Memories are alive and breathing

When the title of Onewe’s new album was announced — Memory: Illusion — the two words sparked an immediate connection to CyA’s rap in “Regulus.” 

The five-member band explores the fragility of memory in their first single album, which features three tracks and an instrumental version of their title, “A book in Memory.” These three songs flow seamlessly together conceptually, as each one takes a different metaphor — aquarium, book, and eraser — to tell the story of what happened after a break-up. The emotions wrought prove that memories truly are alive.

According to the highlight medley video, leader and main vocalist Yonghoon was inspired to write their title track, “A book in Memory,” after watching a movie. The lyrics speak of remembering that person who was their night and reflecting on that “last night.” Like the title of the song suggests, Onewe goes through the book of this relationship that ended in heartbreak. The opening and closing lyrics bind together the story, as Yonghoon first sings, “I’m going to read you a book / Full of beautiful memories, page by page.” His voice falls away as the last page — the last lines — is tinged with finality: “Our last night. / Oh goodbye.”

With the title track, Onewe go back to their ballad roots formed by their debut “Reminisce About All.” A string orchestra and the notes of the piano open “A book in Memory,” which sets the track apart from the band’s other ballads such as “Regulus,” “If,” and their debut song.

Onewe’s most recent comeback, however, also features substantial solos from guitarist Kanghyun and drummer Harin, a welcome introduction that the other two songs of Memory: Illusion also include. Meanwhile, CyA breaks away from his recognizable rap pattern for the moment. He sticks with more of a melody rap where he is caught between speaking and singing to produce a softer rap with a smoother texture. 

In the MV Making Film, Yonghoon describes the title track as “majestic,” and listeners can agree with this descriptor as the drums crash, the guitars riff, and the vocals swell to the climax. As with many of Onewe’s songs, Yonghoon’s voice, both full and gentle, is the most prominent in “A book in Memory,” but Dongmyeong’s vocals balance out the elder’s powerful and soaring notes. The pianist’s voice also has its own strength, yet his more nasally sound grounds and complements that of the older vocalist. 

The MV of “A book in Memory” is not mind-blowing, but its simplicity and the absence of a strict narrative allows the emotion and poignant lyrics to be the central focus. They do try to make it new for a Onewe MV, however, such as including consistent images that lend to the overall story like books (the obvious object), mirrors, and keeping the palette neutral and desaturated, though the latter also characterizes the “Regulus” MV. 

The stone arcade in the background of the main set where the members play together brings in another visually compelling element. The streaks of light surrounding and cutting through the band and their instruments adds another source of movement. In a way, the white lights form horizontal spotlights that highlight the line, “Listen to the rest of my story”. These beams of light direct the viewer’s eye deeper into the space and cut across the verticality of Yonghoon and his microphone stand situated in the middle of the frame. 

The introduction of blue light in the scene visually represents the emotions the band expresses through their lyrics, their voices, and their playing of their instruments. Some of this blue light reflects onto the walls and ceiling, especially around Harin. The effect makes the light look like water dancing, which appropriately ties into the first song of Memory: Illusion, “Trauma (Aquarium).” Overall, this Onewe MV might not be on any Best MV lists, but it is simple, calming to a certain degree, and aesthetic with its prominence of neutral colors, old books, and use of lighting. 

Prior to the release of the album, Onewe dropped the lyric video of “A book in Memory,” which surpasses the actual MV for its creativity. Yonghoon narrates the lyrics of the song as he flips through a scrapbook, in which only his hands are shown, adding and eliminating elements as the story progresses. A piano plays in the background, accompanying Yonghoon’s melodic voice. Washi tape, colored pencils, and other tools for making bullet journal spreads surround him; it is like those bujo flip-throughs you can find often online. The familiar atmosphere of creativity and the leader’s soft yet resonant voice forms a calm, and almost hypnotizing, environment.

The band’s official Twitter account later revealed that the five members made some of the spreads/drawings that are included in the scrapbook. These pictures showed that drawing cats was quite popular among the members. Some of the other spreads include the concept photos from Memory: Illusion, intertwining the story of the lyrics to the band themselves. Props to whoever developed this idea, designed the spreads, and made the book, as this is probably the most creative, yet soothing, lyric video I have seen. 

