KEDA – HWAL
‘Hwal’ means ‘bow’ in Korean. Bow means a lot of things in English, but among them is both the noun and verb that – in a musical context – produces a range of sustained, resonant, droning sounds. On a similar bent, HWAL is an album by KEDA, a duo comprising France-based Korean musician E’Joung-Ju (master of the six-stringed geomungo) and Burkino Faso-born, France-based electronic composer Mathias Delplanque.
The record comes as a welcome surprise in my inbox. It’s the latest offering from Brussels-via-Perth label Parenthesis Records, who’ve mostly put out Western Australian experimental/electroacoustic sounds to date. Hwal floats into my ear and makes itself at home.
‘Dali’ opens with deceptively dark cacophony, rattling wood and midnight echoes. It glacically opens up into a creepy tonescape where bugs, mist and crackling sparks swirl over a heartbeat-like resonant thud. ‘Encore’ (amusingly placed second in an album of seven tracks) submerges you in a more hospitable ambience: a major-chord texture, contemplative string plucks, a chirping sound driving things along at a lively, steady tempo.
‘Eoby Nolae’ sees the geomungo whipping up a layer cake of upbeat (and to my ears, bluesy-sounding) riffs which skate over a lattice of buoyant percussion and persistent shaker. Soon enough, electronic drums and noise come crash the party and things get unexpectedly groovy. Like, you could almost deploy this at the club and no-one would freak out.
The title track leads us again into atonal noise and drone corridors, focusing on the timbral qualities engendered by the eponymous bow. It’s not long, however, before we’re back into heady rhythms, courtesy the trip-hoppy ‘La Lune de Corée’ and the industrial, joyously clanging ‘Swordfish’ (you have to wonder if the track’s name doesn’t derive from its stylistic confluence with a certain Mr. Waits and his record Swordfishtrombones). The record wraps up with the isolated geomungo track from ‘La Lune de Corée,’ which might sound like a bit of a cop-out, but upon listening you can hear why it’s there: what was recently a texture within a thudding beat suddenly becomes a minimal, subtle and haunting farewell.
Keda are no doubt pretty unique – I’ve certainly never heard a geomungo and electronics duo before – but their approach is relatively familiar. Fusing non-western folk instrumentation with contemporary experimental production has become fairly common place so, beyond that would-be novelty, one is left to ask: in and of itself, what does this record do? For a start, it refuses to give you a straight answer. It neither rejects tonality nor whole-heartedly embraces it; it refrains from being particularly abrasive or consistently mellifluous; it hints towards being relaxing, background groove music but throws way too many curveballs. It’s the sort of album that perhaps we’re hearing less of in recent times, whereupon the internet has produced cloistered scenes that each cater to micro-moods and highly specific aesthetic niches. Despite a pared-backpalette,Hwal dares to be puzzling and open-ended – ultimately rendering itself all the more engaging and memorable.
JIMMY CHANG – CHANGWAVE
Jimmy Chang. Say it out loud a few times. It’s a fun name to say, isn’t it?
Jimmy’s Chang’s music – or hot tuna, as his facebook page calls it – is equally fun to listen to. Last time I wroted about any of Jimmy’s recorded output he was still working under the moniker Zealous Chang (also fun to say), but that project’s since been waylaid and ‘Zealous Chang’ instead becomes a title of a track on his new solo LP, Changwave.
Unlike previous recordings, Changwave seems to abandon any tendency towards psychedelic or post-rock grandiosity. Not that there was never anything especially wrong with that tendency – but by shedding an old skin, Chang seems to have found a joyous new energy. For want of a less lofty word, this record sounds liberated.
‘Chartreuse Moiré’ introduce this new chapter with a hyperactive, pleasantly blown-out rock sound, pregnant with tape hiss and layered vocals, recalling Ariel Pink circa Before Today, not least thanks to its winkingly pretentious title. ‘Fre$h Prince’ conforms more to jangly sounds that have been in vogue recently – Flying Nun revival and whatever – that is to say, it’s no surprise that Jimmy lives in Melbourne and is launching the record at the Tote. But don’t be fooled! The journey is only just beginning.
‘Welfare Youth’ offers a hint of skyward retro-funkiness before dispelling any suspicions of self seriousness with its deadpan opening line: “Don’t wanna be monogamous / or work at a shitty desk-job.” The song celebrates a slacker mentality but, shirking the norm, does so over an arrangement that’s anything but lazy. It’s self-aware dolewave via early Floyd and, for some freaky reason, it works. And it doesn’t just work, it’s great.
Now Jimmy is deep in the zone, and anything is fair game. So – have some early ‘60s loungeroom radio boogie layered with Aussie twang and fake chundering sounds in ‘Guide to Friendship Cooking,’ why not. ‘QT3.14’ (yep, solve the riddle) pits distorted riffing against pseudo-latin grooves in a way that recalls fellow Melbourne band Terrible Truths, but is far more pointed in its lyricism: “All my friends keep asking what it’s meant to be / She just wants a quick fuck and that’s OK with me.”
Perhaps self-referentially, “2003” opens with some of the synth atmospherics and celestial textures that characterised Chang’s past efforts, but soon bleeds its way into unabashed lo-fi disco-pop. Just as it risks seeming straightforward, however, there’s a detour into slow, unison-riffing hemiola and back again. Addictive stuff.
I mentioned a track called ‘Zealous Chang’ and here it is, the final tune on the record. It has a certain newfound clarity, as if we’re gently emerging from Jimmy’s dreamworld back into reality, and in the process it takes on a more earnest 80’s oz-rock quality, a la INXS. Hey, there are worse ways to tie up your album.
But the real beauty of Changwave cannot be pinned to any one reference point, chord progression, groove or tone. It’s in the spirit that pervades every track, the feeling that Jimmy Chang is on a freewheeling trip through the most gleeful corners of his imagination. This is the sound of a songwriter having fun. And you’ll have fun with him.