Having won the Best R&B & Soul Album awards at two of the Korean Music Awards in 2016 and 2020 for Frameworks and The Misfit respectively, Samuel Seo has become a bit of a savant within Korea’s R&B scene. He is well known for writing and composing all of his music. His latest EP, Dial, features co-production from archeformw, and carries a feature on each track except its opener “D I A L”. This makes Dial a unique record in Samuel Seo’s catalogue due to its highly collaborative nature. JRB and bk! handled the Mixing and Mastering of Dial, something worth stating for a masterful job done.
Those who have tried on the sounds of Samuel Seo before can only really critique his music as a challenging listen, one that requires numerous listens before unravelling its gorgeous core–perhaps the sign of any true artist. His debut album Frameworks was an intricate re-working of neo-soul and hip hop, shown immediately from the album’s opener “Samuel, Last Name Seo” which mixed beatboxing with an R&B soundscape. The deep-cut “When I Grow Up” stitched his love for the piano into a classically lead ballad. As such, Frameworks shone for its unique take on neo-soul conventions.
His next major release, Ego Expand (100%), was a slow burner record choosing to pay closer attention to the groovier elements of his sound. This helped Seo to strengthen his chorus delivery, leading to ear-candy tracks such as “Do:Om (featuring Giriboy)” and “B L U E.”
By the time Samuel Seo released Unity and The Misfit, he had added numerous layers of jazz and soul instrumentation to his developing sound. He made for a slow, yet groovy delivery in his vocals (see Ego Expand (100%)), while his instrumentation danced along a beautiful line of neo-soul (see Frameworks) engulfed in jazz (see The Misfit) and modern hip hop conventions.
On Dial, each track is interwoven and gorgeously pieced together as if shaped from one piece of cloth–this cloth being an introspective look on jazz, R&B and soul coming together to produce Samuel Seo’s most immediate body of sound. This small batch of five tracks moves and instantly gratifies listeners with its soundscape. Here, Samuel Seo has managed to combine his entire discography into a fluid EP only 14 minutes long.
Conceptually, Dial, as suggested by its title, lingers on the theme of a preoccupation with our cellphones. “Damn Things”, the second track off this record, would have been the perfect ringtone circa the 2000s. The hook in the chorus mimics the ringing of a phone:
stop dialling over your
my cell’s going
ling a ling a ling a ling
There isn’t exactly a track that steals the show, though if we were choosing, it’s likely the title track “Gae Na Ri”. Having a feature with Yerin Baek seems utterly timely, considering Yerin just won Record of the Year for 2020 at the Korean Music Awards. This matching of two of Korea’s critical darlings is as smooth as you’d wish the track to be. Yerin Baek and Samuel Seo’s vocals dance together in the upper register, taking a listener off into the clouds. This may be the sound developed on Ego Expand (100%) taken to new heights. The accompanying lyric video is everything you’d hope your summer would become with the reality of Covid-19: lost somewhere far away, with the sun and good music as your only companions.
“Dye” takes the elements of the “Damn Things” hook and morphs it into a fever dream of hip hop and R&B. Damye is the featured artist here; his early entrance into the track gives it the type of swagger only a hip hop artist could imagine and more importantly execute to full effect. In its stuttering beauty, Samuel Seo has summoned up yet another track of being lost to summer.
Overall, this mini-album feels like Samuel Seo taking the body of his sound to its newest heights. These batch of tracks could comfortably sit along some of Samuel’s biggest hits, namely “New Dress Girl”, or more recently “Playaplayaplaya“, the latter track owing its namesake to that of Samuel Seo’s most striking US equivalent/influence D’Angelo.
Interestingly, Samuel Seo feels poised as an artist’s artist: a musician who has collected accolade after accolade, while just shyly missing the great spotlight Korea offers its biggest musicians. Dial is just a small reminder of the great sound Samuel Seo’s music continues to build towards.