“I always thought we’d be friends forever”, Kirby says to Kevin in St. Elmo’s Fire, which tells the story of a group of friends and college graduates entering the “real world”. This line encapsulates the entire movie, where the bonds between friends are unbreakable despite heartbreak, disagreements, injury, and failure. Much like the coming-of-age ’80s classic, indie-pop quartet Say Sue Me‘s sophomore album, Where We Were Together, is a loose recollection of the ties that unite 최수미 Choi Sumi (vocals/guitar), 김병규 Kim Byungkyu (guitar/vocals), 하재영 Ha Jaeyoung (bass), and 강세민 Kang Semin (drums) together and to their hometown of Busan, South Korea. While the record is their tale, older and younger listeners will empathize with them because their stories are also ours.
The smouldering, retro jangle-pop of “Let It Begin” is the perfect entry point. As Kim’s guitar chimes in the background, Choi lushly sings, “No matter what you say, it is not time to be done yet”. Her words are an indication that the quartet’s careers and friendships are just starting to blossom, and she’s right. The groovy “Ours”, which is sung entirely in Korean, reiterates the message that the present is ours to own.
“Funny and Cute”, however, is the one track that reveals Say Sue Me’s relationship. As the delicate, beach-side melody and feathery drums percolate in the background, Choi explains how she’s “afraid of making memories without you.“ Her words appear to be a nod to a time when Kang was hospitalized after suffering a severe injury. Fortunately, like a great ’80s movie, there is a happy ending, which is depicted on the dreamy “After Falling Asleep”. With its Alvvays-esque approach, the track leaves one in a state of wonderment. While Choi sings entirely in Korean, it’s not difficult to figure out what she’s saying or thinking. Her dreamy delivery beautifully captures the intimate moments we’ve shared with that special someone.
For all the dazzling moments on Where We Were Together, Say Sue Me know how to deliver exhilaration. On “Old Town”, the band create a song that is the gateway into summer with its warm and vibrant melodies, jangly hooks, and Choi’s sweet vocals. It’s music that gets you up and dancing or running without abandon. Despite the upbeat vibe, Choi’s words are a lament to her abandonment, as friends leave Busan in search for greater opportunities. Loneliness, however, won’t keep her down, as she explains on “I Just Wanna Dance”. This little anthem celebrates one’s independence and decisions even if one “doesn’t know what I’m doing“.
“B Lover” ratchets up the intensity with a rambunctious pop-rock approach. The feverish guitars and heart-pounding rhythms (the bass line is awesome) yield a song that sounds like a car chase from the original Batman series. Choi’s vocals are extremely urgent, as she’s the driver trying to get away from the asshole who is trying to “define her”. Trying to control her. She’s a 21st Century woman, however, and she’s not having any of that crap.
It is only fitting that the album ends with an epic in “Coming To The End”. It’s not the typical epic that from start to finish blows your mind. Instead, the song commences with an intoxicating and dreamy melody reminiscent of Yo La Tengo. For over two minutes, Say Sue Me orchestrate a gorgeous instrumental before Choi’s delicate voice enters the fray. She shares a tale of friendships ending. Alone, she ponders if anyone else “will know who I am”. As those words leave her lips, the song transitions into a 3.5-minute jam, highlighted by Kim’s emotive guitar playing that would make Jim James and Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket rise, applaud, and salute.
And rise, applaud, and salute we shall to Where We Were Together, which is the coming-of-age album for 2018 and one of the year’s finest. An album that sees a little band “alone” in Busan that are coming into their own and progressively emerging as an indie force.
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