V – ‘Layover’ review: suave sophistication with a twist
BTS’ V feels like an old soul when it comes to music. Sure, he’s one-seventh of the biggest pop group on the planet, who have helped push Korean music forward on a global scale. But, when he shares music recommendations on livestreams, social media and in interviews, he often chooses to highlight jazz classics and vintage R&B staples over artists from his own generation.
That his debut solo album ‘Layover’ pitches up in that smoky, smooth world of yesteryear, then, comes as no surprise. The singer’s voice – which is at its goosebump-inducing best when its owner drops it into a deeper register that’s soft and fluffy around the edges – is made for such a style. V’s compatibility with his chosen palette makes magic, the record instantly oozing sophistication.
Rather than fix his gaze entirely on the past, though, this release finds V giving these classic sounds his own modern twist. ‘Rainy Days’ opens with a piano melody that transports you into the dimly-lit glow of a jazz bar, where it could be 2023 or 1923. But the ping and zoom of texts flying through the digital ether cuts through within in seconds, pulling you into the present. ‘Blue’ combines old school R&B with a more current beat and production effects on snippets of backing vocals that feels at once timeless but also futuristic.
The contrast between periods can be felt most keenly on ‘For Us’, the most interesting song on ‘Layover’. The pitched-up vocals that usher in the track don’t serve just as a mood-setting introduction, but as a device for a shift and intrigue. When they reappear midway through, they signal an imminent key change – one which becomes all the more impactful for its chipmunk-high preface. The rest of the track, though, is deliciously of the past, its synth pads and bright piano immediately reminiscent of soft-focus ’70s live performances.
Lyrically, ‘Layover’ is simple and deals largely in relationships that have veered off course, but with V at times hopeful, others longing (and sometimes both) that they can get back on track. It makes sense. The album’s title refers to a period of waiting – limbo, almost – on a journey and, here, the singer is searching for the connection to the next stop in his life.
“It’s about time we get it straight / Gimme a minute if it ain’t too late,” he instructs on the romantic ‘Slow Dancing’. In the chorus, he offers more incentive to make the call. “Maybe we / Could be / Slow dancing,” he suggests, voice moving as glacially and calmly as the activity he’s proposing. “Until the morning / We could be romancing / The night away.”
‘Love Me Again’ is more confrontational. It feels like a conversation – or V rehearsing how one will go in his head. “Is that all you have to say / One word, that’s it?” he quizzes at one point, following his interrogation up with a concession and an admission: “Fine, I’ll be honest with you / Put it all out there / I think about you all the time / Where you are, who you’re with / Lost without you baby.” It’s thrillingly intimate and a real highlight of the record.
‘Layover’ has been a long time coming – over the last few years, V has teased both songs and a full release on social media and in interviews, only to delete his work and start again. Finally – and with the aid of ADOR founder and NewJeans shaper Min Hee-jin – his debut album has survived his tough vetting process and it’s an engaging listen; one that makes artistic choices rather than commercial ones (see: the minute-long, meandering flute solo at the end of ‘Slow Dancing’). Perhaps V made us wait for this one, but it was thoroughly worth it.
- Release date: September 8, 2023
- Record label: Big Hit Music / HYBE