In contrast to this calming video, the opening track, “Trauma (Aquarium),” starts Memory: Illusion with high energy and a catchy guitar hook. Listening to “A book in Memory” after “Trauma (Aquarium)” might puzzle someone why the latter was not chosen as the title track. The more I think about it, however, the more I see why “A book in Memory” was the final choice.

“Trauma (Aquarium)” has the earworm hook from the get-go, but the lyrics demonstrate that this song is the beginning of the story. The chorus is emptier compared to Onewe’s prior title tracks, with the exception of “End of Spring” which took the EDM route. Meanwhile, “A book in Memory” has the strongest central metaphor with the clearest image associated with it — stories and pages — that strengthens Onewe’s narrative of the overall album. “Trauma (Aquarium),” essentially, is a solid introduction to Memory: Illusion

“Trauma (Aquarium)” lets Kanghyun and Harin shine, who both helped arrange the track. The opening electric guitar hook that accompanies CyA’s lyrics draws listeners in with its quick succession of notes and rests in between, its steady rhythm contrasting with the rapper’s rising and falling voice. The space in the chorus and around the verses highlights Harin’s drumming expertise and Kanghyun’s nimbleness with his guitar. A little past halfway in the song, Kanghyun shows off his skills with his 20 second solo, which he composed

The musicianship demonstrated in this track almost distracts listeners from investigating further into the lyrics, but it would be shame if the lyrics were not at least glanced at. CyA reveals in the highlight medley that he thought about how he almost drowned when he was younger as he wrote this song. Onewe links the feelings of post-break up with being trapped inside of an aquarium and simultaneously feeling like you are drowning. With this as the main metaphor, the lyrics produce concrete images that take listeners straight into the overwhelming situation.

As the first line of the chorus goes, “I’m trapped and alone in this unknowingly changed place — AQUARIUM.” The autotune added to the drawn out “aquarium” that CyA, and later Dongmyeong, sing in the chorus gives an impression that it is as if the “ah” is fighting to be heard underwater. It is like they are trying to yell for someone to hear them as they metaphorically drown after their break-up. 

“Eraser,” the final song of the singles album, also generates a clear picture with its lyrics. When Yonghoon sings for the first time, “Even as I close my eyes, I see that memory I can’t erase,” listeners can visualize Onewe trying to erase a sketch of a memory on a blackboard. However, no matter how hard they try to erase it, this memory keeps reappearing. This track carries the energy from the abrupt ending of “A book in Memory” and continues to spotlight the instrumental solos, especially the guitar hooks.

This concluding song also lets listeners hear more of Dongmyeong’s upper range and brings back more of CyA’s recognizable rapping patterns with some light autotune to emphasize his sharp rhythms. The only downside of “Eraser” is the introduction of a heavy synthetic beat after the first chorus. The shift is jarring and almost detaches the beginning from this later part. 

However, as seen in the other two songs, the lyrics of “Eraser” are noteworthy. This includes CyA’s main rap part, a substantial section compared to that in “A book in Memory” (“Trauma [Aquarium] mostly featured his voice). 

The stinging memories, the sorrowful memories, the biting memories
Even if you turn around and come back,
You’re still the good memory in the end 

Following these lines, the youngest member raps about piecing together the fragments that he remembers of this person. “Eraser” leans into the second part of the album’s title, “illusion,” as Onewe create their own around the relationship that recently ended by rearranging their memories (both good and bad) to form a more complex and nuanced image. 

Although “Regulus” may stick faster than their title of Memory: Illusion, “A book in Memory” does have more going on instrumentally, melodically, and possibly lyrically. The former tends to be more abstract while the latter possesses stronger concrete images. The energetic ballad that is “A book in Memory” captures the overall concept of the album, and the other two tracks bookend the story of remembering a relationship after breaking up.

Memory: Illusion speaks to Onewe’s flexibility as artists, as they experiment, especially with “Trauma (Aquarium)” and “Eraser,” while maintaining a core “Onewe” style and sound. Since the title of this single album hints at the possibility of a series that explores memory, it is exciting to see what they will release next.

(YouTube. Lyrics via LyricsTranslate, Studioweus. Images via RBW, Inc.)