House of the Dragonfly
I actually wrote this review as part of an application as a music reviewer for a kpop website, but 22 days later with no word I’m pretty sure they don’t want me. So here’s my review of Youhna’s Subsonic mini-album!
Subsonic is Younha’s third mini-album, a follow-up to the mini-album Just Listen released earlier in 2013 and sequel to the 2012 full album Supersonic. While all of Younha’s albums feature at least one quiet track, Subsonic is a much quieter mini-album, emphasizing acoustic elements and break-up songs more than anything else. Even the tracks featuring a stronger rock sound tend to be more subdued in comparison to Younha’s other albums, making for a relaxed listening experience. Personally, as neither a long-term fan nor a recent convert, I enjoyed the quiet energy that Younha has mastered but was left desiring a little diversity. Subsonic is, after all, only a mini-album.
Subsonic opens with “시간을 믿었어 (Believed in Time),” a song that begins with a piano steadily beating like a ticking clock, somewhat reminiscent of Coldplay’s “Clocks.” This sound symbolizes the song’s theme of time passing after the end of a relationship. The music then slowly builds by layering on Younha’s calming voice followed by a smooth string ensemble, eventually climaxing to her classic rock-ballad sound. Overall, “Believed in Time” is an appropriate song to open with because it sets the theme for the rest of the mini-album and reminds the listener what style of music Younha is famous for.
When listening to the album in full, “Believed in Time” transitions beautifully into the title track, “Subsonic.” It begins with ethereal, muffled strings penetrated by the sound of a distant piano drifting through… before weaving between many different styles throughout the rest of the song. Younha moves deftly from rock to stripped-down combinations of vocals, piano, or acoustic guitar and back again without ever sounding inconsistent.
Lyrically, it makes sense that “Subsonic” is attached to the end of “Believed in Time.” The two songs are opposite in meaning; “Subsonic” talks about eternity and the specialness of being in love whereas “Believed in Time” rejects these themes. However, “Subsonic” opens with a line about how a moment’s breakup becomes a memory, perhaps alluding to the breakup of “Believed in Time.”
“없어 (Not There),” the promoted single of Subsonic, comes next with a feature from rap duo Eluphant. This song is essentially an extension of “Believed in Time,” and opens with an almost identical line about wind blowing, reinforcing the theme of time passing. It might be my favorite song lyrically, as it includes creative imagery like wiping off the remains of the relationship from her face but realizing even the soap is her former lover. Good stuff.
This is a strong single, with a catchy string ensemble motif woven throughout the song backed by a bass beat that eases the transition into Kebee and Minos’ rap portions. Surprisingly, the most hushed section is the last rap, giving musical diversity to the song and something to attract almost any listener.
Subsonic seems take an even quieter turn with “괜찮아 (It’s Okay)” before the song builds to a full-blown orchestrated anthem when the lyrics turn from breakup toward recovery (and yes, the theme of wind yet again makes an appearance). “It’s Okay” was actually a pre-release track, perhaps explaining why it is not the strongest track of Subsonic. It’s the most OST-like track, which may appeal to some listeners more than others. The title is a reference to lyrics in the song where Younha wonders who will tell her when it will be ok to cry – significant because this idea reappears in the next song, “Painful Sadness.”
“아픈 슬픔 (Painful Sadness)” is my favorite hidden gem of this album and could easily have served as a single. There’s an underlying beat that serves as a driving heartbeat even through the stripped-down sections, and neither the strings sections nor the rock sections are overpowering. All aspects of the song come together beautifully to provide a quietly epic track. This is the sort of song I think of when I think of Younha and the skill she has for deftly melding ballad and rock into an accessible pop sound.
The lyrics also deviate from the other songs on Subsonic. Instead of expressing her feelings directly in first person, Younha uses the device of a distressed child to demonstrate how she has overcome her own sadness in the past. Younha tells the girl it’s okay to cry, and not to be ashamed of her tears, thus linking back to “It’s Okay.” (The listener is left to consider if the child is, in fact, Younha herself.) The writing is cleverly and powerfully done, and arguably provides a more positive tone than any other track except perhaps “Subsonic.”
Younha closes Subsonic on a calming and reflective note with “Home.” The lyrics, somewhat unclear, seem to indicate how Younha experiences a relationship (the same relationship?) after a long time has passed, making this an appropriate song to wrap up the album. After traveling a great distance and struggling significantly, Younha is content and “home” wherever her lover is. Backed by calming instrumentals similar to “Believed in Time,” it is a sweet – if not groundbreaking – finale.
All in all, Subsonic is perhaps not Younha’s most diverse or edgy release, but it is also not one to blithely pass over. It’s a good counterpoint to the more upbeat Just Listen, and together the two mini-albums serve as an acceptable showcase of Younha’s musical prowess.