Courtesy of Madeleine, we welcome back the Korean singer in her second Amnesty appearance…
Madeleine Lee: Sogyeokdong is a neighbourhood in the centre of the north bank of Seoul, pressed up between the wall of the rebuilt central palace and a carefully preserved traditional hanok village. During the dictatorship years, it was the headquarters of the Defense Security Command, and this is the time and place where songwriter Seo Taiji grew up, a decade before Seo Taiji and Boys kick-started modern idol pop — a time when anything in your life could disappear overnight without warning. Unlike the areas around the neighbourhood it’s named for, “Sogyeokdong” is a response to the past, and all of the past, not only a recreation of a time when the past was better. The song is not about being a child, but about the memory of childhood. The fragility of both time and memory is captured in IU’s clear, pure tone: sometimes falling in layers like drifts of snow or crystals of frost on a window, and sometimes standing on its own, the only visible and enduring thing in a whiteout.
Sonia Yang: The lazy comparison is Chvrches, but I feel there’s also a bit of Yoshinori Sunahara thrown in. However, unlike those cases, this song does not go for any cathartic climax or resolution, leaving only quiet sorrow throughout. Appropriate, since “Sogyeokdong” is about the fear and loss writer Seo Taiji and his peers faced growing up, due to the political situation in his hometown. Taiji’s own version is good, but IU’s transparent delivery elevates this to a whole different level.
Alfred Soto: Javiera Mena, you too can own these synths.
Edward Okulicz: A thing I love about how damned huge the K-pop universe seems to an outsider is you can meet an artist about once a year and be completely surprised that she’s gone and made a Javiera Mena song. That is to say, a Javiera Mena song that trades off some of the heat and carnality buried under the beats for the more straightforwardly cool surfaces of Brit nu-synth. It works well with IU’s voice; sometimes you want your ice cream with hot fudge and sometimes you don’t.
Iain Mew: This collaboration with Seo Taiji is quite a way from “The Story Only I Didn’t Know,” and indeed anything else I’ve heard from either of them. Its calm synthscapes are perfect for IU, though: spaced out so you can take in the gorgeousness at leisure, every sigh given its own jeweled setting.
Brad Shoup: The track is laceratingly languid: the bass bores in and disappears, over and over again; the snares are lashes. IU stays above it all, kicking a carefree close-of-semester melody. I was dismissive of her last Amnesty effort, but I know this would slay as a more traditional ballad.
Will Adams: God, the synthwork is so beautiful it almost hurts. Any time I feel like the drums might be too sharp, there is a splayed vocal harmony or a sawtooth swipe to pull me back into the world.
Cédric Le Merrer: That massive supersaw trance synth is always on the verge of turning into something else, something menacing or strange or broken. But much like IU with the words, it just likes to play with the sounds, relishing their textures but never leaving that state of bliss it found. It’s rubbery — resilient because of its very ability to stretch and then get back to its initial form. It’s love, beauty and happiness as acts of resistance in themselves. It’s something incredibly big because it’s incredibly intimate.
Patrick St. Michel: No one can stop time from marching on, but IU and Seo Taiji, the writer and producer of “Sogyeokdong,” do their best to keep it from being abandoned completely. This sounds like a battle to remember, synthesizers all tumbling over one another, and at multiple points it feels like it’s all just going to fizzle out (one stretch after the first chorus even sounds like someone fiddling with radio knobs, to make sure the signal isn’t lost). Taiji’s take captures this too, but the potential of “Sogyeokdong” is realized with IU’s version. She drifts among the pulses and ripples, latching onto as many small details around her as she can, trying to keep her memories alive. But then the sucker punch: “Everything disappears in such a short moment.” That the whole song refers to the tumultuous ’80s of Seoul only makes it more painful; this isn’t a song simply about time moving on, but about forces larger than the individual forcing them to change in a blink, ordinary people’s lives flipped by future textbook material. “Sogyeokdong” fights against that, and it’s brutal and beautiful all at once.