Album Review: Hyukoh – “23” (South Korea, 2017)

With an opener named ‘Burning Youth’ it’s not hard to guess the theme of Hyukoh’s debut record 23. But the picture of youth portrayed by the Korean indie band is not one of happiness.

The first half of the record follows the style of the band’s two upbeat and melodic EPs, 20 (2011) and 22 (2015); ‘Tokyo Inn’ and ‘2002WorldCup’ are funky and danceable songs, while ‘TOMBOY’ is more paced and sentimental.

But by the sixth song of the record, ‘Jesus Lived in a Motel Room,’ a shift in style begins. From here there is an intensity not seen in the band before.

The pinnacle of this is ‘지정석 (Reserved Seat)’. With contrast between the sections of eerie vocals and guitar, and the aggressive sudden crash of drums and screeching guitar, the song is a wonderful example of chiaroscuro in music.

Despite this inclusion of heavier and jarring instrumentation, the record stays within the confines of the indie genre, all while including the band’s customary math rock chords.

The rich, soulful vocals of singer Oh Hyuk synthesise well with the music too. And following previous releases, his metaphorical lyrics flow from Korean to English to even Chinese throughout the record.

Together the lyrics and music offer a macabre and poetic portrait of youth. The record is a retrospective journey through youth, dealing with feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and sadness.

The symbol of a journey, hinted in the marching sound of the intro and outro of the epic ‘Wanli万里’, is articulated more directly in the following track ‘Die Alone’. With lines “Running home from the sunset/Hiding the tear marks down my cheeks/That’s the day I was born again”, the song emphasises youth’s turbulent and emotional passage.

The end of this journey is manifested in this song, and throughout the record, by death. Here death is the closing of a chapter of life, youth, while rebirth symbolises adulthood.

Hyukoh have grown up. With their debut 23, the band showcase a heaviness both musically and lyrically not seen before. Doing so, the band offer a deeply personal and melancholic look back at the tumultuous period of life called youth.

Listen: Wanli万里

23 by Hyukoh is now available on iTunes Australia and Spotify.

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