Described by the band as the more personal side to their sound compared to Aren’t You’s proclaiming style, I Know, released on Happy Robot Records, explores inner conflict and contemplation from the pressures of the modern world. SURL’s vocalist and guitarist Seol Ho-Seung, guitarist Kim Do-Yeon, bassist Lee Han-Bin, and drummer Oh Myung-Suk round out a sound that remains fresh-faced while also tinged with nostalgia. SURL nevertheless maintains an air of naïveté, while facing the reality of feeling older, lonelier, and more trapped by society.
Since their debut EP Aren’t You? released last December, SURL briefly explored an echo-y HYUKOH-esque sound with their singles “Cilla” and “Dead Man,” perhaps with the notion that these would be better off separate from their next EP. While “Not OK” hints back at this larger atmospheric sound, the band overall takes deliberate steps to deliver a more intimate, self-aware record for their sophomore EP.
Seol’s playful melodies with the band’s meticulous arrangements stick the landing for the most part – “Aloha My Love” is infectiously catchy by gluing youthful, buoyant lyrics to simplistic and formulaic riffs. Seol’s knack for sing-along choruses shine on “Dry Flower,” which details one waiting for a lost lover, painted with a starry-eyed innocence. “Road” laments the passage of time and fears the lack of certainty for the future, while “People” pleads a disregard for others. “Hot Air Balloon,” the EP’s most gorgeous track by far, paints dreamy imagery of escaping everyday life into a rosy sky.
While sticking to their youthful yet melancholy style, SURL has tightened their interlocking structural components to a T – tempo, choruses, solos, and all. While earlier songs like “The Lights Behind You,” “Snow”, and “Cilla” have distinguished SURL’s virtuosic “loner” anthem appeal, I Know pivots from this and turns inward, with a compacted and more exposed sound. Defined rhythms by Oh support coasting melodies and propel the tempo, such as in “People”.
Their departure from their earlier music is apparent and deliberate, but however much more stripped and mature the new EP intends to be, this comes with elevated restraint. While drawing large influence from 60s Brit-rock, the EP consciously holds itself back in fully channeling the essential spirit of the idiom, leaving something more to be desired.
SURL draws in an independent fan base while also garnering fans from the pop sphere. Having won the 2018 ‘Shinhan Card Rookie Project’ and also received support from BTS’s RM, SURL has enjoyed sizeable attention since their debut. Such bands with crossover appeal and an iconic sound (think Jannabi, HYUKOH, The Black Skirts) have expanded foreign audience perception of Korean music beyond K-pop, and SURL appears to be headed in that direction as well. With “I Know,” their transition to a more personal sound is embodied in lyrical maturity. Hopefully they continue to grow into and become more comfortable with their style going forward.
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