As he was conceiving the narrative of his solo debut album ‘Error’, AKMU’s Lee Chan-hyuk only had a single question in mind: “If the final moments of my life were to approach, would I have any regrets?”
Death and rebirth are strangely uncommon themes in the Korean music industry, as Lee himself pointed out to press upon the album’s release: “There could be a person who has never been in love before, but there’s nobody who never dies. Around 80 percent of the songs that make up [Korea’s] music scene are love songs, and if people find it bizarre listening to music about death, I think more songs that cover that topic should be out.”
‘Error’ – which Lee wrote, composed and arranged himself – is a concept album that puts an obsolete version of himself to rest and ushers in a new Lee Chan-hyuk. It’s an album that demands to be listened to from start to finish, as each of its 11 tracks mark a chapter in this journey of death and a second chance at life. ‘Error’ is also a record that makes a case for Lee as a revolutionary storyteller.
Hectic opening track ‘Eyewitness account’ kicks off the odyssey with an account of the accident that claims the life of AKMU’s Lee Chan-hyuk. Buzzing retro synthesisers and beats evoke the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, as Lee steps into the third-person: “It’s him, from AKMU, TV, ooh / He’s the bad guy, musician / Ambulance, 911, police, ooh / Sing it, hold on. Click.” There’s an air of unease that evolves into helplessness.
On the blaring second song ‘Siren’, over thrashing drums and ominous guitars, Lee begs himself to hang on. His life begins flashing in front of his eyes in title track ‘Panorama’, which continues to set Lee’s solo material apart from AKMU’s quirky folk pop with its ’80s synthpop stylings. “I can’t die like this / I need to try everything on my bucket list,” he exclaims. “My life was short and thеre is nothing left / And it passes by likе a panorama”.
He descends further into desperation on ‘Time! Stop!’, imploring a higher power to give him one final chance – to no avail. Lee is already beginning to make a convincing case for his unorthodox narrative through the first three songs alone, which offer varying energies and lyricism that are as complex as they are cohesive.
If the first four tracks chronicle Lee’s descent, ‘If I can’t go see you right now’ marks the start of reflection and reminiscence. The ’80s influences still linger, but groovy acoustic guitar riffs and dulcet vocal tones take centre stage on this anthem of acceptance masquerading as a love song. As Lee’s lyrical approach begins taking an introspective turn, the music follows suit. That subtle, mellow shift is also evident on ‘Goodbye, stay well’, where Chung Ha joins Lee to croon a bittersweet tune that embraces revival. “I guess I was foolish / It’s my fault,” they harmonise. “I’ll miss you, love.”
Lee begins to take things even slower on ‘What the’. It’s hushed and reserved, expressing grief and remorse over lost time against atmospheric keyboard synths. The hypnotic lull persists in the poignant ‘Missed call’, which strips things down further to faint strums of the guitar. “When did you come? / Only red is left / My mum’s missed call a few days ago / Embarrassed to call back late at night, timeworn,” he croaks. The song is five minutes long, but you hardly feel it.
Lee bargains with his reality by bouncing back from this mournful chapter; he flirts with the idea of building his dream fortress – an allegory for the artist he wishes to become when he’s afforded the chance at rebirth. He gives us a respite from the gloom, at the same time driving home the perplexing and haphazard process of coming to terms with the end. He takes AutoTune for a spin on ‘A DAY’, all while the peeling away the pretence. After the shame he felt so intensely earlier on ‘Error’, there’s only forgiveness and resignation left.
‘Error’’s final act is also its most arresting. The straightforwardly titled ‘Funeral hope’ brings in soaring pipe organ chords, rhythmic clapping and gospel choir vocals, Lee bidding us and this chapter of his life adieu in a way that’s almost biblical. It’s a fitting conclusion to Lee Chan-hyuk’s introduction as a solo artist – after all, death is merely his beginning. What awaits him beyond the horizon – be it paradise or reincarnation – will be a reality of his own making.
- Release date: October 17
- Record label: YG Entertainment