Two years ago Jiwoo left the whole scene amazed with the release of Maison, his debut EP. Before Maison, Jiwoo was mostly known for being a producer under the stage name HAYAKE even if he already gave a taste of his singing skills on a few collaborations. That being said, Maison has been a revelation for a lot of listeners and now Jiwoo is back with Esprit, a second EP.
Sonically, Esprit is full of elegance and subtlety, it’s soft yet striking, tinged with something I could describe as Jazz or Jazz Fusion influences maybe?
It’s the type of project you should listen to from the first track to the last, in one go, because of the audio experience, but also for the story behind the whole project.
Because yes, it seems that there is actually a concept behind this EP, and that’s what I wanted to talk about with this article.
Is that really an analysis? I would say that it’s more a theory, I can’t affirm anything, especially since I’m not a native English speaker (sorry in advance if my English is weird sometimes), it’s only how I perceived it, there is no one truth to a piece of art, but I thought it would be interesting to talk about it!
In my opinion, Esprit is either one of the most poetic love projects ever written or it can be seen as an introspective journey, a metaphor about the importance of cherishing and trusting your inner self. This is the second option I’m going to develop now.
To give you more context, besides the EP I also based this interpretation on the description of the project which was available on Melon/Genie Music. He gave some “explanations” for each track, and I think they are helpful to understand!
The description starts like that:
Nothing is remarkable about the mundane.
The mundane is special in that way.
Ordinary life is pure mystery,
The medium for renewal.
Here, I found Esprit.
My symbol of renewal.
What Jiwoo is telling us with this is that if day-to-day life is special, it’s because there is nothing special about it. But we are here nonetheless, it’s pure mystery hence why it’s a medium for renewal.
It might be a reach but this idea reminds me of something Hannah Arendt said in her book The Human Condition, first published in 1958. Very simplified she explained that the fact humans existed and had the power to act was pretty much a miracle and because the fact we are even here today is a miracle, then we could expect anything from humanity.
And then he talks about Esprit, his “symbol of renewal”. The word Esprit is borrowed from French, which itself comes from Latin spiritus, a breathing. What’s interesting about this word is how it holds several meanings and that’s probably why he chose this specific word. Esprit is more than the spirit, it can be the spirit but it can also be understood as the mind, the intellect, the inner self… Esprit is also about liveliness, in French “Avoir de l’Esprit”, (literally ‘Having Esprit’) can be translated as ‘To be witty’.
So yeah with this introduction only we already have some precious information which might be useful to understand what is yet to come. So without further ado, let’s look at the tracks!
Esprit starts with the song Lustre, and that’s how he described it:
Lustre means ‘light.’
Lustre is the mystery that welcomes you into Esprit.
Lustre is a haze.
Lustre is the sound of two spirits in a shadow dance, dissolving into one another as the Sun falls.
Lustre indeed comes from Latin lustrāre: to make bright, if it’s in tune with the first sentence there is still a lot to explain here.
We learn that Lustre is “the mystery that welcomes you into Esprit“. First, this means that Esprit is some sort of world, a space; you can visit it, explore it.
Secondly, Lustre is a mystery, it’s a haze. From this, we can theorize that Lustre might be something like the unconscious, or something along the way. It would be a mystery because we can never fully understand it. Your unconscious is the part of your mind that contains feelings and ideas that you do not know about or cannot control. Hence it’s a haze. It has effects on your conscious self but you can’t exactly grasp it.
The last sentence would actually be compatible with that idea, but maybe Lustre would be more than just the subconscious. We could imagine that the two spirits he is talking about are nothing else than the conscious and the subconscious, the relationship between the two can indeed remind us of “a shadow dance“, it’s like a mirror game.
So in the first verse when he said “In the light in the dark | come alive where we are“. We can imagine that he is saying that wherever you are, whether it is in the light or the dark; Lustre – the light – will always shine because the light comes from you, something you can see in the MV because he is literally shining like a sun.
