Two years after his debut — a time filled with infrequent singles and smaller EP releases, Insta-stories about his work in the studio, the passing of his father and moving from JYP’s neglected daughter label Studio J to friend Jay Park’s latest endeavor H1GHR MUSIC — G.Soul returns with his latest EP “Circles.” From the work on this album, it’s obvious this was a project of passion, introspection and a great deal of heartache for the enigmatic vocalist.
“Tequila” was almost an obvious choice for a lead single. All elements combined — from the collaborator to the musical composition — it’s the perfect amalgamation of everything currently making waves in South Korea’s music scene. The track has the obligatory moombahton foundation, a genre whose stock has risen dramatically over the last year in South Korea among the most popular groups. Though certainly on-trend G.Soul is no stranger to subgenres of House music, as evidenced by the smattering of releases subsequent to his long-awaited debut.
The focus isn’t so much on the music. It is and always has been when it comes to G.Soul the voice and the lyrics, both of which he delivers powerfully even when not solely focused on power singing. Hoody’s presence in the track oddly strikes a decent balance between G.Soul’s raspy tenor, seeming to counterbalance the more textured layers of his voice. It’s very rare in my experience that male and female voices not only compliment each other but also work as extensions of themselves. If one weren’t familiar with Hoody or G.Soul and didn’t notice this was a collaboration, it’s not a stretch to believe they’d think they’re one in the same. Hoody’s soprano is almost completely in line with G.Soul’s falsetto. Their vocal performances are a perfect match, which only adds to the mythos of one-time lovers mixing bodies as naturally as the bartender mixes their drinks. He claims he’s “not that lonely to love you,” and she understands this sentiment, claiming, “I think I need someone … Just keep me company tonight.” Working in tandem, minds on the same endgame — mixing for an evening, then going their separate ways.
2. “Bad Habit”
Of course, a night of reckless frivolity leads to reflection. “Bad Habit” sees G.Soul still in the club, trying to convince his newest conquest (because make no mistake, he’s trying to tame a lonely beast with liquor and companionship) to forget about a boyfriend who hasn’t shown up: “Who waits for boyfriends these days? Just have another drink. I know. I understand you.” His random encounters seem to be his way to distract himself and those around him from the suffering he may be going through. He proclaims, “I just wanna dance,” as if that were going to erase whatever it is gnawing at his guts (not just the worm wriggling there after the last sip from a bottle of Cuervo). He openly admits to pursuing someone already attached, that as he continues to drink his worst habits reveal themselves. The music is certainly more flirtatious: a smooth guitar, egg shaker and high-pitched manipulation of fingersnaps (perhaps to emulate the clinking of bottles and shot glasses). One is left to wonder if this is some form of punishment, a self-loathing covered under the guise of his playboy tendencies.
3. “One More Interlude”
As our protagonist finally takes a moment to set the bottle down, his melancholy gets the best of him, producing interlude “One More.” It’s simple, a man who’s very obviously drowning in his pain. He implores the barkeep (or whomever is in his presence at the time), “Just pour me one more drink, and I’ll be fine.” And as an afterthought, perhaps muffled under liquor-stained breath so no one will hear him, he whispers, “I’m drinking all my pain away.” A thirty-second moment of reflection when he sits down and lets the room spin around him.
The third single from the album, “Can’t,” takes a different approach to composition than what G.Soul has offered us musically thus far. Quite frankly, it’s a vocal master class, mixing the more elaborate intricacies of his vocal range with a subtler, softer approach to his delivery. Within this one song G.Soul taps into almost every part of his range. At his lowest depths, he reaches for a baritone note, though huskily as if touching the bottom of his soul. At his highest his falsetto soars, even though he sits deceptively in head voice. I say “deceptive” because he’s very capable of producing those notes in his chest for a perfect falsetto. But he takes the time to explore his voice’s wispiest textures.
The mellow ’90s groove of a guitar and simple beat gives him license to deliver a breathy, more overtly sensual shade to his performance. But at the song’s climax, a man’s proclamation that he can’t get over the one that touched him so deeply, the beat becomes more intricate as does the desperation in his delivery — transposing his almost shy falsetto atop his fuller, more declarative tenor. His soul seems to reconcile the need for his lover with the realization that she may not be coming back, the multiple layers of his voice slowly fading as a mournful piano chord progresses ever downward to a soft echo.
Then comes the sound and fury of title track “Circles.”
The song doesn’t give you a moment to breathe. As soon as the initial vocal manipulation introduces the song, G.Soul bursts in with all the fire and passion he’s been known to display in both song and stage. It’s as if we’re in the middle of a storm, a torrential tempest, wind whipping hair and clothes about. Then suddenly right between the etches of ice, rain and wind, we see a figure screaming at the sky, issuing a challenge to Mother Nature. This is a man’s struggle to let go of someone who obviously feeds his soul, begging anyone who’ll listen to explain to him, “Why’s it so hard to leave?”
The song is a hurricane, a test in both restraint and the edges of insanity. At its quietest, it’s a yearning prayer, a moment to reflect away from the torment, a minor third mezzo forte that slots between the endless raging forte that drives it. Taking cues from “Excuses,” the song acts as the penultimate proclamation of who he is and where he stands. However, unlike its predecessor, “Circles” manages to maintain an ardor that somewhat fizzles in “Excuses.” The sound doesn’t linger; there’s a definitive end. But the image of this man’s tormented heart is imprinted on the listener even as the last song begins.
6. “Found You”
Giving nods to his House inclinations, he offers track “Found You” as the final note. Musically this is Soho House at its finest, piano the driving force behind the soulful synth, which transforms into the pulsating thumpa-thumpa of a drum machine. This is the solitary joyful spot in the entire album as if a preview of a future he didn’t think would come, that is before this newest lease on life entered his world.
It reminds me a bit of the closing notes of Jamiroquai’s “A Funk Odyssey.” Track “Picture of My Life” chronicling Jay Kay’s spiral into depression, only to take a pause, then open on a London House dance outro where he proclaims, “It feels so good just to feel.” After a time of immense darkness, G.Soul has found the sun once again, leading one to think perhaps his next endeavor will show him progressing through his heartache in more constructive ways.
“Circles” is more than an EP. There’s obvious pain in every single corner of this piece. It’s an endless bender, G.Soul “drinking [his] pain away” in an attempt to deal with the agony that seems to never leave no matter how much he tries to purge it from his limbs. (“Why’s it so hard to leave?”) In story and scope, it’s unquestionably his most personal work of art. Musically, however, it’s less self-indulgent than “Coming Home” but with so much … more in volume than anything he’s released since. Though I want to do nothing but praise the work for what it is, ultimately my hope is whatever demon has possessed him, whatever pain has held him captive for so long that he attempted to exorcise it with his music has finally left him and he can get some peace. “Found You” gives me hope this is the case.
A brilliant piece of work that’s hard to listen to without becoming just as affected by whatever ghosts linger within its digital walls.