The Music Log, Ep. 2: On the lack of content + Dreamcatcher, “Deja Vu” review

As some people know, the reason I started this blog is so that I could write full-length posts about music without the length and formatting restrictions that characterize Twitter. While the Music Log thread was a nice exercise in brevity, I sometimes felt that I undersold some truly great songs because 500-ish characters was not quite enough to convey what I liked or disliked about certain pieces of music. Sadly, due both to increasing obligations and a sense of disenchantment with the state of music in general, I have not written as much here as I intended. While as a whole 2019 has felt like a bit of a down year for music everywhere, the summer doldrums have brought out plenty of music I felt apathy if not antipathy towards. Still, there have been highlights, and I would be remiss in my duties as an aspiring music writer if I didn’t cover them, even if late.

Digging through my drafts, I found a half-finished list of my favorite title tracks as of July 2, 2019. It’s a bit too late to publish it, but oh well. For the record, at the time it was:
Dreamcatcher, “Piri”
A.C.E, “Under Cover”
WJSN, “La La Love”
and then some revolving door of Lovelyz’s “When We Were Us (Beautiful Days),” NCT 127’s “Superhuman,” Twice’s “Fancy,” and DreamNote’s “Hakuna Matata,” among others.

(Also, my favorite album at the time was Panihida, by Krzysztof Drabikowski’s version of Batushka. I still owe this one and several full-length album releases at least a short review.)

More than two months have passed and this list is mostly the same, except for one major change. I will elaborate on this shortly.

(Before we proceed, let me point out how awesomely self-referential this post is. Déjà vu is French for “already seen,” and this is a re-view. Hehe.)

While no two Dreamcatcher title tracks really sound the same, except perhaps for the presence of distorted guitar and heavy percussion, “Deja Vu” stands out as something a bit different. I don’t think I’d call it a ballad, but it is definitely a lot more downbeat than their usual explosive blend of dance pop and rock. Even the chorus, which is usually where the song explodes, is a touch more restrained than usual. The song’s real payoff is the final iteration of the said chorus, which kicks up the tempo (and, briefly, the key) into more familiar territory.

This is an extremely risky gamble (especially for me, a stickler for good choruses), and I’ve seen this kind of thing attempted a couple of times this year, but this is one of the  very few times I feel that it succeeds. This is due, in part, to the smartly-written two-part chorus. The first part is a repetition of the last line of the prechorus. It’s a much sparser, more repetitive hook than I’m used to from Dreamcatcher, who normally go full throttle in their choruses. That said, it’s extremely effective. The moment I watched the highlight medley and the trailer for the fantastic animated MV, it got stuck in my head, and hasn’t really left. However, taking it to the next level is the second half of the chorus, where Siyeon belts out a somewhat more rousing melody. This is both an effective way to keep the song from getting stale and a brilliant setup for the tantalizing finish.

More importantly, the whole song, not just the choruses, feels worthwhile. This is mainly because of the girls’ reliably top-notch performances. Siyeon is earning much-deserved recognition as a top-tier main vocal (listen to her cover of EXO’s “Overdose”), but everyone shines with what they’ve been given. Handong’s velvety voice finally gets significant time on a featured track, and while SuA/Gahyeon fans might have wanted rap verses from those two (especially with what Gahyeon showed on “Piri”) their vocals are no joke either. I need, however, to talk about Dami’s performance. Despite being the group’s main rapper, she doesn’t really get a rap verse per se, instead getting a few lines to sing. Anyone who’s listened to their B-sides or her cover of Adele’s “Someone Like You” knows that she can sing her heart out, and that is exactly what she does here. Her low, quivering voice here is perfect for the frailty conveyed in the verses, and adds yet another layer of texture to the gorgeous blend of vocals here. These verses could easily have been boring or throwaway, but the sheer emotion the girls convey in their performances elevates them and has me totally on board.

The production is also on point. Not that any of their material is badly mixed or mastered, but in the past, I’ve occasionally found myself wondering how much harder the song would hit with a more bottom-heavy bass or a gnarlier, thicker guitar tone. “Deja Vu” delivers on both counts. The spine-rattling bass pluck that precedes the chorus, best enjoyed on earphones, is probably the heaviest I’ve heard in any of their titles. As for the guitar tone, I don’t know if there’s really an appreciable change to it, but the absence of palm mutes usually used to give the song heaviness means that the guitar always rings out fully, fleshing out the symphonic chorus admirably. Add some beautiful vocal harmonies (especially from JiU/Yoohyeon) and some thunderous tom work, and you get a satisfying aural experience.

Based on the teasers, I worried that this would be just a little too languid or repetitive for me to really love, but as I should’ve learned from the “Dalla Dalla” teaser, you cannot judge a song until you have heard it in its entirety. This may be premature as hell, but right now, “Deja Vu” is my favorite song of 2019, and quite possibly the best song in Dreamcatcher’s unimpeachable discography.

Rating (based on the old Music Log format): 5/5

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