SHURAI: An Imaginative Soundscape by IMLAY
Having been out of town and quite busy this past week, I haven’t had time to check out new releases up until last night. And though my initial idea was to cover (yet again) Primary’s release shininryu from a few weeks ago, news of a new collaboration album (or I think it’s a collaboration project anyway) by the very same Primary came out on Thursday—and since it sounds quite promising, I’ve decided to cover that once it comes out, and pick another release to talk about this week.
It just so happens that SM Entertainment producer and long-time electro artist IMLAY has put out a brand new EP, titled SHURAI. I have seen the name IMLAY come and go a lot on the internet (sometimes wrongly confused with EXO’s Lay—they’re not the same person!). I’ve taken interest in his work late last year, with the release of the SM Station single “Inspiration,” performed by Jonghyun and co-written with IMLAY. With time, I got used to his work: eclectic yet smooth electro, with heavy atmosphere-building sounds and complex beats.
The EP SHURAI, released under the SM sub-label ScreaM Records which IMLAY is part of, follows the same trend. The opening song and main title track, “Shurai (Low),” has an incredible soundscape, like much of the rest of the album—and I use the word “soundscape” for a reason here. The elements in the song are complex, change often, and seem to paint a certain picture, often relying on bass and poignant beats to do so. The sister track to this song, “Shurai (High),” also figures on IMLAY’s 2016 EP Origin. Though it’s quite similar to its “Low” counterpart, it’s much more dynamic and energetic and definitely worth a listen if you’re curious.
The music video (or rather, visual pack) of the song is also filled with imagery. It takes you on a digital adventure, and the way it is somewhat redundant and highly immersive sort of reminds me of Björk’s album Vulnicura and its conjoint VR experience. If I ever had the chance to watch that with a VR set, saying I would be excited would be an understatement.
“Décalcolmanie” is the following track, and one I have been more than familiar with for a few months now. First released through SM Station in June, the track features Sik-K and incorporates hip-hop and EDM in the best way possible. It’s a cool party song, it’s a cool urban song, it’s just a really cool song, overall—from the way it’s put together to the distorted brass at the chorus and Sik-K’s (surprisingly) fast rap, there’s something invigorating about it all that will make you want to listen to it again and again (and again). Believe me, I’ve done it, and not once did I ever get tired of it. Listen to it, you won’t regret it.
The third track “Daylight” has a more pop sound, with a delicate piano accompaniment, strings, and EDM synths and beats to tie it all up. It’s very simple, which is something I hadn’t really expected from IMLAY, but it isn’t bland—rather, it is peaceful, easy to listen to, and that’s partly thanks to American singer-songwriter Laura Brehm’s angelic vocals on the track.
“Cerulean High,” the next song on the tracklist, is somewhat similar on some accounts. It has a certain feeling of peace to it as well, but here, IMLAY goes back to more complex structures, shifting from musically intricate breakdowns to simple verses. Musician Anna Yvette features on this track, and her vocals are simply incredible, rich in emotion and skill. The best part? The chorus, as she sings the title along to a dreamy hook. Slightly reminiscent of TEN’s “Dream in a Dream” (just a little), “Cerulean High” is surely one of my favorite tracks on the EP.
After a dark (but definitely worthwhile) EDM trap interlude titled “Nine Tails,” we reach the last track of the EP, “Rule the Fire” featuring YESEO. It builds slowly, softly, delicately; it fits with YESEO’s high vocals. Then, the prechorus adds more rhythm, before the breakdown happens, bass heavy yet still somewhat delicate. It’s beautiful to hear, and it shows that there was a lot of care put into building this song. With every listen, you can hear more elements to “Rule the Fire”: a short guitar part you hadn’t caught on before, a harmony in the synths or in the vocals that’s barely there, or the way some elements come together at the end to blend in all together. It’s a perfect song, almost; abstract in some ways and complete in others, it’s hard to describe the feeling of wholeness and serenity it provides—but it’s there, and it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
SHURAI is a great release. Though its number of songs falls on the short side (sadly), the songs flow seamlessly into one another, and you’ll find yourself playing the EP on loop before you even know you’re doing it. I know I’m one of those people, anyway.