Nicole Yun is in her comfort zone, seeking to break out, on her solo debut Paper Suit

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Nicole Yun | photo by Jeff Hoffman | via facebook.com/nicoleyunmusic

On the first track of her debut solo album, Nicole Yun sings “there’s no controlling me,” and she spends the rest of the album trying to prove that. Paper Suit sees the Eternal Summers lead trying to write in looser ways. Often, she succeeds, and the album feels wholly of her own vision. No one, nor their expectations, seem to have restrained Yun. Though, in freeing herself of others, she seems to have trapped herself in her comfort zone. Where the album hints at experimentation and toys with different kinds of sounds, it never veers too far off course. In that way it can sound like Yun is holding herself back.

Where Yun does allow herself to experiment, the results are very satisfying. “Maximum” grows into a wall of distorted guitars and strained, scream-like vocals. It is dizzying in the best kind of way. On “Supernatural Babe” she throws a saxophone into the mix and sings in a childlike tone on “Two Eyes.” These tracks offer a unique spin on the sonic landscape Yun has expertly crafted all these years with Eternal Summers.

Elsewhere, Yun seems to tease listeners with promises of sonic expansion, but doesn’t entirely deliver. Glitchy electronic flourishes are scattered throughout  “And After All” yet they do little more than make themselves known. The song feels like it is going to explode into a psychedelic and glittering epic but it never does. It stays in its lane. Similarly, “Grand Prize” and “Stone Structure” resist becoming something grander than shimmering dream pop songs. One gets the impression that Yun likes where she is. Maybe this is Yun defying listeners expectations again, or maybe she’s just too good at writing songs to truly write loosely.

Opener “Tommie” is the loosest sounding thing in the set. It sees Yun’s vocals jumping in tone and features the record’s most explosive chorus. The track is bold and satisfying. The album doesn’t reach a similar high until its sixth track, “Destroy Me.” At the two-minute mark Yun starts to sounds angry and confident. As she sings “you can’t destroy me anymore,” the drums and guitars pulsate, matching the strength in her tone. Then the song quickly mellows and where Yun once sounded defiant, she now sounds lonely and full of longing. This sudden shift in message and tone is exciting and proves that Yun is capable of writing freely. She just needs to do it more.

Throughout Paper Suit, Yun bounces between successful experimentation and returning to familiar territory. But that familiarity is by no means humdrum. On the contrary, the record is lively and well made — featuring production from Yun’s longtime Philly friend Rob Garcia of Telepathic and Bleeding Rainbow, as well as Ava Luna’s Julian Fader in NYC. Guest players in the mix include Doug Gillard of Guided by Voices, ex-Cloud Nothings guitarist Joe Boyer, and Duncan Lloyd of Maximo Park. Ultimately, the record embraces the best elements of Yun’s work with Eternal Summers: bulletproof songwriting and masterful guitar playing. These elements and her clear desire to experiment will translate to a rich and rewarding live show, even if they feel somewhat disconnected on the album. While it isn’t the grand or loose record is occasionally hints at being, it is a strong solo debut that suggests an even stronger future.

Nicole Yun will be playing at The Barbary on Saturday, June 15th. More information can be found here.

Listen to Paper Suits below.

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