Now, I haven’t heard of MYK prior to this release but I’m glad SplashOfInspiration recommended that I listen to and write a review for this album. Michael Y. Kim, going by the pseudonym SALTNPAPER, released an eponymous, alternative/soft rock album that deviated from the hip hop image he originally had with being associated with Epik High. The charming indie folk rock vibe produced by this album sounds rather foreign amidst the electro, bubblegum pop that saturates the k-pop genre and is a welcomed alternative to the mainstream sound. To k-pop fans who are accustomed to dance pop and are giving this album a superficial listen, these tracks can seem to drag on and the energy seemed to be kept at a subdued low. However, if you just take the time to fully appreciate and embrace the sounds of the album, it is one magical journey of a listen.
After the Wreckage
I interpreted this album as a sort of journey of healing. The journey begins with After the Wreckage, an instrumental and ethereal minute-long track in which MYK beckons, “if you’re lost at sea, come with me”, as if the recipient of the message has undergone some sort of tragedy and is stranded, emotionally and/or physically. The somber cello and guitar instrumental mirrors the uncertainty and despondency of a ravaged individual and MYK’s vocals are the helping hands that are trying to pull the individual away from their despair. When MYK exclaims “hey now, hey now” near the end, it is as if he is reassuring that things will be alright and that help has arrived. The brief track concludes with the guitar strumming an optimistic major chord, indicating that the healing process has begun.
Field Day begins with an interesting static sound that sets up the beginning of an acoustic guitar chord progression. The song unfortunately does not go anywhere interesting or conclusive and sounds a tad repetitive by the second half of the song but does a great job of giving the listener additional pieces of the puzzle to the narrative that the album is crafting. A closer look at the lyrics will yield the conclusion that this is a love confession, in which the speaker has been hoping to catch the attention of his or her lover through a window and has conclusively fallen in love. At this point in the album, I realized that the tragedy that “After the Wreckage” alluded to was the wreckage of an individual’s heart. This song signifies an important step in healing which is the recognition of the effects of a tragedy. One must acknowledge tragedy in order to overcome it and this song seems to be a recollection of where the heartbreak all began.
The next song, Hats, continues the narrative as the individual admits the pain of losing his or her love. This track is just stunning to listen to as the dynamic changes combined with the soft rock instrumentation create for an overall powerful effect. This may be because I have a penchant for indie folk music but the English lyrics fit the song a bit better than the Korean lyrics in my opinion. However, regardless of the language, it sounded absolutely wonderful. MYK doesn’t hide the fact that his vocal prowess isn’t legendary, he uses his vocal shortcoming as a strength. The unabashed nature of his voice heightens the sincerity of the track and is reminiscent of American soft rock bands. “No hearts are capable to withstand the pain losing what they thought would remain”, MYK declares as the brokenhearted individual begins to accept the loss of his love.
A piano section opens up the next track, Heart Storm. The subdued guitars in the background help guide the song along to a faster-paced chorus section. The song shifts back and forth between a restrained verse section and a more upbeat chorus as though to adhere to the overall marine theme set up by the very first track in the album. The vocals seem to be drowning and submitting to the flow of the instrumental, similar to how the brokenhearted individual feels so depressed that he or she has given up and submitted to his or her surges of sadness. This is perhaps the song in which the individual finally calls for help, to take on that invitation given out from After the Wreckage.
The oceanic theme becomes much more apparent in the proceeding track as a sample of beach sounds open up Home, leading immediately to an even more mellow piano. The inclusion of polish singer Iza Lach was very much welcomed in this track as it allowed this track to become conversational, as if the brokenhearted is communicating with the heartbreaker and he or she is releasing whatever pent up emotions he or she had bottled up originally. The instrumentation combined with the duo’s vocals made for an extremely melancholy piece and conjured up this cloudy beach image in my mind, the last remnants of a storm. After admitting his or her pain, this song is a way for the brokenhearted individual to find closure as the individual is expressing the remaining desire to be with whoever broke his or her heart and his or her former love is telling him that things will be ok even if they aren’t together and that both of them should move on.
The last two full-length songs of the album both strike a more powerful and optimistic tone. Whereas the past four songs have been through the perspective of the lost individual, Autumn feels like the perspective has shifted to the speaker who was offering a helping hand in “After the Wreckage”. I definitely think that MYK’s vocals shined the brightest in this piece and the vocalization he pulled off were spot on. The folk rock elements in this song made the song much more beautifully peaceful. To me, this track symbolized the healer guiding the ravaged individual out of the tumultuous sea.
The inclusion of rapping was a nice change of pace and Tablo’s raw tone to his rapping really gave this song that extra edge. I felt like this track was the conclusive, feel better finale to the narrative of the album. Tablo plays the role of the brokenhearted individual, who now declares that he will “keep the love” and “keep the loving” despite it all. The track’s final stanza is perhaps the most powerful and appropriately so as it essentially summarizes the overall message that the narrative of the album tried to strive for – “listen to your heart, and it will tell you no lies, even if the days go by slow tides, sometimes it’s a swim to recovery, find the hope inside the subtleties”. The speaker is urging the heartbroken individual and, by extension, us to always keep that light at the end of the tunnel in mind when faced with adversity and that even if progress seems slow, at the very least, you’re making progress and that’s all that matters. Though this song did not blow me away, it was a satisfying, appropriately triumphant conclusion to the narrative of the album.
I think one of the best parts of this album was how hauntingly beautiful the contrast between listening to “After the Wreckage” and Windward is. Windward is identical to After the Wreckage only that, instead of MYK providing the vocals, Iza Lach gets to shine one last time on the album. The inclusion of Iza Lach’s vocals in Windward makes a substantial difference as her vocals have a lighter, ethereal quality to it and I can’t help but be blown away by the differences in my reaction to the first song of the album to the last. It was as if I went on the journey as well and Windward was my welcome home fanfare; as if we, as the listeners, have also been pulled away from the tumultuous sea and we have essentially come with whoever the speaker is and have returned to land. The speaker reassures the now healed individual that regardless, in the future, should he or she ever become lost at sea again, he or she will always have someone to bring him or her back to land. It was subtle but in Windward, the lyrics change from “hey now, hey now” to “hey love, hey love”. From here, I can interpret this ending track in two ways. Firstly, this could be that the rescuer has developed an intimate connection with the rescued individual, paralleling how this album in a way allowed for MYK to forge an intimate emotional connection with his listeners. Secondly, it could be that Windward is through the perspective of the person that broke the protagonist’s heart. He or she is reassuring him or her that despite their current status, he or she will also always be there to guide him or her out of the sea. The album regardless ends on a conclusive and optimistic note and I can’t help but feel calm and at peace after that last chord is strummed emphatically.
I could have just misread the entire album and went too far with my AP English analysis on it but I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why I liked this album. It gave me a narrative and this showed me that the album was cohesive. It had a theme and remained true to it throughout the album. There was a progression of emotions and energy; so much so that there was a noticeable difference in how I felt about two versions of the same song, with one sounding more wistful and painful when played at the beginning of the album and one more conclusive and optimistic when played at the end of the album. The indie folk and soft rock elements were very welcomed to my dance pop saturated ears. While MYK may not be the most vocally gifted vocalist out there, he certainly knows how to capitalize on the features that he have. I think the one word that comes to my mind if I’m ever asked to describe this album in one word would be comforting because I think that’s the main tone of the album. The album essentially asserts that even after the wreckage, one can still stand up and come back and that there will always be someone to help you out. That message I think is what makes this album special and why I think of this album as comforting.
Just listen to the damn album, especially when you’re having a bad day.