often specifically geared towards dry, unexpansive tones. Take “Really High”’s fantastically infectious chorus for instance; Seori’s delivery and choice of melodies are the stuff bedroom pop anthems are made of, yet the song opts for a whistle track in unison with her vocal line. The dryness of this tone compresses her melody into something brittle and tangible rather than amplifying it into a conventional earworm. “Hairdryer” is perhaps the EP’s most delirious, sensual track, yet its near-amorphous swirl of synths and vocal harmonies is underpinned by the comparatively parched tones of a double bass; this track single-handedly anchors the song in navigable territory. The double bass returns for “Running Through the Night”, but that track’s chorus leans the into shimmery synthscapes more than any the other tracks. Tellingly, it ends up as the least memorable track, a firm indication of how far subtle incorporation of crisp timbre elevates the rest of the EP.
In keeping with this, reverb is used in relative moderation throughout; each tone is distinctly voiced and never allowed to spill beyond its place in the mix. The tracks afforded the most reverb are the ones presented in the most spartan fashion; this treatment often does little more than spotlight their naturally percussive timbres. Take the pizzicato strings and the standalone rim shots that punctuate the respective first and second verses of “Fairy Tale”: these tracks reverberate into empty space, there being little to no further accompaniment for them to mesh with. Seori’s voice glides over them with the presence of a distant dream - all is in its right place. I often joke about proponents of overtextured, homogeneously paced dream pop a la Beach House being reverb musicians, but Seori and Graphix somehow turn this into a respectable craft here. Kudos to them.
All things considered, ?depacse ohw
’s atmosphere is as expansive and soothing as its celestial cover, yet its production gives it a closely reserved, almost agoraphobic effect as a counterpoint. It’s a careful balance, but both its exemplary sequencing and pacing and the evident talent in its performance and production keep this EP well above water, and with a distinctive edge to boot. The concise runtime certainly doesn’t hurt things. Goodness only knows whether Seori will catch on, or what we’ll be hearing from her next time around; mark her down as a new face worth following for the time being. Cheers, Korea!