K-Pop — Album Reviews
Album Review: “Apocalypse: From Us” Is Dreamcatcher’s Emotional Reflection On Long-Held Connections
The K-Pop rock-style septet’s 8th Mini Album carries with it both introspection and acknowledgment of their long journey with fans, the group, and each other.
In 2023, many K-Pop fans are caught up in the new generation of groups that, with their talent, skill, and the backing of some pretty big companies, put out popular and amazing hits. This is especially true of girl groups, who had an influx of powerful rookies in 2022 (IVE, LE SSERAFIM, NewJeans, and more) that have captivated the South Korean and international public with great tunes.
Yet even with all this new shiny out there, some groups from the prior generation still persist and prove their sustainability and durability in a highly competitive industry. Though never the most popular among the South Korean public eye, it’s no surprise that I count Dreamcatcher among these groups. It isn’t just that they’ve survived well past other groups of their generation, but that they have done so against many odds, through re-debut, a risky yet bold non-traditional musical style and concept, and a slow but steady climb to stability. Yet through the six years that the group has been active, I don’t think we’ve ever heard that reflected in their music — at least, not as much as could be apparent.
To me, that ended with Dreamcatcher’s 8th Mini Album, “Apocalypse: From Us”. The finale of the “Apocalypse” storyline that begun with 2022’s “Apocalypse: Save Us” is, to me, an acknowledgment of the group’s various feelings and emotions through their journey from debut in 2017 (and for some, even longer through the group’s prior incarnation as MINX).
Though storyline-wise, the group’s quest to save a planet in environmental danger ends with a “reset” and a parting to allow Earth to heal itself through natural means, I feel looking deeper the album’s title track and lyrics are unified with the others in the album to talk about how they’ve thought about and processed emotions with others, especially the fandom. Fans of Dreamcatcher have seen this in the way they’ve discussed contract renewal (and doing so without losing a single member, an uncommon occurrence in K-Pop), live in concert, and in the group’s earlier fansong release in January 2023, with rock anthem “REASON”.
It’s through this lens that I’m reviewing the album today, which I find to be a solid entry and, with the departure of long-time co-producer LEEZ, a new era of Dreamcatcher music helmed by remaining producer Ollounder and his fellow composers in group Edenary. As such, here’s what I think of Dreamcatcher’s latest in 2023. We’ll start with the b-sides before heading to the title track last.
I’ll be honest — this one took a little while to warm up to me, and even then, it’s not quite my style of music. The song has a mixture of genres, from funk, to metal, to traditional rock, and more, and its pacing can seem frenetic and even discombobulating at times. But that said, Dreamcatcher has never shied away from experimentation, and constantly has pushed borders, especially in their B-sides. This one is their most bold try yet, and I have to respect that even if it’s something I can’t immediately vibe to (but can definitely see myself using for those times when I need a boost of energy). What’s really nice is not just the fact that Dami tried and had to refine a metal music style scream to augment her rap, but that they went with a triple rap line with SuA and Gahyeon, uniting the past and present into one aggressive set of lines that really grabs hold of you.
Thematically, speculation has abounded that the title comes from the book of the same name, which follows the main character and his mysterious guide, Demian, through a journey of self-discovery and a realization of being caught between good and evil, reality, and illusion. For Dreamcatcher, this duality is seen in the lyrics that talk about fantasy and a poisonous reality, of being confused about what to trust or feel about the world, with the titular “Demian” being their only hope to navigate it. It feels like Demian could be the fans, their families, or even each other, but either way it’s an acknowledgment that being lost means relying on a guidepost of relationships to survive. The loud and in-your-face delivery and musical style just augments how hard that dilemma can be — and that makes me respect the song more than its genre-blended structure.
Perhaps part of the reason I’m still into Dreamcatcher after six years of their music is that there is, without fail, a B-side that I’m not expecting to get hold of me and turn into something I loop endlessly. Whether it’s “Emotion” from their debut release, or “Daydream” from 2019’s “The End of Nightmare” or more recently, “Fairytale” from their last album in 2022, I’ve found a B-side that is truly one I can connect to both lyrically and musically.