By using the pronoun “we”, we can suppose that he is either referring to everyone, like we as humans, or to this duality inside us, the conscious self and the subconscious.
This seems confirmed by the next verse “Let the Sun rise and fall | And we’ll follow how we echo out inside | will sound through tomorrow“. He isn’t concerned by the cycle of the sun, he just has to follow what he feels, what is resulting from the interaction between the conscious and the unconscious.
He has this gut feeling that he is on the right path, he is his own source of light, hence why he is ‘alight under the rain’.
Then in the chorus, the use of the pronouns “we”, “us”, and “you” is pretty troubling, and that’s why in the introduction I said Esprit could be a romantic project. But by using “we”, “you”, we can also imagine that in the chorus, the conscious side of him is talking to the subconscious side by using “you”. This would explain this specific extract: “Somewhere inside of you | I found | Light of the Sun | We’re shining down as one“. So yeah this could be a beautiful metaphorical way to say that in the loved one he found his other half. But it could also mean that somewhere in his subconscious, he found light, something which enlightened his whole life, and that he is both the subconscious and the conscious side. He is one.
Which means that in the 2nd verse, when he says “If you follow me until the end | Where the light inside us all began | If you want it | then fall“, he means that if you want to make one with yourself, you need to fall, so to let go maybe? To stop wanting to have control over your spirit to let your unconscious speak.
This theory would explain the end of the song and the “Don’t nobody know you like I do“, nobody knows you better than you do!
But this interpretation would also suit the atmosphere of the song. It’s muted, on an intimist vibe, but the use of the Wurlitzer (or the synths, I’m not 100% sure) also gives this glowing feeling. Sonically this song really reminds me of a candle, it’s warm, especially thanks to the sound or the drums, and it gleams, just enough to light up your surroundings, that’s why you need to keep it close to you.
Sky Green is clarity.
Sky Green is freedom in the midst of this grand mystery.
Sky Green is the presence of someone so familiar yet so unlike anything else you know. It may even be your own spirit.
Sky Green is about believing, when knowing seems impossible.
Light must shine from the inside out.
To me, Sky Green is a song about instinct, about having a gut feeling, when you can’t really explain why but you just feel it.
So yeah, Sky Green is clarity because it guides you. So when he talks about “this grand mystery” I think he talks about the mundane, about life. I mean isn’t life itself one of the biggest mysteries, if not the biggest mystery? Why are we here, for what reason?
That’s why Sky Green would be “freedom”. If we suppose that Sky Green is instinct, then it gives you freedom because it helps you navigate in this vast ocean that is life.
This interpretation would also explain the next sentence. When you have this feeling in your guts, it seems so familiar, but as I already told you can’t really explain why. We all faced these kinds of situations where we don’t like something, we feel it strongly, but we can’t explain why. This matches surprisingly well with the second to last sentence of the song intro. There are situations where you don’t know, so the only thing you can do is trust yourself, your instinct, it’s about believing.
When you look at Sky Green lyrics it seems clearer that this EP is not just about love, or if it is, it’s also about loving yourself.
“It don’t need knowing | Best believe our light | when you feel it | Don’t be holding back“, seems to prove the point I just developed. It could mean ‘You don’t need to know, just trust your instinct, your light, when you feel it, just don’t question it’. Also light is what guides you in the dark. The dark here that could be seen as ignorance, uncertainty, the fear of the future…
Therefore, I think the “Won’t find another like me | I’m my only spirit | That’s all I am” is once again like a dialogue between him – the conscious mind, the ego – and his inner self. Hence why “you can’t find another like me“, you can’t replace your inner self, your instinct, he is his only spirit.
As for the chorus, I’m not sure to be honest, it could be about several things, but when he says “yeah this love will outlive us” maybe he is talking about creation? About what you can create, what you can produce when you are listening to your inner self, that you stay true to yourself?
