Two years is a long time. Enough to change who you are in ways you could have never imagined. For Joe Lee, known professionally as late., the road to finding his true self was paved in broken glass and barbed wire. Tripping over painful memories and feelings of inadequacy, he almost didn't survive. After getting help in his birth country of South Korea, he's returned, bringing with him an emotional delve into the thoughts of a man who ultimately just wants to be loved and feel at home.
He opens the album with the duality of who he is. First speaking in Korean, then switching to English. Using this paradigm throughout the track and the album to illustrate who he is as a man. The opening dialogue, said in his melancholy baritone, talks about standing in a maelstrom of judgment, "people staring down 'cuz they're losing vision." In an odd sort of isolation indicative of so much of Seoul, late. describes letting the small things get to him so much he loses his way ("I just don't know where to go"). All the while, he has to navigate this battle of conscience as the crowd walks around him. Life goes on, and he's stuck standing where he is attempting to puzzle his way out of his insecurities. It's a beautiful track, a collaboration between late. and long-time musical partner Jae Luna, draped in a piano's melismatic lament and the lonely strum of a guitar. The perfect metaphor for the man's own loneliness. He is an island among so many other islands, wanting to be seen but never being able to touch the others listing out at sea.
The album's title song melts almost imperceptibly into "rain," a track featuring the teardrop-stained voice of slchld. The two men complement each other vocally, allowing for late. to find a confidante in the endless barrage of conflicting, like-hearted voices.
There's a red line of heartache etched throughout the piece. Stories of love lost, a forlorn hope that our protagonist can scrub away the doubt sewn by abandonment, an unrequited affection for someone. Human touch, connection ripped from him. He proclaims, "Tell me how to love again." As a man attempting to find a home, the constant reminder that at the end of the day he's truly alone, devoid of a lover who provided a momentary refuge from the wildness in his heart and his mind ("Tell me what happened to us").
late.'s voice throughout the album is quite interesting. While it won't blow your speakers out by any means, you can feel his earnestness. There's a yearning in the vocal, little to no vibrato painting a monotone, metallic pallor on the entire album. A physical manifestation of the blandness in his world, peppered with moments of genuine passion and yearning. By far, the most emotionally bare piece of music he's released, the musical and lyrical compositions are evocative of a young man attempting to grab on to anything that will make him feel or remember what it feels like to have a kernel of the human connection he's had with a lover or two ("The way we fucked was fucking amazing, the way we loved was fucking amazing," "plot" (feat. Jae Luna). It's an understated, simple examination of being stranded in a place that's supposed to be his foundation, the roots of who he is, his homeland. Yet there's very little of home in this land he's stranded himself in.
It's no mistake that he named the album homme. homme: as if he's both trying to find his true shelter and proclaiming, "I am a man!" More accurately, a man who's been listing out in the waters for so long he's needed time to discover what "home" really means to himself. With this EP, he's at least started to make his way back to what it is that makes him feel whole. Makes him feel truly at home within.
Every time late. releases music, it's easy to see his evolution, his growth, his artistic maturity. He's an introspective man who's been candid about his struggle with self-worth, loneliness and feelings of ostracization from those who were supposed to be there for him. With homme, the talented Korean-American has once again opened himself up for fans of his music, invited newcomers to dig into who he is and find a bit of themselves in the marrow. It's a great EP if for nothing else the honesty and attempt (and success) of an artist to create a raw, non-pretentious view of his internal struggle to simply be okay when everything around him might try to force him to be otherwise. Well done, Joe. Well done.