Jambinai ~ ONDA

When a post-rock band plays the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics, it’s fair to say that the genre has legs; but in order for a genre to have legs, it must prove itself worthy of reinvention.  This is exactly what Seoul quintet Jambinai has done throughout its career and continues to do with ONDA.  While they are not the only post-rock band in South Korea, they seem to be the most active and high-profile, as Glittering Blackness, Fall hasn’t released an album since 2014 and the title of No Respect for Beauty’s Why Perish proved to be prescient, representing the entirety of their output in 2012.  Now on their third album, Jambinai stretches the boundaries of the genre, mixing in some hardcore, funk and fusion.  But the band’s greatest contribution is that they sound Korean.  The use of instruments such as piri, haegum, geomungo, and now saenghwang sets them apart from the herd ~ actually, from everybody.  Google Search, get ready for an onslaught of inquiries.

Fair warning: the album does include vocals, but not a lot of vocals, and as the self-aware Lee writes, “most people don’t know Korean, so they hear our voices as sound rather than meaning.”  The artist is correct; most of these lyrics work as texture to the non-native speaker, and those intense growls toward the end of “Sun.Tears.Red” are incredibly cathartic, perhaps even more so as they sound like the battle cry they are intended to be ~ even without the liner notes.  While namechecking Sigur Rös is accurate in one sense, even the Icelandic band’s “harder” incarnation never sounded like this.  The set’s other politically-minded track, the 13-minute “Into the Woods,” is a better match, due to its languid nature and use of glockenspiel.  A reinvention of a decade-old piece, “Into the Woods” is a requiem for a land ravaged by pollution, a long, slow call to arms that stands in contrast to the former track’s weapons-out charge.  Bora Kim’s voice rises above the wreckage like an oil-soaked bird, then blends into the scenery with a series of “oo-oos.”  The final few minutes vibrate with intensity.  Post-rock fans live for this.

But let’s backtrack to the opening “Sawtooth,” because we don’t want to provide the impression that Jambinai is typical ~ in fact, far from it.  From soft origins a hammered dulcimer rises (known in Korea as the yanggeum).  Now BOOM! ~ the drums and guitar ~ we note that Lee also namechecks Metallica, but only the black metal Botanist uses a similar setup, while Jambinai adds a lot more instruments.  Back and forth the timbres travel, demonstrating a fusion of east and west.  With a track as strong as this, one can excuse the near-accessibility of a track like “Square Wave,” which recalls Evanescence at their (early) peak.  As if seeking balance, the band assaults the speakers at the beginning of “Event Horizon” before producing a pristine passage of pluck and strum, which again gives way to chaos.

The positive nature of this band is apparent in their desire to offer cheer.  The title track concludes the album with intimations of light returning to a darkened soul.  While the source of this darkness is not apparent, one suspects it may be disillusionment with the world as it is.  Jambinai offers hope, closing in unison song as if to say, “you’re not alone; your struggles are shared, and in unity there is strength.” What better message to emerge from an event organized to promote global peace?  (Richard Allen)

Note: Jambinai’s Bandcamp page may list the LP and CD as “Sold Out.”  It’s not sold out!  Check your local record store, Amazon and other retailers.

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