review: Hoppipolla’s And Then There Was Us, or, a love letter to loneliness

Well!

Now that I’ve finally dug myself out of my pile of tissues and tears from listening to Hoppipolla’s new album, And Then There Was Us, I think I can clean up my face and sniffle my last sniffle and sit down to share my thoughts.

When I wrote my introduction to Hoppipolla last week, BG read it over and said, “aww, this kind of reads like a love letter.” Upon reading it again myself, I realized she wasn’t wrong.

That’s a tiny bit embarrassing so… I’ll try and keep from gushing all over this review like I did before simply trying to tell people about them, but… no promises.

Because this is a seriously beautiful album with music that sings to the soul and makes you feel nostalgic for a place you aren’t sure you’ve ever even been.

It’s full of thoughtful, melancholic lyrics that grip you by the heart… if only so they can get enough leverage to grab on and reaaaally be able to kick you in the gut.

So for the sake of not swooning, let’s get to it. Here’s my take, track by track.

Where Is

BG described my thoughts pretty well herself in her round up of our favorite songs from last week, so let me start by quoting her:

“The combination of Jinho’s cello, Hyunsang’s angelic vocals and the purr of I’ll’s backing is the recipe for frisson. Although the song serves as the intro for the new album, its haunting quality makes it capable of standing on its own as a masterpiece.”

That’s it. That’s the tweet.

Still, I’ll add that my takeaway from the first listen was a delighted, “oh, wow, this could be an interlude on a Radiohead album.”

More specifically, an interlude on the album, Amnesiac, and even more specifically than that, it sounds like it could be dropped right into the middle of the song, Like Spinning Plates, and I might be inclined to believe it had always been there.

I might also be inclined to think that I’m just hella biased and want to think this simply because my love for Hoppipolla rivals my deep love of Radiohead, but Hyunsang himself–whose vocals are what really are giving me that Thom Yorke vibe–has said that his favorite band is Radiohead.

So, that leads me to two conclusions: Hyunsang has excellent taste, obviously, and it is very likely that his songwriting style is informed at least partially by the British group.

Okay, getting a little gush-y and I promised I wouldn’t.

Onward!

The Love

Fair warning: I’ll probably spend the most time on this song and I have a feeling it will be the bulk of the article, so bear with me.

This became my favorite song from the album from the very first listen, and while the order of my preference for the others has since shifted upon further listening, The Love holds its crown at the top of the list.

What I noticed first was that it sounds like a true blue Hoppipolla track; it’s richly layered, swimming in melancholy and beautifully produced.

Compared to its album-mates, it’s got more of a folk vibe than it does ballad-y one, which is how I would describe most of the rest of it for sure. That could technically be said about the songs on Spring to Spring but those two albums just hit different regardless.

Everything about this song is brilliant from the first second to the dramatic finale. It is the steady, building trend upward between those two points that did the whole grab-my-heart-kick-me-in-the-gut thing for the first–but not the final–time on the album.

Y’all ready for a novella? Because you’re about to get a novella.

First, I’ll talk about the actual arrangement and production aspect of it. Maybe before I get to the lyrics I’ll have exhausted myself and won’t be able to get all love-lettery. If you’re lucky.

The song begins with a simple guitar intro and Hyunsang’s crystal clear vocals where it is then teased by a few notes on the piano. Gorgeous vocal harmonies bridge the verse to the chorus seamlessly, and then it really gets interesting: we hear… samples?

That’s a feature that Hoppipolla has yet to utilize in their songwriting, and the eerie clips from old-timey news clips and black and white movies was a really smart move.

It adds a little flavor to the track before I’ll moves in on the song.

He swans in with the same progression as Hyunsang took in the first verse throughout the second , providing a beautiful mirrored effect–something they’re also doing lyrically (I’ll get to that).

Finally, those vocal harmonies kick back up and are this time supported by Jinho’s cello, adding beautiful texture and that tell-tale soulfulness that is kinda-sorta their trademark.

