Dynamic Duo, the founding artists behind ten year old Korean hip hop label Amoeba Culture, have returned once more – this time with their 8th studio album, Grand Carnival. Heralded with a triple music video blitz, Grand Carnival is a bold, rich ride full of familiar sounds and exciting new directions.

A few things to know about the album as you listen:

“Grand Carnival” is actually the name of the Dynamic Duo’s tour van – yes, as in a Kia Grand Carnival (aka Kia Sedona). Korea Times reports: “They spend more time in the van than they do at home, eating, sleeping, playing games and producing music. Their idea with the album is to share their stories of life as musicians.” The cover art carries this concept out as well – the accordion-fold photo spread is a collage depicting their life on the road and in the van. The artists appear sweaty, deranged, exhausted, yet exuberant, and frequently pants-less…clearly having an all around grand time.

Gaeko and Choiza took a break from music production and outsourced most of it this time around so that they solely could focus on lyric writing. The lyrical content is chiefly autobiographical – exploring their lives and experiences as hip hop artists and 30-something Koreans. Themes include the struggle to earn a living, paying bills, wondering where one’s life is going, chasing love’s flame…the usual 30-something angsts.

But if you are expecting the liner notes to read once again like a Who’s Who in Korean Hip Hop –steel yourself for a surprise. Long-time collaborators Primary, Crush, and Grey do turn up as producers, but get ready to meet MGFC (Jun Beck and deepfry), GroovyRoom, and Beenzino’s beatmaster, Peejay, among others.

And with the exceptions of K-hip hop icon Verbal Jint and idol-rapper ZICO, all featuring vocalists are up-and-coming artists, including R&B newcomer DEAN, Sway D of Hi-Lite Records, YG Entertainment songstress Lydia Peak, and the LA-based Korean American rapper, nafla (Nicholas Choi) -an excellent example of Amoeba Culture’s ongoing efforts to highlight and support new artists.

So, how does it sound?

It’s hard to resist comparing Grand Carnival to their glorious 7th album, Lucky Numbers (2013), or Gaeko’s massive R&B-infused solo album, Red in Gray (2014). You’ll find many similar sounds within GC’s brief 11 tracks -like the way the ultra smooth (nearly cloying) Jam (꿀잼) evokes a little bit of the ultra smooth Hot Wings (날개뼈), or the way that Grey-produced ‘Eat Pray Love’ (‘먹고하고자고’) sounds like it could have come from RiG; Dynamic Duo’s signature harmonies and trademark textures are all there.

But new audio grounds are also tread in tracks like ‘Juminsingo’ (주민신고) and ‘Yahyouhwei’ (야유회) – which demonstrate that D Double not only have their fingers on the pulse of contemporary hip hop, but are also helping to drive it forward in South Korea. There’s some unexpected softness, too, in the lustful Lydia Paek ballad, ‘Baby Don’t Go’ (‘있어줘’) and in Primary’s melancholy finale, ‘Waiting for Exhale’ (‘겨울이오면’), which balance well against the rougher, more aggressive tracks.

But it’s ‘Dodoripyo’ (도돌이표) that stands out as the quintessential track on Grand Carnival – it is the Platonic Form of everything a Dynamic Duo piece should be: full and warm; rough, yet smooth; weighty and layered, but very clean – and addictive to the ears.

As a whole, eighth album Grand Carnival is a solid addition the Dynamic Duo oeuvre and it definitely deserves a start-to-finish listen…or eight…

Need more?

Check out the their 1theK #hashtag recording for a fun interview. And if you haven’t already, be sure to watch the MVs for the wicked bada** J.O.T.S (which gets mega points for depicting women sans sexualization; triple bonus points for giving them equal power with the men), the delightfully absurd Jam (which shows that these kings of cool don’t take themselves too seriously), and an inventive and endearing live recording of Dodoripyo (which was clearly filmed within the walls of the now immortalized Kia tour van, and vibrantly testifies that theses guys love what they are doing).

Review Score: 8.5 out of 10

Don’t forget: you can get a physical copy of Grand Carnival through YesAsia (or your favorite local brick-and-mortar K-music store); the album is also available in iTunes Australia.