When Isabellealyssa (you should visit her blog) recommended this album to me, I actually had no idea who MYK (Michael Y. Kim, SALTNPAPER) was, so she told me that he was part of Epik High, a group I was aware of. Epik High, for those who don’t know, is a hip-hop group, so I thought that hip-hop is what MYK pursued as well through SALTNPAPER. My losing streak in assumptions hasn’t ended however, as I was dead wrong; SALTNPAPER is a wonderful modern-rock album. As for surprise number 2 of the day, SALTNPAPER is also sung half in (perfect) English, half in Korean.Edit: MYK is not officially part of Epik High, though he did collaborate with the group and is considered a honorary member. He was part of the label Tablo created, Map The Soul, and did a lot of rap and hip-hop under the name MYK, including collaborations, during that time. You can find one of those collaborations for free here. SALTNPAPER is MYK’s name for his modern rock compositions.
The album begins with the intro “After the Wreckage,” a cello and guitar based number carried by a little bit of dissonance and syncopation that’s absolutely stunning. It’s obviously an intro, so it sits at a measly one and a half minutes. It’s a bit sad for me, because I like the phrasing within “After the Wreckage” a lot. I wish it were converted into a full song, but I’ll take what I can get.
“Field Day” is the first full track of the album. I have mixed feelings about this song, but that has more to do with the lyrical content than the musical aspects. Musically, I really like this song, especially the addition of the muffled static sound at the beginning that immediately captures my attention. “Field Day” does an amazing job of striking a balance between modern/electronic sounds and acoustic sounds, though it feels a bit repetitious because the same loop is being played through the entire song. The best part song comes during the guitar solo, but unfortunately that section doesn’t get to stand for itself, as it quickly becomes the ending of “Field Day.” Because of that, there’s a bit of dissatisfaction that comes from finishing the song, especially when taking into account how simplistic (and also repetitious) the lyrics are. Nevertheless, “Field Day” is a great start to the album, because gives room for growth.
And boy does this album grow with the song “모자 (Hats).” This song is without doubt my favorite from the album, from start to finish. I really can’t find anything wrong with it besides being a tad generic and having to lament that the song ends way too rapidly. But even the latter is an empty complaint considering that MYK gives us both the English and Korean versions in this mini.
“Hats” is also the most western sounding of all the songs on the album (though most of it is pretty western sounding). When I heard MYK sing in the English version of the song, for a split second, I thought I was listening to a song by The Fray (especially when his voice sounds really similar to Issac Slade‘s). The song starts with soft guitar and vocals and slowly builds up until it explodes at the chorus with a full band set. The next verse doesn’t quite settle down from the momentum from the first chorus, but is as beautiful as the first. By the time you get to the bridge, you’re fully entrapped in the amazing rock instrumentals, and to see the instrumental drop from under you is a wonderful feeling of escape and climatic satisfaction. However, the song doesn’t leave you hanging there; rather, it gradually and gracefully brings the listener back to where they started—as though nothing had even happened.
“Heart Storm” is a beautiful song as well, albeit a bit more mellow than the two above. (I need to make it clear that it’s mellow, not slow or ballad-like.) “Heart Storm” is very much a rock song with a little rap thrown in. The only reason I call it mellow is that “Heart Storm” never hits that clear climax in the song; instead, moving in waves of muted intensity that carry the song forward. A detail that I particularly liked was the use of the piano as a means of establishing the musical theme and then removing it all together until the end; it forced us as listeners to find the theme littered across the song, expressed through various avenues. The “embellishing” rap at the end was also a really nice dimensional element that didn’t weigh down the lightness of the song.
The album truly slows down with “Home,” though with a name like that, it’s not too surprising that the song sounds the way it does. The feature of Polish singer Iza Lach was a wonderful idea because her vocal timbre is really the component that brings life to what would be a really boring song. The semi-duet brings a nice bite to the song as well. Once again, my only big issue with the song is that it ends without a good sense of conclusion. As soon as I finally get into the song, I find out that there are only 20 seconds left. Build-up for 70% of the song is not that great of an idea, though I do give “Home” props for sounding good while doing it.
“Autumn” is really the “ballad” of the album, a slow number that captures the grace of the acoustic guitar and MYK’s somber and clean vocals. I love how MYK doesn’t have to have the most incredible vocals to convey great emotion and envelope the listener within the beauty of the song. I love how folk song-like all the verses are, until you hit the bridge and everything gains this ethereal quality that wasn’t seen in most of the song. “Autumn” is just so calming that I feel like I could sit in my porch while listening to this song and be at peace.
This next song is another that I ended up enjoying a lot in the album. “Love Strong” lets some smooth but slightly raw rapping from Tablo take center stage, as it sits on a canvas of MYK’s vocals and rock instrumentals. It’s a neat idea to pursue this combination of combining rap and rock elements into a cohesive song that’s not either one or the other. I didn’t think I’d like it as much as I did, but I think it has to do with the upbeat nature of the song and the enjoyment I gained from following the various layers of the song. It’s not complicated compositionally, and it’s not all that innovative either. However, as the last hurrah of the album, it works impeccably.
The album concludes with “Windward” another instrumental that bids farewell to the listener in a manner that is conclusive to the album, but open ended enough to be inclusive to all the possibilities following—like listening to SALTNPAPER all over again.
SALTNPAPER is an album that is destined to give to whomever listens to it an “otherworldly” experience. This is unique in the world of K-pop, and for a first effort from MYK as a soloist, SALTNPAPER certainly sets a standard for debut album construction throughout K-pop (I don’t want to call it K-indie since MYK is associated with Epik High). Don’t confuse this with the idea of an album being of exceptional quality, because I don’t know if SALTNPAPER has the it factor that takes it far enough from the basics of its genre. That said, I appreciate beauty and cohesion where I see it, and this is beyond doubt a place to find it.