South Korean Indie Rock Unit, Hyukoh, Chronicle Tumultuous Youth With New Album “23”
Taking a note from Adele who always names her album with a number of her age, Hyukoh, an indie rock band based in South Korea have revealed their album on 24 April 2017 called “23” when all the members are 23 years old. It takes us roughly a month to get a good spin of this new album before writing out about the first full lenght release from the band comprised of Im Dong Gun, Lee In Woo, Oh Hyuk and Lim Hyun Jae. We used to write about music from overseas for out Music Wednesday session, so why not bring it back? The album opens with a short track called “Burning Youth” and 2 minute and 8 seconds track gives an eerie opening with rhetorical lyrics. Albeit sounding depressing already, the track serves a high spirited tunes with the marching like drum and melodic guitar pick with its delay effect. On “Tokyo Inn”, the band serve their catchy hook that becomes the core of the song in the beginning. It then shifts into a softer rendition with Oh Hyuk’s falsetto then it goes back being a dynamic song again once the chorus comes. It instantly one of the catchiest song in the album and will get repeated in no time. This song on the contrary, describes about a man who fights back his anxiety from his youth days.
“Leather Jacket” comes with a fast paced rhythm and solid lyrics from the first note and it is accompanied with guitar twang here and there. The bass gets heavier in this one and damn it is a song that you can dance to. “Before I die die die die I’m dying, go just rob the jail” is the conclusion that Oh Hyuk comes with, after dealing with his adulthood. The feeling of exhaustion from being pushed around and facing a quarter life crisis, this song encourages us to go all the way. The lead single from this album “TOMBOY” serves Hyukoh’s most sentimental and sweetest song to date. It is the type of song that South Koreans will eat up. And it really does, seeing how the song topped the chart in their home country everywhere. Oh Hyuk’s sweet and soulful voice showcases its full ability in a rock ballad song like this. It is a song about overcoming the twenty something problem. Life seems like a never ending maze in which you should endure and it is best written on the lyrics that say “Sad adults always only walk backwards/You, who just passed your Terrible Twenty, look bored/Because we don’t want to be set on fire and burn quickly/We’re cheering for love”. The song somehow feels nostalgic, like the type that our parents listen to in the 80’s and reminded us of those classic rock songs from Eagles or Mr.Big. “2002WorldCup” is titled after the year when South Korea and Japan became the host of the biggest world’s soccer championship, World Cup. Once again, they utilize dreamy and delayed guitar sound in the background with melodic bass thumping. It is about that time when we experienced puppy love so it’s all good.
Their sixth track on the album “Jesus Lived in A Motel Room” opens up a whole new chapter in “23”. The overall tone gets darker and heavier, and this track tells about anxiety and religious way to deal with it. Without a certain firm belief, it is easy to get lost in a dark path without a way to turn back. This song uses whistle and guitar riffs as the core elements in the music. “Wanli”, the only Chinese song in this album opens up with a sound effect resembling horse and warrior’s thumping footsteps with guitar pick that later becomes the hook throughout the song. This song is a monster as it has screeching guitar sound, marching drums, and guitar plucks that reminds us of that Chinese string instrument. It is like a song that befits to become a war marching tune. It only has a little lyrics, but the arrangement makes up for it. “Die Alone” as the predecessor begins with a marching drum that resembles those calling for war. Then the sound is eliminated and exchanged with a more refined and softer rock tunes. It has Oh Hyuk’s voice hums out the melodies that is played on the song. The acoustic guitar and clapping sound in the middle, strip all the tune and put his voice up front. This song is as depressing as it is with the lyrics of “we all die alone, we are all alone” repeated over and over again. The acoustic guitar outro with the vocal give us chills while listening to it.
“Reserved Seat” shows the more emo side from the band as it depicts the situation of complete sadness. It has a little grunge influence in it, it grows more depressing at this point to listen to this album, but it’s too good to stop. “Simon” is a song dedicated to a friend named Simon and it tells about death…. oh well. This song has a shoegaze feel to it and layered sound from the delayed guitar effect. At this point, our mood grows sour and we’re starting to be affected by the sad tunes. Hyukoh goes metaphorical with a slow rendition called “Paul” and it has prominent piano sound. Oh Hyuk layers his vocal that gives it a ghostly effect on the song and overall tone in “Paul”. “Surf boy” becomes the closing track of the album and the cheerful tone of it lifts our mood back up again. They insert a more optimistic message in this one saying that we should hope for the best but also plan for the worst. Just like the title, this song has a strong surf rock feel to it resembling the likes of Mac DeMarco or Wilco. We quickly learn that “23” is the dark depiction of youth that most of us could relate to and it also shows Hyukoh’s music which gets more mature. It is especially created for the youth in South Korea who face constant backlash from society if they do not fit in the mold.
In a press conference for this album release, cited from Hello Asia, Oh Hyuk admits that he faced anxiety after feeling the pressure of the fame and the expectation from the public. After they first debuted with an EP called “20” in 2014, they gained mainstream fame with their participation on S.Korea variety show “Infinite Challenge”. Their appearance made the public fell in love with their sound and they tried so hard to fulfill it by writing a public friendly song, but it did not work out. As the sole songwriter of the band, Oh Hyuk realized this and went back to his usual songwriting ritual which is dark, full of metaphor, and depression friendly. He wrote this album in three languages, English, Chinese, and Korean as he was raised in several regions in China and he also gets influenced heavily by the music he found on the internet. They have signed under YG Entertainment’s sub-label “HIGHGRND”. While you’re at it, glance at their past discography including their excellent debut “20” and the successful second EP “22”. Get deep and drown in the sea of tears with “23” album below and buy it on iTunes.