Yaeji – With A Hammer: Review

Growing within the electronic music sphere, Yaeji has continued to amass fans through bilingual performances on EPs and Mixtapes and wicked mixing behind the boards, evident with her 2017 Boiler Room Set. It continues to be the case with her debut album, With A Hammer, even though it tiptoes a safer line between house and pop, instead of what we’ve gotten on previous records, which brought in more hip-hop elements. Though it rarely makes turns, Yaeji’s craft continues to shine through as her more lo-fi, softening vocals bring it all together into this unique cohesion of sounds that start to fit more of an aesthetic instead of being expansive. The moments we get these capricious pivots, they offer this renewed sense of being that fit who Yaeji is, where her sound is less streamlined like “Ready Or Not” compared to that of “Michin,” which uses some fantastic glitch-influenced notes. As you sit back and hit play, you’ll notice some fantastical elements that make the music twinkly, almost like the antithesis of what one would produce with a metaphorical hammer, i.e., less bombastic.

With A Hammer left me underwhelmed as some typical Electronic Dance Music notes weave more apropos dance complexions sounds into their construction, making anything that could add a lavish layer, feel like a second-class citizen as it rarely gets a moment to speak. That isn’t to say it lacks directions to get there; it seems that Yaeji is teetering between her iconographical style/techniques and driving home more pop flavors, especially in the vocal performances, which have a distinct cadence towards the approach. To say the music is one-dimensional or lacking focus is incorrect; however, from what has gotten heard, Yaeji’s music isn’t taking some different, hard-on approach to establish a sense of lo-fi grandeur. In turn, she’s keeping itself tightknit between occasional components from the synthesizers, yet it excels when it gets a little bombastic. While trying to incorporate different sonic palettes overlapping each other – often, sounds grip you by the ears and reel you in through a sonic fishing line. It gets you swiftly in the opening track, “Submerge FM,” which beautifully brings forth unique choices like the flute-synth one-two combo that make better ones stand out, like “Pass Me By.”

As the music begins to fluctuate and shift layers, sometimes gripping you with “For Granted” or losing you with “Fever,” Yaeji’s artistic direction gets reflected poignantly as the vocal performances relay that icing that doesn’t get molded well on top. Sometimes you’ll get this extravagant slice with “Ready or Not,” and other times, getting a slightly melted piece, where Yaeji’s performance isn’t as refined as with the title song, “With A Hammer.” It has this fierce, mystifying production which lets the electronic components breathe efficiently, keeping it in toe from start to finish; however, once you get to the vocals, the dronish performance, though seemingly purposeful, doesn’t land as she probably expected. Unlike “Happy,” there are songs like “With A Hammer,” where the vocal melodies don’t always feel connected with the production, making the abstract feel slightly but minimally forced. Tracks like “Fever,” “With A Hammer,” and “Be Alone In This” don’t help round out the rough edges certain ones may have with their in-song transition. It then becomes unfortunate that the vibe getting presented isn’t that cohesive, middling the fascinating contrast between its directional theme and final product.

Despite having these middling moments, With A Hammer contains a more safe throughline for the musical range that keeps Yaeji focused on parameters set for herself. In doing so, she works around a base stream of music where different sounds get tacked on, building these fantastic soundscapes, like the more intimate “I’ll Remember For Me, I’ll Remember For You” or the more lively and fun “Done (Let’s Get It).” What makes her music more captivating is the flow of the vocal performances as it balances the different notes overlaying it, like the flute and trumpet, which reinforce the visceral strengths of Yaeji’s production. Sometimes subtle, sometimes overt, they play along with the beat, growing it more and more within its aesthetic, like “I’ll Remember For Me, I’ll Remember For You.” The trumpet leads a triumphant lead-in and closes with a contrasting down pivot where Yaeji’s modest, angelic vocals keep the electronic ballad zoned in and subtly vibrant. 

Plenty of tracks fit within this model, though slightly more elevated; it’s like this rejuvenating sensation that comes from hearing aspects from the past see growth with new releases where the synergy between percussion and synthesizers as they take on different sonic contexts. In most cases, the synths make a grander stand as they deliver oodles of electronica bliss, like on “Away X5,” where Yaeji’s minimalist vocals flow smoothly through the kinetic synths. But as it treads through these unique directions, the quality of its artistic direction shines through the rough patches, adjudicating a different side than her more colorful and lively nature on What We Drew, her debut Mixtape. You’ll find something here to love, that’s for sure, and maybe more so as they hit a safe zone for the sounds of the genres instead of being more expansive.

Rating: 6.5 out of 10.

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