Undisputed vocal powerhouse ALi is back with a brand new mini album, Eraser. This is her first official return since releasing the powerful and poignant SOULri in December 2011. As an artist, ALi has a rather unorthodox and unusual history. Originally overlooked after a quiet debut, ALi first gained attention through the release of SOULri, though she was put under the public eye for the wrong reasons. As a whole, SOULri was a cohesive, compelling, and captivating album, with interesting and innovative tracks, fully demonstrating ALi’s skill as a vocalist.

However, the undeniable quality of the album was overlooked, for one of the tracks in ALi’s album, “Na Young” gained immediate controversy for its apparent inappropriateness. Writing the track for the titular “Na Young,” the pseudonym for a rape victim of a very public rape case in Korea, many felt that the track was insulting and inappropriate, shunning ALi and forcing her to apologize for having little sensitivity. It was demanded that the track, despite its haunting quality, be taken off the album. Despite the removal of the song, criticism only worsened and ALi was compelled to hold a press conference; she announced that she too was a rape victim. ALi also aplogized to Na-young in person. While directly mentioning Na-young herself may have been a careless move, the ruthless controversy ALi faced was completely undeserved, for drawing attention to such a taboo topic such as rape should’ve been commended.

Nevertheless, ALi, with a major struggle behind her back, continued with her career and found her break through singing competition, Immortal Song 2. As a regular on the show, ALi impressed countless viewers with her stunning and emotive vocals, winning multiple stages and going on to becoming one of the show’s most notable participants. After her temporary departure in May, ALi tuned all her efforts toward her next album, Eraser, producing what seems to be a lasting comeback.

Eraser starts off with its title track of the same name, a delicate but very deeply affecting listen. As the album’s most conventional and widely appealing track — where ALi’s demographic is concerned — it’s a smart pick for lead single. Moreover, the song’s progression impresses with its genuine emotional value and well-timed impact; ALi’s technical mastery turns the song into an innovative and poignant listen. The song begins with a very delicate and nostalgic piano arrangement, and its instrumental remains fairly minimal in the first verse. However, the sound builds throughout the entire song, and hits a climax in the last refrain of its very impacting chorus.

With the gentle pace that it begins with, ALi starts out delicate and guarded, discreetly adding more power and emotion to her voice as the lyrics unfold. Truly, ALi’s merits as a trained vocalist cannot be denied, for her execution is absolutely stunning. The progressive instrumental is a perfect complement to her bewitching vocals; her emotional capacity stays toned as she maintains an air of fragility throughout the song, and this embodies its message perfectly. ALi’s acrobatic vocal skills — including randomly placed ad libs — come to the fore, fitting in perfectly with the songs’s context.

“Eraser”, with its delicate yet rousing effects, is both inventive and to the point. For example, in the brief moment that the instrumental halts (in the last chorus), an impactive and fleetingly beautiful moment issues. Despite its more traditional sound, “Eraser” stands out in the genre’s sea of releases, presenting exactly how a ballad sounds when done the right way. It’s genuine, subtle, emotional, and everything a ballad should be, and if ALi’s idol counterparts were to follow suit, I’m certain that there wouldn’t be as much of a negative reaction toward K-pop’s slower-paced offerings. The song is also accompanied by an equally powerful music video starring Winter Sonata actress Choi Ji-woo. The clip is a suitable complement, subtly adding to the overall effect of the song.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM6X-pGJnxw&w=600&h=360]

Following “Eraser” is “The Tears are Gone”, featuring rookie group C-Clown‘s Kang Joon. With a gradual and delicate opening, “The Tears are Gone” starts off following the mood and tone of “Eraser”. However, the songs’s flow takes on a more optimistic sound by way of its chorus. It continues to build on this transition, featuring a strikingly lengthy, crestfallen discourse between ALi and Kang Joon. When the chorus finally rolls around, the sound is already well-established, making the melody arcs all the more noteworthy and effective. Vocally, ALi absolute shines, and Kang Joon impresses as a very commendable partner. While he was admittedly swallowed up by ALi’s huge voice in certain harmonies, he displayed exceptional emotional capacity and vocal range. Considering his rookie status, I’m definitely impressed with his capabilities. The chorus is by far my favorite part of the song — its initial key change and the back and forth conversation between the two vocalists are major highlights.

The next song off the album is “Don’t Say Another Word,” a very innovative listen. Ballads, even when sung by some of the most skillful artists, often veer toward being repetitive, due to their similar progressions. But something that I absolutely love about ALi is how creative and diverse her ballads are. SOULri, despite being ballad-centered, had a very diverse sound, with ballads in a variety of moods. An empowering mid-tempo tune, “Don’t Say Another Word” makes one of her more creative pieces.

Starting with a subtle harmony, surrounded by the combined musings of a piano and the violin, ALi starts the first verse in a quiet and tense manner. The song then segues into a climactic chorus with the electrifying combination of her vocals and the tune’s instrumentals. While the transition was not the cleanest, the impact of the sudden key change was jarring and memorable, and ALi’s vocals are especially impeccable. She stretches her voice the most in this song, but rather than appearing as a superficial spectacle, she’s playing to her strengths and enjoying every bit of it. As much as the chorus is uplifting, it is incomplete without her top-class execution; one gets a wondrous, outstanding listen that would’ve been a perfect closer to the album.

The track that does end the album however is “Selfish,” a very fun, rock-inspired song, pre-released to build anticipation comet his comeback. In this aspect, “Selfish” stands out greatly from the rest of the album to the point of looking out of place, but is nevertheless an enjoyable listen. With the lyrics describing annoyance over an overly expectant lover and making multiple references to multimedia, there are pretty creative alluded applications in this song. For instance, it’s apparent in the second verse that ALi’s voice is processed to sound like she’s taking through a telephone. Furthermore, she sounds fittingly sassy and powerful, and her vocal embellishments are just treats to hear. In contrast though, to some of the other choruses on the album, the sequence in this track was disappointingly weak. Played alongside the song’s spunky verses, compelling pre-chorus, and other fantastic components, the chorus is shy of capturing her vocal finesse.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dY72v6YmAms?&w=600&h=360]

Overall a stunning effort, ALi does not disappoint with Eraser. While its tragically short length left me desperately wanting more, each of the tracks featured have been noteworthy and significant, and they’ve added on to her already impressive discography. I only wish ALi can continue to grow in terms of music and popularity, and with that, I’m giving the album a commendable 4.5/5.

Readers, how would you rate ALi’s Eraser?

(MBC, Nate, LOENENT, BubbleFeetGravityCH3, popgasa)