Jonghyun recently released “Story Op. 2,” the second part (of an undisclosed number of parts) of The Collection, a multi-album compilation series of Jonghyun’s own self-written and self-produced works. “Story Op. 1” was a endearingly sweet chapter of songs Jonghyun had written about and for his listeners while hosting MBC’s Blue Night radio broadcasts. Any information on whether or not “Story Op.2”’s tracks also followed this trend was hard to come by but about half the songs on this new compilation album are previous releases–“Elevator” from 2015’s MNet Monthly Live Connection and “1000,” “Just Chill,” “Love is So Nice,” and “Our Season” being released in the latter half of 2016 on Blue Night. “Story Op. 2” thus contains five previously unreleased tracks, one of which is available on the physical album only. Since I don’t yet own a physical copy, I will only be talking about tracks one through nine today.
“Story Op. 2” is just as charming but perhaps a bit more mature of a release compared to “Story Op. 1”, expanding upon that album’s jazz and ballad inspired sound by exploring new musical ideas. While tracks like “Blinking Game” and “Elevator” follow “Story Op. 1”’s style, the others have a more mainstream sound comparatively, infusing elements of pop on the Taeyeon feature, “Lonely”, indie R&B on tracks like “Love is So Nice” and “Fireplace,” and even the grandiose instrumentation of power pop on “Let Me Out”. The influence of his debut album, She Is, may account for this shift as, at times, I heard the more pop elements of that album leaking into the production on “Story Op. 2”. However, these changes are by no means jarring and the two compilation albums are definitely related musically, “Story Op. 2” perhaps being a more realized and diverse version of “Story Op. 1” as Jonghyun continues to develop his own sound. He is quite adept at experimenting with different styles and inspirations within his past releases–Jonghyun’s Base EP, She Is debut album, and The Collection series (not to mention the numerous works as a member of SHINee) all have distinctive musicalities and moods, existing in their separate musical spaces while still branding a specific and eclectic “Jonghyun” style: an atmospheric mixing of jazz, soul, R&B, and pop singer-songwriter aesthetics into an original and appealing sound.
The production on this album seemed more professional and perhaps more produced than “Story Op. 1” but I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing since I quite liked the more humble production singer-songwriter vibe of the first part of The Collection. However, Jonghyun does have more writing and arranging credits on “Story Op. 2” (he’s credited as self-composing every song on the album and arranging every song but one–“Our Season”), making this album even more authentically his own than any of his previous releases. Although I may like the more homemade feel of “Story Op. 1”, I cannot deny that the sharper production on “Story Op. 2” means Jonghyun has improved not only his skills as a composer but also as a producer.
One song I did have some problems production-wise was “Let Me Out,” which felt over produced and not as well mixed. It’s just easier to mix on tracks like “Lonely” or “1000” which have fewer instruments and voices to blend together and this may be why Jonghyun struggles more with “Let Me Out”, which had a lot more going on than the other songs. The frequencies of the strings, Jonghyun’s voice, the guitar, and the drums all hit at the same place and had a similar griminess throughout, giving the song an overall impression of being a wall of unmixed sound. And sometimes too Jonghyun’s beautiful voice and falsetto got lost in all that. I was disgruntled when they distorted his high chords during the chorus and let them sort of fold into the mix. This is a power pop sort of song–you can’t lose the vocals!
However, although “Let Me Out” had some issues, “Fireplace”, another complex song instrumentally, ended up being one of my favorites on the album. The synths are expertly mixed, light and dreamy, floating effortlessly throughout the musical space of the song, balanced perfectly with Jonghyun’s soft vocals. The drums feel a little strong at moments and I wish Jonghyun’s voice was more towards the front of the track at these times. But at the chorus when his voice comes through all filtered and sort of floats in and around the synths and the distorted female voice? Oof. So satisfying. The soundscape is beautiful, spacey like She Is’s “Moon”, full and lush while utilizing every part of the musical landscape as if enveloping the listener in a cloud of sound.
Overall this is a consistent release with what Jonghyun has given us in the past and a perfect followup to The Collections’ “Story Op. 1”. I will always look forward to his next release, whether it be SHINee, a collaboration, or his sophomore studio album.
My favorite tracks are “Just Chill”, “Elevator”, “Fireplace”, and “Our Season” because each separately embodies what I love about Jonghyun: his synth arrangements, his proclivity for moody ballads, his R&B stylings, and his voice (respectively).