The ‘Wonder’ of Minimalism

Andrew Chung

South Korean artist Crush’s latest album “Wonderlust” comes across as a pleasant surprise to fans of the 24-year-old R&B wunderkind. The minimalism of “Wonderlust” contrasts directly with the rich instrumentation showcased in his last EP “Interlude” and allows Crush to come into his own as a strong writer and vocalist. The album is also a breath of fresh air in a somewhat shallow K-pop music industry that mainly prioritizes catchiness. The ubiquity of consumer-oriented music in this market allows artistic visionaries like Crush to shine brighter in every project, and “Wonderlust” is no exception.

“Wonderlust” captures a spare, yet nuanced sound that effortlessly evokes the wistfulness of autumn. “Shall we leave this stuffy city,” Crush suggests in the highly economical intro track “Wanderlust.” Without much else said, he entices the listener to take him up on his offer. Fortunately, Crush stands by his word — he seamlessly interweaves a highly minimalistic sound with deep yet simple emotions from times past, leaving all the stuffiness and complexities of the present in the dust.

The overall texture is thin to the point where one might claim that his minimalism skirts lazy production under the guise of art. However, Crush shatters all such impressions upon close inspection, as all five tracks on the album are laced with sheer sensitivity. “2411” is the love child of lyrical precision and purposeful instrumentation, arousing vivid images of Crush’s past as a no-name singer who resolved to “never give up.../ in bus 2411, [his] only shelter.” The third track “Nostalgia,” characterized by a soothing yet painfully restrained vocal line, evokes a pang of reminiscence without explicitly referencing the past. The guitar emotively rolls jazzy chords to produce a yearning vocal quality, reaching the heights of wistfulness every time it follows the melody line. The title song “Fall” follows with straightforward lyrics and seasonal metaphors (“My reality is a cruel fall without you / I still can’t forget”) in a longing message dedicated to a past love. “How’s by you?” he then gently asks, establishing a bond of sympathy with listeners who have most likely asked the same question at one point or another in their lives. The finale “Like My Father” is the apotheosis of both emotional sensitivity and minimalism, as Crush engages in personal dialogue with his father and yearns to “remain in [his] younger days” in a touching duet between falsetto and piano.

The acoustic-ballad-themed “Wonderlust” greatly deviates from the “trendy” alternative R&B sound that dominates Crush’s past albums. There’s nothing fancy to it — the overarching narrative, the production, the vocal techniques, everything. Then again, aren’t our emotions, however strong, simple as well? Crush realizes this very truth in “Wonderlust,” masterfully relating to his audience through overwhelming simplicity and sensitivity — and to do just that, sometimes 13 minutes and 37 seconds is all it takes.