Yukika
Soul Lady



Release Date: 07/21/2020 | Tracklist

Review Summary: city bops

City pop is back…baby? What a great time to be retro. Anyone taking the vaguest notes on 2020 pop will have tuned into the ‘80s disco revival spearheaded by the likes of Roisin Murphy and Jessie Ware, but it’s interesting to see how many Korean artists have displayed corresponding inclinations towards vintage Japanese city pop. For the uninitiated, city pop is a parallel-universe approximation of classic sophistipop, built on bustling visions of urban luminance and plasticity and articulated in colourful and often impossibly groovy smatterings of funk and/or jazz. It’s a combination that has aged, uh, inconsistently; city pop is so melodically rich and instrumentally busy that its lesser configurations are in constant danger of oversaturation or burnout, especially when compared with the timeless straightforwardness of Western disco. ‘Stagnant’ is a word I see quite cogently thrown around a lot for run-of-the-mill city pop; it’s easy to tell when uninspired songs find themselves crushed under the weight of their own dense arrangements. You approach a genre underpinned by such a legendary standard of bass grooves and you’re playing with fire; any lazy songwriting or listless hooks stand out a mile. It takes a certain something to hit lasting glory as a vocalist with that kind of backdrop behind you.

Whatever that something is, you can be damn sure that Japanese-born Korean showmistress Yukika has got it. Having done the rounds of South Korean showbiz over the last few years, she’s settled (for now) on a singing career and made a landmark opening statement with her debut album Soul Lady. It is, as they say, a good’un: the kind of record so so transparently excellent, universally popular and so instantly inviting that it’s likely as immune to the pop cynicism and circuitous whatabout-ism as anything in this year’s twisted hellscape of a washed-up landscape could ever hope to be. Seriously, nitpick this album all you like; there’s very little that provokes substantial quibbles beyond the token-ness of “A Day For Love”’s token balladry and the potentially extraneous placement of “I Need A Friend”’s spoken word recording. Yukika and her small army of composer/arrangers have a keen ear for details, and they find inventive ways to put this to good use from song to song without disrupting the album’s near-seamless continuity. The best example of this is “pit-a-pet”, where Yukika gives city pop’s retro synth palette a modern makeover and displays shrewd footwork as she keeps up the steps of faithful revivalism while sliding her heels over the threshold of wider K-Pop vogue. I’m not sure whether or not there was a need to bring anything this glossy into the mix, but it smacks of enough conviction to sit comfortably alongside the album’s other, more traditional fare.

All this is quaint and nice, but this is not the kind of affair where scrutinising the small things is particularly conducive to overall appreciation; if your ears aren’t firmly trained on those absolute monster hooks, you’re wasting your time here. Soul Lady is stacked to high heaven with impeccable pop immediacy, and the concentration with which this supercharges it song-to-song is dazzling. Take its flagship banger, “NEON”. Finally at home on an LP tracklist after over a year in orbit as a single, this track practically rewrites the criteria for an impressive pop song in 2020 with the space between each note. Its juggernaut of a chorus is surprisingly fleeting, with most of the track oriented towards cementing its three-beat bass groove, and by the time the chorus does roll around, this rhythm has Yukika cooking on gas. She’s not one to waste that momentum on aimless repetition while just two iterations of that vocal line per iteration is more than enough to stick in your head for days. Fat free and unforgettable; that’s how you play ‘em.

It doesn’t get any better than “NEON” whichever market you cherrypick from, but the fact that it isn’t that emphatic a standout within the record’s opening salvo speaks volumes for the calibre on show here. “I FEEL LOVE” is a note-perfect icebreaker full of charming delivery; “SOUL LADY” is a whirl of giddy energy that makes for the album’s most intense and rousing cut; “Yesterday” tones down the tempo and leans more heavily into its rhythm section for an irresistibly danceable knockout. What a run. The rest of the album never attempts to reach corresponding highs because it doesn’t need to; riding the rush of the early stretch, later numbers like “Cherries Jubiles” and “SHADE” find themselves with the space to toy with more expansive vocal melodies, and they take full advantage of this. The assorted flourishes of the former’s promenade kitsch and the gorgeous romanticism of the latter’s chorus are every inch as impeccable as the album’s megahooks. They offer just the right changes of pacing for the record’s 35-minute runtime to play out with as much contour as concentration, both to extremes. And so it is that Soul Lady slaps like no-one’s business. Yukika sets herself an intimidating standard here, anchoring city pop’s traditional aesthetic of metropolitan excess to the ageless simplicity of romantic lyricism. She doesn’t beat about the bush when it comes to sweeping the genre’s typical nostalgia for heyday Tokyo under the carpet, breathlessly asserting her own time and place in its stead. This is a sound of right here, right now: more, please.



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user ratings (39)
3.6
great


Comments:Add a Comment 
JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Slight rush-job, but Sputnik not having a review for this album was a source of international embarrassment. Some of the smoothest, catchiest shit of the year and comfortably up with Jessie Ware, Rina Sawayama and REOL when it comes to the top of the BOPS

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/16yrp3d9pCJgQK2RMBTtd1?si=GxCMz1QQTc6z8OVudj8I8g

(NEON is meant to be track 4, but sad evil streaming reasons have corrupted this; remedy as you see fit)

Digging: Fushitsusha - Live I

parksungjoon
November 29th 2020


25750 Comments


mr well this is not what we agreed upon that you would be reviewing

our friends will be contacting you shortly

Digging: Government - Shitshitshit [japanese death poem]

BlitzPhoenix98
November 29th 2020


129 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Solid album, honestly. Didn't expect to enjoy this as much as I did. It's cute.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Mucho cute and sorry sorry I got distracted and haven't worked out what to say for Rubio!! That album has a lotta things going on!

FadedSun
November 29th 2020


2449 Comments


Wait what...modern city pop? Oh, she's Korean! The name Yukika is tricky haha. Yeah, this is cool. Nice throwback.

parksungjoon
November 29th 2020


25750 Comments


>Oh, she's Korean

imagine not being able to tell from the hangul on the cover

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

She's Japanese but rolls on the Korean circuit haha - this is all in Korean(/occasional English) but ig she wanted to telegraph those roots

FadedSun
November 29th 2020


2449 Comments


"imagine not being able to tell from the hangul on the cover"

Imagine me not even looking at the cover, and going straight to Youtube to listen to this. Good one though.

Ah okay. Thanks for that info, Johnny.

parksungjoon
November 29th 2020


25750 Comments


wow ur no fun

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

This is serious business

SteakByrnes
November 29th 2020


22106 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I love this album

Pikazilla
November 29th 2020


14351 Comments


isn't she supposed to be called Yukiko

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

寺本來可 nah she's chill, that's an authentic -ka. not all onnanoko are -ko!!

Aberf
November 29th 2020


3562 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

She also did some voice acting in anime. Pretty cool.

Aberf
November 29th 2020


3562 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Cherries Jubile is almost the best thing ever actually.

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Neon and Yesterday bby but yes that one is good

LeddSledd
November 29th 2020


3037 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

weeb pop? hmmmmm maybe

Digging: The Chariot - One Wing

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

korean-styled city pop =/= weeb pop, learn your genres plz

Gyromania
November 29th 2020


31403 Comments


Yeah immediately thought this was more weeb shit

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
November 29th 2020


31675 Comments

Album Rating: 4.1

Well if this site had a penny for every time you jumped to a dumb conclusion, it would have single handedly fixed world hunger by now



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