That’s My Jam is a weekly feature where one person from the Selective Hearing staff goes to wax poetic about music that is pivotal to their musical tastes. Whether that would be an album, a song, or anything in-between. We all had to start somewhere.
Released January 7, 2004
- Heffy End
- Live Wire
- 로보트 (Robot)
- 10월 4일 (October 4th)
- F.M Business
- 0 (Zero)
South Korea’s Seo Taiji has always been an evolutionary musician in every sense of the word, starting in the early 90s with his group Seo Taiji & Boys, making fairly typical 90’s hip hop-infused dance pop and ballads, and going solo in 1998 to explore various genres of alternative rock, heavy metal, rap, punk, electronica, and even symphony music.
His 2004 album “7th Issue” was essentially the pinnacle of his career, managing to mix together every style of music he had written, produced, and performed over the previous decade in the business, and using some great experimental elements within. Here’s a detailed look back at an album that greatly changed the way I viewed the possibilities of meshing many genres into an Asian pop framework.
I learned about Seo Taiji in the year 2002 as I was just a few years into Asian pop music, and by that time he had already been experimenting with multiple styles of rock and electronic music on his first two solo albums, “Seo Tai Ji” in 1998 and “Ultramania” in 2000. These albums took a number of unique styles within the general fields of rock and metal music and made them into a fairly unique product based on an exclusive insight from being in the Asian music business for so many years.
After becoming the “Michael Jackson of Korea” in his early career, (filling stadiums with millions of insane, screaming female fans,) he reportedly lived in the Southwest states of America for a number of years towards the late 90s, and took in a lot of influence from popular music around that time, which was late alternative rock and a lot of nu-metal, and he used a lot of these influences to craft his early debut albums. He even brought back a powerhouse American drummer, “Heff” Holter, to Korea with him to work on his next few albums and tours.
By the time he reached “7th Issue” in 2004, he had even further expanded his songwriting and production talents and had come up with a true monster of an album.
Though the tracklist features 12 songs, only eight of them are full songs, the rest are short interlude tracks to tie some of the songs together, so I’ll mostly just ignore those in this article. On the subject of tying songs together, its probably important to bring up that this album is very much a fully realized concept album, with all the songs being written in the same instrument tunings and similar keys, also using mostly the same chords for each song. This makes the whole album end up sounding like one very long song with a few breaks scattered around.
You’d normally think that writing a whole album with a similar sound throughout would get pretty boring by the end, but that’s where one of the most unique elements of the album comes in, in that the arrangements used on the songs make them sound extremely different and very memorable from each other. Another very unique factor is how much experimentation and differentiation of rhythm is used on the album, where certain songs almost seem like literal experiments in how rhythm can be used in song production to change how the song sounds.
At it’s core, the album is truly a pop-punk/metal album, but becomes so much more than that between the beginning and the end by looking into the finer details of each song.
The first real song on the album after the intro is “Heffy End” which also became a single. Here’s the MV for the song:
The song starts with a pretty standard pop-punk intro, full of rich vocal layering and harmonies, with the only notable exception being the extremely de-tuned guitars (the album is in Drop-C tuning,) but soon breaks into a completely acoustic arrangement, completely changing the pace of the song and silencing all instruments besides the guitars and vocals.
After a few measures of the calm, emotional acoustic arrangement, the song bursts back into a full metal arrangement that hits you over the head like a hammer. These kinds of dynamics are used frequently throughout the song, and throughout the album as a whole.
Besides the songwriting already being very dramatic and full of melody and harmony, the diversity and dynamics of the arrangements drive home these feelings even harder. The rhythm constantly changes or skips a beat to further emphasize certain notes and add power to certain sections.
The drums are constantly throwing in fills or changing the patterns to follow the guitar, which is also constantly changing the dynamics, picking speed, and sound of the riffs. Even though they’re playing the same chords throughout the song, it sounds like three or four different songs before its over.
The next major song is called “Victim” which is a slightly less complex or experimental song in the same pop-punk/metal style, with soaring guitar lead melodies and an upbeat, jumpy sound, despite the super-serious lyrics about sexual abuse and abortion. More constant vocal layering and lush guitar arrangements to be found here.
The next full song is another of the best on the album, “Live Wire.” Here’s the MV for it:
“Live Wire” features a very speedy, upbeat pop melody supported by the very heavy guitars. This song sticks to a standard pop-punk arrangement more than probably any of the other songs, but the changes and experimentation with rhythm concepts here make the song stand out quite a bit. Listen as the guitar and drums constantly change the the rhythm of the song as it happily progresses. There’s even a little drum & bass interlude mixed with the guitar about half way through the song and a little jumpy mosh pit section later on, also keeping the drum & bass sound going behind it.
