Oh Hee Jung is a soloist that got her start in 2013 after a series of independent releases. Her latest effort, this year's 'Short Film' EP, comes on the heels of 2016's Bandcamp-released 'Freckles. Oh Hee Jung is often the sole creative force behind her work, with the production, recording, artwork, mastering, mixing and design all being credited to her for this album. Using a combination of great ideas and total creative control, Oh Hee Jung creates a magical mix with each release that's sure to leave fans with a new daily soundtrack.
'Short Film' is an EP with a consistency of sound and thematics. From the opening track, you get the sense that Hee Jung understood the importance of putting her emotions in context. She starts off somewhere in between dreamy and devastated, and maintains this tone throughout most of the EP. On post-rock influenced track "My Place," Hee Jung gets comfortable over swelling guitars that recall an epic movie soundtrack. At this point, it becomes clear that her goals for emotional resonance are grandiose, though the size and scope lend the music a manic and authentic feel rather than making it seem forced.
The title-baring track "Short Film" sounds distinctly more optimistic than its accompanying songs, with a thumping pulse that brings the song to emotionally resonant heights. Follow-up track "Song for Me" starts off in a somewhat cabaret realm, but follows up with a chorus that's built around a distorted breakbeat sample reminiscent of Bjork's best mid-period work. It's an easy album highlight and succeeds because it takes something unusual and places it in a new and illuminating context.
The mid-album number "Shy" opens with a noise reminiscent of an S.O.S distress call, which sets up the listener to interpret the song as something of a desperate final plea. Its middle section is reminiscent of trip-hop music like Portishead to great effect, with more breakbeats laid behind the sweeping instrumentation. All told, it's a little bit meandering, and by this point in the EP you get the sense that Hee Jung is working with something of a mood board and limiting herself to certain styles. That said, there's a cool trumpet section towards the end of the song that deserves to be expanded upon; it's something you don't usually hear in Korean contemporary music.
Album closer "Wolf" succeeds with its combination of hard drums and distressed vocals, although carries a noted similarity to other album tracks. From a production standpoint, it's still quite interesting and makes use of a "bubble" sound effect that lends the music a fresh coat of paint. That said, by clocking out before the 3-minute mark this song makes the case for itself that it might be extraneous (which isn't exactly ideal for an EP).
All told, indie soloists like Oh Hee Jung are needed to move the Korean industry forward. EPs like 'Short Film' are essentially the reason we get to hear acts like IU experiment with more abstract sounds, so artists like Oh Hee Jung are really essential to the expansion of K-Pop's palette. Despite these strengths, Hee Jung could distinguish herself more by experimenting beyond ambient soundscapes and trying to build sounds around a more diverse set of influences. Although 'Short Film' has its highlights, the last thing this industry needs is for "dreamy-sounding female soloist" to become another pigeonhole for artists to be shoved into.
Album production: 8/10
Album concept: 7/10
Album track list: 7/10