With the enlistments of his fellow Infinite members Dongwoo and Sungyeol, Woohyun is back again as a soloist with A New Journey. This comes just 8 months after his second mini-album Second Write…, but Woohyun’s musical style has gone in a completely new direction since then. A New Journey is experimental in nature, with different sounds, vocal effects, and instruments used in each track. Where Second Write… was full of ballads, A New Journey barely has any, at least in the style that we’re used to hearing Woohyun sing.
Right off the bat, we have “Hold On Me.” Featuring talented rapper Junoflo, this title track is a solid one and easily the safest though strongest song of the album. The guitar riffs which underlie the song are simple, trendy, and provide a catchy beat, but they definitely shine in the musical interludes of the song. Woohyun pulls into his Infinite roots for this dance song while still managing to show off his rich voice. He matches really well with Junoflo as well, and the transitions between their parts are seamless. Woohyun’s energy and presence can be felt clearly in this song, speaking to his strength as a versatile vocalist.
Unfortunately, “Hold On Me” is so outstanding because the rest of the tracks are less satisfying. For one, the track mixing of the other tracks is lacking, especially in how they deal with Woohyun’s voice. Instead of highlighting its richness as “Hold On Me” did well, his voice sounds very airy in tracks like “Stranger” and “Crying Baby”. Whether or not it was done intentionally, the mixing takes the spotlight away from his voice, which is a pity. “Crying Baby” for instance features a distinctive high-pitched vocal effect in the choruses. While the riff stays in the background during the verses, it is highlighted in the chorus, possibly to mimic the sound of a crying baby. This riff works as an echo for Woohyun, but it becomes distracting when it clashes with his melody. The rhythm ends up feeling a little disjointed which takes away from the groove of the song.
The smooth transitions in “Hold On Me” are not consistently found throughout the album as well. This stands out in “Rain,” which is one of the most interesting but confusing tracks on the album. It has a great dual electric guitar introduction, but the track itself feels like it is a mash of multiple songs. The initial buildup from the verse to the first half of the chorus loses its steam the moment the song swerves in a different direction. Once listeners get used to the flow of the song and the chorus, the song then surprises again with a highly unexpected key change towards its end. While surprise elements and unpredictability can liven up tracks, they are only effective when they are well built-up, and “Rain” sadly lacks in this aspect.
“Rain” has the most wasted potential because it has all the elements of a bop — lovely instrument riffs, both from the electric guitars and the bass, a sick beat, Woohyun’s huge vocal range, an addictive chorus — but it does not utilise and combine these elements in a cohesive way. The messy transitions and the lack of direction in this track hinder listeners’ overall enjoyment of the song.
For all its flaws, A New Journey works in showcasing Woohyun’s huge vocal range. He shows off his rare low register in “Stranger” and “Just Look At Me” before jumping into some crazy high notes. While I am still not a fan of how breathy he sounds in this register, it shows off a different side of him as a singer. The normally emotional balladeer even seemed ready to break out into a rap in “Stranger” (maybe in the next album?), which would actually have been perfect for the dangerous, mysterious sounding track. Airiness aside, “Just Look At Me” actually has great backing instrumentation as well as a backing vocal that really sounds like fellow Infinite member Sungjong.
The bravery that Woohyun displays as a musician through this album is definitely commendable, and he has successfully differentiated each of his tracks. They all have their own key points and charms, working together to create an album which feels fresh and inspired. The opening instrumental track “A New Journey” captures this well; with a melodious core, the various instruments which play significant roles in this album (the acoustic guitar for example) come in layer by layer. It is energetic but leaves enough room for contemplation and delicate emotions, much like A New Journey does.
Closing track “Flower” is the closest thing to a conventional ballad that this album has, and it is a comforting way to end, following after all the experimentation that went on earlier. Even with the groovy beats incorporated, this track has the simplest instrumentation, allowing Woohyun’s voice to shine once again. It is bright, cheerful, sweet, and clearly made for the spring.
A New Journey is really just that, as Woohyun moves past his ballad roots and embarks on a new musical path as a soloist. It is wonderful to see him branching out especially after Write and Second Write…, even if the results of this experimentation are varied. He has proven his versatility and will definitely continue to grow even as he explores other music styles.
(Youtube, Images via Woollim Entertainment)