I heard JUNGWOO for the first time in 2019 when she popped up in my new releases with a Kim Sawol feature, one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time. I made the grave mistake of not further exploring her music or clicking onto the album from which the song joined my playlists.

Unfortunately, this began a four year gap between myself and her growing discography.

Since the album I missed (6th Saturday), there have been a few singles and EPs, until November when she released a second album, Cloud Cuckoo Land, a 10 song album with its lead single, Cumulus (낡은 괴담). The album follows JUNGWOO as she descends into an unrestful dreamscape, filled with frustrations, failures, and fears, but also a shot at the utopia of all her deepest wants: a Cloud Cuckoo Land.

The album is similar to other lost in Wonderland albums (Gatsby in a Daze’s 412, LEE CHANHYUK’s ERROR, or Lee Jin Ah’s Hearts of the City), but where her peers go psychedelia, popfunk, and jazz, JUNGWOO leans into some grunge—a little shoegaze and distortia. The song Cumulus begins with the roaring groan of drums and guitar bleating on as if ready to drive into infinity. 

My heart is like a cloud; if you look away, it changes
Even if you look at it, you won’t even know it has changed

Her soft, almost cute, vocals lightly flitter over, the drag sliding away to the light accompaniment of the guitar. In the spaces where she pauses, as if coming in and out through thick TV static, the accompaniment falls back into its cacophonous drag, compelling in its repetition.

I tossed and turned all night; happiness was not within me
My body is shaken by the sadness waiting for me to look back
I’ll admit it, love is important to me
I need some uninterrupted time

With the lyrics vague and suspended like cumulus clouds (which Google so accidentally-poetically describes as “detached, individual, fairweather”) and the music video like a silent film—moving but simple—I can’t help but think of the title song, Cloud Cuckoo Land, and its accompanying MV, which provides a little more insight. In the midst of her utopic dreamworld, JUNGWOO is besieged by nightmares and monsters; her game “Heaven Maker: Make Your World Heaven!” turns suddenly to “Hell Maker,” error codes streaming across the screen, and her first person POV forestscape turns red with an endangered health bar.

Crouching in the blowing wind
Even if the sun rises again, I won’t wake up

With “Cumulus” preceding the shocking reveal of the hell beneath her heaven, this song feels a bit like the moment of suspension before the veil drops, a literal cloud passing over to obscure the sky. Is JUNGWOO the cloud passing, or is it passing over her?

Rather, like some old ghost story
Count my sleeping tresses
Take me away

Playing with the idea of being stuck in the dreamworld, JUNGWOO instead suggests an infinity to a person who is/is-not-quite there, with the offer to count her strands of hair as they fade into an old ghost story together. 

Often inspired by folk and country, JUNGWOO’s lyricism and folk tale inspiration shines here against the harsher climates of her guitar and drum accompaniment, a welcome juxtaposition. Like a cloud that could pass or rain down, JUNGWOO builds her album toward its darker tones with the light but vaguely eerie, “Cumulus,” a perfect find for anyone who, in the cold liminal spaces of these holiday seasons, feels just on the cusp of something.

[photo courtesy of 정우’s instagram)