Song Review: Taeyeon’s “Time Lapse”

There are some tracks that you just can’t get out of your head years later, that you still play on the daily, and this is one of mine. “Time Lapse” is the oft-overlooked gem on Taeyeon’s My Voice (2017) album alongside the CD-only bonus track, “Time Spent Walking Through Memories” (here’s a live performance). I’ve wanted to write about “Time Lapse” for some time now, and I was recently re-inspired to after discovering the aforementioned CD bonus track. Both were written and composed with input from Kim Jong Wan, vocalist of the Korean alternative-rock band NELL. I should note that I don’t really care for most rock music I’ve heard, but damn if I can make an exception for NELL’s stuff. When you throw Taeyeon into the mix, only my favorite singer ever, you can bet that you have a product that sounds so refreshing from a lot of the music hitting shelves in K-Pop today.

Like so, it’s immediately obvious that the production of “Time Lapse” is distinct from the pop-ballad oriented sound that characterizes my other favorites on the album such as “Fine”. This partially lies in the structure of “Time Lapse” which, instead of peaking with the chorus after the first verse at 1:09, jumps directly back to the first verse, this time with the added presence of drums and synths for another build-up. You do get your chorus shortly after, but then something similar happens again at 2:10 where there’s a brief interim consisting of mostly instrumentals allowing the listener time to reflect. It’s worth noting that the average length of songs has dropped over time in an effort to capture more plays on streaming services, and I love that Kim Jong Wan just doesn’t give a damn. At a total play length of 4:14, “Time Lapse” isn’t afraid to take up your time…because it knows it’s worth it. It makes excellent use of spacing and tempo to create build-ups that leave a lasting impression. More specifically, an impression that doesn’t fade the moment you move to the next pseudo robot-generated track.

The instruments on this track are also quite different from the other tracks on the album. The impactful drum machines, forward snare cracks, and generous use of vocal overdubs have been eschewed for real drums, a different flavor of synths, splashy cymbals, and the sporadic entrance of piano. This generally gives the track a more homegrown, light touch. Distinctions aside, a common denominator between “Time Lapse” and Taeyeon’s other tracks is, of course, her stellar vocal performance. Her voice doesn’t seem like it’s been over sharpened on this track, and there’s a breathy, analog quality to the way her voice trails off on the verses. The chorus makes use of more background instruments which doesn’t let her voice shine quite as much as on, say, “Fine”, but there’s no denying the raw emotion that she’s able to convey in these runs. In fact, to a certain extent, by placing her voice more evenly in the mix, it enhances the aforementioned grassroots quality.

Lyric-wise, I won’t pretend that “Time Lapse” would win awards for its writing. It’s built upon the common premise of pining for, and reminiscing on, an old flame. Don’t know what to write about in a song? Love, or some derivative of love, is always your fallback. Thankfully, this track is at least lyrically sound. Contrast this to the common practice in the K-Pop industry of slapping often non-sensical words into a track to meet a desired rhythm or timing. As a result, in many of these tracks, you basically end up with…well, some quite interesting lyrics, or worse, gibberish. And that’s not to mention the lyrical content itself in these tracks which (at least when translated to English) tends to be rather superficial. But “Time Lapse” is able to really dig into creating the perception of something deeper despite the less-than-novel writing thanks to Taeyeon’s vocal skill.

In essence, the pillars of “Time Lapse” are its unconventional, but welcome sound design and Taeyeon’s powerhouse vocals. I wouldn’t even necessarily consider the writing a weakness given that I certainly am not fluent in Korean and need to rely on English translations. No, my biggest criticism would really lie in the track’s mastering. The dynamic range of “Time Lapse” is perplexingly weak despite it measuring similarly on the DR Meter to other tracks on the album. This is in the sense that, perceptively, the track’s build-ups sound too consistent in loudness. This perceived flatness is exacerbated by what seems to be a dryness to the decay of the cymbals and string plucks. But I digress, as we’re entering nitpicky audiophile territory. I definitely think this song is worth giving a listen alongside the CD bonus track, “Time Spent Walking Through Memories”. I find the mastering on the latter is better, and it has the same vein of sound design (the same person wrote the track after all), while it’s a bit more mellow in terms of the build-ups. You can’t go wrong with listening to either.

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