Kathy Lee comes correct with an irresistible mixtape for XL Recordings.
A few weeks ago, 2020 looked like a big year for Kathy Lee, the Korean-American artist better known as Yaeji. She was about to put out her first full-length, a mixtape called What We Drew for XL Recordings, joining a roster of independent music royalty like Arca, Adele, Thom Yorke and King Krule. She was ready to play the part. Since breaking out in 2017 on hit singles like "raingirl" and "drink i'm sippin on," Lee has sold out shows, graced magazine covers and developed a lovable sense of pop presentation, one that proudly wears her Asian-American heritage and makes use of her background in visual art. This month, Lee was also meant to debut a new live show featuring choreographed dancers, a big step up from her DIY beginnings in Brooklyn. The tour would have made 26 stops across North America and Europe. But of course, most of that has been postponed.
Though the global pandemic will slow down some things for Lee, it will not stop her fans from rinsing this mixtape. More than other home listening music circulating these days, What We Drew sounds particularly sweet during a crisis. It's not just because of Lee's soothing whispers in Korean and English, which are as cute as they are comforting. Nor is it because of the chilled-out beats, which show a step up in production skills and a blossoming sense of musicality. What We Drew ultimately feels meaningful during self-isolation because it celebrates the simple pleasures we took for granted before—things like family, friendship and (something I've started to cherish while stuck alone in my apartment) the peacefulness of routine and housework.
That might sound lame on paper, but this modest, even innocent feeling at the heart of Yaeji's music makes it both quirky and charming. Describing her live show in a 2017 Breaking Through feature, Max Pearl wrote: "There's something willfully playful about it—this shy, five-foot nerd with wire-frame glasses whispering about champagne, cars and clubs." On What We Drew, it's a little bit different. The music and imagery stay closer to home, less tied to a party girl and more to a domestic goddess. Take "Waking Up Down," the mixtape's first single and catchiest crowd pleaser. It rides a laid-back groove, full of sparkling melodies and marching snares, but most memorable of all is its cute hook: "I got waking up down / I got cooking down / I got making a list and checking down." Name another artist who can rock a club with a song about mastering a frying pan.
Musically, too, What We Drew's production style is cozy and laidback. The mixtape moves through a few different sections, starting off slow and dreamy, taking in woozy hip-hop and twinkling dance pop and ending up in UK club territory. There's a wistful vibe throughout, evident in the longing title track and the closer "Never Settling Down," as well as a stoney haze, best heard in opener "My Imagination" and the swirling "Free Interlude," which features wacky spitfire from rappers Lil Fayo, trenchcoat and Sweet Pea. But Lee's most surprising production moves come towards the mixtape's end: the gloomy build and huge breakbeat drop on "In The Mirror," the high-definition drum patterns on "The Thing," the mysterious brass parts on "These Days." Not only will they sound good on a festival stage—whenever those are running again—but they heighten the emotional quality of her music. On What We Drew, this means greater feelings of connection, gratitude and love.
Tracklist01. MY IMAGINATION 상상
02. WHAT WE DREW 우리가 그려왔던
03. IN PLACE 그 자리 그대로
04. WHEN I GROW UP
05. MONEY CAN'T BUY feat. Nappy Nina
06. FREE INTERLUDE feat. Lil Fayo, trenchcoat and Sweet Pea
07. SPELL 주문 feat. YonYon and G.L.A.M.
08. WAKING UP DOWN
09. IN THE MIRROR 거울
10. THE TH1NG feat. Victoria Sin and Shy One
11. THESE DAYS 요즘
12. NEVER SETTLING DOWN