“… Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

While this iconic quote comes from the 1994 film Forrest Gump, it proves to be a fitting teaser for Highlight member Yang Yoseob’s first full solo album Chocolate Box. In an interview, the veteran artist explained that he likens the album to a box of assorted chocolates. With a selection of flavors, one might not know what taste lies inside from its appearance, but upon taking a bite can discover what is inside. Some might be dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, fruit filled, or even spicy or salty, but ultimately blend with the tantalizing flavor of chocolate. A sensation many are likely familiar with, the tasty food metaphor comes across easily when placed opposite the 12-song album flavored with peppers of pop, R&B, and jazz styles, featuring an impressive list of collaborators.

The overall styling of the album is understated and stately with an array of lavish suits, dark sparkles, earthy tones, and organic accents like leaves and roses. The instrumentation and sampling largely follow suit with most songs having a simple jazz combo as accompaniment with a few auxiliary samples and vocal layers thrown in.

All the songs on the album except for “Pretty” are either collaborations with another artist or self-composed, and they all center around the title track “BRAIN” composed primarily by KZ. This track is dark and sexy with very fluid choreography and sound production, reminiscent of the darkest, most bitter chocolate you can find. Yoseob’s delicate mid-range vocals are layered with an evocative whistled hook, R&B-esque guitar licks, and simple piano and drum set parts. The texture builds to a climax before a smoky reverse drop in the last chorus and Yoseob’s own vocal ornamentations that add variety to the existing chorus melody.

The MV for “BRAIN” tells the story of being trapped in your own thoughts while yearning for a lost love. Similarly, the imagery flips between Yoseob alone looking off listlessly into the distance or surrounded by dancers in picturesque locations, drawing attention to his own solitude. Some scenes also show a female character, but always slightly out of reach, whether it is in an adjacent room or revealed through Yoseob’s memory. This tinge of melancholic yearning and jazzy, R&B reminiscent sounds runs through every track, including his own compositions.

Other collaborative tracks include “SLOW LUV,” “Change,” “Chocolate Box,” “Chuck,” and “Body & Soul.” The former three are collaborations with performers, while the latter two include well-known producers.

 Both “SLOW LUV” featuring Minseo and “Change” featuring Sole are addictive and upbeat tracks that draw on each duo’s vocal colors. The instrumentation is noticeably more sample based with busier drum set tracks and driving rhythm sections. However, while “SLOW LUV” leans toward lilting and smooth, “Change” is funky and subdued, almost sensual. The sound in the latter is driven mainly by the persistent guitar strumming pattern and bass. Both mark Yoseob’s first collaborations with female soloists as a soloist and as a member of Highlight.

“Chocolate Box” featuring pH-1 is an interesting collaboration, because Yoseob and pH-1 were actually elementary classmates and played samulnori together before pH-1 moved to the United States and the two lost touch. This collaboration sees the duo as musical partners again, but with a cute retro-pop sounding track instead. Yoseob’s smooth vocals, especially in the chorus, are complimented by pH-1’s superb melodic rapping. Here the instrumentals stray slightly from the standard jazz combo sound of many of the other tracks to more sampling, a thicker texture, and production polish. Yoseob describes the sound like “the feeling of drinking warm hot chocolate in the cold winter.”

 Middle tracks “Chuck,” produced with Primary, and “Body & Soul,” composed by Colde, are contrasting B-sides that utilize similar layers of sound like piano, electric guitar, and real drum tracks, but while “Chuck” is catchy and playful, “Body & Soul” is moody and slow. “Chuck” was actually performed as part of Yoseob’s promotions and features precious pastel imagery following rain sounds in the intro, like the sound of enjoying the warm spring sun after a cold winter. In some performances, rather than darker clothes and suits, Yoseob wears a white shirt, print tie, and suspenders while cheesing the camera, a stark contrast to his dark “BRAIN” performances.

“Body & Soul,” by comparison, is melancholic, like a cool autumn day. Accompaniment here is noticeably slower moving and driven by synthesizer sounds, drum samples, and prominent bass licks. Yoseob’s vocals take center stage, driving this R&B-tinged track.

Neither a deliberate collaboration or self-composed track, “Pretty” is simple and satisfying. The jazz combo instrumentation mostly returns to accompany the layers of delicate lead and harmony lines. It is easy-going and sincere, like its name.

Inspired by his time in the military, Yoseob’s self-composed songs are melancholy and reflective, with the exception of “YES OR NO.” They include “Dry Flower,” “The Last Cold,” “Alone,” “Good Morning,” and “YES OR NO.”

“Dry Flower,” “Alone,” and “The Last Cold” are introspective and light tracks, reminiscent of sweet milk chocolate candy on a cool day. All three have simple instrumentation, thick layers of vocal harmony and chops, and electronically synthesized drum set tracks. The combination of simple acoustic instrumentals and upbeat percussion creates a nice contrast to drive the tracks along, brightening their sound despite their sadder themes.

The song “Dry Flower” represents a romance that dies away and disappears like a dry flower would when disturbed, while “Alone” is the brightest out of all three with bass and hand clapping in the forefront of the mix. Inspired by a fan’s DM containing some of their thoughts and struggles, “Alone” is meant to provide comfort to the listener and make them feel at ease. Finally, just like its name suggests, “The Last Cold” utilizes the bitterness of winter as a metaphor for the harshness and anxieties of modern-day life. While the subject of the song is hesitant and sad, the warmth of the sound suggests an acceptance of these feelings as Yoseob embraces the “last cold” days.

The two most polarizing tracks of Yoseob’s compositions are “YES OR NO” and “Good Morning.” These last two songs on the entire track list are entirely different in instrumentation, style, and even vocal timbre. “YES OR NO” is exciting and upbeat with soaring vocals and more extensive range. It has a faster tempo, brass accompaniment, and a thick texture created with the rhythm section and vocal harmonies. It is a nice, flirty contrast to the darkness of the title track and chill sound of most of the other songs on the album.

“Good Morning” is one of the most memorable tracks on the album. It sounds like a standard jazz ballad or crooner style song. The structure is straightforward and mostly predictable for a jazz musician, but its simple charm is beautiful and effective. It is often difficult to make songs sound so simple and effortless (despite it being realistically complex) and Yoseob does it with ease.

Each sound layer has its own little space in the overall acoustics without being overwhelming and synthesized strings and brass add texture to build intensity while ultimately supporting in the background of the seemingly acoustic foreground. Maybe it is just because all of the other tracks just flirt with traces of jazz influence, but “Good Morning” is a nice contrast in sound for Yoseob that really lends itself well to the smoothness and natural vibrato in his voice.

Carving a smooth, dreamy, but diverse space in solo debuts this year, Yang Yoseob’s Chocolate Box stands apart from other releases as of late. Understated and chill, the album flirts with a lot of different variances of sound and subject, but ultimately converge to make it a remarkably consistent sound overall — like a box of chocolates with similar tastes but wildly different complementary flavors to discover.

(YouTube [1][2][3][4], Korean Herald, Samulnori Hanullim, AllKPop. Images via Around Us Entertainment)