While Jo Yuri has mostly been known as a solo artist and former Iz*One member, the singer looks to be getting a new breakthrough in her acting career with the announcement of her casting in the second season of hit Netflix series Squid Game. This is a big move away from the more youthful tone of Mimicus, the previous drama she starred in, and it’s quite exciting to see her on a more varied path.
Yuri’s music can also be described in a similar way with her style changing every time a new single is released. This shift in direction can potentially work in her dramas and leave a significant impression, but it’s become a bit of a weakness for her discography.
“Glassy,” “Love Shhh!,” and “Loveable” were all fairly enjoyable in their own ways but seemed to lack an additional element that could make them more memorable. The concept changes help show various sides of Yuri but also appear to be preventing her from developing a strong identity for her music, and her latest EP Love All follows the same trend—pleasant but simpler than desired.
What gives the album an extra edge, though, is its storytelling aspect. Love All, a clever nod to the tennis term indicating the beginning of a game, tells the full story of a typical romantic relationship with title track “Taxi” being the first chapter.
As with most romance tales, our protagonist has to confess their love first before entering a relationship. In “Taxi,” Yuri makes an honest and straightforward confession as she compares the desire to get close to her crush to a swift taxi ride. The way to capture someone’s heart might look clumsy and awkward, but the initial fluttery feelings are exciting all the same.
Musically, it’d be a lie to say this dance-pop number isn’t a little generic. The tune is fairly typical and doesn’t quite reach the bright, summery heights of “Love Shhh!” However, Yuri’s smooth and husky voice along with the quirks in the instrumental offer just enough to keep listeners intrigued.
The funky piano riffs especially liven up the otherwise dull verses while the chorus features vibrant ‘newtro’ synths that are an absolute highlight for the song. If the melodies were more adventurous, “Taxi” could’ve been a real standout as far as pop songs are considered. Nevertheless, it does a fine job of conveying the first and, for some, most blissful stage of love.
B-sides “Lemon Black Tea” and “Bitter Taste” represent the next chapter in our romance story—the bittersweetness of a relationship. “Lemon Black Tea” takes place not long after the confession, so the heart-fluttering atmosphere still lingers. Yuri’s rose-tinted glasses fall quickly, though, and she becomes more curious and confused at the reality of love. The lyrics, penned by Day6’s Young K, are charming with lines such as “Love or whatever” and “It wasn’t just sweet” expressing the taste of a sweet tea (relationship) unexpectedly tasting sharp and sour. And the composition, written by singer-songwriters Paulkyte and Eldon, has a groovy and minimal sound formed with guitar and electric piano to create a nice indie pop vibe.
On the other hand, “Bitter Taste” uses a variety of synths to show the deepening relationship with the cheery emotions continuing to fade away. The tense instrumental paired with Yuri’s mature vocals produces a strangely sensuous aura that becomes even more captivating when contrasted by the dreamy pre-chorus before bringing listeners back to the bitter ambience of the chorus.
Lyrically, the sharp and wearisome feelings have grown stronger than the sweeter aspects of love. Like the times you drink a sip of tart coffee after dessert, the sweet romantic taste disappears instantly:
Deeply melted scent, a face with a strange expression
Chocolate cookies, next
Feel it, my bitter taste
The caffeine that wakes you up, you’ll know this taste
Chocolate ice cream, next
Think about it, my sweeter taste
Moving to the next chapter, the love that once seemed so thrilling has now gone cold as depicted in contemporary R&B tune “Hang On.” Filled with regrets, Yuri sings of the inability to accept the breakup as she tries her best to hold onto her past lover. The absence of a loved one’s warmth and familiarity leaves a hole in the heart, and clinging to them can easily border the line of obsession.
Yuri’s melancholic vocals portray this emptiness well but is interestingly supported by a cooler, more relaxing instrumental with entrancing guitar riffs and trap soul beats.
The final track, and last part in the story, is “Bruise.” Here, the denial has completely stopped and what’s left is a painful bruise on the heart with hope of healing in the future:
My blue heart will soon fade away
I don’t know when I got hurt, but I don’t even have a scar
My blue heart will soon be forgotten
Someday, even if I press hard on your name, it won’t hurt
Being a ballad, the song feels quite out of place on the album. It makes sense thematically as the concluding chapter but sounds inconsistent with the rest of the album which mostly consists of pop numbers. But if we look at it individually, “Bruise” is still a tender and emotive piece that beautifully showcases Yuri’s unique voice with a piano as the only prominent instrument. The melodies composed by singer-songwriter HEN are perfect for Yuri’s vocal tone and really spotlights her strengths as a singer, proudly standing amongst her greatest ballads.
All in all, Love All is a pleasant and rather simple-sounding romance story. Like Yuri’s previous releases, this simplicity can definitely be appealing with many of her numbers being great for easy listening. But with all the potential she has, it’s hard not to want pieces with a little more substance to them. The tracks being short in length (only three minutes or less) don’t help much either.
She and her current discography have all the makings for a flourishing solo career with a distinctive voice, engaging tones, and compelling compositions. The tunes just need that one special element to take them to the next level and be truly spectacular.