Sometimes, doing nothing is the hardest possible option. This is the mindset explored by singer-songwriter Gaho. Though he’s been around for a few years, he had his big break last year, with his OST track for Itaweon Class, “Start Over”. Now promoting his first full-length album, Fireworks, Gaho digs into how much work it really takes to not deal with your things. He also digs into a truly impressive talent for musical construction, using quiet and his soulful voice to create a thrumming soundtrack to flee your problems to.
Fireworks is an album that begins as it means to go on. “OOO” is a track loaded with bravado, showing Gaho reaching out and inviting the listener on a whirlwind adventure. It’s got the crunch and swagger of 80s hair metal, with passion and thrills a mere “yes” away. Yet, the bottom falls out from under the track, leaving the last 30 seconds of disquiet and doubt, because Gaho is not running towards anything, but away.
The next four tracks see his doubts spiral even farther. It is so easy to tell creatives to just “follow your heart”, but Gaho picks the platitude apart. What if you have no idea what you want? What if you try and fail? What if trying and failing then leads to depression, and now you can barely breathe? Gaho perfectly encapsulates that sense of being trapped by your own anxiety, faking it until you hopefully make it not as a choice, but because doing anything else seems completely impossible. “Rush Hour” shows him pursuing a relationship for the explicit reason of wanting the drama as a distraction. Yet, once Fireworks hits the halfway point with “Afraid”, Gaho is forced to accept that, eventually, you run out of running space, and he stops trying to flee his problems.
As Fireworks leads into its second half, though, Gaho still doesn’t face his problems. Instead, he is now ignoring that they are problems. Both “Part Time Lover” and “Ride” show him throwing himself into a relationship, one he clearly is more invested in than his partner. Rather than confront her, though, he simply pretends that he has no issue with keeping things casual. Letting himself get lost in the pleasures of right now is a terrible decision long term, but when it means being with someone he likes, well, tomorrow is tomorrow’s problem.
But tomorrow always comes. In “Crush”, the inevitable occurs and he gets dumped for someone she likes more, and once again, Gaho is still stuck smiling and nodding at his life. Even in the aftermath, he makes no effort to change anything. Instead, he just copes, reaching out to a friend and sitting in the dark, enjoying the moon. At no point does he take steps to confront or resolve his anxiety, depression, or fears. Rather, Gaho does things that let him breathe easier for a moment, with the shadow of their return hanging over the album’s end.
Paired with Gaho’s spiraling, self-aware lyrics are some of the best instrumentals and post- productions of the year. This is stress and denial wrought into music, filling the audience with just as much anxiety as himself. His use of organic instrumentation gives Fireworks texture, but also boundless energy. The percussion is spectacular, with harsh staccato drum beats that give the listener the need to run, just as Gaho does. Even on slower tracks like “Right Now”, the drums are relentless, getting into your blood and pushing you to just go. Sitting still while listening to Fireworks is almost impossible.
This is amplified by the exquisite guitar work. Not just for things like the gorgeous riffs in “OOO”, either, but the details that elevate the album. The light sparkles on the Stepford-channeling “Anyway”, the careless, impulsive tones on “Ride”, and how “Rush Hour” sounds like a car changing gears all pierce the mind and let the work carry you away.
Even the wildly shifting genres serve to make the whole more impressive, because while few go together, each matches the subject of the song and better illustrates the chaos swirling in Gaho’s mind. The grandiose, soaring ballad “Right Now” encapsulates how his problems are overwhelming him. “Part Time Lover” has funk and disco elements for the casual relationship he insists he wants, the use of mall punk for “Rush Hour” matches the petty drama he’s seeking out. “High” is hilariously spaced out and disconnected. Then there’s the closer, “Over The Moon”, which draws from lounge music; a sound tied with optimism and hope via the original heyday in the 1950s and early 1960s and the late 1990s revival.
And holding everything together is Gaho himself. His voice is the glue and the key to Fireworks. While he does show off his considerable range, even proving himself to have a good falsetto, the real aspect highlighted is his expressiveness.
He can switch from effortlessly cool to heartbroken to “No, really. I’m fine”, hitting just the right timbre he needs for each track. And underpinning it all is sheer, overwhelming exhaustion. Gaho sounds like he is always a hairsbreadth from breaking down, drowning under the effort of trying to keep it together for one more day. The rich, soulfulness of his voice amplifies how tiring it is to live with smiley faces stickers plastered on your soul so no one can see the cracks. Moreover, his performance drives home that avoidance and denial are not healthy ways of dealing, but it’s the only thing Gaho can manage to do.
If your method of dealing with your problems is to not, Fireworks is the album for you. If you like creative, genre-spanning music, Fireworks is the album for you. If you like pieces that detail why people make choices that are clearly not helpful, Fireworks is the album for you. But really, if you like good music, Fireworks, the stunning debut LP from up-and-comer Gaho, is the album for you.
(Images via Planetarium Records. YouTube.)