Review Summary: City bops II: more city, less bop
Yukika is here and she’s happening. Her story kicked off like a fairytale, and it seems to have reached full swing: Japanese girl jets off to Seoul for a new life, cruises a few K-idol shows and hits it big as a soloist. What a wonder. Since her debut single (and still best track) “NEON” in 2019, she’s established herself so thoroughly as a K-pop star that her Japanese fans are frequently surprised to find that she isn’t Korean (or so the stories say…). Her first album Soul Lady
was the kind of record that made space for itself in Korea’s pop landscape, at once a slick revival act and cross-cultural export of ‘70s/‘80s Japanese city pop conveniently timed for that style’s recent-ish graduation into peak retro nostalgia. It was a smash, one of the few 2020 records that virtually everyone
liked, K-pop casuals, deep-breathing pop snobs, and, encouragingly, bevested headbangers brought to a level by its vintage arrangements and exuberant delivery. That record still carries a golden glow of sorts, and it’s well earned; as such, Yukika’s in the spotlight and, her algorithms not being ones to linger, it holds that we are treated to follow-up EP.
More than anything else, timeabout,
feels like a smartly-gauged stylistic reshuffle. It suggests that Yukika and her limo-sized songwriting team are still savvy to city pop’s choice flavours but aren’t keen to be pigeonholed as a retro-revival act. Soul Lady
’s groovy basslines, colourful chord choices and endless, endless swing are still central here, but they’ve been given a makeover, no longer tied to ultrabusy vintage arrangements but instead rewired to a silky-smooth palette with more sheen and extra spatiousness. Where once she rode over a whirl of backing vocals, snare-happy percussion, sweeping strings and electric pianos, here Yukika finds her footing in a sparser foundation of four-to-the-floor and synthesised counter-melodies; her performance is more central and a little less short of breath.
The upshot is a less urgent release that sits very
comfortably in K-pop vogue. For a probable majority of Yukika’s audience, Soul Lady
was a first encounter with city pop; for these folks, timeabout,
will be a gratifying nod to more familiar territory. Everyone else will have to make their own minds up whether the likes of “Insomnia”’s breezy shuffle or “PUNG!”’s glittery smoulder match up to the thrills of Soul Lady
’s head-over-heels exhilaration, but it’s hard to argue that any of these tracks do a disservice to Yukika’s talents or palatability.
My main gripe is that her hooks are a good deal less engaging this time around. timeabout,
looks and feels almost suspiciously exactly right and Yukika’s choreographers have doubtless had a field day, but it doesn’t boast the wealth of earworms that made Soul Lady
such an instant delight. The catchiest track here, “Secret”, is by no coincidence also the most upbeat, and it’s the only song her that recalls perhaps Soul Lady
’s strongest quality: that it was bold, busy, enthusiastic to put equally engaging parts of its arrangement in competition with one another and make Yukika fight for the prominence of her hooks, and far too much
to be flawlessly ‘smooth’. timeabout,
is exactly that: smooth as hell, tasteful to a fault and perhaps more respectful to open-ended consumption preferences than its predecessor’s giddy rush. It’s exactly where Yukika needed to go next, but I’ll be crossing my fingers that she works up a little more excitement for the next item on her career checklist.