Yi Sung Yol is an unpredictable musician. His first two albums were mostly austere, classic rock ballads. His third album, Why We Fail, was bolder and more emotionally overt than these two, seeming to indicate that Yi Sung Yol had arrived in his musical voice. Therefore, nobody was prepared when he unleashed Y, a cryptic, alienating psychedelic rock album that was utterly convincing despite being so far-fetched from what we knew of Yi Sung Yol.
Y easily could have been deemed as a result of a mid-career crisis, but Yi Sung Yol realized his wild new voice with so much clarity and intellect that it instead became one of the most remarkable albums in past years.
His most recent album, SYX, isn’t as radical as Y. It’s more like a marrying of Yi Sung Yol’s two musical worlds: experimental music and pop-rock (for lack of better term).
I say this because SYX is accessible. It has catchy hooks, straight four-four rhythms, and relatively simple lyrics. And rather than the songs in Y, which had a lot of through-composed, erratic structures, SYX is loyal to pop’s verse-chorus form. The album reminds me at times of a less experimental Radiohead.
The way Yi Sung Yol organizes his musical ideas are traditional, but the ideas themselves are crazier and therefore more closely related to Y. The arrangements feature plenty of distortion, erratic electronic surges, and compact dialogues between live and electronic instruments. The melodies are dark and the harmonies are far from your conventional pop harmonies.
So does this combination of styles work? I could argue both ways. SYX works for what it is; it’s a dark and stylish fusion of different musical materials. Yi Sung Yol’s vulnerability is engaging and satisfying. The multitude of driving, gutsy melodies serve your ear some real meat.
However, with all of the fascinating ideas that Yi Sung Yol has, it’s a little frustrating that they’re presented with such predictable structures and rhythms. If he fooled around just a little more with these things like he did in Y – bringing in unconventional time signatures, adding improvised instrumental sections, using different types of scales – I think the album would breathe better and shout a lot louder.
None of this discounts the fact the SYX is an album worth listening to. Yi Sung Yol always has something important to say in his music. It’s just that after seeing how far he can go with Y, I can’t help but want a little bit more from him. However, he is a consistently engaging musician I am totally on board with him as he continues to venture into new musical territories.