[Album Review] SOUL-RI, ALi: A Polished Gem

Amongst all the controversy surrounding ALi’s album track ‘Nayoungie’, the song which she wrote for the rape victim going under the pseudonym ‘Nayoung’, and following her recent confession of having been raped back in 2008, I actually decided to check out her album. And I am impressed, I am impressed beyond belief. And I hope that the negative reception the song ‘Nayoungie’ recieved doesn’t take away from how people perceive the album as a whole.

ALi isn’t a singer, she is a sanger. She has a rich, beautiful and unique voice, and skills and technique which allow her to pull off vocal runs and belt it like her life depends on it. Basically, the sky is the limit when it comes to what singers like her are capable of (well, to be honest. The sky and her at times grating vocals — but I’ll get into that later). However, in most cases with singers with as much talent as she has, they tend to box themselves into the one genre of ballads — and that’s okay if that is what they love singing. But just know, that if the majority of their solo discography is made up of ballads, well, their music just won’t find a fan in me (why yes, I am looking at your KRY, Jaejoong, IU, and whosays).

ALi in ‘SOUL-RI’ however, breaks out of that box. While her material isn’t exactly the stuff pop is made out of, the way her last single ‘Hey Mister’ was, she takes a different approach. In this album ALi dabbles in a mixture of pop, ballads, RnB and jazz inspired tunes, the instrumentals are laid back and let her vocals carry the melodies. And the melodies — some of the melodies are beautiful. They’re listless and while they don’t strike you over the head with a hammer, they’re pleasant to the ears and command attention in the subtlest of ways.

The opening track ‘핑핑글‘ is simplicity in it’s best form. With only a piano to accompany her, ALi shows off her voice by pushing, running, and belting during this jazzy little opening number. Although a song like this could easily become redundant, ALi has a interesting enough timbre, and her singing is soulful enough to carry it. The only problem is at some points ALi’s vocals become almost strenuous on my ears, with no dynamic instrumental to dilute her, ALi’s raw voice can become a bit too piercing at certain points of the song.

첫 인사‘ starts of with a soaring and dramatic string section, but quickly dissolves itself into the laid back RnB song we find out it to be. ALi delivers smooth vocals on top of a dynamic instrumental. And my, is it dynamic, we see little interjections of electric guitar and violins — little things our ears almost miss if not listening too closely. The chorus is simple and wistful, with ALi’s adlibs merely adding the drama to an otherwise rather chill number.

Don’t Act Countrified‘ feat Junhyung of BEAST was an intelligent choice for a title track. It has a beautiful melody, one that isn’t easily forgettable. My favourite part of the song, and why I believe it’s a good choice for public consumption, is the lack of belting and vocal gymnastics by ALi. While I love her voice, and I adore everything about her delivery. It’d be useless pretending her voice doesn’t become grating to some people’s ears. Here ALi’s adlibs are diluted and they almost blend into the chorus, and are only added when they’re necessary. It comes to show, ALi sounds most gorgeous when she ditches the showy vocals and shows the world how beautiful her voice sounds when carrying a simple melody over a subtle piano line infused in a myriad of light instruments. The highlight of this is the middle eight, where she sounds as close as she’ll ever sound to fragile. All in all, it makes for a beautiful song. Oh, also, Junhyung is in this song. Hi. Can I please have my Hara-baby back? Thanks. Tell her to call me.

ALi’s soul style of singing comes across tastefully in ‘Crazy Night‘. ALi growls and strains through a sound reminiscent of a classy night out. Despite the title it isn’t something you’d play at a nightclub, but it is something you’d see playing across Brittain in the early 2000s.

365일‘ is the ‘ballad’ of the album. While I’m not a big fan of ballads, robbing ALi of one on her first album would be somewhat of a crime. Because she can pull it off, and this isn’t just a piano and violin playing for the most part, the instrumental is soaring — and it’s almost as strong as ALi’s voice, which balances everything out . If this song sounds familiar by the way, that’s because this was I believe, the song she also debuted with. And I blame the choice of debut song the reason she was undercover for so long. This is a beautiful song, and it works great as an album track, but it would be lost in the big bad world of K-Pop if released as her mainstream single.

뭐 이런 게 다 있어‘, if some people haven’t picked up on it yet, is similar to ‘Halo’ during the verses, and during the bridge it becomes similar to ‘Already Gone’ by Kelly Clarkson… which was pretty much a derivative to ‘Halo’ to begin with. Luckily for ALi, I enjoyed both ‘Halo’ and ‘Already Gone’ — so I’m cool with this. The only thing I wish was that there was more than a piano playing for the most of it. The song could have soared the way ‘Halo’ did if it had a heavier instrumental to soar along with the vocals.

