Written by Westin
> Dreamcatcher – Apocalypse: Save Us
> Released April 12, 2022
> Dreamcatcher Company/Sony Music Korea
This review might come as a surprise to some of you, and in some ways it certainly is out of left field. But as we review anything in the underground, and this is regularly including hip-hop or pop-adjacent singer-songwriters, what is a K-pop group but one further step in the same direction?
Dreamcatcher initially debuted as a pure pop group named Minx in 2014, but after a few years of floundering re-debuted in 2017 as Dreamcatcher, with two additional members. They started to take the underground/indie K-pop with their single “Chase Me” that was fairly unprecedented in K-pop – it blended K-pop with rock and metal influenced songwriting and instrumentation, wrapping everything together in an unusual horror aesthetic. Over the next three years they released more singles, five EPs and a Japanese studio album that largely consisted of Japanese versions of their older songs, before delivering their first proper full length album Dystopia: The Tree of Language in 2020. A couple more EPs later brings us to their most recent full length, and the topic of my review; Apocalypse: Save Us.
Like most K-pop groups Dreamcatcher typically rely on outside producers and songwriters to do most of the musical crafting for their releases, with the members largely taking a backseat. The interesting element of Apocalypse however is that only the front half is actually a thoroughly ‘Dreamcatcher’ album, and the back half features solo songs by each respective member who had a major role to play in the songwriting and composition of their own tracks. This marks a pretty atypical album experience and is, in my opinion, a really awesome insight into the musical ideology and identities of the various members, which can difficult to appreciate in a lot of K-pop where members are largely separate from the music.
The album opens with “Intro: Save Us”, beginning with what sounds like organ before leading into orchestral strings that only linger for a few seconds before once again transitioning into a strong rock guitar section that brings back some keys or organ. Dreamcatcher are known for their iconic powerful and interesting intro tracks, but this one doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. It starts somewhat dark and dramatic but the shift into a White Stripes-esque rock feels haphazard and not as enjoyable as previous releases intro tracks, especially it does not lead particularly well into the next track “Locked Inside a Door”.
This song starts strong with a bouncy and rhythmic piano accompanied by matching vocals before shifting towards electric guitar and a bass-y beat that feels like a much more natural and well executed transition moment. The song shifts more downtuned before bringing the energy back in what I like to call the “slide” towards the chorus where I can just imagine someone sliding forward on stage while delivering the vocal line in a fun and cool way. “Locked Inside a Door” is a fun, rhythmic song that just really emphasizes Dreamcatchers ability to incorporate rock music into K-pop’s love of dancepop and R&B influenced smoothness. It’s full of interesting transitions and compositional choices that highlight the high level of craft that goes into so much of the groups’ music.
Track three “MAISON” is the lead single from the album and opens with a punchy energetic electric guitar that would not be out of place on a White Stripes album and feels like a much more logical follow-up to the guitar elements found on the intro track. This should have been the second track, but I digress. As the lead single, “MAISON” carries a lot of the weight of the album and the focus of the projects themes – maison is French for home, and the lyrics discuss the very real oncoming apocalypse brought about by climate change and human environmental destruction. Because this is the lead single and the lyrics are so important here, the mix brings the vocals very far forward and above the instruments, which I wish were able to pop more during heavy vocal sections. This song features a very nice “rap” from main “rapper” Dami (I use the term rap loosely, as K-pop’s use of rap is heavily stretched at best) where her huskier tone blends wonderfully with a dark and subdued synth bass sound. The bridge introduces a piano and puts more emphasis on the synths, before bringing us to the close where Gahyeon’s solo singing alongside a choral chanting of “La maison la la la maison” is a nicely delivered dramatic motif callback to the choral elements on the lead single “Scream” of Dreamcatcher’s last full length.
The next two tracks “Starlight” and “Together” are far more electronic influenced pop. “Starlight” is a smooth synthpop number with nice bass guitar that backs off the drama of “MAISON” with a retro vibe that is just back to straightforward dance-ability. On their last full length, Dreamcatcher introduced a very strong focus on blending electronic/EDM into their already expansive soundscape. “Together” is more uptempo and is also another very dance-y track that feels more hopeful and the pair complement each other nicely. “Starlight” and “Together” are a fantastic addition to this side of the group, really cementing their exploration of electronic sounds as an important aspect of their musical identity alongside the rock and traditional pop elements.
“Always” is a somber piano ballad that perfectly shows off each of the members’ vocal talents, almost all of them are good enough to be main vocalists in other groups. Their vocal abilities and skill shine strongly on each release and are easily one of the strong aspects of Dreamcatcher. Siyeon, Dreamcatcher’s main vocal, is the standout among standouts on the track, as her extremely strong and clean high notes really elevate the ballad (like they do on every previous release).
