SALTNPAPER is rapper MYK’s alter ego, leaning more towards folk and rock with heavy British influences. His new, all-English album More Than Just Circles showcases an active combination of the two personas. The tracks in this album are also very deliberately ordered to go through a cycle of not just sentiments in lyricism but also soundscapes, spanning genres across time and continents. The oddly symmetrical album cover also hints at this structure.
“GRVS (Prologue)” features SALTNPAPER rapping over a simple piano loop, musing about relationships and senses of identity. This track seems to be self-referential, the rapper speaking to himself about his “broken symmetry” and “true colors.”
The second track “Weatherman” brings in the familiar melancholy folk characteristic of SALTNPAPER. The subby bass, piano, acoustic guitar, and groovy drums play along a deceptively lighthearted melody. The lyrics, on the other hand, convey a wry sense of hope in the midst of dejection, as an “outcast” always looking for the best “forecast.”
The synths mingling with guitar arpeggios in the beginning of the third track “Shine” is reminiscent of a subdued version of Lilly Allen’s effervescence, but the track soon takes a deeper turn towards the British invasion as the drums come in and the guitar riffs change. Towards the end, the track feels almost like an homage to John Lennon’s “Instant Karma.”
“Fire” is a point of transition, the simpler arrangement of just a piano and a voice directing attention to the lyrics. While the album’s initial three tracks seem to convey a speaker in the process of recuperation after a loss, “Fire” has almost cinematic lyrics depicting the phase of pain coming before the recovery.
“Ashes” is coupled with “Fire” expressing similar emotional phases, this track focusing more on feelings of regret. The drum machine and strings, combined with the sentiments expressed by the lyrics (especially the rapping), make this track seem like something from an early Epik High album. That SALTNPAPER used to work closely with Epik High as MYK in the early 2000s gives even more strength to this comparison.
The title track of this album, “Dreams,” is the second point of transition in this album. The mix of synth pop and blues elements, in addition to lyrics about being addicted to dreamlike love, makes this track the most approachable of the album.
Following “Dreams” is a series of love songs. “Alchemist” goes bluesy folk but with groovy drums, singing of everlasting love. Lyrics like “We will never know fear” are especially poignant because of the songs that came before that sang of what comes after love. It starts to become clear what SALTNPAPER means when he says in his album description, “All things end and must pass, yet all things are everlasting.”
Interestingly, the instrumentals and composition of “Baby Boy” sounds like something from K-pop R&B in the early 2000s except with syncopated drums, while the next track “Paean” turns its hymn-like introduction with organs into an Ed Sheeran-esque folk rock. These tracks continue to express lyrics that fall within the spectrum of love.
Emotions get complicated as tracks like “Time” brings back an analog instrumental soundscape similar to that of “Shine” while lyrics express longing for someone not around. Coming after the backward narrative progression of recovery – loss – love throughout the album, this track seems to lead into an alternate universe instead of backtracking to go back to the starting point.
“Run Don’t Walk” not only features Big Phony in the vocals but also in the songwriting, lyrics, and arrangement. The minimal arrangement of just a guitar and voice singing about the moment of unwanted but inevitable parting expresses sentiments both similar and different from tracks like “Ashes” or “Fire.” The “broken symmetry” mentioned in the prologue track begins to make sense.
The sense of longing is fully explored in the final few tracks of the album starting from “Fall Back Into You.” The track starts with a keyboard interlude that foreshadows the chorus part of the track before the drums introduce an instrumental development common among Korean indie rock bands, especially with the clean electric guitar. The chorus brings Britrock influences into this mix, strongly evoking Oasis.
With just his voice and a guitar, SALTNPAPER wonders about things left behind in “Other Side,” while the final track “Black Romance” again uses guitar-heavy Britrock language in the instrumentals to express a sense of hope oddly parallel to that in “Weatherman.”
More Than Just Circles feels very self-referential, personal to the point of making it seem like the debut album of a superstar singer-songwriter. The lyrics, structure, and compositions all hint at sentiments never clearly explained. This album probably means a lot more to SALTNPAPER himself than it does to the unsuspecting listener.