The sole up-tempo on the album, ‘뱀파이어‘ while not a highlight, does not make for a bad filler track. The beauty of this is ALi is singing more than a one to two step octave (like most pop songs require their singers to do), but actually sings strongly and fiercely during the bridge and chorus. And, honestly, I always admire up-tempo songs that require their singer to actually… sing. To be honest, this song almost gets lost amongst the album, and if not for ALi’s soulful delivery, it would be a blip in the album’s cohesiveness. Luckily, ALi manages to tie it altogether in a nice package.

Aaand, we are at the controversial song, ‘Na Young’, or ‘나영이‘, and for everybody boycotting ALi demanding she take this song off. Well, I feel bad for them, because this is probably my favourite song of the album, and they’re missing out. And because it’s me, and this is a serious socio-cultural issue, you know I can not let this go without commentary.

The only thing ALi did wrong was name the song ‘Na Young’, I will admit that was a bit careless of her, and while I don’t doubt her intentions, it is not up to her whether or not the rape victim in question wanted such a song like this. Maybe it did ignite painful memories, maybe it didn’t. I don’t know, ALi doesn’t know, and I’m sure ALi could have gotten the message in this song across without having named it ‘Na Young’.

However, some of the comments the netizens are leaving are disgusting. And having ALi repeatedly apologise for it, and then apologise for adding unnecessary information to her apology? As stated, victims have different ways of coping. Maybe ALi’s way of coping was writing a song and finally letting it off her chest. I can only imagine that a rape victim, who has been through such a tragedy, is now having stones hurled at her again for daring to speak up about her rape. Netizens need to learn to shut up when appropriate, stop being so judgmental of everyone, and pull out that stick of self-righteousness out of their- you know what, I won’t go there. I don’t see why ALi should apologise to the public, this isn’t the public’s business. Blaming a rape victim for demeaning the worth of another rape victim? They don’t know her intentions, so they shouldn’t make a judgement about it. I find it hilarious that these netizens think they’re being so righteous in calling out ALi for trying to create a song of comfort, yet in their righteousness they’re throwing blame at another rape victim? Charming.

As for the song itself, I love it. ALi’s vocals are gentle but sang with conviction. Throughout the whole song it’s almost as if ALi is restraining herself. The song’s big climax even sounds held back. ALi’s big ad-lib? It’s faded so that the chorus continues to take the lead. And the chorus doesn’t blow up, instead it has ALi singing the haunting melody. The entire song flows and all the aspects blend into each other. This, tied with the instrumental, the mixture of so many different elements and sounds which stray away from your typical ballad, is what hits home with me. To put it in short, the song echoes, and that’s what makes it almost eerie and what makes it leave such a strong impression on you. Gorgeous song. Stunning. And I hate that it’s being taken off the album.

너로 인해‘ is another one of those really chill RnB ballads, my main issue with this is that for the kind of song it is, the melody isn’t completely engaging. It’s pretty, of course it is. But after being spoilt by a slew of great tracks, I feel a bit underwhelmed. For once I’m on my knee begging for ALi’s vocal runs.

오아시스‘ falls victim to a similar issue. The fact it’s pretty, but for what it is, it isn’t completely as engaging as I’d want it to be. What saves it though is how strong ALi is with her vocals, and how she completely soars during the chorus and middle eight. Her voice grabs the songs out of the pool of nothing special-ness, and holds it high and proud.

The album finishes off with a lighter note with ‘울컥‘. And remember when I said ALi sounds great when she sounds almost fragile? Well, this is almost a whole song of it. Until she reaches that climax and completely lets go. ALi leaves you hanging off every note — and that’s the result of having such an unique and soulful timbre. A voice is half the song, and a good voice can take a song to new heights. ALi proves that with her closing tracks, and the other ballads on this album. And by god, she deserves praise for keeping the likes of ‘apathetic-to-all-that-is-slower-than-SNSDs-Kissing-You’ me interested through all her ballads.

TL;DR
Best Song:
Na Young
Other Favourites:  첫 인사, Don’t Act Countrified, Crazy Night, 365 Days
Quite Good Too:  뱀파이어, 뭐 이런 게 다 있어, 울컥
Worst Song:  너로 인해 went through me.

Rating: 4.3/5

I won’t lie, at times the album does drag. And I can only take so many low-tempos in one go. But it more than makes up for it with the cohesiveness and the beauty of some of these gems, as well as ALi’s golden vocals themselves. Before this it felt like ALi was lost amongst all the other ‘not there’ soloists with talent hiding in the crevices of the K-Pop scene. However, with this album, she has an image, she figures out what works for her. She doesn’t aim to give you the next pop hit, or reinvent things. But what she brings is fresh vocals and a some memorable tunes to take home with you.

