Review by: Hannah Waitt
moonROK Founder and Editor-in-chief
After nearly four years, Taeyang of BIGBANG is finally back with a solo album, RISE. His last album, Solar was heavy on the R&B side and earned him titles like the “Chris Brown” and “Ne-Yo” of Korea. RISE, however, is a total departure from Solar in so many ways. Over the past four years Taeyang has matured as an artist, and it shows on this album.
1. INTRO (RISE)
First and foremost: Taeyang’s English is flawless in this song. Not only are there no grammatical mistakes, but the lyrics fit together and flow very naturally in the English language. The song itself does a great job of introducing the album; with a relatively simple chord progression and an anthem-like chorus of “Throw your hands in the air, keep your hands in the air, we gonna be reaching for the sky tonight, and we gonna light it up, rise tonight,” it is prime material to bump in your car with your friends this summer. Interestingly enough, Taeyang also drops the F-bomb in the first verse, saying, “F**k it Imma be alright, wake up and rise,” and to me, this signals his transition from that charming boy-next-door that he was four years ago into a more creative, mature, and independent artist. His use of profanity almost symbolizes his apathy to society’s opinions – this intro song says, I’m here, I’m Taeyang, this is how I want to express myself, and if you don’t like it, I don’t care. The track makes a very strong statement and is a phenomenal introductory track to the album.
2. Eyes, Nose, Lips
I am about to use a word that I never in my life thought I would use to describe K-pop a song: beautiful. “Eyes, Nose, Lips” is a beautiful song. It is one of those songs where certain parts just send shivers down your spine and make your heart swell inside your chest. Almost half of the song is just Taeyang and a piano, and honestly, I would be perfectly okay with the entire song just being Taeyang and piano. The piano part and the melody are both so beautifully written that this song would be gorgeous as a duet between Taeyang and the piano. However, the extra instrumentation that is added in during the second verse does a good job building the song up and adds more contrast to the record. I honestly cannot think of a single criticism for “Eyes, Nose, Lips,” – Taeyang sings it so well and makes the song completely his. Beautifully written and beautifully sung, “Eyes, Nose, Lips” might be one of the best works of art to come out of K-pop so far this year.
“1AM” is a solid song, but not a standout on the album from me. Granted, Taeyang set the bar very high with the first two songs, so it might just be the comedown from “Eyes, Nose, Lips” that makes this song seem more mediocre than it actually is. The track definitely sounds like a Taeyang song, and is more mature than his previous work, once again showing that during the four years that he spent offstage as a solo artist, Taeyang was seriously working at his craft. Overall, the song is a great addition to the album and does a good job moving it along from “Eyes, Nose, Lips” into “Body.”
This is the feel-good track of the album. With a simple pop beat, a catchy and repeatable hook, this is definitely a song that puts a little spring in your step. The best part of the song is arguably when the first verse drops into the chorus. Taeyang does a great job building up the listener’s anticipation so that when the beat drops it is nothing but satisfying. From there on out, the song rides it out to the end on a funky guitar, a club banger beat, and some surprise features courtesy of CL who alludes to G-Dragon’s “Crayon” with her line, “my head, shoulders, knees, and toes – it’s-it’s-it’s better than yours.” Again, “Body” is a feel-good track that pumps the album up a bit and inserts a bit more variety into RISE as a whole.
5. This Isn’t It (Didn’t Mean It)
This song brings the pace down a bit abruptly after the party anthem that is “Body,” but for some reason, the sudden change of pace isn’t as abrasive as it should be, which is a good thing. The transition is made better perhaps by the fact that once again, Taeyang produced us with another – dare I say it again? – beautiful song. At this point in the listening process, I am very impressed with the progress that Taeyang has made as an artist, especially with his ballads. On his last album, “Solar,” a lot of Taeyang’s slow songs were cheesy slow jams, but this time around his slow songs are the opposite of cheesy – they are sophisticated, cultivated, and seasoned, and “This Isn’t It” is no exception. It’s goodbye to synthesizers, beat machines, and corny lyrics, and hello to orchestral arrangements, dynamic melodies, and poetic lyrics. For me, the best part of this song is when the choir comes in to bring the song home – it is one of those heart-swelling moments that I talked about earlier that just makes you feel like music is something more than just notes being played or words being sung.
6. Stay With Me feat. G-Dragon
G-Dragon does a great job featuring on this track – he doesn’t steal the show, but he’s not subtle either. Though the verses consist entirely of his raps, it doesn’t feel overwhelming or greedy in any way. Taeyang’s chorus melody is well-written and well-performed by Taeyang – he seems to be pairing his voice with the piano a lot on this album, and it works. The best part of the song hands down is when the bridge leads into the gospel choir, who breaks down the song into a simple voice, piano, and clap-driven hymn that then leads into a big finish with one more chorus from Taeyang. This is a very strong track that adds a bit more of a hip-hop element into the album.
7. Throw Away
A waltz?? Taeyang put a waltz on his album?? At this point, my mind is pretty much blown. Taeyang’s ability to employ such a wide musical spectrum on this album and yet to do it with so much sonic consistency is amazing. Everything on this album is so different, and yet it is so obviously Taeyang. “Throw Away” is yet another song that is more traditionally arranged in that it does not use many synthesizer or beat machine sounds, but rather actual instruments like a string section, electric guitar, piano, a snare drum, and a children’s choir. Through “Throw Away” Taeyang has once again exhibited his metamorphoses into a seasoned artist.
8. Love You to Death
“Love You to Death” sounds less like an R&B or mainstream pop song and more like a cross between an alternative rock and alternative pop song. Especially when the ooh’s come in during the latter part of the chorus, this sounds more like something you would hear Sky Ferreira, HAIM, or CHVRCHES sing. CL’s feature on this song is killer too. Whereas her feature in “Body” was pretty minimal, her contribution in “Love You To Death” actually adds a second perspective and makes the song much more dramatic and adds layer and depth to an otherwise one-sided song. The track is a great way to close out the album, especially because it ends with the line “I’m gonna love you to death,” repeating over and over, literally signifying the death or the end of the album.
Overall, RISE is an incredible album – one of the best I have ever heard from a K-pop artist. After listening to this album I have so much more respect for Taeyang and his talent, and while I am not sure exactly how much of the material he wrote or produced himself, it doesn’t matter because it is clear that he had a heavy hand in the creation of this album. It is so undeniably definitive of him as an artist that there is no way that someone other than Taeyang himself could have crafted this work of art. Taeyang has just set the bar incredibly high for aspiring K-pop idols and artists, and I look forward to seeing other idols strive for this level of artistry and musical maturity.
Tags: RISE Taeyang