James Ivy: Everything Perfect EP

James Ivy is trying to remember the world as it once was: listening to FM radio, rocking a pair of back-of-neck headphones, falling in love with someone in real life instead of online. The 23-year-old Korean-American singer and producer longs to return to a bygone era before social media, where entertainment could be as simple as riding the train until you lost track of time. So on his latest project, Everything Perfect, Ivy transports back to the ’90s, his sunny, mid-tempo pop-rock songs urging you away from your bedroom into a world of visceral, tactile pleasure.

Ivy has flirted with fuzzy guitar pop and shoegaze since his teenage years. As his style began to cohere—think the 1975 crossed with Third Eye Blind—he sometimes struggled with how to best execute his vision, leaning on the superficial pleasures of whiny rap-sung hooks and cloying doot-doot-doot refrains. Everything Perfect, his second official EP, marks Ivy’s promising and confident arrival: It surges with warm guitar riffs, turntable scratches, spaced-out keys, and sticky singalong hooks, cementing him within the next generation of left-of-center pop stars.

Across the project, Ivy surveys various ’90s and early aughts rock archetypes while following his own affinity for emo-tinged cadences and breakbeats. Opener “L-Trip” is a frenzy of distorted guitar and hiccupping drums, like if Oasis collaborated with Ashlee Simpson. “What’s your biggest regret?/Is it meeting me?,” Ivy sings, begging an indecisive crush to be cruelly honest with him. On the shoegaze frolic “Involved,” a wall of electric guitar feedback and muddy breaks cascade into an understated, swooning chorus. These sorts of arena-sized songs look good on Ivy, his fusions of Britpop and R&B, new-wave and trip-hop offering a satisfying soundtrack to post-adolescent anguish.

Ivy spends the bulk of the EP detailing the confusions of coming-of-age in a world frayed with uncertainty. He hasn’t washed the dishes in days and often can’t remember the last time he ate. He falls helplessly in love—but no, wait, that’s not love, only the weak simulacrum of it. “Want you dead in a weird way,” he sings on the title song, which reflects his own self-loathing more than ire toward a love interest. His lyrics can be vague and clunky—“I want to chain you to the right side of my wide eye,” he belts on “The Last Place You’d Ever Look”—and not every song fully lands, especially considering the crowded landscape of ’90s-inspired pop-rock. But it’s impossible to walk away from Everything Perfect without one of its massive hooks sloshing around your head, and there’s something charming about Ivy’s work-in-progress vulnerability: He’s fumbling for metaphors and tripping over sentences, rambling until he gets at the core of something real.