I apologise in front about all the Hangul and possible incoherency. I’m typing this at 4:26am and I’m copping out by not finding the translation. I hope this is an actual review over a 4am ramble ._. In the end, I’m glad that ALi is gaining publicity, more through her stint on Immortal Song than the rape thing.

A word on Immortal Song, I like it better like this. I like it better when singers from lesser known companies/bands appear on the show. Yes, Yoseob, Kyuhyun, Jonghyun, IU and Yesung are great — and they were great for bringing in viewers. But the thing is, the world knows that these individuals are filled to the brim with talent. Immortal Song works best with people like Hyorin, those who are otherwise relatively unknown and on the down-low. I mean, how much did Hyorin blow up after Immortal Song? I’m glad ALi seems to be following the same path, because honestly, she deserves it.

Who else I want on Immortal Song?

Jooyi (RaNia), Minah (Girls Day), Minzy (2NE1), Zhang Li Yin.

(By the way, count how many times I used ‘soul’ in there. Harhar. Oh god, why am I here. It’s 4:25am. I have a weeks work of Chemistry due tomorrow at 4pm. Exactly 12 hours from now. And I have done absolutely nothing. Am I a person?)

P.S: I know I haven’t been writing here much, and I am sorry. However, I am always active on Seoulbeats (thought at the moment I am behind my posting schedule >.<), and most of my good work goes there. I decided to post this review here because 1) it was a bit too personal during some points and not very gentle and 2) I wanted to keep my blog alive. I’ll find a way to keep this blog alive, I’ll find things to blog about. What do you guys (if I actually do have any readers, and I’m not being presumptuous) want to see here that you don’t see me write on SB? Before I used to post some commentary on K-Pop culture and the implications of the idol scene, but now that goes to SB as well. And I’m really stumped on what to put here outside of some of my recent flailing and rants. So do you guys have any ideas/specific requests? Please? (As an alternative you guys can shoot me down a single or an artist you want me to discuss, and I can do that in a blogpost).

Also, my formspring is always open for questions, and I answer all of them with my best effort :)

I’m going to renovate this blog in a few days, expect a new page, a new layout (can’t do too much in that sense though, lol, limited themes), a fresh new about page, and the likes. Once again, if you have any suggestions you can say so in the comments or my formspring. I love hearing from readers by the way, and I mean I LOVE it. It makes me feel as though I’m not talking to myself. And I automatically have a bias for people who talk to me (anonymously or not), so feel free to comment. I know I’ve left some comments unanswered the last two months, but that’s because I’ve been so busy with school and the likes — believe me, usually I can write essays as responses. And I’m going to try and regain my old verbose self, so you guys can be sure I’ll have a lot to say if you have a lot to say.

I’m going to stop here because this is coming off rather desperate now. I hope everyone has a good night/morning!

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6 thoughts on “[Album Review] SOUL-RI, ALi: A Polished Gem

  1. Ok here it goes. First thing, I loved the review and almost agree with everything you said. The thing about me is that I do not analysis music as much. The only rule to what I like and don’t like is what sounds good sounds good and what doesn’t sound good doesn’t sound good. As simple as that. and this made the first track Round & Round my least favorite because as you said, her voice became too piercing I couldn’t take it anymore.
    Before I go on, I had a hard time as well finding the titles of the songs in English but I found them so here they are maybe you can change the hangul because it’s too confusing.

    1. Round & Round
    2. The First Greeting
    3. Don’t Act Countrified
    4. Crazy Night
    5. 365 Days
    6. I’ll Be Damned (How could this be?)
    7. Vampire
    8. Na Young
    9. Because of You
    10. Oasis
    11. Sudden Surge of Anger

    okay so I will share my favorites as well

    Best Song: 365 Days (I loved ballads and this one is done so well. my god I love it. and it was the first song that made me wow at first listen to the album because I wasn’t paying attention while listening)
    Other favorites: Crazy Night, Don’t Act Countrified, Na Young, I’ll be damned.
    Quite good too: Vampire, The first greeting, Oasis, Sudden surge of anger and Because of you.
    Worst : Round & Round.

    I applaud Ali for making you listen to this album and love it despite the fact that you’re not a ballad love. She’s amazing and I’m already in love.
    I first heard of her when I listened to LeeSsang’s Ballerino because she features in the song. and when the Na young issue came I remembered her and decided to check her out. and do I regret it, hell no I don’t. I don’t know what’s these natizens’ problem is. It’s such a shame that the song will be removed from the album. and why did she apologize to the public? if she’s going to apologize it should be to the girl and her family and as recently reported on allkpop she met with Na Young’s father and from what he said, he doesn’t seem to be mad or upset. Actually he’s being sympathetic and I appreciate him for doing that. I guess by now, the netizens really need to take that stick out of – you know what. I hope Korea shows her lots of love and support so she can keep going with her music career. She deserve it.

