I will be the first to admit that I did not care for leeSA Wiv Hcube, which I thought did not blend the R&B and singer-songwriter elements very well. I enjoyed her original songs, but her covers didn’t quite hit home with me. Her latest album, however, puts all of my worries to rest.
Leaning more on her singer-songwriter laurels, leeSA brings a unique voice to some great melodies with powerful emotional beats. There is a huge pop influence to her sound, not surprising since she previously covered Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida,” and she has no trouble tapping into that here. The R&B element is still very present, but it’s tamed and blends in much better than before. The acoustic guitar may be her signature instrument, but it’s always surrounded by a full band and in some cases traded for an electric guitar.
The easy stand-out for me is “Could You Stop That Smile” which also represents the album’s sound in a microcosm – breezy pop hooks that that could sweep you off your feet if they weren’t emotionally grounded. The striking refrain, “Wake up, darling / Come on, I can’t stand it anymore / There’s a limit to my patience / Could you stop that smile?” bites under an upbeat, almost flirty melody. The rest of the album may not be so conveniently English, but the song titles reveal pieces of meaning (“Hide & Seek” and “Stressed Out”), and some of the melodies are more overtly wistful (“사람들은” and “집으로 가는 길”).
When the lyrics aren’t as easily understandable for anglophones, leeSA succeeds thanks to her fantastic ear for pop hooks. “Stressed Out,” for instance, has a great loud/quiet interplay between the chorus and the verses, and “Veranda” is just straight-forward foot-tapping catchy. As usual, because I am a sucker for powerful closing tracks, “집으로 가는 길” comes out as one of the best on the album for how cinematic it feels with the inclusion of strings and leeSA’s determination to sing like it’s her last breath.
Despite not being a fan of her previous material, Where Is leeSA? has emerged as one of my favorite albums of the year. leeSA has always had great vocals, but here she has found her voice and created a strong album full of confidence and impeccable melodies.