Since their debut in 2019, “Superband” champion Hoppipolla has released a string of sentimental music, both through their albums and through their performances on music shows like Immortal Song 2. While their tracks are generally quite emotional, they tended to be on the brighter, more uplifting spectrum of things, but Hoppipolla shows a new side of themselves in And Then There Was Us. With this second mini-album, the band uses new instruments and dynamics to express the dark recesses of this melancholic life.

As a prelude, opening track “Where Is” gives the whole album a slightly unsettling feel. With sparse instrumentation, Ha Hyun-sang‘s clear voice feels hypnotic, and he slowly ushers in the other instruments, with the cello providing a lot of gravitas to the track. The introduction of vocal echoes, and a dramatic cello riff, brings a whole new level of creepiness to the piece, but all of this is cut off abruptly with a beep, and the sound of a record being inserted.

We’re losing our humanity
We’re facing our insanity

The repeated lyrics of “What Is” add to the intrigue, but the dark tale is quickly picked up in its continuation, “The Love”. The track opens with a sweet guitar riff, but this seemingly typical ballad takes a left turn pretty quickly. Rather than building upwards in the way that most ballads do, the atmosphere and melody remain pretty low, conveying a muted rather than overbearing sadness. The incorporation of a radio dialogue in the middle and ending of the song is also surprising, and while the words are considerably difficult to make out, one line stands out – “In my business, you don’t trust anybody.”

The title misleadingly suggests that this is a song about romance, but instead, a simple question is being asked: Where is the love? In a world that is full of cruelty, selfishness, and deceit, where people are no longer able to trust one another, where the state of humanity seems bleak, does love even exist anymore? Tough questions, considering the current global situation, and the way Hyunsang quietly croons this line for the final time really captures this sense of despair.

As if its lyrics did not make the link between the first two songs clear enough, “The Love” ends off with another beep, as the record comes to an end and is switched off. Of course, this being the delightful Hoppipolla, no track is complete without a glorious instrumentation section courtesy of pianist/vocalist I’ll, cellist Hong Jin-ho and guitarist Kim Young-so. These moments never fail to heighten the emotion of the track, portraying feelings beyond what words can ever express.

The same could be said of title track “Your Ocean”, which arguably has the best instrumental section of the whole album (Young-so on electric guitar is life!). Moving from the uncertainty of the first two tracks, this beautiful track is as comforting as a warm hug on a cold day. In contrast to the world that cannot be trusted, the protagonist of this song promises to be unchanging, to be faithful, and in a particularly poetic line, he resolves to “become the rain above your ocean so that I can always come down to you and hug you close.”

With “Your Ocean”, Hoppipolla proves again why they are perfect as a band. While they are individually extremely skilled performers, the synergy they display together is unmatchable. For instance, the quiet way the song opens with just the vocalists is lovely, but the energy totally shifts when Young-so and Jin-ho enter. The cohesive way their distinctive riffs blend together make this song a complex and layered one, especially as new twists are added as the song progresses. (It became a joy of mine, while listening to the track repeatedly for this review, to note how the cello melody develops throughout the piece. The provision of the instrumental track in the album is also really helpful with this.)

The vocalists definitely get their time to shine throughout the album, but the instrumentalists get the spotlight in “Wander”, a track that Jin-ho and Young-so worked together to compose. Jin-ho takes the lead in the beginning, but Young-so (again with the electric guitar!) fronts the melody for the second half of the song, and it is fascinating to listen to them interpret the melody in such unique but equally glorious ways. “Wander” is an evocative track that listeners cannot help but get lost in; it is not rushed in any way, but somehow manages to take listeners to so many different places, free from the restrictions of lyrics and song structures.

A risk of wandering however, is that you will get lost, and it is this anxiety that Hoppipolla describes in “Unnatural”. Penned by I’ll, as most of the tracks on this album are, its lyrics speak of how unnatural it feels to be the only one flying when everyone else is standing still, or to realise that you’re walking alone on a path that you thought everyone else was embarking on together. It is rare to hear something like this being discussed through music releases, but the fear of fighting alone, even if it is on a path that you’ve dreamed of pursuing all your life, is such a familiar one. The honesty that I’ll displays through his musical creations prove how much of an artist he truly is, unafraid to share his true thoughts and fears.

The heavier subject matter of this track, and of the album as a whole, is well aligned with the band’s reliance on a smoother, more synthesised sound, as opposed to the light acoustic vibe they opted for in Spring to Spring. There is plenty of ambient space created in “Unnatural”, allowing the band’s explosive and heart-wrenching vocals to take centre stage. The heartfelt way Hyun-sang belts his notes, and the sincerity with which he sings always hits hard. This becomes especially prominent with the final track of the album, “Mom”.

As Hyun-sang’s first solo composition for Hoppipolla, the song is probably the most conventional ballad in the whole album, but its lyrics are extremely personal and relatable to anyone who has an aging parent. The love we have for them and the burdens we see them shoulder somehow results in a mix of swallowed words and regrets. It is impressive how Hyun-sang is able to describe such a complex dynamic through this relatively simple song, but also amazing to listen to how Hoppipolla brings the deep emotion within it to life. Needless to say, the music is divine, but Young-so’s artful scattering of high notes throughout the song and Jin-ho’s closing solo are especially worthy of mention.

All in all, this is a wonderful sophomore effort from the band – in terms of musicality, they successfully presented a different side of themselves, but the candour with which they approached heavier topics through their songs really stand out here. Their maturity and cohesiveness as a band is remarkable considering that they have been together for less than two years, but Hoppipolla has proven their boundless artistry, and I cannot wait for the journey they will take me on next.

(Images via Moss Music. Youtube)