“Hope World” sounds beautiful when it floats and underwhelming when it doesn’t

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Some of BTS’s were not resting after releasing their chart-topping “Love Yourself” album. One of the group’s rappers, J-Hope, released a solo-album that looks to break even more records for K-Pop. J-Hope’s new album “Hope World” has only been beaten on the charts by one other K-Pop album – “Love Yourself”!

To a degree, “Hope World” deserves the hype. J-Hope ties together a set of diverse songs by creating a sense of floating – floating through life, through music, through days, and through dreams. “Hope World” knocks it out of the park when J-Hope sticks to that floating landscape he creates. When he gets away from it, he struggles and “Hope World” feels less cohesive.

In particular, J-Hope’s aggressive tracks, “Base Line” and “HANGSANG,” both struggle to fit the floating vibe of the album. Despite being solid songs, they drag down the album by making it feel less cohesive.

“Base Line” has a good, gritty feel to it creates a fun contrast by putting aggressive raps over a bubbly beat that gradually gets more aggressive as it goes. There are some great record-scratch effects, vocal distortions, and samples on the track too. As an interlude, it works pretty well, transitioning from the super peaceful “Daydream” into the more aggressive “HANGSANG” and it might have been perfect if J-Hope had one or two more aggressive tracks and another nice interlude to fall into “Airplane” and the outro.

The problem is “Base Line” doesn’t preface a full turn into an intense stretch, just a weird drop into the album’s one intense song – “HANGSANG.” “HANGSANG” and “Base Line” both have cool elements to them but they feel like they belong on another album. No other song on the album has the hard rapping of these two tracks, no other song has as scratchy and visceral a beat as “Base Line,” and no other track has the gunshots, whooping, and bits of mumble-rap that “HANGSANG” has.

“HANGSANG” feels lyrically less meaningful, too. It focuses more on standard pop-rap material like success as measured by wealth, fame, and a loyal crew. That’s fine and understandable but a bit underwhelming compared to tracks like “Daydream” where J-Hope admits that he plays a character in BTS and that as a person he daydreams about a different life, like plenty of people. Even “Base Line” says more in less time, pointing to hard work, positivity, and passion as the baseline of J-Hope’s personality and music career.

Still, the album shines where it sticks fully to its floating tone, not where it deviates. “Floating tone” might seem like ambiguous culture-writer-speak but it’s a description grounded in J-Hope’s influences. J-Hope references the famous underwater adventure novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea” and points to it as a creative influence. This is part of why the album opens with an aquatic bubbling sound. J-Hope also has a song dedicated to flying through the air in form of “Airplane.”

J-Hope keeps his floating landscape alive with higher pitched rhythms that have a lot of air and breath to them. You can hear the higher pitched rhythms all over “Hope World.” There’s even a moment where J-Hope uses the classic “hey!” chant that BTS loves but shifts its pitch up to match the rest of the beat. “P.O.P. pt.1” uses a high-pitched synthesizer rhythm to underscore the entire song and litters the track with small, bubbly noises like popping sounds at 0:54.

J-Hope takes on a breathier rapping and singing style in general, like at around 1:25 of “P.O.P. pt.1” where his line empties out into a gasp. “Daydream” uses the breathy vocals more than any other song, featuring whole sections of airy and whispered vocals. Like “Hope World,” “Daydream also uses tons of high-pitched sounds to create its beat and heavily mixes highs and lows. Then, “Airplane” takes the floating tone to a literal level, with a song that’s all about taking off in an airplane and flying to new heights.

When the floating aesthetic is on in full, “Hope World” also sounds gorgeously crisp. With only J-Hope’s voice on the album, his voice directs everything and every track has flawless rhythms and perfect transitions. The lows of the bass also mix very well with the high-pitched noises littering every track, creating an album that feels groovy and intricate.

J-Hope formulates an incredibly clear and strong aesthetic across most of the tracks on this album and I wish he stuck to it for the entire album. “Hope World” is at its most crisp, it’s most meaningful, and it’s all-around best when J-Hope runs with his aquatic adventurer instincts and doesn’t worry about making standard pop-rap songs. If he had, I think “Hope World” would have topped most of what J-Hope has done on BTS. As it is, it still matches most of what he’s done on BTS and will probably still be one of the better K-Pop solo albums to come out in 2018.

8/10

Napcloud

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