Album Review: Jaurim’s “Goodbye, grief.”

Jaurim_GGAn eclectic collection of songs form Jaurim‘s ninth album, Goodbye, grief.; an ode to overcoming loss and pain. With a title like Goodbye, grief., one might expect a solemn and stoic product, but what we end up with is an interpretation of human emotion far more astute. This album is a journey through coping with grief, not the stagnant musical manifestation of loss. It accepts that grief is a collection of emotions that serve as an intermediate between states of being, and this progression is often broken down into “stages,” which Jaurim attempts to convey through each song. Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross famously enumerates five in her book, On Death and Dying (1969):

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Psychologically, it’s hard to say whether the experience of grief fits into these rigid boxes, and most psychologists today would not analyze a patient assuming that coping follows an exact “pattern.” Every person has his or her own coping mechanism with loss–and that’s excluding the fact that the type of loss can influence how one deals with the pain. Regardless, what this does show is that our emotions are never linear. Musically, Goodbye, grief. mimics this flow between emotional states, and often times the transition can be chaotic. But isn’t that not what grief is? Facing turmoil in whatever way one can and gaining strength from the experience?

The album opens with a bang with “Anna,” a majestic rock piece that sits on a tremendous orchestral undercurrent. Kim Yoon-ah‘s powerful, yet strained vocal timbre pairs wonderfully with the smooth, melodic composition. What is amazing about “Anna” is that the momentum of the song follows a fluid ebb and flow that bring the song to small but repeating highs, carried by the innate musicality of Yoon-ah’s voice. It’s somewhat vague to speak of “innate musicality,” but I think musical expression is very hard to become alert to as a singer. It’s easy to to sing a song and hit all the notes, or to sing with “emotion and power,” but it’s hard to sing a song such that the listener cares about your interpretation of a song, and believes that its intricacies and soul have been conveyed. “Anna” (and most of this album) exemplifies Yoon-ah’s ability to do just that.

The voice part, independent of Yoon-ah, is especially beautiful in “Anna.” It starts out with tonal quality reminiscent of traditional Korean vocals, especially with the musical phrasing and the stylistic components, and works its way into a more rock-like style. After the rather unconventional restrained guitar solo, this building process repeats again into the climax of the song, the vocals and instrumentals carrying equal weight and trading off the melodic line. The song ends with grand pauses between the final “An-nah”s–a sudden, but powerful dissolution of the song. Having strong building blocks that complement each other to move a song from point A to point B is what makes “Anna” so compelling as an opener. It leaves a firm first impression.

We are left lingering but for a swift moment until we are thrown into the jazzy-piano rock number, “Dear Mother.” The song is unapologetic about its fusion style, and progresses towards a theatrical vibe (that suits Kim Yoon-ah’s voice well) with a touch of background chorus  and retro flair. For some this may be too abrupt a change, but since the song develops from a mellower state, the transition doesn’t come off too pointed, and it actually works with the rest of the album.

Jaurim_1

The following song, “Nimah,” takes a similar route, taking a time machine back to the days of flamboyant guitars and simple, catchy melodies. In this song, the focus is really upon the musicianship of the band members beyond Kim Yoon-ah. They have a very clean and balanced performance. Although the production certainly plays a role, the composition is fluid enough to strike a good mixture of vocal and instrumentation that makes “Nimah” a very fun song that lets the ear jump around its various textures. Who said getting over sadness had to be hard? Sometimes you just gotta let go and let your hair flow.

“템퍼스트” casts a darker tone to the album that sort of sits in the interface of “Anna” and “Dear Mother,” in terms of the emotional impression it leaves. “템퍼스트” maintains a consistent momentum throughout that conveys a sense of lethagy with the slightly uneven coordination between the vocals and the instrumentals, which actually take a prominent position in the song. The guitar and drums have strength to them, but they are not designed to feel angry against the vocal. Instead, a two exist in a complementary state of great precision. It’s easy to find oneself following the various musical lines within the song.

“I Feel Good” instantly conjures the kind of music one would listen on a car ride; relaxed and nonchalant. This song really takes on a lot of the vibes found in contemporary, “idol-rock,” especially along the likes of CNBlue, and to a lesser extent, FT Island. What this song has that separates it from a very similar sounding CNBlue song is its self-awareness. The song is far from being heavy or even taking itself seriously, and as such, it provides a palate cleanser between the two major sections of the album.

Undoubtedly, it is this second act of the album that has leaves the greatest impression of Jaurim’s maturity as musicians and the complexity that is involved in the composition of their musical material.  There’s a beautiful dichotomy between the upbeat first part and the semi-melancholic (it’s a bit more complex than that) second half that really fits against the thematic element of overcoming grief. If we’re going to go with the Kübler-Ross theory, the first part is akin to the the “Denial” stage, and this second half is synthesis of “Depression” and “Acceptance” stage.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LrB-fJn-3w4]

“스물다섯, 스물하나  (Twenty-five, Twenty-one),” is probably the most bone-chilling song on  the album, maybe even the most cathartic. It’s also the most representative song of being the traditional state of “grieving.” Unsurprisingly, this became the title track of the album, and MV is a fabulous visual representation of the song’s melodic and lyrical notes, which (in part) are below:

“When the season comes where the wind blows and flowers wither
It still feels like I am holding your hand
Back then, flowers were still beautiful
I didn’t know very well like I do now
Your scent comes with the wind
I thought it would last forever, 25, 21

The ocean on that day was so warm
It still feels like I can catch you with my hand
In the falling sunlight, there is you and me
We dreamed a happy, heart-numbing dream
The song of that day comes with the wind
I thought it would last forever, the you and me of the past”

