After releasing two self-composed tracks a few months ago, Leo of boy group VIXX has finally made his solo debut with Canvas. Having composed as one half of the duo that is VIXX LR, and also for the main group, Leo is no stranger to putting his work out there. The same can’t be said for himself. Since his debut, Leo has always been seen as a reserved member of the group, preferring to let the other members speak up and let his vocals do the talking. In recent years, however, he’s begun to open up a great deal more with fans. This album feels like the culmination of this process. It’s Leo finally being able to stand on stage with complete confidence and command over his art. For that reason, listening to the album feels like a journey, full of unexpected twists and turns. Gone are the days when Jellyfish Entertainment told Leo his songs were too depressing to release (which Leo himself has often joked about). Canvas is full of life and sensuality, hope and colour. A full spectrum.
The lead single, Touch and Sketch, gives just a little taste of the variety of styles to come. Leo makes a departure from the sound VIXX as a group pursue – though that can be hard to pin down in itself due to how versatile the group is when it comes to genre. The open whisper sets the tone for the entire song. It’s sensual, and unreservedly so. The verses take a slow tempo and lead up to the chorus, which changes pace after Leo’s spoken vocals signal the change. Because of this, it doesn’t feel jarring at all. The beat is restrained even in the chorus but thanks to the layered vocals, it doesn’t feel empty. The title words of ‘touch’ and ‘sketch’ are scattered throughout the song, repeated and emphasised – the one place in which they’re absent is the bridge, which drops down to mostly just the beat and Leo’s voice, with some echoing effects in the background, giving a more spacious feel. It’s not a song that strives to be loud and attention-grabbing, which is where its strengths lie, and also in how Leo’s performance accentuates the finer details of its subtle sexiness.
Cover Girl forgoes a modern beat in favour of 80’s style synths and rhythm. It works well, with Leo’s softer, high voice playing against the deep bass line and playful riffs. Whilst not much varies between the choruses and verses, the bridge throws in a nice little break. The ending takes a second to throw in a final few notes of the background synth which catches the listener by surprise. This song also features a cameo from L.E. of EXID, and her verse after the first chorus is placed perfectly to contrast Leo’s voice and lend a different sound which is refreshing.
Slowing down the tempo just a notch is Free Tempo, one of the aforementioned pre-release tracks. Whilst at the time it was unknown whether the song was a hint at a solo debut for Leo, it is nice to have it as part of the album. There’s some nice guitar here, carried along by a laid-back yet strong beat. It’s relaxed, yet not to slow. For a song with lyrics telling the listener to follow their own tempo, it feels familiar rather than experimental. But Leo pulls off this style well, and even more so the message.
If anything, it’s a false sense of security. Give Me Something blows away any expectations that the previous songs set up. It’s not what is expected from Leo at all, and that is perhaps why it’s so satisfying to hear. Not to mention, it’s intensely catchy. An upbeat dance track at its core, Give Me Something’s key hook comes in the chorus’ refrain, spoken in a low voice that suits the almost husky quality to Leo’s voice. Paired with this is the rising synth stabs in the background, which lead the listener through each chorus as well as adding diversity to something that would otherwise get quite repetitive. The ad-libs in Leo’s more recognisable high voice serve that purpose too, aided by some more interesting little production effects such as the effect on his voice in the pre-chorus and the extra layer of synths in the second section of the chorus. It’s hard not to get hyped up when listening to this – or dancing if you can’t resist.
The first real ballad of the album follows and it’s a lovely change of pace after the energy of Give Me Something. 나는 요즘, or Nowadays, relies heavily on piano and Leo’s voice for its opening verse and chorus. This means that Leo’s vocals truly get to shine, and it’s hard to deny that ballads of these sorts don’t suit him. It’s powerful, and this is only increased when the drums come in for the second verse. The bridge has some pleasing little triplets in its vocal line which Leo sings soulfully. It all leads to the percussion dropping out for the final chorus, again bringing attention to Leo’s voice. Whereas the tracks before it focused on showing different colours of Leo’s voice, Nowadays really puts the quality of his singing front and centre, and there is a confidence that comes across in the way he sings the choruses that gives an extra depth to an already emotional song.
Gesture feels darker than any of the other tracks on the album. There’s low pitched piano, haunting background vocals and strings, but there’s also some funky rhythm guitar and a nice bounce to the melody line that keeps it feeling fresh. There’s also an interesting change of key before the second chorus which at first feels out of place, yet fits really well within the whole scope of the song. If anything, this song feels the most like something to be found in VIXX’s discography. It’s sensual, slightly dark and funky. What’s not to love?
The second of the pre-release tracks closes off Leo’s first solo collection with a note of hope. 꿈 or Dream feels like the message Leo wishes to pass on to those that have listened all the way through. It’s personal. But it reaches out with its lyrics and the tone. It builds with a whimsical airiness, percussion and strings powerful yet not overpowering. Leo holds nothing back here with his vocals and it’s perhaps this that gives the final amount of power to the song. It’s a song you listen to at the end of a day; when the world has left you hollow and you need warmth and hope to fill you. Leaving the album on this high is like a promise that there is more to come. And when the music is this good, it can’t come soon enough.