A master at presenting unexpected and sometimes dark stories through his music, Giriboy invites listeners on a slow spiral into the depts of isolation and desperation in avante. The rapper’s ninth album explores the severing of ties from a number of perspectives—with a lover, with the past, with fame, with having to feel. The two title tracks placed at the start and end of this ninth album cannot be more different in their delivery, but they string together a story of uncertainty that closes in resignation. avante might sound a tad too heavy for some, but its lyrical brilliance and solid list of featuring artists and producers makes it a worthy listen.

Giriboy opens the doors to the universe of avante on a sombre note. Even with an album title like avante, which means forward, the lyrics to “Lion” and “No Tomorrow” are far from optimistic. The title of “Lion” in Korean, “사자” (sa-ja), can also mean corpse, and Giriboy makes full use of this pun. The track begins with grim lyrics describing one being born like a lion, living like a pig, and stuffing oneself full like a dog. The lyrics illustrate a cutthroat society one has to endure, pushing forward day by day. The heavy beats feel threatening and the track closes with Giriboy rapping about taking slitting someone’s throat like a lion or on the contrary, be the corpse who has their throat slit. The album title and its dreamy sky-blue cover might seem whimsical, but the opening to this world is far from it.

In the same vein, “No Tomorrow” featuring Lil Boi and Nafla describe the hustle that comes with fighting for success. It is definitely not a cheery tune, but Lil Boi and Nafla dish out some sweet lines with their smooth rap flow. If anything, this track reminds listeners of how brilliant these two featuring artists are despite their infrequent releases.

Cold and ruthless in the images they conjure, these two tracks describe the severance of human warmth in the strive for success. This grimy opening sets the stage for the remaining songs, which thread a sombre storyline of abandonment and unrequited affections. The title track, “You Turned Around,” produced in collaboration with Gray, comes with a cinematographic MV to match its brilliant lyrics. “You Turned Around” is certainly more upbeat, but the MV makes the sense of inescapable suffocation clear. From exceedingly small rooms and being trapped in a car filled with paper, to getting cramped in a phone box and squeezing through narrow doors, the MV gives its protagonists no space to manoeuvre.  

The question then would be what caused this strangulating atmosphere. The answer, perhaps, lies in the lyrics: “I liked you a lot, as if it was my last love / We went all in, but lost them all.” It seems as though both protagonists had pent up too much in trying to strive beyond what would be a healthy relationship. Sadly, they end up exploding in each other’s faces. The MV captures both Giriboy and Lee Youmi stare blankly at their reflections in the mirror yelling back at themselves, as well as Giriboy getting slapped in the phone booth. The MV then executes a spectacular move of having both of them look briefly back at each other as they brush shoulders while walking past each other to match the lyrics, “You turned around / You walk straight away from me.”

Instead of having a loved one turn back fondly, “You Turned Around” presents a tragic breakup that leaves both parties shattered. Not only have they clamped up too much within themselves and turned away from their own frustrations, they end up being estranged from each other. Attempts at communicating or even yelling seem fruitless, as nothing meaningful can reach anyone else outside the echo chambers of each individual’s mind (or rooms in the MV). Beyond lovers, the harrowing image of endless rows of isolated rooms seems to imply how detached present society feels. Suffocating yet unable to find mutual understanding, the end to these two protagonists feels like an analogy for human relations as a whole:

I am dumbstruck by your words that are replaying in my mind
I’m here, miserable, huh
Your face is blank, and that’s more terrifying

Those looking for answers to this sense of despair will be disappointed, as the following tracks do not strive to offer any consolation at all. Instead, listeners are dragged deeper into the darkness as the light of hope gets cut off for good. The quirky beat of “Fallin” might be reassuring to listen to, but it also sounds very much like a funky downward spiral—exactly what the lyrics describe about falling from a high place, or drifting away from a more successful past. Going further down the abyss, Giriboy presents “That’s How We Ended Up.” This track is Giriboy’s answer to his fans’ requests to have more songs like “Empty House,” a song that is about an obsessive lover who ends up killing his loved one. If that does not paint a vivd image of the griminess that is “That’s How We Ended Up,” then Giriboy’s aggressive screaming-singing towards the end of this track will probably illustrate the desperation to salvage a forgone relationship. The song sounds terrifying at times, and Seori’s wispy vocals add a haunting atmosphere to this already gripping track.

At the end of this clamouring darkness are the tracks “Maybe, Maybe Not” and “What A Mess”, which offer a wisp of comfort through a sense of resignation. Jinbo’s airy vocals in “Maybe, Maybe Not” are whimsical, emphasising how it no longer mattered whether feelings of love were mutual, simply because the past is the past. This track is definitely a much lighter listen than the tracks that came before it. “What A Mess” then comes at the close of all the anxiety and desperation. Without listening to the lyrics, the track feels playful with its upbeat and jovial instrumentation. Yet, the lyrics sadly reminisce about a past relationship. Giriboy comes to conclude that cliched breakup songs are true reflections of life, mentioning how pathetic it seems to be crying over the past repeatedly. The juxtaposition between the lyrics and the cheery beat makes this track a gem within the album.

The digital release ends at “What A Mess,” but Giriboy offers fans a prologue to this depressing narrative with three more tracks in the physical album. “Because I Was Young” provides some sort of resolution to avante in what is probably an overused statement of having been immature and too young to know better. Giriboy raps leisurely over laidback instrumentation, and listeners get to take a breather after coming so far into the album.

“Spacetime” and “So What” are tracks that were already released as singles. They drift a little from the rest of the songs in avante and are certainly less depressing to listen to. The lyrics to “Spacetime” attempt to explain attraction through physics and are a blast to listen to. The beats to this song bring to mind Giriboy’s sleek and quirky tunes from earlier in his career, like “Space Flight” and “You’re A Chemical.” Interestingly, “So What” closes the physical album with a note of indifference. Giriboy mentioned in his live session on Out Now that the phrase “So what” irks him the most, and he tried to make it sound as annoying as possible in this song. The lyrics urge a lover to stop being a nuisance by demanding so much, eventually also telling them to forget the times shared.

As heart-breaking as “So What” might be, it may be the only conclusion Giriboy has to provide in response to all the unpleasant emotions he conjured throughout avante. If reality forces one to sever ties with an estranged lover, with human warmth, with memories, one will only be left feeling suffocated trying to cling on desperately. The closing tracks to both the digital and physical album presents a shoddily paved, but certainly available, trail out of the internal chaos: stop being bitter, and stop looking back. The album concept images show Giriboy sleeping on a row of fences in the middle of murky waters or standing in it. Taking this into consideration, it seems that the reward for being able to go down this shoddy path into the light is to be able to float and breathe even whilst surrounded by foulness.

(Collins Dictionary, YouTube [1][2]. Images via Just Music)