So in Jiwoo’s case, an example could be his art, his music? When you make art you leave a trace, you live through your art. That’s how I would interpret this chorus at least. There is still this reciprocity in the “Cause the light inside me | comes alive in you” that follows.
If you look at the lyrics they are quite more confident than in Lustre, and you can also feel that sonically. The drums literally sing, it’s jovial and cheerful. The bass played by Park Jongwoo also contributes a lot to this feeling.
Birds of Paradise
Birds of Paradise is a wish.
Birds of Paradise is the sound of always arriving, always departing.
My attempt at transcending distance and time.
Birds of Paradise is probably the one that gave me the most trouble, but I can’t help but think it could be about Hope, and his art. The theory I mentioned in Sky Green would make sense then, or at least Birds of Paradise could rightfully be the logical continuity. How can you transcend distance and time if it’s not through creation?
Since the introduction is a little bit cryptic to me, let’s focus on the lyrics. It starts with “Boulevardier and rain for two” feel. From the researches I made, a Boulevardier is in fact a cocktail made of whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Campari. This sentence gives a ‘Driking a cocktail at the window while it’s raining’. But I also might be really wrong, but most of all, I can’t tell what it would mean for the song. Maybe having a drink would allow you to overthink less and just trust your inner self? Kind of like the idea of the “If you want it, then fall” from Lustre? I can’t tell.
What is interesting about this song is that he mentioned the “attempt at transcending distance and time” and well, time seems to have an importance in the lyrics. Or it’s rather that the lyrics evolve in such a way that it gives a feeling that time is passing the more you listen to the song.
This evolution, if there is one obviously, would be especially noticeable between the first and last verses:
Boulevardiers and rain for two
The silver moon
On our wings
soaring out through the blue
Even now it’s nothing new
I sing my tune
To a sunset as golden as you
Boulevardiers and rain for two
The silver moon
Oh we dance all along
through the blue
From the other side
I hold you in this song
So hold on too
Through this sunset
as golden as you
It starts the same, but while in the first verse you have this idea of soaring through the night lighten up by the light of the moon, in the last verse the moon is lighting them as they dance. But what to think of the “From the other side”? Are they separated, and what is the “we” here? Well, guess I will keep my theory of the inner self and the ego. They are separated because you can never totally reach/understand the subconscious. Which doesn’t stop them to interact and complement each other. It’s a complex relationship (but I’m not a philosophy or a psychology major so I won’t risk to explain further)
Also it’s just a random appreciation but “On our wings | Heaven rise | Through the night”. I think it means that Heaven rises from them, from their wings, despite the night, which is kind of in tune with the idea of the light shining from them in Lustre.
As for the song itself, it’s really beautiful how he conveys this idea of flying by singing crescendo which is accentuated by the piano!
Inner Eden is about tending to your spirit.
It lives in an endless meadow, your inner Eden.
The wind roams.
Make time to visit.
Inner Eden is the track that convinced me my theory wasn’t that crazy. The first sentence of the intro reminded me a lot of the end of Voltaire’s book Candide, when Candide said to Pangloss “we must take care of/cultivate our garden“. This famous quote has several interpretations and one of them is that we must keep a good distance between ourselves and the world but we also need to keep ourselves busy, to not stay idle.
So in this introduction, Jiwoo is telling us that our inner Eden is endless, but it also needs to be tended. You need to take care of your spirit, to cherish it. I think that by making time to visit he could mean that we shouldn’t flee our spirit, but for this, you need to dedicate time to it.
The message of the first verse seems pretty clear. When he says “Where the willow bends | is the wind assuming form | Like your soul that bends | as your outer bounds endure” he means that even though we don’t see the wind, it still has an impact on the landscape, and here more specifically on the willow. The wind is like sculpting the tree. And just like the tree, your soul is sculpted by what you go through, what your body, your ego, your conscious side go through. Even the most ordinary event affects your soul or your spirit.
