Agust D – D-Day

He’s now the second of his group – after RM’s Indigo last December – to release a full-length project since the K-pop monolith that is BTS announced their hiatus, but Agust D (the solo moniker of BTS’ Suga) had actually been releasing making waves in the underground under the name since before even joining the band that would turn him into an international superstar. Now with his third project as Agust D, D-Day continues to provide a showcase for his rapping abilities outside of the safer and more sanitized contexts he often appears in, but many of Agust D’s riskier moves here don’t pan out quite as well as some of his bandmates’ solo work – his singing voice proves rather grating, while his rhythmic capabilities don’t measure up to the smoothness and charisma displayed on his fellow BTS rapper’s recent solo album. While there’s still a solid helping of well-crafted instrumentals and competent yet bland BTS-style tunes that you can’t help but nod your head to, D-Day’s explosion wasn’t as huge as expected.

The title track opens the project, which immediately hits listeners with Agust D’s nasal, belted chorus under a heavy Auto-Tune filter that’s fluctuating obnoxiously despite the fact that he’s only hitting the same note repeatedly. It’s something like this that immediately makes you realize that he’s been put into a rapper’s role in BTS for a reason. And despite oddly copying Travis Scott’s “straight up!” ad-lib, the bars on the opening track are pretty great – it’s Agust D’s bass-heavy voice that lends the drama to a highly cinematic rap instrumental as he welcomes the day of reckoning and readies himself for whatever comes, but he’s not able to measure up to the promise of the beat in other areas – the sung pre-chorus once again sucks the energy out of the room. “Haegeum,” on the other hand, is a clear standout here as it’s the track that mostly just stays in a hip-hop lane. Siren synths, crunchy bass and a trap beat give Agust D the kind of backdrop he needs to start showcasing some of his speedier flows, and the moment that he interrupts himself in a higher-pitched, more frantic voice as if he were a feature on his own song would ignite a crowd. The wildest part is when you translate the lyrics and realize that Agust D is poetically speaking out against capitalism restricting creative freedoms.

Just because it seems like everybody has to try it out right now, the track “HUH?!” recruits fellow BTS rapper j-hope to tackle a drill beat. Similarly to the opener, the skill behind the rap verses can’t be denied, and it’s great to hear a bit more of a contrast when j-hope descends onto the track with a smoother and more laid-back tone, but Agust D’s nasal cadence, slight distortion and Auto-Tune filter turned up to 11 on the chorus make him sound more like a nerdy theatre kid that doesn’t fit the effortless cool a beat like this calls for – not to mention the awkward rhythms near the end of the chorus. Raising his voice and yelling “this is your wannabe life” through a filter when nothing is built up before hand falls extremely flat. “AMYGDALA” uses the same frenzied, gritty cadence and distortion for a much more understandable reason, as Agust D speaks about his struggles and touches on his parents’ illnesses, but it’s a highly disjointed song at its core that doesn’t play to any of his strengths. With some contemplative squeaky acoustics, the computerized vocals don’t do a great job of communicating the emotion he wants to bring here, especially as the tempo suddenly lurches upward into a trap beat. The combination of the Auto-Tune and the distortion is borderline unlistenable at times on this one.

The track “SDL” is a safer excursion, with a more soulful backdrop and a summery vibe, and it’s easily Agust D’s biggest success as a singer. He combines a softer cadence with some calm and collected raps as he reminisces on a perfect past romance, as a female background vocalist executes some impressive runs and vocalizations in a sweet and angelic tone. Another female vocalist – this time with a credit – appears on “People Pt.2” in the form of South Korean superstar IU. The sequel to a track from Agust D’s 2020 project D-2, it’s another smoother outing carried by a shuffling beat and a highly emotive chorus from IU, although some of Agust D’s verses feel a little short and his sung pre-chorus dulls some of the momentum. “Polar Night” is another rap-heavy track that finds Agust D speaking on some important issues and touching on our post-truth world – it finds him running through some more impressive flows, but there’s something about the spacey, slow-paced jam session of a beat that doesn’t feel incredibly accommodating to them.

Listeners are led towards the album’s closing moments by “Interlude : Dawn,” a 2-minute orchestral piece that genuinely represents some of the most compelling music on the project – it makes me picture flying through the cosmos, and appropriately leads into “Snooze,” a collaboration with Agust D’s personal hero Ryuichi Sakamoto, who recently passed away. The composer and Yellow Magic Orchestra member adds some contemplative pianos to the track, but it’s another guest chorus that steals the show as WOOSUNG of indie-rock band The Rose elevates the powerful boom-bap backdrop to another level with his chilling tenor. Things close out with “Life Goes On,” which shares some elements with the BTS track of the same title. Despite another odd filter making him sound like a robot, it’s another generally bright and positive tune to end things off on.

Solo projects from some of the less visible members of a wildly popular collective are always interesting, as it gives them a chance to exhibit some of the personal touches that might have been subsumed otherwise. And while not all of it works out here, hearing some personal stories and more of a space for his raps provided some solid moments as we wait for BTS to dominate the world once again.

Favourite Tracks: Snooze, Haegeum, SDL, People Pt.2

Least Favourite Track: AMYGDALA

Score: 5/10


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