In a novel incident, Yaeji’s debut mixtape, “What We Drew,” is a dance record that doesn’t cause dissonance when I’m listening to it by myself. Usually, I would prefer to share kinetic electronic music with others. But given current circumstances, I’ve been forced to listen to it in isolation. Thankfully, there’s a certain warm embrace felt through Yaeji’s music, rendering it a spectacularly inclusive mixtape.
“What We Drew” is hard to define, and I apprehensively label it a dance record. Yaeji’s range of influences span from techno/house music to East Coast hip-hip to soft K-pop palettes, all culminating into a bilingual hodgepodge showcasing why she’s a force in the greater indie music scene.
Admittedly, Yaeji’s music up to this point hasn’t captured my attention as strongly as I’d hoped. Her soft vocals and minimalistic techno stylings always intrigued me, especially with her 2017 stand-out single “Raingurl” and her rendition of Drake’s “Passionfruit.” However, the subdued nature of her music didn’t excite me in the past as much as it does now.
Through her first full-length project, the Korean-American artist invites you into her world, a powerful feeling in these trying times of social distancing and physical disconnection. This colorfully rhythmic mixtape is a culmination of Yaeji’s cross-cultural experiences and an exploration of sentimentality through the lens of a crudely drawn anime character.
A great entry point to understanding the aesthetics and intimacy of Yaeji’s art is the music video for “Waking Up Down,” which might be my favorite track of the mixtape. It’s an animated venture through Yaeji’s imagination, featuring characters she designed herself and a simple story of self-improvement. It’s an encouraging take on the day-to-day tasks that are often far too difficult to do: waking up, cooking for yourself, hydrating, etc.
The bilingual nature of the project makes deciphering its themes a bit difficult, although in general I detect integrity, friendship and growth as her central lyrical topics.
The sonic elements of “What We Drew” are notably consistent throughout its duration. The title track gives a good summation of what you can expect to hear: a cacophonous blend of electronica beat sequencing, soaring synth leads and Yaeji’s hushed voice bleeding gently into the mix.
That’s not to say that there aren’t variations. The following track “In Place” takes things into a darker direction, trading synth melodies for an aggressive bass synth and Yaeji’s natural voice for a modulated and haunting vocal line in the latter half of the track. “When I Grow Up” takes these elements and creates an anthemic underground house bop that is meant to be experienced in a dingy NYC nightclub around sweaty strangers.
Songs like “Money Can’t Buy” and “Spell” dig into her hip-hop and K-Pop sensibilities, mainly through rap verses that seamlessly fit into Yaeji’s style of bouncy instrumentals.
“These Days” and “In the Mirror” see Yaeji in moments of vulnerability and introspection, with both songs resting heavily over foreboding beats and echoing vocal lines.
But ultimately Yaeji’s pop appeal is found in the aforementioned track “Waking Up Down.” It’s an energetic celebration of the monotonous, riding on a catchy and icy synth arpeggio before giving way to an intense beat breakdown. Fans of Daft Punk will get a similar sort of satisfaction from this track, and from Yaeji in general.
Emerging artists are pressured to deliver with their first full-length project, but it doesn’t appear as if “What We Drew” was made under pressure at all. It’s a finely tuned expression of self, sincere in its personality and, most importantly, a joy of a listen.