This is essentially what “Propose” is for me this time around. I know I just mentioned it, but if “Fairytale” is the innocent and whimsically ideal track that talks about a romantic or deeply platonic shared relationship, then “Propose” is its evil twin, relentlessly insistent and almost single-minded in its unabashed dive into obsession and attachment to one’s object of affection. It’s true that fans who’ve been with them a while saw what Dreamcatcher’s portrayal of this kind of aggressive, almost scary type of love would look like with 2021 title track “BEcause” from Summer Holiday, but this feels different. There was an element of horror and the fantastical with how “BEcause” was shown and sung, as if the kind of borderline psychopathy that could accompany hyperfocused love was reserved for the movies, or for some other form of fiction.
That is not what “Propose” is — the lyrics feel more real and closer to the very human perils of getting too close to someone, with the group talking about jealousy, keeping the focus of their affection from escaping them, and admitting that they’re cursed with their obsession but can’t help themselves. Couple this with an ominous mix of electronic backing and a guitar-based beat that is as relentless as what is being sung about and what you have is one of Dreamcatcher’s most raw emotional tracks yet.
Every single member gets to shine here, with even normally bright and smiling JiU and youngest member Gahyeon able to take on a sinister tone to expressions of affection that normally wouldn’t be seen as disturbing. Couple that with members well-suited to aggression in singing like Siyeon and low-toned Handong and the song is anything but a “proposal” and more of a demand. Is the song a bit of an exploration of the often parasocial relationship between K-Pop idols and fans over time, and how the lines can risk being blurred one way or the other? It sure seems like that to me, and if that’s the case, it’s a brilliant, musically satisfying exploration of those emotions, especially from Dreamcatcher’s point of view.
Oftentimes it’s easy to dismiss the sometimes-obligated “ballad track” as something stereotypically heartfelt and romantic, and you might be tempted to do so with “To. You”, but I advise you to not do so — and find a translation of the lyrics if you can, as it might change your mind. That aside, musically this is not quite a ballad track to me — there is, from the beginning and throughout the song, a soft rock-based element with the guitars and drums that makes it not just a slow standard love song but more of one you’d find yourself waving your phone or lightstick back and forth to.
Granted, after that it does seem like it’s pretty straightforward as far as slow rock songs go and admittedly I find that it doesn’t quite go out of its lane (that’s for songs like “DEMIAN” to do, I’d say), but lyrically the expression of regret at a relationship taken for granted and a desire to express a renewal of that association, even if it’s too late to do so, is intriguing and interesting. We’ve all experienced some kind of regret at some point about being around someone, whether it was romantic or platonic, that we could have treated better. Sure, like Dreamcatcher, we learned from the experience but there’s always that wistful desire to go back in time and fix things even if we can’t do so, and that’s what “To. You” seems to tell us.
Over the course of Dreamcatcher’s long career as a K-Pop group, they no doubt do have mistakes that were made and relationships set aside when they shouldn’t have been, perhaps at the price of being able to be idols. It’s to me an interesting take that I wish K-Pop artists in general were more honest about, but until then, we have songs to do that for us. So while I do find “To. You” a pretty expected and normal song of its type, that doesn’t mean that I don’t find it intriguing. It just takes you understanding and gleaning your own meaning from its words to do so.
Intro: From Us
As the lead-in to the title track, it’s a bit hard to avoid dropping in a quick note about it. With only music and no lyrics to go on, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised at this, mostly because the highlight medley only revealed the first, ponderous, piano part of it and not the guitar-based build. Like what I’m about to say about the title track, “BONVOYAGE”, there seems to be a depiction of nature theme to this intro. Folks have compared it a bit to OSTs from the Zelda series, perhaps as background to the expansive nature of Hyrule, and I can’t necessarily disagree. There’s a kind of wandering style to this, as if you could imagine the camera being zoomed out above a nature setting and then following it through to what’s been growing/preserved to what has, as the trilogy has shown, been destroyed and mistreated.
We’ve seen a lot of sci-fi apocalyptic settings, not surprisingly, for this entire story arc from Dreamcatcher, but not anything about the planet itself outside of conceptual teasers, so this setup of both soft instrumentals and hard-charging guitar is a nice, if not somewhat short, appetizer for what’s to come. It’s not a standout (such as with the intro for, say, 2021’s Road to Utopia), but really, it doesn’t need to be.
