Kim Wan-sun has spent more time in the music biz than most of K-pop fans on this Earth. She acquired the title of Korean Madonna due to her clear voice, dancing skills, pop sound, a taste for daredevil and her continuity on the music scene. She was also one of the first starlets to receive love from outside the Korean borders and cemented the way for the generations yet to come. 2011 brought her back and her last official comeback was a song with Beast’s Jun-hyung titled “Be Quiet.” Kim Wan Sun is now back with another mini-album, The Beer.
The EP consists of four tracks: a different version of “Can Only Feel,” a song from earlier this year included on Clazzi’s first solo album, “Benjamin,” “Today,” a remake of an old song, and an instrumental version of the last track. The songs differ dramatically from one to another, in all the aspects you want: musical composition, songwriting, mood and genre.
Riding on Yellow Monsters’ punk-rock sound, the album starts with “Benjamin,” a ballad with elegant piano notes setting the musical line which hints from its beginning at a rock ballad. The additional drum beats and string instruments that explode in the chorus make out for a pleasant listen. Kim Wan-sun’s voice wonders somewhere in the background with her bittersweet lines to deliver. The guitar riffs connect the pieces together and offer the listener a nice intro for the album (too bad though it’s not representative).
Another ballad is coming up next. “Today” finds the singer at ease, being a pop ballad with some rock influences. Composed and written by Epitone Project, the song keeps a fresh indie sound. Kim Wan-sun tells her love story, expressing her conflicting feelings: she’s accusing him of letting her behind, but she admits she misses him; she says he was the one, and then she changes her mind. In the end, she just passes through another day that takes her slowly to her future and wonders what she will do.
The video stars Mari, her niece, who wanders through the city looking for her ex-boyfriend. The cinematography is beautiful, with a restricted palette of colors that kicks in whenever the black-white chromatics are no longer enough. The tone of the song and the dreamy aspect of the MV make it hard to distinguish between her dream and reality. She’s seen holding a lighter, a souvenir from a romantic dinner with the guy who walked on her. The track, the visuals and the message are simple, yet dramatic and profoundly sad.
The album suffers a 180 degrees turn with the title track, “Can Only Feel,” which heads the same direction as “Be Quiet,” with a strong electro-dance influence combined with an 80’s feel, to remember the listeners of the singer’s time of glory. The long trance intro, accompanied by what sounds like tribal chanting, loosens up once Wan-sun’s hypnotic voice monopolizes the playground. The lyrics are minimalistic, with abundant English. They convey a sense of vacuity and as the routine dancing fills her nights at the club, the protagonist can’t seem to cope with her feelings of emptiness and deceit. The pervasive tension and the lack of a powerful rhythm or fast transitions create a space of uneasiness and ambiguity, a confusing descent into a causeless angst.
Kim Wan-sun’s voice, had it been stronger, could have better articulated the emotions, since there were some moments a high note could have accentuated. The chorus is incredibly annoying — her distorted voice hardly does her any favors. But overall, the singing is just on the floating line, enough to capture the sadness it needs, but not as well-dosed to make it captivating.
As for the video, the recurring images of twins (or identical, robotic human beings) branded with bar codes and the synchronized dancing reinforce the idea of repetitiveness. Blurry shots, spaced-out face expressions and the black-white chromatics (or lack thereof) are the cards Wan Sun plays to get the message across. The need for an escape, for the freedom that the singer alludes to through her lyrics puts two crews of dancers in contrast: the ones the woman joins, who are expressive and not always in sync and the first ones we get acquainted to, the dance machines. The opposition showcases the liberty Kim Wan Sun assumes through her intuitive way of thinking (“I can only feel”) while the others are still burdened by their inhibitions, which is the reason they are portrayed as her pets. The video gains some color while the song progresses and the filters are properly used, keeping up with the mood of the track. The choreography is well-thought, but the camera work doesn’t come in its advantage.
Overall, “Can Only Feel” is above average and Kim Wan-sun’s experience helps her follow the trends even better than her younger disciples. It’s a good example of an electro-dance song, her voice is just right and the video is entertaining, without any of this elements eclipsing one another. There’s still some spice missing — maybe a different progression, a stronger choreography or a more powerful imagery.
The Beer has good tracks and none of them has major flaws. But as a whole, the album does: it lacks consistency to the point where the tracks are way too divergent to even consider calling some fillers and one the main course. I can feel Kim Wan Sun on the slower tracks, I can also feel her on “Can Only Feel,” it’s just that a transition between these tracks doesn’t exist. While the sadness could be the missing link, we are left without an actual explanation for it, as its roots are different in each song. And while she pulls techno fairly well, when she goes back and forth on the respective sound it makes her look like an attention-seeker. I love that she experiments with her sound and I genuinely appreciate artists who don’t get set in their ways, but she needs to find a balance. These being said, my rating is a 3.6/5.
What are your thoughts, Seoulmates? What do you think of her latest comeback?