The cello plows us through the climax of the song where, after I’ll colors the tune with his distant vocals, the song begins its descent into madness. The cello becomes frantic, chaotic; the morbid samples start back up; Hyunsang belts a note distantly behind it all.

Then, it just ends with a swift, punctuative swipe of Jinho’s bow on the strings.

Peep Jinho being dramatic on the right cause *this* looks how *that* sounds. But times two.

It fits in with the desperate grasping sort of theme of the lyrics, too.

I spoke of mirrored lyrics earlier, so let me show you what I meant.

Hyunsang takes the first verse to say:

Please don’t go/
‘Cause I know it/
There are traces of people passing by/
In my heart, there is a rusty mirror which is about to break/
In that dried up riverside/
I see a dirty child

While I’ll comes in on the second verse to counter:

Don’t change your mind/
‘Cause I know it/
Just take some light steps back/
On the roadside/
There’s a shiny mirror/
Which i’ve always wanted/
By that riverside/
Where the water overflows/
I see a child who resembles me

It’s the chorus that weaves both of those together, though:

In order to hate you/
How many excuses did we look for?
Oh, where is the love?

To me, the narrator seems to think very little of themselves and seems to be trying to convince the person they love not to leave them alone that state. Leave, and take with them the flicker of hope they have in a life and heart that might otherwise be in disrepair.

But it isn’t as easy as that; the object of their affection dislikes themselves just as much, thinking they aren’t deserving of the love of the narrator themselves.

…Kind of some problematic co-dependent stuff going on there but such is the human condition.

In the chorus, the narrator speaks of trying to find reasons to hate their lover so it hurts less when they inevitably leave.

Simultaneously, the object of their affection is also trying to convince themselves they are no good for the narrator, that they are not worthy of their love, to protect the narrator from themselves.

“Where is the love?” is a good question when both parties in the relationship are self-deprecating, self-loathing.

Why are they making it so complicated? they seem to ask one another.

They focus on how unlovable both of them perceive themselves to be to the point they are potentially spoiling the relationship they are trying so hard to save.

It’s almost like killing their relationship, isn’t it? To support that, we’ve got those eerie samples playing throughout all of this emotional chaos:

…in my business, you don’t trust anybody!…

…it was a cold blooded premeditated murder!…

Excellent songwriting all around. 10/10. Seriously. Start to finish, every blessed note and syllable, 10/10.

너의 바다 (Your Ocean)

Okay, so when I say I cried when I discovered the lyrics, I mean I CRIED.

Typically, I’m not a big fan of ballads as I touched on earlier, and this follows a balladic formula right to the tee from the placement of the drums to the searing electric guitar toward the climax of the track.

At first, I had a neutral opinion. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Y’all, it really, really grew on me.

The lyrics are so touching and are exactly what I, as a person who experiences bipolar depression, want to hear and feel from the person I love when I’m having a bad time. I think it’s something most with depression can relate too at some point in their lives, too.

The theme seems to be meeting someone where they are with their depression. Not trying to fix them, not trying to snatch them out of it. Not blaming them for it. Not telling them to just cheer up. Most importantly, not ever letting them feel alone in it, even if that just means sitting with them in silence with their tears.

And really, that’s how it should be, shouldn’t it?

They use a dark, infinitely deep ocean as the metaphor for depression, and I always love ocean symbology in music and poetry, so it really resonated with me for that reason, too.

Take a look at some excerpts of the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean.

Shall we go to the ocean?
No matter how the sky looks today/
Why don’t we just go somewhere together?

I close my eyes and sink into the deep corner/
Of the ocean of your heart/
To where you are/
You were walking in ocean depths alone.
Now, I won’t let you go
I’ll never leave.

Finally, at last,
I can see your ocean.
Shall we go to the ocean?

Give me a minute to pull myself together and I’ll press on. Thanks.

