Jeong Sewoon‘s latest release, 24 Part 1, is an uplifting album, featuring six diverse tracks that paint the picture of a summer romance. Like a colorful expressionist painting, Sewoon blends the sounds of bittersweet uncertainty, bright summer sun, and a mellow night full of stars. Passing time and references to light are conceptual frameworks for the album. “Say Yes” is bittersweet like the rising sun, “Beeeee” is joyful and bright like midday, while “Hidden Star” is gentle and thoughtful, like what I imagine stargazing could sound like. While there is no central story that ties all the tracks together, the music evokes the feelings of a joyous summer day from beginning to end, and all the emotions in between. The lyrics are witty and memorable, and the music is infectious.
The first track “Say Yes” is the title track and is the only one to have an MV. Interestingly, just listening to the music, the song sounds upbeat and carefree, but the lyrics tell a slightly different story. Like the uncertainty that comes from beginning a new day, the lyrics are bittersweet, with lines like “What’s wrong with everyone?” and “You’re not wrong in how you describe me. I’m boring and too serious.” Despite the twinge of uncertainty in the lyrics, the song is hopeful, like the thrill of beginning a new day of adventures. Despite a shy acceptance of who he is, Sewoon calls for the listener to “say yes” and sway him. The witty reflective lyrics and buoyant sound makes this a satisfying summer title song.
“Don’t Know,” the second track, feels like a first cup of coffee to me. It is cowritten with Young K from Day6 and has an unbridled I-don’t-know-what-might-happen-but-let’s-do-it-anyway vibe, driven home by lyrics basically saying exactly that. The music begins softly, but quickly mounts to a more pop-centric sound with an interesting saxophone layer used behind Sewoon’s vocals. Here, I am especially struck by his ease at transitioning between chest range and falsetto. The harmonies offer no surprises, but the range and repetitive melodic riffs showcase the versatility and sheer power of his vocals. The song is ultimately joyful, hopeful, and hazardously happy-go-lucky, like the take-on-the-world attitude that comes from that first cup of coffee buzz in the morning.
The next song, “Beeeee” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. If the first two tracks were sunrise and a sleepy cup of coffee, “Beeeee” is blinding, uninhibited midday, overflowing with energy. Sewoon again proves himself a cunning wordsmith with lyrics that allude to honey bees and sweet nothings whispered between lovers. Pop-centric sounds similar to the ones in “Don’t Know” are elevated by electronic vocal chops, computer-generated percussion, and a funky synthesized bass. This short song is just pure fun, bubblegum pop. While the music is not particularly complex, the hooks are mesmerizing and entertaining.
The other three tracks on the album are more mellow, like the day winding down. Interestingly, “Horizon” comes before “Beeeee,” but from the sound of it, “Beeeee” is the climax of the day while “Horizon” is the beginning of the afternoon. In a way, “Horizon” and “O” bleed together thematically. They both mark a descent in the intensity of the music, but while Horizon is more contemplative and wishful, “O” is smoky and bluesy, almost sensual. “Horizon” is enjoyable and comfortable with smooth background vocals and a predominantly 90s pop shuffle timbre.
“O” is effortlessly the most unique track on this album. It is heavily jazz- or blues-influenced, especially in the vocal runs. Sewoon leans heavily into blue notes, creating a sensual, laid back sound. Lyrics like “can’t stop now, I’m tumblin’, tumblin’” allude to a feeling of falling hopelessly and carelessly in love. It evokes imagery of laying on a blanket with a lover watching the sun as it slowly sinks below the horizon. Jazz theory-wise, this track is incredibly nuanced. The slide guitar, vocal glissandos, and more complex altered harmonies can sound dirty or dissonant when used together, but Sewoon does it with finesse. His versatility and control are on full display, brilliantly blending simple, tertian harmonies with the semitone cracks in between. The result is a track that not only sounds good, but feels good, ideal for a moonlit walk or date night in.
A bit surprisingly, the last song “Hidden Star” is sad but breathtakingly beautiful. This song is a perfect personification of stargazing. The music is simple, acoustic, and effective, with a lone solo piano as the accompaniment for most of the song. While the harmonies are simple, the music is minimal, and the vocals are not showy, the rawness of the music and lyrics make “Hidden Star” evocative and emotional. Complexity does not always equate to musical prowess, and this song’s simplistic beauty displays that. The emotion contained in this three minute and seventeen second song pull at the heartstrings, leaving the listener feeling gently caressed as the album fades away. While certainly a far cry from how the album began, “Hidden Star” is a tender end to this summer story.
Overall 24 Part 1 has brilliant songwriting, and Jeong Sewoon’s imprint can be felt in every track from beginning to end. Showcasing not only vocal stability and flexibility, but a beautiful simplicity when necessary, this album is a perfect summer release to encapsulate all the emotions one could be feeling right now. In a time of intense instability and uncertainty, 24 Part 1 is a nuanced, digestible listen for even the most passive listener. On the surface it may seem like just another pop album, but truly, Jeong Sewoon’s remarkable songwriting and stable vocals have knocked it out of the park again.