It’s been a long time since I’ve felt a voice speak to me the way Ha Dong-kyun‘s (Ha Dong Qn) does. When I was younger, my family would listen to Indian classical music, (or Carnatic Music,) which is almost always spiritual in nature. Therefore, when I would hear Carnatic Music greats* like M.S. Subbulakshmi, I felt like I could hear them pouring their hearts out to God. Coming into pop music, I kind of lost that connection between the listener and the singer; the feeling that the person is two feet away from me, expressing his emotions towards something via music. Let’s be clear, I’m not expecting K-pop or Pop music in general to be religious or spiritual—even the notion is absurd. I do however, really appreciate when I feel a small thread between the music I’m listening to and myself. It’s one of the reasons I love Younha as a singer; she carries the talent to make her music speak, as though I could just drown myself in it. Ha Dong-kyun does the same.
“From Mark” is one of the most powerful ballads I’ve heard, ever. It wastes no time glorifying itself—a fate that most K-pop ballads tend to have these days—as this song, from 0:00 to 5:28, is all Ha Dong-kyun. His voice is the song. It can’t exist without him. Ha Dong-kyun’s vocals are filled with everything I ever needed to know about “Mark”; his feelings, his thoughts, his emotions. I don’t have to look up the lyrics, I don’t have to pay close attention to the instrumentals, and I don’t even fathom caring about the production value. “From Mark” and its corresponding story is a product of Ha Dong-kyun’s voice, and only his voice. I love how raw he sounds; how he delivers each line with it’s meaning rather than its melodic nature, even if it means that he becomes slightly syncopated with everything else. I’m glad that the instrumental follows suit and dampens its presence against Ha Dong-kyun’s voice, even modulating itself to the push and pull of the vocals. The instrumental serves as the track and guide for the voice part, and it does an impeccable job at it. I really need not say more, as “From Mark” is better heard than said.[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDAkBQswLHs]
“After the Love” is another song that pursues the same powerful quality of “From Mark” but in a manner that emphasizes melody as opposed to song delivery. As such, this song doesn’t have the same kind of power that “From Mark” has, though it stands well on its own as a ballad with color. The instrumentation works really well with Ha Dong-kyun’s voice; the addition and deletion of the guitar adds texture to song prevent the song from going into a lull of smooth vocals. I guess I could add that I really liked the piano, but piano tends to sound beautiful anyway.
“믿을 수 없는 말 (Unbelievable Ending)” reminds me of those generic K-drama OSTs, but with a much better instrumental. The song fits the ethereal quality of the rest of the album, and the stripped down background songs lets the vocals envelope the listener. I do admit however, that the song verges on becoming boring, and half-way through I think I want to fall asleep—which could be bad or good news depending on how you intend to listen to the song. As for me, I think the respite in this song is a very positive quality to what could easily fall to a manufactured state.
The moment I got fearful of whether Ha Dong-kyun is a one trick pony, I heard the bold and vibrant song “Inside Me.” This song has a clean rock-inspired instrumental that Ha Dong-kyun can easily standout against. The singing itself, on the other hand, bothers me a bit because his vibrato pushes everything he sings on the sharper end of the note he’s holding, causing it to sound a bit dissonant against the pointed instrumental. It’s not something that I really need to harp on, but it’s a most definitely a little annoyance factor that prevents “Inside Me” from becoming one of the best songs in the album. (Ignoring the uninventive song structure, anyway.)
“지워도 남아 있는 (Clearing The Remains)” has a retro flair with both its vocal and instrumental execution. I really find Ha Dong-kyun’s soulful voice to be in its best form in this song. My comments from the last song about his vibrato ironically becomes a timely embellishment in “Clearing The Remains.” To cap the awesomeness of this song off, the quasi-reverse beat gives the song such a such wonderfully lazy vibe that all of the vocal theatrics become effortless. Easy, breezy, and soulful. Now that’s a match made in heaven.
“Go Forward” is a song that has a lot of potential, but there is a weird discordance among all the song’s elements. The song is still fine overall, but the instrumental ever so often clashes terribly with the vocals, and the choral-like chorus only adds a cheesy retro factor to the song. Actually, this song is better described as “a very controlled cacophony,” because what I heard was a total mess that magically had an underlying musical skeleton. Yes, “a controlled cacophany” is certainly an oxymoron; however, it’s a surprisingly real oxymoron.
I apologize for ending with “Go Forward,” as it is a rather terrible way to end a album review for what is actually a decent musical undertaking. Mark certainly had moments of brilliance (“From Mark”) (though conversely it had its moment of road burn (“Go Forward”)) and the collective quality of this album is still quite high. I enjoyed what the album had to offer, even if ballads and histrionic music tends to not be of my taste. If you would like a venture into non-traditional K-pop, this is certainly a pick from me, and will probably be a favorite for everyone who enjoys a soulful and powerful singer like Ha Dong-kyun. The slightly upsetting fact about Mark is that it has showed me that having an incredibly talented voice is not enough to manifest an album of incredible quality, though it still assuredly increases one’s odds.
In short, Mark is absolutely a worthwhile embarkment, as its merits certainly outweigh its faults.
*A/N: Carnatic Music is an extremely technical musical genre almost entirely focused on the talent of the singer. Few ever compose their own pieces, and every person can sing whatever song that they would like. i.e. singers don’t have “their own” discographies. They just sing “their version” of a song composed by someone else. It’s important to note that Carnatic Music is also identified by composer more so than by singer, and songs often don’t have proper titles (people just use the first words); many artists sing the same song, just differently. The point of this is that “great” Carnatic Music artists are those with a “great” voice and command/knowledge of the musical genre—nothing else.