From time to time the music lover will encounter someone who just doesn’t get it: a poor unfortunate soul who believes that if foreign artistry is not monetized on a grand scale, it does not exist. The other day I encountered one such person, a DC-dweller who refuses to accept that 1) people in Korea outside the K-pop industry do indeed make music, and that 2) unless reenacting events from the distant past, there is no reason to play traditional eastern instruments. Through my incredulity at the lack of anthropological awareness, I managed to nudge Google, which compliantly pointed me toward Jambinai, a Seoul-based post-rock group. Featuring Kim Bo-mi on haegeum; Lee Il-woo on electric guitar, piri, taepyeongso, and vocals; and Sim Eun-yong on geomungo; the trio zaps traditional Korean instruments with a hard rock shock prod, and in the process of doing so, creates something sweetly sublime. Their latest album, A Hermitage, came out last year on Bella Union. The hot zing of the strings went nicely with a cold kombucha this morning.
The album begins with, “Wardrobe,” a song that blasts into your ears like an egg unshelled into a boiling pot of water and vinegar. The sound forms a comet, its head a molten percussive beat – not an instrument I hear often – trailed by a tail of screamed vocals. The guitar is like black Argentinean leather, and the song invites the listener to bask in a dopamine glow, like a walk on hot coals.
“Echo of Creation” starts with the thick acoustic sound of the geomungo, a bright shift after the dark “Wardrobe.” Soon enough, the intensity increases before subsiding to a beat like the passing of time and vocals that move like something just barely perceptible through the fog. The sound is sweet with an urgency that could make you check your pockets to be sure nothing important is left behind. The percussion ramps up and the song takes a turn for the loud and spooky, which turns dark and sweet like molded dark chocolate.
Jambinai slows the listeners hearts back down in “For Everything That You Lost,” a song that reminds you of the experimental nature of their soundscapes. It builds its own world from silence, adding in sweeping tones and timbres that sound like standing in the forest and gazing up and over at the immensity of the canopy. The band develops a beautiful arras of melodies and supports it with a base of total rhythmic tonality that takes up space like the evergreens. As an acoustic representation and manifestation of Gratitude, the song lives up to its name.
Back into blackness the listener is taken, with “Abyss.” Spoken word lyrics play 3D tic-tac-toe rhyming with the alternating rhythms of the drums and geomungo. The mood shifts and all of a sudden, the golden strums of the geomungo are spaced just far enough apart to build a sense of pleasureful anticipation before ending higher than before. “Deus Benedicat Tibi” starts with a simple beat of cymbals, then the piri is blown into the mix and layers of sound develop like a time-lapse of a meteorological event, or perhaps a mycorrhiza colony.
“The Mountain” returns the listener to the sweet wet smell of that foggy forest air that appeared earlier in the album. The band builds up the rhythm like small plates on the table during an enthusiastic outing for tapas. The groove is light at first, delicate but meaty, like a well-produced and -executed carpaccio. Then it grows, expanding into the space around it and all the crevices beyond; a sudden blast of thick fuzz alternates with a lone haegeum melody. There is a rhythm in the characters of the next song’s title, “나부락”, like the instructions for an acrobatic move… and that is just what it sounds like. Fingers too fast for my motor cortex to follow produce a rhythm that seems to grow and shrink like a moving metallic wind spinner. The beat is wild as the guitar moves quickly. As if in celebration of a perfectly practiced execution of the titular move, the sound builds up, lauding what just happened and lauding what is to come. Then, the sound moves on to a tone of curiosity, and an organized chaos of notes culminates like foam rising up around the edges of a root beer float. “They Keep Silence,” the final track on the album, begins with a melody that sounds familiar. Changed lyrics bear a remarkable resemblance to Beck’s signature sound before drums break it down into a bacchanalian beat.
A Hermitage is a sweet album to be savored slowly. Allow your ears to surrender to the music of the three innovative sound sculptors in Jambinai. As if it were meant to be, allow yourself to fall into the groove. Jambinai’s is nothing less than succulent.