Against their contemporaries, the K-Pop band Lucy is something of an outlier, even as their star continues its patient ascent. Since their debut two years ago, the four pierce unit has distinguished themselves with an odd array of instrumentation, with the standard bassist, drummer, and guitarist being accompanied by a virtuosic violinist. In their first, full-length album, Childhood, the band makes good on the promise they’ve demonstrated so far, particularly in singles such as “Flare,” “Flowering,” and “I Got You” with a confident and cohesive piece of work that best accentuates their strongest attributes while displaying their musical range and versatility with tight and controlled songwriting.
Made up of the members Choi Sangyeop (guitar/vocals,) wunderkind bassist Cho Wonsang, Shin Gwangil (drummer/vocals,) and Shin Yechan (violin), Lucy has always channeled a level of magical whimsy and atmospheric ambiance. Childhood offers more of the same, along with a playful twist, fitting, for an album dedicated to the nostalgia and melancholy we associate with growing up. While few songs of theirs will, likely, ever measure up fully to the true stunner that is “Flare,” an early breakout hit for them, their debut full-length album remains a heartfelt listen, with some of the best utilization of all their talents – separate and in tandem – of their career thus far.
Making it more interesting is how some of the songs on Childhood gravitate towards sounds that differ sonically from what fans and listeners have come to expect from them. It makes for an intriguing expansion on their overall package but isn’t always executed with as great an emotional punch as their clear show-stopping numbers.
This is best observed in “Foul,” a tropical ballad, a track that marks one of the first diversions. Despite both vocalists sharing duties on the song, it’s a prime example of the poor ability to split up parts. The two singers, both good, have very different tonal colors and while drummer and support vocalist Shin Gwangil has a pleasant, husky tone that suits the quieter ballads, lead singer and guitarist Choi Sangyeop’s voice is so piercing with a sharp, sweet tonality, that it’s hard not to compare the two when they should, instead, be complimentary of one another.
Despite the dissonance of the two vocalists failing to meld together in the song, it’s enormously supported by spirited instrumentation with adornment from synths to electric guitars.
The album’s best songs are the ones that throw every trick out theirs, with production values and vocal arrangements befitting a stadium for each note to hum and reverberate in. “Play” the first single has notes of theatricality and anime opening compositions. “MP3,” another early number in the album, doubles down on this conceit, with twinkling and bombastic climaxes that easily could have been influenced by The Lion King or The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – or any of the world of Studio Ghibli’s favorite, composer Joe Hiashi.
“Prequel,” while less flashy in instrumentals, is a prime example of how singer Sangyeop’s vocals marry so deliciously with the dynamism of Yechan’s violin. Each is terrific on its own but combined and it bursts with synergized beauty. Yechan’s playing too inspires one of the most stunning moments on the album, illuminating raspy vocals ignited by a sense of desperation and heartache.
“Don’t Forget Our Night” highlights a running theme of Lucy’s songs, as it seemingly builds off of the DNA of their song “Stove” from their earlier mini albums. There’s deliberate incorporation of past themes which allows their flourishing musicality and increased versatility to shine bright, showcasing how an older song can embolden a new one, and how they’ve only bettered in production. The crescendo of instrumentation is inspired, with a European flair to the violin.
If there were ever two songs to surmise the exact aesthetic of Lucy, “Opening” and “Ending” – which pretty much dictate listening to the two together, would act as worthy offerings. As they’ve always leaned close to emulating the ebullience most often found in the best anime OSTs, these two numbers appeal to those sensibilities with gusto. With grandiose instrumentation, pacing, and vocals, both capture that magical essence that makes for such addictive tracks, with Sangyeop’s vocals particularly evocative.
Any low points take place, namely, when there are guest artists involved, only because it so shifts their sound to one that’s too aligned with one genre, rather than being the welcome cocktail of musicality and trends. While one aims for a jazzy, didactic tone, another is ripped straight from a Broadway production. Both help in diversifying their overall sound but neither is good enough to bear repeating. Similarly, there are numbers like the closer, “You Are My Light” which, despite an exemplary deconstruction towards the end of the song, is too patient in building to that moment, causing disinterest in the remainder.
Childhood is exciting because despite the definite cohesion and culmination of all that the group has recorded thus far, its promises for the future outweigh the thrill of the current release. There’s so much bustling underneath the surface and, if they’re able to express full creative control and an unwillingness to be buckled down by the expectations of the K-Pop industry, they have the potential to be making some of the most innovative and fresh music on the scene. For now, though, we can make do with an album that is all-encompassing of the idea of throwing every idea at the wall to see what sticks, with a result that’s catchy, refreshing, and produced with evident detail. Lucy may not be the big name group of the K-Pop scene, and it may be for their betterment, but they are certainly a name worth highlighting and seeking out, with a sound that is truly their own.
Their album Childhood is out now. Listen below.