So at last, we come to the title track, and if you’ve lasted this long reading, I’m sure you might be curious about what I thought about Dreamcatcher’s latest frontline offering in their long discography. The long and short of it is that from a story, music, and lyrical standpoint, “BONVOYAGE” feels like both a return to the past for Dreamcatcher. The difference is that it feels refined, an acknowledgment of modern changes on a variety of levels.
Unlike the endings of the other story arcs — “PIRI” saw the group stay trapped as cursed Nightmares while “Odd Eye” boldly proclaimed they never found their utopia (at least not the one they hoped to find)— “BONVOYAGE” strikes a more hopeful note. While this is mostly theory on my part, at least until interviews come out with more detail, I believe that after responding to calls to save the planet (Save Us) and rallying others to fight for it (Follow Us), the action of this finale seems to strike an “epilogue” tone. Dreamcatcher stays just long enough to restart the clock on the planet in a shielded sanctuary, defending the life they cultivate within from outside threats and literally creating the cells that would be the building blocks for Earth to begin life anew. But with this came the knowledge that nature needed to be left to its own devices, that people had to, as JiU said in the showcase, take responsibility for what they’d done in living with nature. As such, their reset button is their final gift, the album’s titular “From Us” which allows things to begin healing. Gahyeon disables the shield they’d erected around the sanctuary, and the group, it seems, departs and bids farewell (but not goodbye forever) to the world they’d arrived to rescue.
Stylistically, this song continues the love letter that Dreamcatcher pays to their roots, with a mostly rock-style cadence that is a callback to prior tracks. I’m reminded of the early comparisons of Dreamcatcher to those who would sing energetic anime openings, or other comparisons to J-Rock icons such as ONE OK ROCK. “Fly High” comparisons have been made, but I’m also inclined to attach this to similarly styled songs in their history such as “R.o.S.E Blue” and “Wind Blows”, which use slow, lighter parts to build to strong choruses. It’s to me a great blend of prior rock elements to modern electronic hits, leaning more towards the former rather than the latter. With the departure of LEEZ, Ollounder and Dreamcatcher’s remaining producers (along with a couple new faces) seem to be striking a new direction tinged with old-school sound, and that’s not a bad thing.
Last but not least, as it relates thematically to what I brought up at the beginning about the emotions and happenings of long-term connections, this song has a realistic viewpoint about the group’s relationship with others, using the end of the Apocalypse trilogy and nature as the backdrop. The result is a song that doesn’t just herald ends but also beginnings and perhaps future returns. It’s perhaps bittersweet, but also honest. The members talked about this during the comeback showcase as a parting, a set of well-wishes on a journey that wasn’t really a goodbye but a “have a good journey, and we’ll hope to see you again”.
I really liked this, because I feel like many idols talk about being with fans forever and vice versa, and while Dreamcatcher has also been known to say similar in the past, there’s an acknowledgment that relationships, whether with fans or with friends or co-workers, can come and go. The group is in the latter portion of their careers, and I know from my personal experience that I know people who have churned out of the fandom for one reason or another, even as new folks come in to try to fill the gaps they leave. The song seems to express appreciation and love for everyone over the years that has supported the group, even if those people drift away and may not see them as much. It’s a message that seems to resonate with people like me who’ve had to bid “Bon Voyage” to those I’ve cherished for one reason or another, to friends and associates and loved ones that I see seldom, or who flit in and out of my life (if they do at all).
This kind of bittersweet honesty, realism, and yet hopefulness and appreciation for what was, is and could be, isn’t usually what you find in many of the happy, energetic, or perhaps more surface-oriented songs in current K-Pop, and it really makes me appreciate Dreamcatcher all the more. The irony is that, at least for me, this isn’t “BONVOYAGE” to Dreamcatcher, but rather appreciating and being responsible for what they’ve been over the course of years, looking forward to whatever comes down th eline. If that’s the message that Dreamcatcher intended to send about emotional connections over time, not just with this title track, but with the album as a whole, then they’ve certainly succeeded as far as this writer is concerned and created another great album that I would highly recommend to any K-Pop fan.