    And about Immortal song2. I’m glad she appears on it and is doing well. I’m going to go check all her other performances there because I can’t get enough of her right now. and I agree with the people you said want to appear on the show especially Rania’s Jooyi. Girl is amazing but needs some exposure out of Rania’s songs. Also, I would like to say Ryeowook. Out of SJ this boy needs the most exposure as a singer. He’s an amazing live performer and I wish he would get a chance to get on the show.

    This is probably the longest kpop related thing I ever wrote aside from my twitter kpop conversation with my sister. Last thing, as for your the last thing you said, anything SJ related you write is always appreciated lol.

    something not ali related: I swear I’m the only person out there who thinks sungmin’s chipmunk voice when he sings live is the most amusing and entertaining thing ever. I know I’m the only one but I had to say it.

    • Oh gosh, I’m no expert analyst in music either! I go by the same thing everyone else does. I like it if it sounds good to me, and I don’t like it if it doesn’t sound good to me.The only thing I do when I write the reviews of mine is elaborate on why it sounds good, or why it falls short. That’s really all I do.

      And thank you for the translations! I really should change the Hangul… I’ll do it tomorrow. Heh :’D

      I agree with you completely on Round and Round, I diluted my distaste in my review — because I knew what she was going for and I empathised with it. But her vocals reached a point where they were shrill and grating, and I hate describing her voice as shrill, but there’s no way around it…

      Well, since you’re a ballad person, I can definitely see why 365 days would appeal to you as such. It really is gorgeous, and it even almost had me enamoured. It looks like for the most part our taste on the album is the same.

      And really, the father forgave her? In that case, I’m even more annoyed. Honestly, netizens love to jump at the chance to completely plummel stars for any wrong they do. And most of the time it comes off as self-righteous, and I have this feeling they do it not for the greater good, but to feel good about themselves as people. Demanding she apologise for her apology? They shouldn’t shy away from such serious issues such as rape. That’s how misconceptions like women ‘asking for it’ are caused, by ignorance and people refusing to talk about such sensetive topics. Whilst I do question ALi’s choice of naming the song, I appreciate she went out of her way to address such a topic, and I can’t believe some people are dissing her for ‘complicating’ the issue by admitting to her own rape. Argh. Biggest pet peeve in the world — annoying netizens. But I will thank them for intriguing me enough to listen to the album, that’s the only thing they’re good for.

      Ryeowook! I love that boy D: And I agree wholeheartedly, out of all of KRY he gets the least hype, and I think he’d have been a better choice for IMS2 over Kyu and Yesung. I’m glad he has his stint on Sukira though… that is something.

      and, lol. I blog about SJ so much man, I feel almost… exclusive. It’s only because they’re the most interesting band for me to contemplate on at the moment since they’ve almost reached their shelf life, and I’m interested on what they’ll do in the future.

      SUNGMIN’S CHIPMUNK VOICE DX NOOOOO!!! God, I WISH it was only love. Any kind of electropop track he gets he just has to chipmunk his lines. Boy was not made to be a pop star, man.

      (also, fail on my part. I wrote this comment AGGEEES AGO. But I didn’t write it in reply to you >.< Just as a separate comment).

  2. I actually love your review and I know it’s one of good music reviews online *coz I do music review for local KPOP magz*

    It’s kinda rare to see anyone would do such review for singers and musicians that don’t do mainstreams like KPOP idols so finding this review is so fascinating. I’m hoping for more music reviews from you :)

    • Aw thank you! But there are a lot more knowledgeable and more eloquent reviewers than me out there :) I just tend to ramble about why I like things.

      Yeah, it’s true. Reviews for artists such as ALi and the little leagues are so rare, which is what pushed me to write this review. Truth be told, I tend to review mostly mainstream artists too — but nothing is stopping me from reviewing gems like these when they do come out ;)

  3. I would like to see your thoughts on zhang li yin since you mentioned her. I think it’s so sad that she’s pretty much thrown away. That girl has a set of pipes that needs to be belting out some songs.

    • My thoughts on Zhang Li Yin? Well, to be honest my thoughts are sort of a mess ;P She has an amazing voice — but she isn’t the hottest bomb live. But I think that can be attributed to her being young and nervous, and who knows, maybe she has improved? It’s been a while since she performed Timeless, I haven’t seen too many of her lives after that. Which is why I want her to go on IMS2, because if it is nerves, I hope that performing constantly and consistently will help her improve :)

      But yes, she should definitely sing more.

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