Review: ONDA by JAMBINAI

September 27, 2019

Image: Facebook | Jambinai 

 

Traditional Korean folk music overlaid with rugged experimental flexes of post-rock muscle.

Korean post-rock band Jambinai have been building traction in Korea since their self-titled 2010 debut and have begun to earn fans worldwide with their niche combination of experimental rock and Korean folk. Although their lyrics are in Korean, there is little vocal usage on this album, even by the standards of post-rock. The focus is on instrumental performance and the finely balanced mixing, creating eerie three-dimensional tableaux of sound that rise and fall over many minutes.

Their instrumentation incorporates the delicate skirls of the acoustic staples of Korean folk like the haegeum and geomungo, as well as electric guitars and drums, as on the opening track Sawtooth, where the guitar lead becomes like a ragged sawblade criss-crossing the track. The mix opens out on the second half of the track Square Wave into a high-level rushing plain of listless, haegeum squeaking bracketed by guitars and singing curtaining the stage. Event Horizon picks up with an immediate crescendo to the same ideas as Square Wave, before bottoming out at the one-minute mark leaving behind only Eun-yong Sim’s ragged, creaky geomungo plucking. The track then slowly rebuilds its force into the spiky high-pitched daggers of noise on the outro.

We then have the unsteady punk groove of Sun Tears Red followed by the cooling respite of the contemplative track In the Woods, with its rising, gently swaying guitar melodies and ghostly metallic creaks before the despondent jazzy horns come in. Again, the track builds over its long runtime to a high point of cinematic intensity with rock guitar leads and walls of crushing cymbal, against which the delicate vocals sound extremely precious and fragile.

The track Small Consolation repeats this pattern of building and releasing, Bo-mi Kim’s haegeum playing is so delicate and articulate on this track that it sounds electronic in its level of control. This then leads us into the last two tracks, the title track and its acoustic prelude, finally building into a majestic choral piece ending the album with an industrial wall of feedback finally peeling back to reveal a hollow woodwind flutter.

On Onda, Jambinai have perfected their own distinctive and refreshing niche in world music, delivering a superbly mixed and finely tuned collection of avant-garde rock tracks, it only remains to be seen what can be done with this sound on further projects, but as a calling card, Onda is unimprovable.

Jambinai will be performing live on campus at the Gulbenkian on Friday 4 October as part of the Korea Day Event starting at 5pm. Tickets are available online via the Gulbenkian website.

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