So he invites you to “Come and see the world in you”, “Though it seems we’re fading out too soon”. My interpretation here would be that because life is hectic, we are running after time and therefore we tend to neglect taking time for ourselves, to “tend to our spirit” to quote him. So even though life is short, exploring our inner world is important, and certainly not a waste of time.
The chorus is also really interesting!
Don’t lose your light
to the shadow
All of this passes for good
So come in and tend to the meadow
Familiar ain’t always
I think that by “Don’t lose your light to the shadow” he begs us to not let us be corrupted by the outside world, by society, the other people maybe?
And with “Familiar ain’t always what’s good” I have a feeling he might talk about the outside world, the real world. It’s familiar because maybe sometimes reality might seem easier to understand than your own spirit, so we tend to rely on people’s judgment? To follow what everybody does?
This idea seems asserted by the “you’re all you need | to see the dawn again” which follows (and which also convinced me it wasn’t a simple project about romantic love)
If you’ve listened long enough
To have heard yourself
Before we all return to dust
Through the hail surrounding us
Here he is once again telling us to make time to listen to ourselves. It’s not necessarily easy to be in tune with your inner self, but for that, you need to try, to dedicate time. And if you do that, then “you’ll know”. Maybe he means that you will feel fulfilled, blooming, happy?
Once again the music translates this idea beautifully. This track is about dedicating time to yourself, to treasure your inner self, and therefore the vibe is muted, tinged with vintage sonorities. Your inner self is like an old friend after all? There is almost something sensual but not really either! Jiwoo’s singing is way softer than in the previous song, and it’s like he was calling you, like the spirit calling the ego.
Umbra means ‘shadow.’
Umbra is acceptance in the midst of the unknown.
Umbra is my response to my own questions about navigating the mystery: sometimes, the method is that there is no method.
All we have is ourselves and one another.
Umbra is the last track of the EP, Jiwoo ended up finding what he was looking for in “Esprit”. It seems that in this introduction he says that the concept behind Umbra is to accept you can’t have control over everything, it’s accepting we are helpless against the mystery, which seems to correspond with life. So you can just go with the flow and rely on yourself.
That’s kind of the idea of the first verse:
Come to think of it
So much still left to do
With all this unknown out there
We keep it moving
Go while we can and while we do
Just do you
Despite all the unknown, we keep it moving, moving until we can, and moving our own way.
Then comes the chorus:
When all is said and done
ain’t no reason
Maybe here there’s none to be found
But love will never lose I believe it
Feel it surround
It seems that here he is questioning if life even has a meaning. But in the end for him, it doesn’t matter. What does he mean by love here? I’m not sure… But I think love has several definitions, and I have a feeling he could mean it that way too!
The second verse could convey this idea of routine, of life being an endless cycle.
How it seems in ordinary time
That’s when I hear
this resonate inside
So we ride
And give chase
And we fall
Oh we ride
And we chase
And we fall
But also maybe that it’s when you do nothing special that you can hear the call of your inner self?
While the outro sounds pretty hopeful:
When all is said and done
ain’t no reason
And maybe here
there’s none to be found
So own it before it
all comes to own you
Light will surround
But there is still this almost urgent idea that you need to listen to yourself so that you don’t end up alienated by the outside world. The light will dissipate all the dark!
When you listen to Umbra you can perceive this feeling of like a quest that finally comes to an end, a feeling of accomplishment. The drums are discreet, with a light crash cymbal or a slightly opened hi-hat, it’s a warm sound, while the piano brings softness!
Is this EP about romantic love, about loving yourself, cherishing your spirit, your inner self? In the end, it doesn’t matter. Esprit is certainly one of the most touching projects I listened to in 2021. What Jiwoo is conveying with Esprit is simply beautiful!
I hope you still appreciated this analysis/theory, I would be curious to know what you thought about this EP, your own interpretation! So do not hesitate to comment, and to share this article, it would mean a lot!