Wheein has been candid about the harried, slapdash nature in which her first solo mini-album, ‘Redd’, came about. Production ran up against tight deadlines, and her then-agency RBW fell out of deals for tracks. Years-old lyrics were plucked and recycled into something new, while rapper pH-1’s feature was written and recorded in under an hour. “[At the time,] it was to the point I couldn’t imagine the album getting released,” reflects RBW’s Park Woo-sang, who worked on all six songs off the project.
In retrospect, what they pulled off was charming and whimsical, if not wholly cohesive. But the MAMAMOO vocalist has since likened the process of making ‘Redd’ to careening through pea-soup thick fog, where everything is murky just beyond the length of your fingertips – at once, a harbinger for her trajectory as an artist and a necessarily shortsighted one.
Her sophomore mini-album and follow-up, ‘Whee’, coming after her departure from RBW, cuts through that haze. There’s a definite shift in lyricality between the two projects – in part, owing to the complete overhaul in the creative team. As if individual still life paintings, ‘Redd’ flits between small but vivid snapshots: a quaint ode to a domesticated cat’s view of the world from the inside (‘OHOO’); an “R-rated” rap about a mind in the gutter (‘Trash’); a blunt kiss-off to an ex, blow softened by her delicate soprano (‘No Thanks’). Helmed by Ravi, the idol-turned-CEO of Wheein’s new home THE L1VE, ‘Whee’ veers away from this everyday minutiae.
Instead, Wheein herself is the focus of her sophomore mini-album. Without the mosaic of collaborations (on tracks and behind the scenes) ‘Redd’ pieced together, Wheein stands as the lone protagonist in this story. Not only that, but the simple, oblique lyrics and stripped-back production intentionally take a backseat to the album’s true star: the singer’s ethereal voice, a beacon through ‘Whee’s duskiest moments.
Just as Wheein seems to be reinventing herself, the album teeters on the edge between winter and spring, as everything slowly flowers and enters its prime once again. “As time goes by / You’ll miss this very moment / As if something is about to bloom,” she teases of the near future on title track ‘Make Me Happy’, like a vow: you’re not going to want to miss this.
And for the most part, ‘Whee’ makes good on that promise. Wheein breathes life into the six tracks, even as they saunter slowly from time to time. Vignettes that begin with an “unfamiliar grey city” or “dark nights and quiet hills” refuse to dwell in their gloomy origins, bursting instead with light instrumentation and euphoric chants. Amidst the wispy guitar progression of ballad ‘Pink Cloud’, Wheein airly ponders if she can be a “warm light” dusting the sky with a faint blush – a thread continued on closing lullaby ‘Paraglide’, where she sings about taking off into the stratosphere and being a rainbow that splits the sky with color.
Though Wheein floats high on the album, she grounds it with ‘Letter Filled With Light’. Co-written by the singer, the song finds Wheein on her soapbox, as she joins the pantheon of artists opting for sanguinity during the pandemic: “The more you are trapped in the dark, the more you will shine”. But the ballad also doubles as a thank you note for fans’ patience as she figures out who exactly soloist Wheein is: “You believed in my voice / Even though it was far away / Even though it’s blurry”.
‘WHEE’s most radiant gem, meanwhile, is also its shortest. Sitting at a mere 32 seconds, ‘Deserve (Interlude)’ swaps the album’s lo-fi coffee shop ambiance for the smoky din of a jazz lounge (fitting, considering Wheein has hinted jazz is a genre that she hopes to experiment with in the near future). “So light me up / As I go through the fire,” Wheein sighs over the languid bassline. The singer may not have emerged from that crucible yet, vision crystallized – but, even when Wheein drifts, she soars.
- Release date: January 16
- Record label: THE L1VE