Back in 2014, I played AKMU’s debut album relentlessly. Their music felt so fresh and different, maintaining a pop edge while tackling quirky sounds and ideas that appealed equally to idol fans and indie aficionados. Since then, the duo has moved through an impressive breadth of styles, most recently on 2021’s Next Episode album. After two years away, they’re now back with Love Lee.
Long hiatuses bring high expectations, and it’s probably best to temper your thinking before listening to Love Lee. This isn’t one of the duo’s big pop hits, nor does it paint outside the lines enough to stand as a quirky addition to their discography. It sounds exactly how you’d expect from AKMU, yet comes across as an overly subdued version of that sound.
Both melodically and sonically, Love Lee isn’t giving me much to grab onto. Its central hook borders on cloying — a line AKMU have often straddled but never stepped over. Their performance is nice, but the murky instrumental isn’t supplying enough bounce to play with. Its funk influences feel blunted, making Love Lee more coffeehouse than cool jazz bar.