As someone who was pretty invested in Produce X 101 last year, it was a real shame that X1 had to disband due to the vote-rigging controversy, with the final vote round-up showing a pattern that was impossible to call a coincidence. Since then, the members of the 10 person group have moved on, with the boys from Starship Ent. (Hyeongjun and Minhee, alongside other contestants Jungmo and Wonjin) forming Cravity, Wooseok preparing for his solo debut, and Seungwoo who is currently taking a break but is rumoured to return to Victon. Four months after disbandment, the MBK Ent. boys Hangyul and Dohyon have released their debut album, Soulmate, and it was a pretty decent debut overall.

If I had to use one word to describe Soulmate, I’d probably choose: electronic. The duo’s tracks are synth-heavy with the exception of “Unfamiliar”, and they all have catchy beats that will, at the very least, make you bop your head along. The album makes you feel good, and tracks like “Soul”, “Good Night” and “Make me a different person” are the perfect songs to dance and club to.

However –– this may just be a personal bias –– electronic music has a tendency to be forgettable, and this was the case with “Good Night” and “Make me a different person” in particular. Both tracks had a summer beach party vibe to it and made for great bops, but I would forget how the song goes the moment it ends. As for “Soul”, the hook is incredibly catchy, but its catchiness completely overshadows the verses, which is unfortunate as listeners will only remember Dohyon saying “Welcome to my soul” and the melody that plays, but not Hangyul’s vocals and Dohyon’s rap. 

There were two synth tracks that caught my attention– “Intro” and “empty-handed”. Only Dohyon is present in “Intro”, but he captures the listeners through his signature spoken-word style rap paired with a Middle Eastern-like sound. Although I am not entirely sure what he means when he says that he “just want[s] that ice”, the track is so good that I’m convinced that I want that ice too.

I just want that ice

I just want that ice

I just want that ice

All up my wrist until I die

On the other hand, “empty-handed” is more of a sad pop-ballad, and anyone who has read my previous reviews will know that I’ve recently taken a liking to sadness. Even though the premise of “empty-handed” is miserable, it is still groovy and almost sounds like a happy and chill song if you try not to think about the sad lyrics. For me, “empty-handed” is memorable, not because it’s a sad song and I’m currently going through a “oh woe is me” phase, but because I love the contrast between a groovy track and upsetting lyrics.

As someone who doesn’t understand Korean, I am easily fooled by happy-sounding tracks, assuming that the content of the lyrics will be wholesome and cute, and I would badly– but still happily, sing the song during karaoke. Time will pass, and suddenly I will have the urge to look up the lyrics to see what the singers are saying and have the absolute shock of my life. One such incident was Day6‘s “Habits”, a song about a couple that has already broken up, but the persona still does things for two out of habit. However, the song was so upbeat and happy-sounding that I thought it was about the persona accommodating to their partner out of habit, only to have my dreams crushed when I read the lyrics. This contrast makes you more aware of the underlying melancholy in the track itself, and it enables listeners to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the song as a whole.

And the smile you gave me

With a bitter smile

We can’t laugh together

I just recommend silence

The remaining two tracks, “Unfamiliar” and “toward tomorrow” can be seen as small tributes to X1 and its members. “Unfamiliar” is a bit sadder, where the persona recalls the old days, saying that the same streets look unfamiliar as the others are no longer here. However, “toward tomorrow” serves as encouragement not only to X1, but also to the duo. I personally enjoy how candid Hangyul and Dohyon are in expressing their feelings towards the disbandment, and as someone who really liked all the members, it was nice to receive some closure on an incident that left many displeased. 

Although I have some issues with Soulmate, particularly with the electronic synth tracks, it is still a good album. The duo has proved that they are capable of producing songs with a variety of emotions, and I believe that they will be the duo to save MBK.

(YouTube; Lyrics and images via MBK Entertainment)