Eric Nam’s There And Back Again is a groovy self-reflective discovery of what-ifs and whatevers. Through each song, Eric takes listeners through an emotional rollercoaster of pain, longing, and acceptance following the conclusion of a romance. However, while (almost) every song daylights as a breakup anthem, the lyrics poetically explore depths of pain and stages of acceptance.
The songs “Lost on Me,” “Wildfire,” “Admit,” and “What If” demonstrate a slow acceptance of what may never be, while “I Don’t Know You Anymore (“IDKYA”) and “One Way Lover” scream good riddance. The groovy “Any Other Way” sticks out as the only romance in the present tense.
The first group of songs depict a lover with fresh wounds slowly coming to terms with the end of a relationship. The first track “Lost on Me” expresses a newfound appreciation for happy times despite feeling like “dead weight, bringing you down.” Speaking directly to the listener, Eric explains how he “finally get[s] it” and “you taught me how to love someone you have to learn to love yourself.” While the song has an upbeat melody and playful, witty lyrics, there is also a tinge of melancholy hinting at feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.
There is a positive spin on the situation though, and this is exemplified through the contrast in the chorus. While the verses are pensive, accompanied by softer vocals and instrumental accompaniment, the verses give a subtle thank you for the good times they did have and a desire to look for silver linings. The music in the vocals drives this home with a danceable, addictive melody and soaring vocals.
The following song, “Wildfire” compares a passionate romance with a raging wildfire. Similar to how a wildfire burns brightly before dying out and leaving devastation in its wake, Eric describes a romance “lost to the flames” with a “cinder heart” in which “all that’s left is pain.”
In addition to the brilliantly sad lyrics, the production of “Wildfire” is incredible. The verses are groovy and tasteful while the choruses have countless layers of thick, sweeping harmonies. Eric’s main vocal is placed just above that of a vocoder track, Hammond organ-sounding synth, and loads of other vocal harmonies. The absence of percussion before the fill into the next verse gives the choruses a suspended, almost atmospheric sound not present in the other sections of the song. With equal parts whimsy, emotional intelligence, and stunning accompaniment, this is one of the star songs on the album, musically and lyrically.
“Admit” is where the album starts to take more of a hopelessly sad turn. The opening lyrics describe a deafening silence left behind in a lonely home. He describes being compelled to “take a drive to drown out the sound” of silence, aimlessly chasing a feeling of stability despite having no intended destination. There is a raw hopelessness to the lyrics that pull at the heartstrings and draw the listener into Eric’s narrative.
Compared to the previous songs, “Admit” has simpler instrumentation. A couple of vocal layers are accompanied with mostly acoustic guitar and understated drum machine parts, allowing Eric’s vocals to shine through. The stripping down of especially the verses lends itself well to the lonely and reflective nature of the lyrics.
The last song of this set, “What If,” is an ode to coming to terms with what may never be and what might have happened if… Regret and disbelief interweave throughout the track, highlighted by the ever-present “what if”s in the chorus and post-chorus. Here the drum set and vocals are in the forefront in the mix of the track with funky, earwormy bass and guitar lines. Additionally, the trailing off of the lyrics “And I start thinking” at the end of the pre-chorus serve as text painting mimicking the moment before your brain races with questions, caught up in a slurry of invasive thoughts. The lyrics trail off with more wondering, leaving an unresolved sigh in its wake.
Taking a complete 180 are the songs “I Don’t Know You Anymore (IDKYA)” and “One Way Lover.” “IDKYA” is loud, proud, and unapologetic in denouncing a dead relationship. The lyrics are edgy and addictive with an f-you attitude in their delivery. However, the lyrics “you still haunt me” tease cracks in Eric’s hard emotional exterior before quickly whisking the listener back to the chorus.
The music that accompanies the lyrics in “IDKYA” is equally unrelenting and unforgiving. The verses are gentle and reflective, but the calm is fleeting. The majority of the song is peppered with driving electric guitar, a busy drum set, and powerful vocals.
One of the coolest and most memorable features is the timing and coordination of the actual lyrics “Now all I know, all that I know is, I don’t know you anymore.” While previous phrases are fairly easy to follow rhythmically and run parallel to the beat set up in the percussion, these lyrics happen almost entirely on offbeats. The sudden change zeros the listener in and sets up the return to the chorus.
Where “IDKYA” is rebellious, “One Way Lover” is uninterested, like a giant shrug in song format. The lyrics urge one to let go and not hold their breath on waiting for him to come back. As Eric grows more and more restless over the lingering romance, he finally concludes with “Tell me is it over yet?” before the last chorus. The lyrics are accompanied by predominantly tight instrumentation and synth tracks. The tight sounds and slow delivery of the lyrics give the sound a detached and open-ended feeling.
The last song, “Any Other Way” is the only surviving romance. Hidden in the middle of the tracklist, it is a celebration of blind love and budding romance. “Oblivious to things around” him and “dancing on the ceiling” he wouldn’t have it “any other way.”
The lyrics are cute and fun, but the music is the standout feature of this track. The mesmerizing whistled hook, gradual tension all the way through the pre-chorus and chorus, and suspended “because I” are transcendent. Not only do they make the song engaging and unique, but the texture created from Eric’s falsetto atop the track create a soaring and fantastical feeling like hopelessly losing yourself in love.
Just like the title suggests, Eric Nam’s There And Back Again takes listeners through a dizzying journey through the lowest lows of heartbreak and triumphs of letting go and finding yourself in the aftermath. Intricate and meaningful lyrics are coupled with instrumentals that support and elevate each track, drawing listeners into a relatable, timeless, and unforgettable whirlwind of a narrative. With this being his first fully independent album, There And Back Again reaffirms Eric as a down to earth, dynamic, and evocative artist.
(YouTube, Consequence Sound, Images via Eric Nam Company)