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Review | In concert, Yaeji transforms modern worries into a sonic embrace


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During her sold-out 9:30 Club show Friday, Brooklyn-based electronic artist Yaeji talked about why it had taken her more than half a decade to finally release her debut album.

In 2017, Yaeji began steadily establishing herself as a DJ, producer and singer with heady dance beats interwoven with Korean and English lyricism, putting out her first two EPs and playing a memorable Boiler Room set. She toured the next year and notched a Coachella performance. She collaborated with pop mainstays Charli XCX and Robyn the year after that.

But when Yaeji dropped the hypnotic “What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던” mixtape in 2020, she still wasn’t quite ready for an album, she told the 9:30 audience.“To me, an album is a body of work that follows a singular intent,” she said. That intent seemed to emerge during the pandemic.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think, and a lot of things surfaced, and then I felt anger for the first time,” she said. “I realized I wasn’t done figuring out what anger for me transmutes into.”

When her debut album, “With a Hammer,” finally arrived last month, it seems the anger has been turned into a multidimensional tool — not a frantically smashing hammer, but a way of clearing space to build creative, nurturing energy. She expands her sonic palette with hints of enveloping jazz, sprightly synth-pop and corporeal techno as she contends with liminality, isolation and learning to live with all the versions of herself.

Onstage, Yaeji’s performance was cohesive and absolutely enthralling. From her video interludes and backdrops to her magnetic dancers, Yaeji had a complete vision that kept everyone moving with intention and exuberance.

Her two openers beautifully set the mood for the night: Baltimore newcomer Nourished by Time (who also appears on “With a Hammer”) brought the mystery, while Jessy Lanza, an electronic songwriter from Canada, served up the romance.

Yaeji opened with the twinkling “Submerge FM” while an irradiated pink sunrise emerged on the video screen behind her, as if she was transmitting from a nearby nebula. A seamless transition into “For Granted” showcased Yaeji’s elastic and malleable vocals.

She also showed great chemistry with her two backup dancers, performing high-energy choreography throughout the concert. A warm duet with Nourished by Time for the blooming “Happy” felt like an embrace. For her best-known track, 2017’s “Raingurl,” the entire venue bounced with vibrant, full-moon zest as the memorable line, “Mother Russia in my cup!” echoed through.

Yaeji shared that she always learns something new about herself when she sees the faces of her audiences. To which she added, earnestly: “I hope I can be a mirror to you, too.”

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