Album Review: Neon Bunny – KOSMOS

[Native Code; 2021]

Since winning Best Pop Album at the 2012 Korean Music Awards for her debut album, Seoulight, Neon Bunny has been gradually refining her brand of alternative K-pop. Drawing from a myriad of influences, her dreamy songs stand out for their catchy hooks and intricately layered production. Her third album, KOSMOS, adds yet another coat of sheen to an already polished presentation, resulting in some of her most beautiful songs to date – although it comes at the expense of the intriguing sharpness that once gave her music its unique edge. 

For all the celestial imagery KOSMOS’ title and album art evoke, its themes feel shockingly close to home. Neon Bunny sings in multiple languages, often incorporating English into the songs, and sometimes even switching between Korean, Japanese, and English in a single song. She sings many of the choruses in English this time around, and though her ability to shift between languages on a whim is both impressive and well-executed, the lyrics themselves don’t add much depth to her songs.

The saccharine, sickly-sweet choruses on ballads like “Just The Way You Are” and “Let Me Be The One” are heartwarming in the most superficial sense. “Let me be the one to hold your hand / While we watch the sunset turn into sunrise,” she sings on “Let Me Be The One”, delivering the sappy lyrics earnestly through her whisper-like vocals. It’s hard to fault her for putting such positive messages of love in her songs, but these lyrics don’t do much to expand on the relationships and stories she works to create.

The music on KOSMOS highlights how much Neon Bunny has built out her musical repertoire since her debut. From start to finish, she displays versatility and rarely sticks to a single style, integrating instruments like strings, woodwinds, acoustic guitars, and more across the album. For example, opening track “Call You” is a bouncy city pop jam with a gliding bassline and jazzy guitars, while the closing track “Kosmos” is a meditative ambient number. She also knows how to work in surprising flourishes to her music when you least expect it. The sudden introduction of a saxophone in the final minute of “Apartment” adds a satisfying buoyancy, while the shape-shifting nature of “Bloom” keeps you on your toes as she pivots from a punchy house beat, to laid-back lounge, to swells of sampled strings and chopped vocals akin to The Avalanches. 

While the majority of the songs hover in the slow to mid-tempo region, she does break out and deliver a full-fledged club banger in “Twilight”. The hypnotic verse builds into an enormous chorus of throbbing kick drums and pulsating synthesizers that compel you to get up and move your body. “Twilight” is the one moment on KOSMOS where Neon Bunny completely cuts loose, and the rest of the record feels restrained by comparison. 

KOSMOS isn’t so much an expansive reinvention as it is a subtle distillation of Neon Bunny’s sound. The additional instrumentation and slicker production further shape her music into something more refined than ever before, but the tepid pace and sugary lyrics lead to some lulls. It’s always a treat to hear Neon Bunny experiment with texture and technique on tracks like “Twilight” and “Bloom”, and it’s a shame she limits this sensation to only a handful of songs. In these moments, when she surrenders to the cosmic flow of her own music, she feels untouchable.