This month the late Kim Jonghyun’s anticipated album “Poet | Artist” was issued, and quite frankly, almost every other K-pop release so far this year was blown out of the water. Recorded and prepared before the SHINee member and soloist passed away last month, “Poet | Artist” serves as a magnificent testament to Jonghyun’s identity as a singer and a composer. Like, heck, it’s so good. I would even go as far as to say it’s his best album, and that’s saying something, as I previously thought albums like “Story Op. 2” couldn’t be topped. “Poet | Artist” solidifies his lissome, enigmatic brand of R&B with a number of songs that move at a relaxed pace while exploring the possibilities of texture and composition.
Title track “Shinin’” is as compositionally creative as any of SHINee’s best work, moving between funk-tinged chords at a light-footed pace. The vocal melody is characterized by this mesmerizing pattern of loops, where Jonghyun repeats the same notes and intervals but in new, reinvented rhythms. This composition takes shape in an intricate soundscape, dotted with slightly tropical percussion and glazed with effervescent synths that roll in and out of the forefront of the audio to create an animated sense of dynamic not only between verses and choruses, but within measures themselves. Sonically, it’s just a treat.
It is Jonghyun’s delivery that makes the song, though. Take, for instance, that moment in the prechorus where he’s crooning one of those insistently spiraling melodies, and is suddenly interrupted by his own voice speaking a single word an octave lower. He then repeats the melody and at the end incorporates the same word into the tune itself. That’s, like, hyper-catchy. Jonghyun’s vocals, which have always been superior, are particularly lovely in the chorus, where he delivers silky high notes like little drops of honey within the words “you, you, you.”
Out of the other 10 tracks on the full-length album, I hardly know which songs to highlight. Every song’s a highlight. Among my favorite moments on the album are the tangible sense of urgency in “Only One You Need” constructed by the heady composition and galloping beat; the vocal layering of the laid-back hook in “#Hashtag”; the way the rhythm play in the instrumental of “Grease” meets Jonghyun’s staccato delivery of the melody; the gossamer vocals that at times feel as if they’re soaring off into the sky on the dramatic “Take the Dive”; the pure jam-along-ability of the brilliantly crafted melody and instrumental of “Sightseeing,” especially that multifaceted hook; the elusive, dreamy “Rewind” with its bizarre telephone noises and whistling; the acoustic guitar-based rhythm of “Just for a Day”; the shimmering composition of “I’m So Curious” as well as the distortions applied to soundbites of the chorus towards the end of the song; and the classic, slightly jazzy atmosphere of “Sentimental.” I have to give due credit to “Before Our Spring,” perhaps the most moving track on the album. The song’s composition and delivery radiate this pure, whole sense of sincerity. Sadness and hope coexist in this song, not side by side but as one entity. It’s so beautiful that it’s hard to describe.
Obviously, this is not so much an appraisal of an album’s strengths and weaknesses as it is an opportunity to admire the latest installment in Jonghyun’s immeasurable legacy. But even if it had felt appropriate to write a review, not a single word you see above would have been different. The album is just a masterpiece. I’m grateful to Jonghyun for this gift and for devoting his life to music, because the world of K-pop would not be the same without him.
Take a look at Jonghyun’s “Shinin’” MV below: