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Dreamy Time Travel with IU

The great thing about an IU comeback is that pretty much anyone who happens to listen to it will fall in love with it. Whether you’re more into hip-hop or pop or even slash metal (yeah, slash metal), there’s just no way you won’t like the way IU’s voice rings, the way she carries herself as she sings, and the way it undeniably makes you feel something.

A lot of that is thanks to her versatility as a singer—which, oddly enough, goes hand in hand with her very distinct sound: something varying between pop, soul, and folk that has a way of bringing out the best and most loving of familiarity hidden in the deepest parts of your soul.

One may fear that if IU covers a song, she may lose some of the magic in her craft, but she does not. She already proved as much in 2014 when her first cover EP, A Flower Bookmark, owned the charts, and she’s doing it again this year with A Flower Bookmark #2, which is a sequel of sorts, released on September 22.

The thing about covers—and, similarly, talking about them—is that it isn’t so much about how the song sounds anymore. You might or might not already know that. If you’re already familiar with a song, chances are you’ll find covers almost jarring in sound, unless they are done properly.

The strength in a cover revolves around how different, or similar, it is to the original. Both can be good! Really, it is about the feeling of the song and whether or not it has changed for better or for worse. And that’s where IU’s undeniable talent comes in—whether or not she sings as though the song is her own or whether the hommage she renders is worthy of praise, those things barely matter with the immense amount of emotion she pours into her delivery in a way very, very few artists can. She’s just that good.

She proves as much right from the first song, “Autumn Morning.” Staying true to the original song by Yang Hee Eun (released in 1991), she starts off the song a capella. It’s already enough to give you chills. Her voice is sweet and simply enchanting, so very different from Yang Hee Eun’s grave tone, and it’s captivating despite the repetitive nature of the melody. The acoustic guitar joins in shortly after, along with crystalline harmonies, percussions, and even a flute. It’s so inherently beautiful. It’s the kind of song that just makes you feel so much the very first time you listen to it and all the times that follow.

“Secret Garden” follows, opening on two harmonizing guitars before strings join in. IU charms again with her soft voice, and the intricate instrumentals highly enhance her vocals. This version is much different from the original by Lee Tzsche (also known as Lee Sangeun), leaning more on the acoustic side rather than folk. It’s better that way—it retains the original happy vibe of the track, but it is more subdued and somehow more serene (and, in my opinion, more enjoyable that way). It’s perfect for a quiet afternoon with a cup of tea and a good book. In a garden. Ha.

The next two tracks show IU’s more upbeat side. “Sleepless Rainy Night” stands between jazz and pop, and IU sings it so flawlessly it might as well be her song. The original version by Kim Gunmo from 1992 almost sounds like a Christmas song (but hey, that’s not a bad thing). This version is so very different, but honestly, so, so much better. It’s more melodic, groovy, and mature in sound, and IU’s belting vocals at the end will blow you away.

The next track, “Last Night Story,” is my personal favorite. I recognized it from the first listen—it’s a cover of the song by iconic group Sobangcha, released in 1988, and was featured in tvN drama Reply 1988 (remember that scene with Ryu Junyeol, Go Kyungpyo, and Lee Donghwi dancing on that stage in front of about a hundred screaming girls? Yes, that’s the one). IU does a marvellous job at retaining the ‘80s vibe of the song, but it also has her distinct flair. It doesn’t sound like the epic but outdated original song anymore (though that one is pretty damn cool, if I’m being honest), but rather like an amazing, guitar-driven retro reboot. The amount of times I’ve danced to IU’s version of this song already is honestly embarrassing, but I’ll say this: you have no idea how fun it is until you try it. So really. Try it.  Bonus points if you pretend you’re stuck in 1988, singing-slash-crying about your crush pretty much ignoring your existence.

After such a lighthearted number, it’s almost heart-stopping to hear the next track, heavy with emotion. “By The Stream,” a song by Jung Mijo, takes on a completely different and much more grave tone than the original track released in 1972. It opens on a melancholic piano that stays there until the end, being IU’s only company until a cello joins near the climax. IU’s voice varies between soft and loud, but is dragged with her slow syllables and filled with sentiment. Listening to this song is an experience in itself—there’s just so much being carried in those words, which are, in fact, asking someone what is wrong, what they are thinking about, and whether or not they want to be forgotten. None of those questions are answered. We are left wondering, too, about the situation. It is the kind of impact “By the Stream” leaves behind.

The closing song ends the album on a happier note. It’s another familiar one: also featured on Reply 1988, it’s a cover of “Everyday with You” by Deulgukhwa. IU’s version has a more dreamy tone to it than the original. It might be because of the slow bass in the background, because of the slow percussions, or simply (and most likely) because of IU’s voice. It’s charming, heartwarming, and simply perfect, leaving a smile on your lips as you listen intently. And before you know it, the album loops, “Autumn Morning” comes on again, and you’re drawn back into the enchanting world that is A Flower Bookmark #2. That is the extent of IU’s talent, proven yet again.