Park Hye Jin’s debut album ‘Before I Die’ presents a masterpiece of minimal house

Cover of Park Hye Jin's new album
Ninja Tune/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.0/5.0

When Hye Jin Park repeats herself, it’s best to pay attention. The 27-year-old artist came into the global techno dance world in 2018 with an EP of melodic mantra-forward tracks and now returns with a 15-piece album. Park’s comprehensive second project is a reflection of her minimal house style — this coming-of-age collection proclaims the artist as one to be reckoned with. 

Park had some standout singles leading up to Before I Die, and her 2018 EP IF YOU WANT IT packed punchy contenders, especially “CALL ME,” which was picked up and reworked by Blood Orange. Despite the strength of each single on IF YOU WANT IT, however, the EP as a whole felt disconnected jumping from track to track. In a five-piece record, it felt like Park’s style and desired direction was bursting at the seams, constrained by size. Before I Die has allowed her to occupy the space she deserves to deliver a fully realized full-length album. 

Born in Seoul and relocated to Los Angeles, Park additionally spent short stints in Melbourne and London, picking up musical influences in each metropolitan city’s respective underground scenes. Park started producing in 2018 and struck up a relationship with Pistil, a nightclub in Seoul, where she spent the next year working on her repertoire and developing her sound. 

Before I Die progresses in an innovative way, with each track offering diversity in cadence while still working as a holistic project. The album starts incredibly strong with “Let’s Sing Let’s Dance,” mixing Korean verses with a repeated titular chant, each building on the preceding passage before ending with a fade-out that leaves enough time to breathe before the next track brings in a strong piano backbone. 

Songs such as “Hey, Hey, Hey” offer a constant strong pulse with progressive layering of snares and melodies that would be perfect for dancing amid an energized crowd. Others lend themselves more to softer, reflective moods, especially “I Need You,” which marries Park’s impressive range as a singer-rapper with her dreamlike production style. 

Park’s lyrics fit her typical style of repetition, each replaying like a loop machine that creates a series of catalytic chants that are set to beats that build. “Before I Die” repeats Park’s liminal longing for her family, who are based in South Korea. The track repeats “I miss my mom, I miss my dad/ I miss my sister, I miss my brother,” in an automated tone, almost through a long-distance call, split with a more liquid-sang Korean lyric which roughly translates to “Even if it disappears from everyone’s memory, I stay in your memory.” 

On Park’s Instagram, she shared brief descriptions of the meanings behind each track, with solemn admissions to personal grief, racism experienced in the music industry, and the difficulties of moving from South Korea to pursue producing at 24. Some summaries were briefer, however, as the trio of tracks “Can I Get Your Number,” “Whatchu Doin Later” and “Sex With Me (DEFG)” follows the events of an interaction with a crush. For the dance track “Hey, Hey, Hey,” Park recommended listening to the song while jogging as “It’s gonna hit different.” The personalization behind this post showed the heartwarming personal side behind this project.

Celebrating Park’s debut album has unfortunately been slightly shrouded by the alleged lack of communication from Ninja Tune, Park’s record label, with Park regarding release dates. The artist posted on her Instagram account earlier this week screenshots of messages that expressed Park’s disappointment towards the studio for not updating her on the early release of her own music video and album. 

Fans flooded the comments with reassurance of the quality of the album and listening experience, but for Park to be dissatisfied with her own experience of the debut leaves a tinge on the tracks, as her production, lyrics, and overall tenacity as an artist is deserving of a great release. While some tracks are less technically impressive than others, the whole album works together well and shows great promise for Park’s budding career. 

Before I Die is the summation of Park as an artist: purposeful and playful, found and here to stay.

Contact Francesca Hodges at [email protected]. Tweet her at @fh0dges.