Back with his first album since guitarist and sub-vocalist Yoon Cheol-Jong’s departure earlier this year, singer, jembe player and now sole member of indie outfit 10cm Kwon Jung-Yeol brings us a sentimental and at times sobering album in “4.0”, composing 8 new tracks (3 of which were released as title tracks) and one instrumental.
As the latest in a very successful series of releases by the indie group, “4.0” has a lot of expectations to live up to, especially since Yoon Cheol-Jong’s departure. While it doesn’t quite exceed the raw genius and vitality of previous releases, such as the unpretentiously titled “1.0”, “2.0” and “3.0”, as well as the hilarious single “What the Spring??”, “4.0” displays a maturity and sombreness not present in their recent songs, appropriate to an album which marks the end of the “old” (and beloved) 10cm, and which heralds the beginning of a new chapter.
The album opens with the gentle and melancholy “Everything”, a soft ballad with a charming and sad melody and pleasantly unobtrusive instrumentation, including what sounds like upright bass and softly brushed drums. It’s a solemn start and a reminder of just how powerful and emotion-filled Jung-Yeol’s singing can be.
Bringing the mood up is the whimsical and fun “pet”, reminiscent of 10cm’s more upbeat and bright acoustic songs such as “What the Spring??” and “Sseudam Sseudam (Caress)”. While “pet” makes for a pleasant listen, it’s not much different from the aforementioned songs and fails to really make a mark in 10cm’s history, especially as a title track; at this point in their career, a song like “pet” is neither surprising nor particularly exciting, if inoffensive. However, it’s certainly a cute song and new and old listeners alike will enjoy this quintessentially 10cm, frolicking song.
Following up “pet” is “Phonecert”, another title track and following the same sprightly, happy-go-lucky vibe as the former. As such, it suffers the same problem, being a little too similar to previous 10cm songs (and indeed “pet”) that it struggles to make much impact. That being said, like “pet”, it’s a well-composed and fun track displaying 10cm’s signature style and sound, with a catchy melody and interesting, unusual lyrics, which both old and first-time listeners can enjoy.
“Stars” takes us back to a more relaxed and sentimental mood, with a quiet acoustic arrangement and soft crooning vocals, giving the impression of listening to an intimate live performance under said stars. While a pretty song, it is however somewhat forgettable, and doesn’t stand up to 10cm’s better stargazing songs, such as “It’s Snowing” or “As So”.
One of the more interesting songs on the album, “HELP” opts for a more fleshed-out band arrangement, with electric guitars and rock drums helping to build a rock ballad sound, not unlike that of Western bands like Stereophonics or U2. While it is not particularly instrumentally interesting in itself, it does provide contrast with the rest of the album, which is mostly acoustic. Along with the pained lyrics and emotional delivery, “HELP” is one of the strongest and most powerful songs on the album.
- Hotel room
This and the next song take us back to the acoustic 10cm sound, full of major chords, light-hearted melodies and playful lyrics. Again, while “Hotel room” is objectively a good song and perfectly listenable, it fails to make much of an impression and blends into the vibe set out by songs like “pet” and “Phonecert”.
“Island” unfortunately falls into the same category, although the addition of the drums and a jazzy instrumental breakdown make for a more textured and entertaining listening experience. Overall, however, it becomes clear by this stage in the album that the lack of Yoon Cheol-Jong’s prowess with the guitar and general instrumental presence is having an adverse effect on the quality of the songs, at least with regards to the instrumental arrangement, variety and their complementarity to Kwon Jung-Yeol’s voice.
All but ending the album is the quiet and peaceful “Pause”, simply arranged with just Jung-Yeol’s whispering voice and an acoustic guitar. Like its name, it provides a welcome break from the energy and frivolity of the album so far and reminds us of the true power of his voice and songwriting to elicit a genuine and emotional response from the listener. While understated, “Pause” has an important and effective role in consolidating the album and drawing it to a close, ending the album on a high and cementing its own place as one of the best songs on the album.
- Phonecert (Instrumental)
Overall, “4.0” is a well-made, highly listenable album, which highlights almost all of 10cm’s established strengths, including their witty lyrics, grasp of both light-hearted and serious songwriting and Jung-Yeol’s vocal ability. Unfortunately, while all the songs are well-made, they lack the instrumental variety and sheer interestingness of previous 10cm songs, which had more instrumental solos, breakdowns and complex guitar accompaniments; in retrospect, these were a voice for Cheol-Jong to add a contrasting element and his own presence to balance Jung-Yeol’s, something which is sorely missed in this album. For this reason, perhaps, songs tend to blend into one another and the album overall struggles to make as much of an impression as previous ones.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of good songs on this album. The bright and cheerful songs may satisfy existing fans’ expectations of consistency, but it’s the more sombre and mature songs like “Pause”, “HELP” and “Everything” which really show 10cm’s development and potential moving forward; hopefully, future releases will realise this potential and continue the chapter that “4.0” has begun.
Review by Vivien W.