It’s been a while since we last heard from singer-songwriter, IU. With her last comeback turning into one of the biggest — and most controversial — scandals of her career, IU’s taken time since Chat-shire to let things calm down. After nearly two years out of the spotlight post Zeze-gate, IU will officially return next month. To get her comeback off the ground, IU will release two pre-release singles. The first of which, “Through the Night,” dropped this week and instantly shot up to the top of the charts.

“Through the Night” is everything “Twenty-three” wasn’t. It’s sentimental, intimate, and beautifully restrained. There’s no tongue-in-cheek commentary, or playful instrumentals. Instead, this is IU returning to the basics: her voice and a guitar. In many ways, “Through the Night” re-introduces us to the singer and reminds of all the reasons many fell for her in the first place.

“Through the Night” is executed with understated purpose, making it a captivating release. Everything about “Through the Night” is stripped down, from the instrumentation, to the vocals, and even the MV hanok set. After all the pageantry we’ve become accustomed to with IU’s past releases, it’s a breath of fresh air; quiet and soothing and impossibly delicate and bare bones.

The hanok setting and IU’s contemporary take on the hanbok, especially, help to reset IU’s image — presenting her in a way that is traditional and recognizable, a far cry from the “sly fox” imagery that clouded her last release. The traditional set allows listeners and viewers to focus on the simple beauty of her vocals, and to appreciate the scenery that accompanies the youthfully sincere track.

When “Through the Night” begins, one is immediately hit with the muted nature of the soundscape. In the MV we watch an IU of the past take to an old fashioned recorder in the dim light of the evening. Following a quiet breath, she begins to sing into the microphone and a guitar begins to strum. Like a midnight love letter, the first lines fall right into the theme of a quiet confession:

Tonight, I’ll send you the firefly from that day
To your window
That means that I love you

IU moves around the hanok space in daylight and in the evening. There’s a youthful charm to her entertainment, as she reads a book and admires a hairpin in her hair. The use of such a traditional space is quite fitting, quiet and open and reflecting a kind of traditional purity that the soundscape emulates. The lyrical content remains earnest and pure, with IU’s angelic voice carrying the subdued longing of the chorus:

Like the words written in the sand
Where the waves are
I’m afraid you’ll disappear
So I always miss you

The MV ends with an older IU returning to the hanok and looking back on the love letter she wrote in her youth. She holds the same hair pin between her fingers, and gazes at the fireflies in the trees. Whatever her future has become, the sentimentality of that first love — her youth, really — still lingers in her memories.

With such a simple release, it really is IU’s vocals that carry this track. However, huge credit also needs to be given to the quality of the sound mixing that went into “Through the Night.” Yes, it’s light and minimalistic, but packing just the right balance of emotion and instrumentals into a quiet track is no easy feat. With no bells and whistles to distract the listener, every little touch is clearly heard, and every little piece must maintain balance without disrupting the soothing tone.

In “Through the Night,” IU’s voice rests on top of the quiet instrumentals so perfectly. The track keeps the small intakes of breath, the tension between affectionate warmth and apprehension in the rawness of her vocals, and all these little touches craft an earnest confession that the song is meant to be. Even the bridge is handled with such delicacy; the addition of almost ethereal backing vocals, and the slight change of rhythm in the guitar, add a lovely crescendo without getting too heavy. Overall, the sound mixing of the instrumentals and IU’s vocals builds quiet momentum, deep with feeling.

Like a soothing lullaby, “Through the Night” calms the listener to contentment. It isn’t the most exciting track — and some may even call it boring — but it’s a pre-release for a reason. IU and Loen have accomplished exactly what they set out to do on the eve of her comeback; they’ve reminded us that IU is a skilled vocalist and song-writer, re-set her image a bit, and given us beautiful, understated aesthetics to boot.

MV Rating: 3.7/5

(YouTube. Images via Loen Entertainment. Lyrics via Pop!Gasa.)