Ahn Ye Eun is an artist who has long intrigued me with her unique voice and often dramatic soundscapes. The first track of hers that caught my attention was “Same Thought,” a single from 2017 which still remains an all-time favorite track of mine.
She had somehow slipped from my mind after O, her 2018 album – but when I saw her name on the pre-release tracklist for HEIZE’s HAPPEN, I was extremely excited. Having become obsessed with her all over again, I went to her Spotify and found something very interesting: two EPs released during 2021, with very similar titles and cover art.
The EPs are, as I expected when first seeing them, inextricably linked, with To The Island providing the “Prologue” and From The Island, the “Epilogue.” These halves of a whole come together in a unique listening experience.
In many ways, both EPs feel to me almost like a musical or an opera. Their overwhelming drama and storytelling lend to a stage setting; and this is no coincidence, as you’ll see later. However, to get the full picture, both of these EPs must be heard together, beginning to end – although they both can stand strongly on their own in terms of listenability.
To The Island opens with a dramatic instrumental track on piano, Prologue, which sets the tone for the entirety of the journey to and from the island. It is at times heavy and chaotic, but also uplifting, like the waves of the ocean. “Beginning” then starts seamlessly, adding strings and drums for an energetic edge. The lyrics, unsurprisingly, are about the start of spring and an upcoming journey across the sea. A wind instrument makes a brief appearance in an instrumental bridge, which gives almost a mysterious and wistful twist to the song.
“Sailing” is the title track for To The Island, and for good reason. The song has been stuck in my head for weeks now, with its blend of synth and traditional instruments. Its energy is infectious, making it truly feel like the fresh beginning the lyrics speak to.
It’s dramatic, heavily layered, and unendingly lively, with Ahn Ye Eun’s belting vocals somehow still outshining even the loud brass featured. “Voyage,” then, is much more somber and bare-bones, featuring only a piano. Ahn Ye Eun’s vocals truly shine here as she sings about the fear that comes with nightfall – uncertainty about the choice to leave for somewhere new, in the aftermath of a great adrenaline rush.
The EP comes to a close with “Shipwreck,” which opens a bit discordantly before settling into a jazzy number that belies its frightful lyrics. As the title suggests, things have gone horribly wrong for the voyager who can now see their demise right before them. The instrumental continues long after Ahn Ye Eun’s voice is gone.
“Far, far away” is a very different opener than To The Island’s Prologue. Its lyrics are much more abstract, and its sound more fleshed out. It feels like there’s something looming just around the corner in the journey, and that our narrator has changed for the time being. Could these be the words of the “sea god” to whom the voyagers prayed in Beginning?
“The Word,” this EP’s title track, opens with the cawing of seabirds before any instruments enter the picture. Percussion heavy but with chiming melodies interspersed, this track, too, is enigmatic. The music video exemplifies this perfectly, and the only certainty that can be found is the lurking danger. Whatever choice the voyager makes next, whether to go or to stay, their fate is uncertain. Other, unexpected voices fill out the chorus, backing Ahn up.
“Nothin’” is perhaps the most unique and intriguing track between the two EPs. Largely acapella, with some synthy autotune added, it’s unlike anything else I’ve heard from Ahn Ye Eun. She’s a choir all her own, an unearthly chorus singing of a long-past history and our unfortunate voyager, left all alone “half dead.” (As someone who adores Ahn’s vocals, this track is honestly like a little slice of heaven for me!)
Then there’s “Door,” unexpectedly peppy but also mirroring various elements of Sailing, which seems to be speaking almost to the audience. It almost breaks the fourth wall, talking about the story spun across these two EPs. Despite that bright facade, though, something dark still seems to be lingering in the background; the tragedy of the journey.
Ahn’s vocals are exceptionally strong here, and with the right listening environment, you can almost imagine her on a stage, belting out the last lines dramatically so powerfully a microphone wouldn’t be necessary.
The two EPs come to an end with “Epilogue,” another piano solo that switches gears unexpectedly with a loud, low drum, the main riffs from various songs accompanied by applause. You can imagine characters taking their bows as the audience begins to clap in time with various versions of the songs we’ve already heard.
Even without the added visuals of the two music videos, it’s simple enough to view in your mind’s eye the picture that Ahn Ye Eun is painting for her audience. I’ve come away from these two EPs feeling as though I’ve just watched a musical, complete with an intermission (in this case, an intermission from April to November of 2021) and an opportunity to applaud Ahn’s efforts. If you’re looking for something unique, dramatic, and spellbinding to herald in the new year, look no further than To The Island and From The Island.