Extravagant songs are the flame to my moth. Diane Warren ballads of the 90’s? Check. Kim Bum Soo? Check. The thundering rock of Unchained? Check. If a song is big and melodramatic, chances are I’ve played it once or ten times over. In summer this is particularly the case because I prefer my time outside doing something with a driving soundtrack. A calmer song has to have a certain je ne sais quoi to make me pay attention in the long days of the season. Shin Seol Hee was one case, with 일상의 잔상 ‘After Image’ being my go-to summer cool down set.

shin seol hee after image pic

What caught my attention first was what “After Image” lacked; no hook, no rise and fall in tension, no soaring vocals, lack of a discernible bridge. Normally, these would be a pet peeve of mine, but Seol Hee doesn’t need them. On the lead single, “원 (Circle),” the song barely rises, but adds in instruments bit by bit in the best way to give a semblance of drama. The plaintive “잠들고 싶어 (We Fell)” is a verse-chorus combination that repeats. Despite the absences, you get the point behind the songs; though simple, the production and instrumentation belies a complexity that the lyrical structure does without. This sleight of hand is difficult to pull off, and Shin Seol Hee and her team deserve praise for accomplishing this feat.

The other ear-grabbing aspect to “After Image” was Shin Seol Hee’s voice. Sure it’s small, but she is skilled at using it to its fullest. The EP is a marriage of vocal showcasing and recognizing the limits therein. Seol Hee isn’t loud or bombastic, but more than makes up for it with tone and expression. The languishing “Last Song” is just her and a piano, with a drone that comes in later. With this spare environment, Seol Hee’s husky voice moves slowly, allowing the song to seep into you. You immerse yourself in her sorrow, aided by the intimacy of her vocal performance. As a song, “Last Song” is beautifully sung and one that has stayed with me since day one.

A full pop song structure isn’t necessary. If you can get your point across without a climax point or a middle eight break, and just a verse-chorus repetition, then more power to you. On “After Image,” Shin Seol Hee does away with the flair of the tried and true template and keeps the songs simple. There is a remarkable level of depth here, with instruments, and their placements, playing big roles in minute ways, as in the cello on “잠들고 싶어 (We Fell)” and the drums on “원 (Circle).” Shin Seol Hee’s voice adds its own silent dramatics, especially on the closing number and the enchanting “Time Goes Fly.” Shin Seol Hee’s “After Image” is a wonderfully constructed 19 minute EP that breathes life in simplicity.

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Contributed to McRoth’s Residence with a focus on Korean indie and hip-hop music.