Album Review: Sam Kim (샘김) – Sun and Moon

In 2019, I’ve made a resolution that I’ll listen to more music outside my wheelhouse. So here’s my first serious foray into Korean music, hopefully, you’ll enjoy my take on it.

 

Genre: K-Pop, Ballads, R&B

 

Sam Kim is a Korean-American singer that first emerged into public consciousness on the South Korean talent show K-Pop Star 3, finishing in 3rd place. From then on, he began working on a solo career that eventually culminated in his 2018 debut album – Sun and Moon.

Of course, I don’t speak a lick of Korean while also not too familiar with the culture and customs of the country. However, what I can do is duly appreciate the intricate care put into each of the songs in their structure and production. So even if the lyrics often baffle me, the tunes that accompany them are more than enough to keep me sticking around.

A record comprising mainly of ballads, Sam’s soft soothing voice cruises across the sparse production, providing an intimately subdued experience that prides itself on bringing listeners into his world of heartbreak and melancholy.

Much of his songs feature him singing in both Korean and English, unsurprising given his Korean-American heritage but still a welcome trait for international listeners looking to get into his work. Directing it all at an unnamed muse, it’s a standard affair in terms of setting a romantic mood for an album all about love.

At the very core of the album, it’s essentially Sam Kim equipped with a guitar. Crooning his heart out, while more glitzy and extravagant production choices are weaved into most of the tracks. It’s a common style present in many contemporary R&B artists today, regardless of language. Strongly resembling the work of artists such as John Legend and Alicia Keys (specifically their earlier stuff); Sam finds himself amongst admirable company.

At just 8 songs long, there’s little room for error as Sam sets himself up for his star-making moment and he does it commendably from the get-go. From the stretch of opening track “Sun and Moon” to “그 여름밤 (Sunny Days, Summer Nights)”, he dabbles in upbeat production that emphasizes his range as an artist. Proving he can do more than just lightly croon, these tracks are some of the better Korean-tinged R&B I’ve heard in a while.

Then on “The One”, easily the best song on the album, Sam chooses to fuse elements of R&B and jazz while also spreading a hint of rock influence into it. Undoubtedly the climax of the record, the production is at its most extravagant and his vocals at their most vigorous. It’s a tempestuous song that the record, unfortunately, just did not have more of.

The reason being that after that track, Sun & Moon begins to suffer from a lack of variety in its latter half, because the remaining songs lose the momentum set by Sam’s prior efforts and end up as ballads indistinguishable from one another. Though, this isn’t to say that any of them are bad, far from it. It’s just disappointing that Sam chooses to settle for the safest route to end off an already very strong record.

 

Final Verdict

True to its name, Sun and Moon is a fairly balanced album that showcases the variety and depth of his musical output. Unfortunately, it also highlights the harsh difference between his two conflicting styles. With his more upbeat efforts greatly overshadowing his somber endeavors, this album acts a good entry point for Sam to find his footing; and also a solid launch pad for his still burgeoning career.

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