Right after “Live Wire,” we hear the intro to “Robot,” which always reminds me of the beginning of the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero” with a heavy, mid-paced, steady drum beat starting the song. The song sticks with this same, mid-paced element throughout, but mixes in tons of Taiji’s trademark angelic vocal layering to carry the melody strongly throughout the song on top of the heavy, loud guitar arrangement.
This song also uses some of the very unique rhythm embellishments, having very irregular picking and drumming patterns for multiple parts of the song as well as many quiet/loud dynamic passages throughout, creating what feels like an emotional journey through someone’s head, with various types of feelings ranging from sad, hopeful, happy, and angry, all in one song. This seems to fit the lyrics, which are written from a confused child’s perspective.
The next full song is “October 4th,” which is the only true ballad type song on the album and the only one that sticks to a pretty simple style throughout, but is still a great song and makes an interesting dynamic compared to the rest of the album. The song feels like a break from all the madness and power of the tracks leading up to it. Still full of lush, layered vocal arrangements, the song satisfies on many levels, despite being more simple than the rest of the album.
Next comes one of my favorite tracks on the album, “F.M Business,” with the “F.M” standing for “Fucked-up Music,” appropriately containing a lot of criticism of the mainstream music business and even specifically at the money-hungry idol music sector of the industry. This song starts to lean back towards his previous nu-metal influenced style, with lots of staccato palm muting guitars and hip hop influences.
One of the early riffs contains an awesome high-pitched guitar lead melody that floats over the rhythm and makes it sound like the music is literally weeping; the emotion in this passage is almost overwhelming.
The song soon breaks into a hip hop drum beat, and he starts rapping while the guitar, bass, and drums further create a beat behind him. Here we see more of the interesting rhythm concepts, with stop-start elements and variance in playing styles changing the feel of the song frequently.
Next is “Zero,” which is technically the album closer, as far as full tracks go, and is the longest track on the album. Zero is a very slow-paced, symphonic rock ballad, following a lot of the same style and tone from previous songs on the album, but bringing in a more epic, fleshed-out sound with a lot of different instrumentation. The break at 3:30 takes the progression and melody into a gorgeous, full symphony strings orchestration with his layered vocals on top, soon bringing back in the rest of the band to play with the strings, creating a great, dramatic close to the song.
The song fades into the final “Outro” track, which is a real song, despite only being about 2 minutes long. “Outro” feels like a continuation of both “October 4th” and “Zero” with a calm, acoustic arrangement, complete with the ambient sounds of running water and chirping birds. It adds a sweet keyboard melody over the rhythm before fading out into the last minute of the song with just strings and the ambient nature sounds, creating about as calm of an exit to an album as I could imagine.
I’ll also go over the one track from the recording sessions of 7th Issue that wasn’t released until well after the album came out, entitled “Watch Out.” Here’s the PV:
Rumor had it this was withheld from being on the album because it didn’t quite fit the concept of what 7th Issue was, even though it had a simliar sound with lots of dynamic instrumentation and rhythms, because it also followed a more traditional pop/metal songwriting style than the rest of the album. The song likewise features a heavy metal guitar solo, something that was completely absent from the rest of the album. A fantastic track overall, but I could see why it wasn’t included within the concept of 7th Issue.
As previously mentioned, this was one of the early albums that showed me how well two or more of my favorite music styles (Asian pop and heavy metal, mainly) could be meshed together to create an amazing synergy of ideas, emotion, and sound, and gave me a good example of how it could be done right.
Nowadays I have producers like Japan’s Hyadain to give me these kinds of unique, progressive styles of songs that explore how different arrangements and rhythms can affect the same composition within a pop structure, but I feel like my fascination first started with Seo Taiji.
With this album, I also feel that, more than ever before, Taiji showed the world that he was a world-class musician and producer, not just the little kid from the idol boy band he started in, which is a powerful thing to see in the modern music market and an inspiring scenario for other artists to see that it is possible to be taken seriously, even after starting as a pop idol.
While he only released one album after 7th Issue, it unfortunately didn’t explore any truly new territory for him, and wasn’t nearly as good of an album overall, going back to a more electronic pop/rock sound. 7th Issue still stands as a paramount for his musical creativity and output, and I still enjoy the hell out of it almost 10 years later, which is a pretty rare thing for modern music.
If you want to hear the album in full, here’s the whole thing:
Thanks for reading!