Like many have experienced over the past month, I made a stark transition from a relatively worry-free summer to a fall filled with the insurmountable stress of academic life. Unfortunately, this transition means that my ears have become accustomed to the continually repeating sounds of bubbly or overly-masculine K-pop groups on my iTunes playlist while I study. Trying to find a new album to serve as my earworm, I was exposed to Brown Eyed Soul member Naul's recent album 'Principle of My Soul', his first solo release since 2007.
One of the main features that attracted me to K-pop was the overuse of electronic instruments and effects in the music— and I know I'm probably a minority in this case. I've never truly cared for anything that isn't processed to a high degree, as the lack of processing exposes flaws that many artists have. This isn't the case with Naul. Processing would ruin the downright artistry and humanistic expression that he continually portrays throughout the album. This is especially evident in the song "You & Me", in which he demonstrates his amazing control of his falsetto voice. It's obvious upon listening that this take was not perfect, as he flubs quite often in a variety of vocal aspects—showing a sense of strain in his voice. Though after hearing him belt out his ridiculous notes that no male should be able to reach, this aura of imperfection only enhances the overall song experience. Here we have a human, yes a human, singing, expressing himself vocally on a deeper level than most of what is churned into our ears in the pop genre. Considering the obvious nature of love in the song, this human, unprocessed quality adds a convincing layer of truth to his lyrics as he weaves throughout the song. While "You & Me" probably won't change my opinion on my distaste of unprocessed music, it does leave me with a reminder that K-pop does have some truly talented singers.
Naul's vocals continually impress throughout the album, but his true vocal prowess shines through his headliner track "Wind Memory". As for the reasons mentioned prior, I'm not the biggest fan of ballads. It's obvious that the purpose of the traditional K-pop ballad, or for any pop ballad for that matter, is to move us emotionally to some degree. While not exactly creative in terms of lyrics, the content of this song aims to put one in a melancholy mood. The lyrics are similar to the message contained in a myriad of other ballads: the promise of everlasting love through separation, likely through death in this case. Thus, these type of ballads rarely have this effect on me due to their standardization and usually lackluster performance. Then why did I start tearing up after listening to this? I'm not sure if it's the power contained in Naul's voice, the human imperfections, the oft-not-heard controlled vibrato, the weeping quality in his inflections, or even the cheesy pop background finally getting to me. Regardless of the actual reason, this track is unique to ballads for the reasons above, except for the last, of course. While it probably won't win over international fans of G-Dragon, it's about time that something truly artistic—with my respectful apologies to VIPs—gets exposed in the K-pop world.
Despite my seeming confusion about the above aspects, I can't rightfully exclaim that 'Principle of My Soul' is a perfect album. Listening through the album as a whole, one can get the feeling that it sounds a bit too Grover Washington-y or smooth jazz-y. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing to some—I happen to like Grover Washington at times—the close similarity allows static composition through the sound scape of the album. It definitely does nothing in the way of supporting what Naul pumps out. Furthermore, the album's tracks sound like they belong in a K-Drama in that any of them could be used as repetitious background music that's too-often heard in series. Again, some may like this—as many do like K-Dramas—but it sounds a bit too formulaic to me. Ultimately, while Naul seems to be spelling out his soul, the music, for the most part, sits comfortably among the standardized hogwash commonly found in most R&B music.
Despite this, 'Principle of My Soul' has become a a much-needed fresh earworm to accompany me on my long nights in the library. The vocal prowess in the album is matched by few, and that alone makes the album well worth the many, many listens that one would take upon obtaining it.
Reviewer's Picks: "You & Me", "Wind Memory", "Farewell"
Pros: Vocal prowess that is comparable to none, lack of processing actually makes the music better, imperfect quality to his voice, ballads that actually move me.
Cons: At times a bit too Grover Washington-y, smooth jazz-y, and K-Drama-y.