Finishing off the front half of Apocalypse is “Skit: The Seven Doors” – starting off as a dreamy and atmospherically meditative lull that after a minute brings back the signature electric guitar to revitalize the listener. It works as an instrumental bookend to the previous tracks, to separate them from the upcoming solo tracks from the members. It feels far more cohesive with the rest of the album than the actual intro and I wish this had taken its place in the tracklist. The front half is very strong and a tight package of all of the ideas that make Dreamcatcher who they are as a single musical entity, exploring a bunch of soundscapes and ideas and blending them together well. The production is good but sometimes the vocal mix feels overly dominant in places, in particular on “MAISON” where I feel the rhythm section gets buried by the singing for half of the song. Compositional complexity and transitions are signature elements of Dreamcatcher and this feels as strong as ever on Apcolypse.
The first solo song is “Cherry (Real Miracle)” by group leader JiU. This is a fun city pop number with tons of groove and classic instrumentals that feel very retro and lively without feeling bogged down by any soullessness that could ruin a lot of the retro sound. A really strong start to the solo tracks that highlights JiU’s songwriting and vocal talents.
Main dancer SuA’s song “No Dot” is a darker and synthy number that feels unlike a lot of the rest of the album or much of Dreamcatcher in particular, but the overall soundscape and specific tones and ideas feel reminiscent of other K-pop groups “bad bitch” songs, even going so far as to feature a mini-rap section. While there’s nothing wrong with this, and SuA has a lovely voice, if you’re familiar with other K-pop, in particular certain kinds of very trendy K-pop sounds, this can come across somewhat generic, if well executed.
Main vocalist Siyeon’s “Entrancing” is another ballad (she loves ballads, and who can blame her with that voice?), but feels compositionally more complex, featuring drums, synths, strings and a larger variety of vocal approaches from Siyeon. She’s a strong writer, and demonstrates absolute mastery of her flawless voice throughout the track. I’m not a huge ballad fan but I really enjoy this song as it features a depth and complexity that avoids the typically saccharine pitfalls of ballads. I do feel previous ballads from other releases are a better highlight of the heights Siyeon can reach but this is still a good addition to their lineup of ballads.
“Winter” by sub-vocalist Handong is subdued and dreamy, with a semi lo-fi aesthetic that is reminiscent of indie pop. The standout moment is the ending when Handong switches to singing in her native Chinese while all of the instruments drop out and Handongs voice is haunting and full of emotion. Lead vocalist (in K-pop the lead vocal is typically the singer to open a song, as opposed to the main vocalist who is the traditionally best singer) Yooyheon’s “For” is extremely vintage, sounding like it came straight out of the 50’s pop/jazz lounge scene. This is an extremely refreshing and surprising song, as it sounds like almost nothing the group has approached before. Yooyheon’s dreamy vocals are exquisite and are mixed perfectly alongside a spacious production. This might be the best solo song of the bunch.
“Beauty Full” is a straight up pop punk rocker from rapper Dami that sounds straight out of 2003. As the weakest singer in the group, this song is well crafted to make use of her lower tone and leans into the pop punk element perfectly. Pop punk is making its way into K-pop in the past two years, so this is certainly very trendy and perfectly suited to Dami’s skillset and position in Dreamcatcher. I’m not a huge fan of the song as I feel it’s a little too stereotypical and reminiscent of all of the mid-oughts tropes that I don’t like, but I cannot deny that it was well thought through and suits Dami very well.
Finishing out the list is sub-vocalist/sub-rapper/jack of all trades Gahyeon. “Playground” feels situated somewhere between the indie pop of “Winter” and the city pop of “Cherry (Real Miracle)” , leaning heavily towards the city pop side. This is clearly the direction Gahyeon wanted to take it, but unfortunately after following the very strong leading track in “Cherry”, this feels like a weaker version of that song. It’s not bad, but compositionally isn’t as punchy or interesting.
This album is, compositionally and emotionally, a rollercoaster. Themes of hope and despair, darkness and light are familiar for Dreamcatcher, but the album is lacking the strong horror aesthetics that were so core to the groups identity for all of these years. I also wish that it featured a harder lean-in to the dramatic and ‘rock out’ metal-adjacent style that they’ve used previously. But I can’t deny that it hits everything I want from a Dreamcatcher album and is a fantastic follow up to Dystopia: The Tree of Language (which I strongly recommend you check out if you like this album). Dreamcatcher are exploring themselves, constantly pushing boundaries and new ideas and they’re a breath of fresh air in a scene that routinely falls into generic repetition and unfortunate self-parody. Even when they don’t hit a perfect stride they’re leagues above so many of the more dominant mainstream groups that I can’t help but love what they do.
The Bottom Line
This is a superb album in a strong discography that fleshes out Dreamcatcher’s identity as well as the identity of its members. Full of emotion and shifting sonic soundscapes, there is a breadth of variety and interest on Apocalypse: Save Us. If you’re a fan of pop rock with strong sense of musical craft and appreciation for songwriting, check this out.