It’s famously tough following up a successful debut and Park Hye Jin’s 2018 EP If You Want It certainly garnered plenty of praise from those in the know. It crystallised much of what she had been experimenting with as a DJ and rapper, honed within the underground club scene of Seoul’s Itaewon district.
Her second EP How Can I was released in June on Ninja Tune, an appropriate home for this emerging artist since the founders, Coldcut, were credited as pioneers of the eclectic mix of genres and techniques that she has become proficient at and continues to push boundaries with. Comprising six tracks developed throughout 2019 as Park travelled the globe for the first time, it is very much a stylistic evolution from her earlier work; there is now more of a cosmopolitan element, albeit still primarily with Korean lyrics interspersed with English phrases.
The opening track “Like This” is a catchy upbeat dance tune that has a light fresh house style with a four-on-the-floor beat under a gentle repetitive vocal and smattering of soft drops throughout. There is an underlying relationship narrative being established here as Park coos in Korean, ‘I like you, I like you’. At first listen it’s reminiscent of Lali Puna’s 2003 Left Handed EP. “Can You” then offers a monotonal vocal with the imploring core lyric ‘can you be my baby’ over electronic sounds and a soft keyboard melody. A strong underlying beat provides a pulse as the more strident and angst-ridden lyrics ‘I love you and I fucking hate you’ finally kick in.
The title track “How Can I” has more focus on the largely repetitive vocal refrain ‘how can I call you back’, a softer beat and an altogether more ethereal feel from echoes and soft keyboard. There is a sense of losing touch in the continuing relationship story. “NO” is a more tribal, trance-like offering with a syncopated rhythm, percussive sounds and repetitive and monotonal chant of ‘shut the fuck up’ clearly announcing her frustration with where things are at.
“How Come” brings a sense of anxiety and urgency into play through fast percussive layered sounds and an increasing tempo. The predominantly house style has a faster beat than other tracks, complemented by some ethereal keyboard echo and quiet speech vocal over the top. The final track “Beautiful” opens with lots of echo and a relaxing melody over a soft beat, which becomes increasingly percussive with a more chaotic rhythm, very faint vocals, and a strong positive beat that enters halfway through. There is a sense of acceptance and closure as the track fades out at the end.
Some comparisons will inevitably be made with Brooklyn-based Korean-American artist Yaeji and her mixtape What We Drew released earlier this year, since it straddles a similar melange of clubby trance dance oriented electronica. But How Can I is distinctive enough and shows Park is beginning to develop her own oeuvre, the EP offering experimentation and a growing confidence that establishes her as more than just an emerging talent.
Image © Hyo Young Choo