Hello there, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve had my little freak-out moment about some of my favorite music. It’s fitting that I’d make my illustrious comeback with the second artist in the series.
Let me just put it out there so there’s no confusion: DEAN doesn’t release bad music. There are songs that aren’t necessarily as good as others. There are even songs that many consider his best that I’m just not that fond of (looking at you, “What 2 Do”). But his discography is one of the most solid if not surprisingly small I’ve heard from contemporary Korean artists.
So when he released another English-language track ahead of his (still) long-awaited follow-up to “130 Mood : TRBL,” it’s safe to say I was elated.
The second single from the mercurial singer’s sophomore album, “Howlin’ 404” is, for lack of a better phrase, a masterpiece.
Now before you get trigger happy and call me a delusional fangirl, you have to understand something about DEAN. He’s always trying to find ways to elevate his musicality. While his bestie Crush is more keen to work with live instruments and some jazz conventions, DENA looks toward more contemporary (and by virtue more technology-driven) influences. With that, you get a mixture of the acoustic soul of Daniel Caesar with the heavy bass and metallic twine of trap and moody hip hop-tinged R&B.
“Howlin’ 404” is heavy with feedback. A symbol of the warped and twisted phases of love. The inconsistency, the fear, the turmoil of being stuck in an endless “loop” of guessing. His voice is drenched in thick fuzz filters as he drowns in his own melancholy. It’s quite ironic that the only time his voice is actually clear is when he laments being lost in “the void,” the empty space of his own emotions that are both clouded and heightened with desire and need. It’s in these moments of vocal clarity that he proclaims he just can’t keep himself straight, he can’t be sober.
It’s DEAN’s penchant for both metaphor and imagery that makes this song so unbelievably delectable. The track opens with the ending entreaty from early-1930s radio thriller series “Lights Out,” in which our narrator advises, “If you frighten easily, turn off your radio now.” (This iteration of the intro most likely came from the October 1942 episode titled “Revolt of the Worms.”)
This haunting plea to the faint of heart plays into the idea of impending darkness. The fact that it comes from a radio serial is even more intriguing. Consider the notion of our protagonist being “stuck in a loop.” What’s more reliable than a radio or television series? Until, of course, it goes off the air. Then what? Just like the cliffhanger of a grizzly radio horror, love can leave us suspended between two realities.
Even the song’s title suggests being stuck, broken, incapable of moving on to what’s next. A bug in the system. A ghost in the machine. Perhaps the only way to get out is to scream at the top of your lungs.
DEAN acts out this idea of the howling, a vocal cry of pain, fear and for the need of something/someone familiar. His vocal performance here is smart. While many might just consider this the natural cadence of his voice, they’re missing the micro-imagery here. Yes, he has been known to let his voice lilt, the softer shades of his tone prevailing most often. But the way he effortlessly bends each note to the pitch of an animalistic wail is truly a brilliant play on something that comes easily for him. It speaks to the strength of the higher end of his vocal range.
The repetition of the main distorted bass throughout the song (even in the more acoustic aspects of the song) gives tangible substance to the idea of falling into a loop. A never-ending spiral into more and more darkness. Everything is heavy, crushing, relentless.
This is what makes this song so damn incredible and why I will continue to rally behind DEAN’s musical vision and the time it takes him to realize it. His next project, whether it be a full-length project or another EP, is going to really give us an indication of his mental and emotional struggles over the past couple years. But it will also allow us to see just how he puts those trials and struggles into his art.
I can’t wait!