Melodically, the song is rather bare, suspending itself under its main musical theme, but it is in cases like this where Kim Yoon-ah’s voice really takes flight. Her timbre emphasizes the air and echo of the note as much as it does the note itself. This lends itself to a more opera-like or traditional Korean sounding tone. (At least to my ear, anyway. I can’t claim authority.) “스물다섯, 스물하나” would sound beautiful even without this stylistic component, but it would become boring very rapidly if one were to sing the song straight. The beauty of “스물다섯, 스물하나” truly exists in the moments she briefly lingers on the glissandos summoning the ringing quality of the quarter steps between notes, and how she slightly syncopates the following section in the chorus. A similar phenomenon can be seen in Junsu‘s “11 AM,” where a thin, but gorgeous melodic line provides an opportunity to appreciate the musical capabilities of the vocalist (such as people who actually sing from the diaphragm).

“무지개” features mellow major chords that fit in perfectly as the follow up to the last section of “스물다섯, 스물하나.” This is actually the first time in the album that I wasn’t ecstatic about the slightly nasally quality to Yoon-ah’s voice, but I don’t think I enjoyed the song any less because of it. I like the strong the strong presence of piano, and how it’s actually it’s a bit all over the place and a jumble on the instrumental end of things when the melody is pretty straightforward. In a similar fashion, “Dancing Star” is so old school, it’s probably easy to overlook amongst the more “emotional” songs. There’s nothing negative about it though, because it’s a great interlude to push us back into the softer mood brought by the following song, ”   .”

Oddly enough, the progressive rock track “전하고 싶은 말” is probably the underrated gem of the album, because it take minimalism and keeps it interesting by making what little is there extremely compelling. This song comes to life in small “bells and whistles” and how you can float along the river with the band. If we’re going with the river analogy, it might be worthwhile to think about this song like canoeing. If you’ve ever been on a canoe trip along an unassuming river or creek, you’ll know what I mean by saying that everything tends to look the same after about ten minutes. Whenever something changes, no matter how small–suppose you come across a bird, or a snake, or a small current–it interests you. It kind of alleviates the lethargy of paddling along a quiet stream.

At the end of the trip though, what you remember is not the bird, or the snake, or that your boat tipped over (okay, you’ll remember that), but the whole river. Those isolated events become embroidered into the larger experience of taking a boat somewhere, and what you come to appreciate is not that you saw a snake, but how the snake fits into the larger entity. “전하고 싶은 말” evokes a similar mood, with Yoon-ah’s voice as your canoe. It also doesn’t hurt that “전하고 싶은 말” reminds me a lot of one of my favorite Japanese (uh, mixed?) bands, Monoral.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lxt_4f7iXbc]

“Icarus” takes the role as the album’s most iconic song and first single. Anthem driven and confident, it fits perfectly into Yoon-ah’s comfort zone, featuring her echoing vocals commandeering over a classic rock base. “Icarus” is my most listened song on the album, not because I think it’s necessarily the “best” song on the album, but I would say that it’s the most satisfying. Her inflection as she sings “Tae-yang” is one of my favorite moments of the album. It’s the perfect mix of gritty and elegant.

The last moments of the album feel like a memoir, putting to rest the last hour you spent listening to it. The choral component takes a distinct presence once again (“Icarus” had it too), though the whole song is a bit trudging.  This contrasts most of the album, which consistently makes a statement about a feeling at some cross-section of time. “Icarus” and “Anna” display burgeoning strength, “스물다섯, 스물하나” conveys reminiscence over a broken heart, “I feel good” reflects elation at just being, and so on. “슬픔이여 이제 안녕” just exists, and while it tries to convey conclusion, I find it a bit too understated.

From the musical perspective, while I enjoy this album, it could be better. Jaurim sounds great and doesn’t deviate from its established identity, but there are some moments in the album that put strain on the whole structure, such as songs that don’t progress and wallow in itself. The frustrating part is that when Jaurim manages to hit gold, they find an overflowing mine, yet when they don’t, you sort of end up with Fool’s gold. I keyed onto the fact there is some friction between songs in the album pretty early on, but I wouldn’t say that the artistic decision (if it was a conscious decision) necessarily fared well for the album sonically. Honestly though, album flow really comes down to personal interpretation–sometimes chaos may be the element that unifies an album (see Pink Tape)–but it’s often hit or miss. Jaurim, by nature of their core musicality, had the luck (or unfortunate circumstance) to find themselves neither hitting nor missing. In short, I don’t dislike it; but I would be lying if I said I love it. Appreciation and affection are not intertwined in this case.

I may have called Goodbye, grief. an expression of grief’s spectrum of feeling, but in retrospect, I don’t think the album is that grandiose. Goodbye, grief. isn’t some masterpiece I want to put on wall, tending to it regularly while forgetting its soul. Instead, the album is human in the best way, an album that gains dust on the shelf until you find yourself fingering along your collection and stumbling upon it again. Whether it’s the second time around, or the fiftieth, it manages to avoid becoming outdated or distant. Most importantly though, I think the biggest takeaway from Goodbye, grief. is the understanding that it’s never actually sad or dejected–somber maybe, or even a touch melancholic, but it’s never in a state of depression. In fact, most of the time, this album is pretty positive. Were I to throw this album into exactly one of Ross’s categories, I would pick “acceptance.” In a way, Goodbye, grief is a living memory of experience; it’s a reflection of a “common” painful past, and by remembering it and prying emotions apart, we come to terms with it.

I guess in the end, that’s what makes Goodbye, grief. exactly what it says it is. 

(BeautifulSongLyrics, Munhwa, Soundholic Entertainment)

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