Following his success on the competition program Superband, vocalist and guitarist of The Rose, Woosung, has made his solo debut with the mini-album Wolf. While the release of this mini-album came as a bit of a surprise, it also felt overdue, considering Woosung’s unique singing style and voice. Venturing away from The Rose’s complex musical identity, Woosung strips it down in the tracks of this mini-album, allowing his voice to take the spotlight.

This simplicity is evident almost instantly, from the rhythmic way “Moon” and “Face” both begin. In the case of “Moon”, the track is almost empty at the start, save for Woosung’s rich voice and a soft guitar. It is a perfect starting point for the song to gain traction and intensity from verse to verse. The sparseness of the initial instrumental set-up really enables listeners to pay close attention to each element of the track, emphasising small details such as the transition from a metronome-like beat in the first half to a more complex rhythmic structure in verse two.

Lyrically, the song comes off as a tantrum that the protagonist is throwing at his ex-lover. While certain unfortunate, ableist lyrical choices were made in the chorus, the whole track effectively channels raw and unfiltered anger. Woosung reflects this with his voice as well, especially in his emotive high notes in the chorus. Gone is the calm demeanour of the verses; the Woosung of the chorus is hotheaded and upset.

Following his bold, final outburst, he is sent back to reality and left to pick up the pieces which now make up his broken life. The resigned way in which Woosung sings the last verse and how he finally admits that he wants his lover back after criticising her the whole track is similar to how a tantrum blows over in real life. Nothing is accomplished, nothing has changed, and you are just left feeling more tired than before.

The honesty of “Moon” stands out, as does its impressive musical build-up. With “Lonely”, however, Woosung digs even deeper. Featuring a jazzy piano instrumental, a rarity in this acoustic-heavy album, the track paints an accurate picture of what loneliness looks like. The song is the least impressive track of the whole album instrumentation-wise, and its structure follows a simple verse-chorus progression without a climax of any sort. This minimalistic arrangement successfully draws attention to the tragic story of the song, which is clearly expressed by its straightforward lyrics.

It was my fault

I get it now

I’m slowly getting used to being left alone

Is everyone this lonely too?

My heart is as hollow as an empty street

The song gets gradually sadder, as the regret of the protagonist intensifies and he slowly tries to get used to an empty life without his lover. It makes for a heartbreaking ballad once the lyrics are factored in, but is lacking in its instrumentation. If not for Woosung’s voice providing all the dynamics in this song, and the single dramatic pause between the final verse and the final chorus, this beautiful story arc could have been lost in the music. While it speaks to the strength of Woosung’s voice that he is able to carry all the emotion on his own, the track could have been more effective with richer instrumentation and greater musical variation.

There is a time when simplicity falls flat, as it did in “Lonely”, but thankfully for Woosung, his title track “Face” is perfectly mixed and balanced. The slight mix of electronic music in the intensifying pre-chorus is genius, but so is the brave decision to drop everything in the chorus and leave the spotlight on two key features of the song: Woosung’s silky vocals and that addictive bass riff. This simple chorus remains a constant, even as experimentation abounds in other parts of the song, resulting in a delightful blend of diverse sounds. There is a special spark and energy to this track, and it is clear why this was chosen as the title for the album.

As with all the other tracks on this album, its lyrics are direct. With the help of delicious food metaphors, the protagonist sings about how desirable his lover is, and the playfulness of this track matches Woosung’s wispy vocals perfectly. He adds an air of cheekiness and flirtiness to every line that he croons, and while it is pretty superficial, it is still an enjoyable listen.

Unfortunately, the only track that does not flow with the album’s overall minimalistic musical vibe is “Wolf”, the intro track. Ironically enough, it is also the only track that somewhat matches how this album was promoted — fierce, charismatic, and deadly. As the title suggests, the track opens with the sound of a wolf howling, setting the stage for a cold, dark, and mysterious night. There is a sense of unease, even when Woosung begins to sing against the backdrop of a familiar acoustic sound. The non-harmonious melody that seems to spiral downwards creates apprehension, while the howling cuts in periodically. A poppish instrumental interlude rounds off this mishmash of sounds as if to push the boundaries of musical diversity within a track. This track would have made more sense if the rest of the album had been as colourful instrumentally. As it is, however, it stands out amidst the three somewhat simple tracks and reduces the overall cohesion of Wolf.

That being said, this is an impressive solo release by Woosung. He has always been a great musician, and his potential shines through this album. He is extremely clear about where his strengths lie and how to use them skillfully, so I am definitely looking forward to the music he has in store.

(Youtube. Images via J&Star Company.)