HyukOh wound up exploding into popularity recently in Korea after a stint on Infinite Challenge. As I’m slow on getting on the bandwagon, I only got to listen to them a few weeks ago. And here I am reviewing everything they’ve released officially.
First off, there are two things I want to address. One being that majority of HyukOh’s songs are purely in English, and based on this interview, and the lyrics themselves, I’m judging that Oh Hyuk is not a fluent English speaker and as such, I will avoid discussing the lyrics in depth for majority of the songs on their mini-albums. The second issue to address is that of the recent controversy surrounding accusations that Panda Bear was plagiarized. First off, HyukOh themselves have never considered their music particularly original, and even on a cursory listen, you can tell that the parts that make up their songs are highly derivative of the genres they borrow from. So, I am essentially making the point that its hard to claim plagiarism on a combination of musical cliches.
With that said.
With simple, melodic, almost hook-like guitar and bass lines, cemented by some synths and solid drumming; HyukOh’s sound grows almost into a breed between pop-rock and indie. The thing that pushes them over the edge into an indie band, is the genreless voice of band vocalist, Oh Hyuk.
The intro to ‘Lonely’ gives us jazzy guitar picks and an electric guitar with a funk element to it. Despite the heavy subject matter, the instrumental is pretty upbeat, with the rhythm and pacing somewhat similar to that of a video game. The vocals edge between a soul singing style and jazz. Ironically, all the lyrics are in English. This song could be considered an extended intro, with the song structure being very loose, essentially 3 verses with the last repeated. Overall, the vocals were interesting and didn’t follow common patterns either in composition nor delivery.
Feels Like Roller Coaster Ride
The song opens to a melodic main guitar, with a repetitive baseline to fill in where the drums would normally time keep. The pace picks up during the first verse, lead by the baseline. Then the rhythm built up suddenly falls away, into a dream like rest for a moment then it’s back to the baseline. The guitars drop out completely during the chorus to increase anxiety. Leaving the chorus, the mood drops down with the vocals to allow the listener to relax. The effect is a good way to give the feeling of being on a roller-coaster, which is the atmosphere of the arrangement of the song in general.
There are about 3 distinct sections that loop between each other to bring the whole feeling together. Since the sections mix together without a rigid structure, it brings the roller-coaster feeling in again in a way. In the outro of the song, we get our first guitar solo, that leaves us on a cliff, a perfect way to end a song about confusing emotions.
Melodic guitars open the song, this time alone. The timing of the chords almost feel like a pendulum or clock ticking, increasing anxiety. Oh Hyuk’s vocals take center stage here. As we get closer to the chorus, suddenly the arrangement gets a little softer with drums and synths coming in.
Everything comes in the chorus with the guitars taking a sweet melody, keyboard taking over the bass line from the previous song and drums come in with a slow beat but with a good pace that is different enough from the opening chords that it is not boring. The vocals layered in the chorus work well, almost like the main singer’s voice is ghosted. This song also uses English lyrics, notably the easiest to decipher by far as there’s an obvious storyline just listening to or reading the lyrics.
There is a psuedo-climax at the end of the song, by adding layers of guitar and complicating the vocals. Finally, allowing less structure towards the end, the song almost naturally fades out. Overall, I like this song the best so far on the album as it not only feels complete, but has a more complex but still pleasant arrangement than the previous tracks which keeps my interest.
Wi Ing Wi Ing
This song opens with much more upbeat guitar picks. For the first time on this album, we have Korean lyrics and they are the best so far. Also unlike the previous songs, this one has the vocals as the pacemaker, with its own rhythm to add complexity. The lyrics are also unconventional as they don’t follow a specific songwriting format.
The drums come in the chorus, giving the verse that was loosing steam new life. The lyrics in the chorus are pretty simple, working like a simple pop song hook. Ultimately, the melody is what ties the vocals and lyrics together. Overall, this track has a more finished sound and is more crisp than anything before. However, I felt it could have ended before the last 4-8 bars.
More guitar starts off this song, with the time keeping guitar riffs that have become a theme in this album. There is a much more active, fast paced drum backing the guitar. This serves to keep the listeners attention and create a sense of anxiety.
There is an unexpected lull during the bridge to be brought back to reality by the guitar riffs from the beginning. The chorus uses the repetition of a word per line, somehow helping to create some feeling of frustration. At this point the instrumental is almost noisy, with a cacophony of different guitar and bass melodies. Breaking up the structure of the song thus far, there is a sudden bass solo, then we are thrown back into the verses. The song ends with the beginning guitar progressions with the chorus repeated enough to now bring anxiety. Overall, this is probably my least favorite song on the album as the encompassing feeling is one of frustration.
I Have No Hometown
Vocals lead into the song, with a near acapella start. Then guitars take over, in a whimsical style that blends well into the next section in which the guitars rise up in pitch and intensity. Unlike “Our Place”, I enjoy the arrangement here; the balance of the instrumental is perfect with the nostalgia of the lyrics. By speeding up the tempo only to suddenly slow it down, HyukOh successfully gives the feeling of floating. When the tempo is at its slowest part and is almost depressing, then it picks up and you feel hopeful again. Although this song doesn’t beat “Ohio” for me, it is a close second with a well executed arrangement, vocals and lyrics.
Look out for the next review on HyukOh’s second album 22.