Though this is only her first year as a soloist, Kwon Eunbi is already carving out a sonic signature for herself. Lethality cements her status as a dark-horse in the industry: a quietly innovative artist. Her new album is best described as delicate, yet deadly, submerging us in deceptively gauzy sound that augments the crystal clear timbre of her voice.

Oddly enough, Lethality feels like an album an artist many years her senior would release, in that it is self-assured and somewhat minimalistic—molding itself closely around her voice instead of dazzling with unnecessary bells and whistles via the production.

Take title track “Underwater,” for example. We naturally associate songs referencing water with the summer or ocean getaways, but Eunbi’s take is more nuanced. The album opener, “Wave,” immediately establishes the atmosphere of Lethality, with the crash of real waves on the shore, plus the muted strumming of “Underwater’s” main melody, priming us for what’s to come and sweeping us beneath the current.

The premise of “Underwater” is a love story, but the lines between love and possession, (not to mention life and death), are tantalizingly blurred. The track feels almost Seulgi-esque, with Eunbi narrating a romance in which the listener is trapped with no escape, reminiscent of Seulgi’s “28 Reasons“. “Deeper and deeper, you’re submerged in me (and drown),” Eunbi sings with her characteristic lightness.

“Underwater” is captivating because it’s built on layers of paradoxes. On a vocal level, Eunbi’s otherworldly voice floats above the fray and makes the prospect of even death feel palatable. The production is elegant, with percolating synths being the main backdrop to her voice—bass entering to kick in to up the ante when the lyrics take a heavier, biting turn.

The narrative of the song, though, is where oppositions really come into full, ominous bloom. Eunbi declares that her “creepy swaying eyes” and “cold, transparent heart” will spell the end of her lover, but in the process she admits to an unexpected vulnerability of her own: her own feelings.

“I’ll share the breath [with you],” she promises, and as the song progresses, she too falls “underwater,” with love having the ability to flood her in peace, even in the face of metaphorical death. The imagery is gorgeous, with the song painting a picture of a connection so powerful, the real drowning is the process of falling in love in the first place. Death never sounded so sweet!

In a busier track, Eunbi’s ethereal voice and the cinematic quality of the song’s narrative would fade to the background, but “Underwater’s” skillful minimalism is precisely what makes it so memorable.

In that vein, “Croquis” is a euphoric continuation of Eunbi’s last title track “Glitch,” with the beginning of the song in fact drawn from “Glitch’s” instrumental. The rhythmic skeleton of the track is similar to its predecessor, with an almost staccato, reverb-y synth that is delightfully unexpected. The lyrics, too, are complex, with the most memorable line Eunbi declaring that she is “the chromatic color that was hidden in the shadows…I redraw the you I saw in my memory.”

The production mirrors this sense of unfurling and discovery. “Croquis” is multilayered, adding to “Glitch’s” foundation with an upbeat high tempo of its own, and steadily ratcheting up in intensity. The song’s built-in surprise for the listener is almost acapella stretch, with Eunbi’s vocals accompanied by only faint snapping in the background, which skillfully builds momentum for the final chorus. It also offers the perfect platform for her Mariah Carey-esque riffs to take center stage.

If “Croquis” is Eunbi at her sparkling dance-party best, “Flash” is Eunbi during the drive home after a night out. It’s still incredibly fun, there’s no doubt about it, but the mellow, groovy vibe feels steeped in jazzy, Japanese neo-soul influences. The song is filled with unexpected instrumental touches, like the tambourine that skillfully accent her voice. “Flash” builds so seamlessly, with strong harmonies sweeping the listener away from start to finish, that it almost puts the listener in a trance.

If there’s one thing Eunbi and her production team are skilled at, it’s building an atmosphere, and her songs feel like immersive little universes in this regard. Like “Flash,” “Simulation” is a masterclass in immersion: echoes, subtle guitar riffs, and 80’s throwback elements, coupled with futuristic sound effects galore, augment her soaring high notes and ad-libs. The track is a canvas for her vocals, and the unconventional structure and build-up of “Simulation” makes it one of the most innovative songs we’ve seen so far this year. If 2022 could be crystallized in a track, “Simulation” is it.

Closing the album with “Hi” ends Lethality on a literal high note, as the most immediately carpool-karaoke ready of the album songs. Capturing the moment of realization that comes when we know our feelings for someone and want to shout them to the world, “Hi” seems directly ripped out of IZ*ONE bandmate Yena’s playbook, with the bouncy guitar and early 2000s punk feel Lethality‘s sole attempt of tapping into current musical trends.

A song being reflective of trends isn’t necessarily a bad thing–there is no denying how infectious the refrain of “Hi” is, as Eunbi insists that “What I want to say/ what I want to say” is simply, well, “hi”: opening the door to a new chapter. Most albums close on a somewhat contemplative note, but Eunbi instead opts for a high-energy, optimistic closing that is emblematic of the unexpected approach of Lethality as a whole.

The K-pop soloist scene may feel stuffed to the brim, but Eunbi stands out in the talent pool for several reasons, chief among them that she has crafted her own sonic signature: a playful, delicately minimal sound that feels like it is several beats ahead of the rest of the industry. The album manages to evoke a sense of expansiveness as a result of embodying these qualities.

To call her album Lethality was a spot-on choice. With precise vocals and am equally precise production vision, her discography is already more consistent than many idols from agencies with greater reach or resources. A delight from beginning to end, Lethality solidifies that her upward trajectory is only just beginning, and we all need to pay attention.

(Images and Lyrics via Woollim Entertainment: [1], [2].)