In November 2017, an absolutely astonishing song started making its way onto tastemakers’ playlists. “Raingurl” was a catchy, moreish, understated house number that catapulted its creator, DJ and producer Kathy Yaeji Lee (known mononymously as Yaeji), to internet fame.
“Raingurl” epitomised her style: quiet, intriguing vocals over an irresistible house beat and resonant bass that makes you feel about 40 times cooler just for listening to it. Yaeji’s debut full-length album, With a Hammer, builds on this formula but calms things right down as she examines the sources of her psychological unquiet.
She sings in both English and Korean, sometimes in sugary, child-like vocals, like on the album opener “Submerge FM”, and sometimes in moody staccato rap, as on the ominous, drum’n’bass number “Fever”.
Most of the songs are low-tempo and thoughtful, music for when the night is winding down rather than at its height. The title implies rage – or maybe something to make Ikea furniture to – but the anger here is suppressed, damped down, more ominous than violent. The hammer is ever-present but you don’t know when it’s getting used or on who.
Blasts of horns and ponderous woodwind wind through the songs and sometimes they feel like a weight on your shoulders as Yaeji unpicks generational trauma, systemic inequality and a general feeling of effort induced ennui. On the title track she chants through her confusion between truth and lies, emerging from a dream-like fug and finding herself back in the real world over a slow-pop bass line.
On “1 Thing To Smash”, her collaboration with Loraine James, flutes flutter around the two singers as they manifest smashing it all up – but it’s a calm, meditative calling into being rather than a tantrum.
Sometimes using the hammer isn’t as important as having it in the first place.
Songs to stream: Done (Let’s Get It), With A Hammer