Unnatural

I adore this song. It really captures a feeling of wandering aimlessly, uncertain of the future. I can practically see the narrator’s head on a swivel as he searches for normalcy and understanding in a life that has just been uprooted by the separation from the person he loves. He feels like it is the worst sort of dream, and he begs to be woken from it.

It does an excellent job of conveying everything just feeling slightly off, wrong, surreal without that person in your life like you planned for. It is wholly unnatural, when being with them was the most natural, easy thing in the world.

Kind of gives me “everywhere I go/I look around” vibes from About Time. Seems to be a recurring theme.

Mom

This one also gave me a good one-two punch in the gut. Take a peek at the lyrics as I give my interpretation:

I always think about what i should say [to her]/
I didn’t know anything [back then]/
With the view of her back which i’ve been looking at/
I can see she has too much burden/
I do, I do, I do always miss you/
I do, I do, I do swallow down my unspoken words/

I read this as the narrator looking back on their childhood through the eyes of an adult and seeing all of the pain and troubles of their mother that they were too young to understand as a kid. It reminds me in that way of AKMU’s Dinosaur, which is a guaranteed tearjerker for me as well.

The narrator sits in contemplation of all of the hardships and asks for understanding for, well, not understanding the sacrifice and the weight of what their mother dealt with as a kid.

Can you be understanding?” I’ll asks, “on this night, there’s so much to say,” as if looking back and finally seeing it all.

I think i understand a little bit now
I hope it’s not too late
I do I do I do, how much i love you
I will speak my swallowed words

Sniffle sniffle.

Wander

I’m a massive fan of Hoppipolla instrumentals. I could listen especially to Youngso and Jinho play forever, on their own but especially as a duo.

One of my favorite things about their collaborations is the way they always seem to support the other.

By that I mean there are parts of their songs where they play off of one another beautifully, but just as many where they shine a spotlight on the other; Youngso will play a rhythmic, tinkly little guitar bit to support the drama of Jinho’s cello, and later, Jinho will make his cello the foundation for Youngso’s awesome skills to shine in return before joining forces once again.

Contrasted against the ethereal instrumental, Märchen 동화, from Spring to Spring, Wander seems more folksy.

It feels like a sunny stroll down a grassy dirt road in the summer, a little sunshine filtering through the leaves at the other end of a rather sad, abysmal album. Of course, it isn’t without its melancholic touch that Hoppipolla almost always brings. Gorgeous stuff.

And Then There Was Us

The last true song on the album and incidentally the title track has interesting production choices to me that stand out right away.

The main aspect of this is how we hear what sounds like Youngso’s fingers sliding up and down the frets so purposefully. It leaves behind a metallic, scratchy, dredging sort of sound in a way we don’t often hear with his masterful, clean play style.

It almost sounds like metal scraping on metal, something industrial, letting us know it was certainly deliberate in a way it might not have necessarily been in The Love.

I’ll’s piano appears as little clinks here and there, and while the word ‘chaos’ often brings to mind something aggressive, this is simply chaotic in the basic sense of the word: no real guidelines, no form, everything spinning where it wants to in space without direction.

I’ll sings his vague, distant lyrics just beneath, and to me, it all gives off a very distinct mood.

The track And Then There Was Us seems like the embodiment of the feeling of giving up–specifically on someone.

It’s listless, it’s aimless, it’s morose, it’s haunting.

The song even begins with what sounds like someone physically getting up out of a chair and walking off slowly, reluctantly. It’s the perfect conclusion to this lonely little album.

This might not have been a total love letter but it was as long as one, wasn’t it? I couldn’t help it. When an album is as good as this one, I think it deserves that kind of attention–and if you thought so, too, enough to actually read through all of this, a big hats off to you.

In their recent MV reaction video Hoppipolla stated that they were already in talks of a full album. I could barely cope with the beauty of these two mini albums–what do they expect from me with a full one?!

Until we get more news on that, stream And Then There Was Us on Spotify and let me know your thoughts on it. Did you interpret the lyrics in a different way? Do you have something to add? I’d love to hear it. Connect with me on social media!

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