Solo star Woodz has made his highly-anticipated return. In many ways, this comeback marks a new beginning for the artist as it is his first work since he departed his decade-long company Yuehua Entertainment and subsequently signed with EDAM Entertainment six months ago. Under Yuehua Entertainment, Woodz was mostly active as an idol before switching to a solo career in 2020. Fans lamented that the agency failed to promote him properly considering how talented and skilled he is.

Indeed, Woodz is the prime example of an all-rounder, an artist who excels in everything. A magnificent vocalist, rapper and dancer, who writes and produces all of his songs, he is also actively involved in the conceptual and visual execution of his albums. Woodz’s discography so far has been quite a colorful undertaking. Both conceptually and musically, he has explored various genres, combined unconventional elements and always delivered masterful results. Each album adds to the versatility of his career, but still sounds like something that only solo artist Woodz would put out.

This is also evident on his new work, OO-LI. Woodz revealed this album to be an exploration of himself and his road to self-discovery. This is reflected in the title, a unique romanization of the Korean word “uri”. “Uri” translates to “we”, and according to Woodz, represents his past, present, and future self, while also including the listeners of the album. Each track was handpicked by Woodz to make sure listeners could grasp the emotions he wanted to convey in the right order.

The album accordingly opens with “Deep Deep Sleep”, a moody and serene track. A high-pitched voice takes listeners into the atmospheric setting. Woodz describes the desire to transcend reality through deep sleep and the safe feeling it comes with. This is particularly highlighted through the last line, “Now I got no problems till I gotta wake up”. Musically, the track is reminiscent of early 2000s R&B, relying on Woodz’s smooth vocals and a simplistic beat.

On “Journey”, which serves as the album’s title track, Woodz gives listeners an overload of emotions describing his hardships, frustration, growth and relief. The chorus represents a turning point in the song as he sings:

When tears filled my eyes, I can cry

When the cool breeze blows, I let myself float on the wind far away

Leaving my grinning self behind me, I took another step forward

In merely three lines, Woodz is able to capture his passion and pain, taking the listener through his hard, yet fruitful journey. The lyrics contain many references to nature such as forests, winds, and islands, perfectly fitting the song’s title. But while “Journey” is lyrically quite outstanding, its delivery is further amplified by the use of instruments and Woodz’ vocals. A slow start leads into a powerful chorus packed with pop-rock elements. These feel liberating especially when paired with the background vocals that set in towards the end of the song.

“Journey” is followed by “Drowning”, the masterpiece of the album. “Drowning” reads like a continuation of “Journey”, and is not only bigger but better. The rock elements are more prominent during the chorus particularly during the second chorus as Woodz’s vocals gradually fade into the background against a guitar-led beat. The feeling of drowning is perfectly conveyed by Woodz’s raspy voice that is powerful, yet elusive like it will disappear every second. Compared to its predecessor, “Drowning” leaves a bigger impression.

In subsequent tracks, Woodz has left the stage of reflection and despair behind unleashing his unforgiving and indifferent self. Most notably, he has stopped caring for others’ opinions and firmly wants to pursue his own path. This is also reflected in the musical direction the album takes as it fully delves into the rock genre with electric guitar riffs, booming drums and raspy vocals. Prepared to take on new challenges, on “Ready to Fight” Woodz proclaims:

I don’t know where I’ll bounce

I’m looking for something fun

If someone stops me, be prepared

I am fierce

Pre-release track “Abyss” neatly ties everything together, concluding the album. With seven tracks, OO-LI combines the rock influences of Woodz’s last album Colorful Trauma with the lyrical mastery of Only Lovers Left, showcasing the artist’s struggles, his growth, and his future.

A cohesive body of work that features immaculate songwriting, production, vocals, OO-LI is the perfect embodiment of Woodz as an artist. Woodz’ objective was to give fans an insight into the different parts that make up the singer he is, and he firmly succeeds. The lingering impression that this album marks a new chapter for him remains.

OO-LI perfectly adds to Woodz’ already robust discography, and is testimony to his versatility and dedication as an artist. Now under a company that will hopefully give him the support he needs, fans and listeners are once again left with sheer curiosity about what Woodz will deliver in upcoming releases.

(YouTube. Lyrics via YouTube. Images via EDAM Entertainment.)