Lee Gikwang – ‘ONE’ Review

It has been a rough road for Highlight for the past year. After leaving Cube Entertainment, they had to change their group name (which was Beast) as they no longer had rights to it. Having to start afresh, they rebranded themselves as Highlight and started their own company, Around Us Entertainment. While it is unfortunate that they had to change to a different name, but to be optimistic, it signals a new era in their career, bringing along with it new music and albums. To be even more optimistic, they can focus on their solo activities better, something Cube Entertainment, in my opinion, miserably failed at doing. After Junhyung released a single in May, Gikwang released a new mini album just a few days ago, becoming the second member of Highlight to release solo material under their new company. Let’s see how it sounds!

One screams “indie music”, with its minimally embellished melodies and generally muted sound reminiscent of artists under independent labels. This is a great alternative if you just don’t find the highly manufactured and polished nature of mainstream K-pop attractive. I like that despite branching out into other genres, One remains loyal to its roots in R&B. I wouldn’t say Gikwang’s singing voice is bad, but it’s rather unique as compared to your typical K-pop vocalist. His voice is raspy and deep, but he is able to bring a passionate and sincere flavor to his music over here. And what amazes me even more is that he is able to bring a different flavor to each individual song.

What You Like is rapid fire on the ears; truly the way to kick off the album with a boom. Which also means that it is the best option for title track. While ballads might be good options for title tracks, they might not best represent the artist singing it. This fast-paced, hard-hitting tune is definitely able to do so for Gikwang. Sticking to current trends in American music, it features the use of tropical sounds to create a sensual vibe. Also, this song is extremely catchy and can get you up and moving. I absolutely hate that I can’t the chorus out of my head despite trying really hard. I would have liked if it was more unique and genre-bending, though. But for now, I would like to start the day off, each morning, listening to this.

Dream is my pick for best song on the album. Psychedelic from start to finish, it piques your senses with a variety of sounds, from the sound of water drops to the sound of trap-influenced synths. Luizy’s rap feature is successful in adding on to the lovey-dovey mood that is present in most of the song. It is the most aurally pleasing song on the album, and it crosses a few genres in just a few minutes (successfully), so that’s why I am particularly impressed with it.

The rest of the songs can be considered as hidden gems, being another option if you do not like the hype and energy of the title track.

One, the namesake of the album, is a laid-back R&B track with a dash of mainstream pop sprinkled onto it. The quiet, unassuming verses are a satisfying contrast to the emotional climax that is the chorus. The different genres featured in this song somehow manage to blend into each other without seeming awkward, so huge props to the producers for that. Oh Hey Yeah has a muffled, low-quality sound, making it sound more like a song from an indie artist than the other tracks on the album. There is a feeling of melancholy to it, as Gikwang sounds less energetic over here than the previous tunes, but the dynamic, rapidly progressing melody seems to suggest otherwise. It is, overall, a nice ballad that is sandwiched between the more bouncy tracks. Look at Me Now is one of the less complicated songs, largely consisting of drawn-out synthesizers, so his voice is the main thing this song depends on. There is a groovy feel to this song, but certainly not enough to get you dancing full out. It is a song that you can fall sleep to, and I don’t mean it in a bad way. It lulls you to sleep because it feels cool and soothing, and it definitely won’t bore you to sleep.

I have mixed feelings for Trick; it has an unexpected song progression (the chorus sounds amazing), but the excessive autotune is what throws me off. I am okay with slight autotune being used for artistic and creative purposes, or to help add to the mood of a song, but over here, it’s just too much. And the excessive autotune is placed in a really bad place, smack in the middle of the song in the chorus, the highlight of the song (no pun intended). It would have been better if the chorus featured more of his sultry vocals. But otherwise, I actually like the song, but due to this mistake, I don’t like it as much as i could be. I also don’t feel too good about Only U. Being the only true ballad on the album, it’s also the slowest. Unfortunately, it is also the most traditional song. It doesn’t make any groundbreaking innovations, it sticks within the limits of its genre. Nevertheless, it is an appropriate ending to the album as it is soft and gentle on the ears.

To tie things up, One is a stellar example of good solo music. It brings the best out of Gikwang’s voice, and has enough variety in its music to keep the listener interested in listening. I can’t wait for his next solo release if they are going to be good at this one.

Overall rating: 8/10

What’s very hot: Dream

What’s hot: What You Like, One, Oh Hey Yeah, Look at Me Now

What’s in the middle: Trick, Only U

 

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