A year on after we first spotlighted then-up-and-coming indie band Se So Neon, we’re here to introduce the band’s first solo debut, So!YoON!. As their guitarist, vocalist and frontwoman, Hwang Soyoon led the band from formation to mainstream success, earning fans with her husky, androgynous voice and cool, rockstar aura. As her bandmates Kangto and Fancy Moon prepare for military enlistment, she released a self-titled solo album under her new moniker, So!YoON!, in May.
For those who might not know, Se So Neon are the hottest band to come out of the Korean indie rock scene since Hyukoh first made waves in 2014, joining the handful of bands that represent indie rock in mainstream Korean media. The band’s debut EP, “Summer Plumage”, was released in 2017 and earned them several awards, including “Rookie of the Year”. Propelled onto the national stage, they received further attention through TV appearances on Yoo Hee-yeol’s Sketchbook and KBS’ songwriting reality show, Hyena on the Keyboard, as well as Soyoon’s songwriting credit on Dean’s 2018 hit, “Instagram”.
As a band, Se So Neon’s music focuses on rock, employing band sounds that are easily recreated in a live setting. In contrast, Soyoon makes the most of her newfound freedom on So!YoON! by experimenting with a huge variety of genres, sounds and artist features. The result is a rich, textured and enigmatic album, wildly creative and completely uninhibited in its choice of influences.
Emanating relaxed confidence and a musical maturity beyond her years, you might be surprised to know that Hwang Soyoon is in fact only 22 years old. Her songs certainly don’t give that impression; in fact, the songwriting on So!YoON! reveals an eclectic taste, encompassing retro pop, jazz grooves and classic rock, that one would expect from a much older and more experienced artist.
This musical complexity is evident on songs like “Holiday”, a pre-released single which uses trumpets, jazzy chords and groovy basslines to create a bluesy track about needing a holiday:
My eyes open in the late morning
It’s still warm under the blankets
Mama said to get up
The air is sweet outside, spring is passing
Despite her cool, androgynous exterior, Soyoon’s lyrics are unexpectedly innocent and romantic, betraying her age much more than her music. On the album’s title track, “zZ’City”, she sings a simple love song over a dreamy soundscape, combining synth-filled 80’s pop with a soaring guitar riff:
When the moon shines on me
Oh it’s bright
You become a poem
I make a song
When I look at your eyes
Tonight is long and the two of us
We ain’t getting older
There’s also an air of playfulness here that isn’t so evident in Se So Neon’s discography. On the track “Fntsy” featuring rapper Jvcki Wai, Soyoon and Jvcki take it in turns to riff over a compact hiphop beat, creating a fun and quirky track characterised by its funky bassline and Jvcki’s slick verse. Normally a charismatic but serious vocalist in Se So Neon, “Fntsy” shows us a more carefree, why-so-serious approach, and the song is one of the album’s highlights as a result.
Still, Soyoon doesn’t forget her roots on this album and its penultimate track, “Athena” (featuring Fancy Moon and Kangto), returns to the raw, gritty rock that made Se So Neon’s award-winning single, “The Wave”, so powerful and compelling. Unembellished and unapologetic, “Athena” reminds us of the charm of live band instrumentation, in an industry dominated by electronic music. It also gives us a hint of what might come from Se So Neon in future, as Fancy Moon and Kangto leave temporarily for military service and are replaced by new members Park Hyunjin and U-su.
Despite her age, Soyoon skilfully weaves together musical influences from a plethora of genres and time periods, all while injecting her own distinctive brand of soulfulness. The way she does this is so effortless that it suggests more than a little musical genius, in a way that is reminiscent of her senior, Hyukoh’s own frontman Oh Hyuk. After all, it takes something special to be the frontwoman (or man) of a band, and whatever it is, she’s got it.
(YouTube . Images via Magic Strawberry Sound, BGBG Records. Lyrics via 1theK. The Korea Times.)