Talk about an end of the year treat.
Hanumpa‘s third album, ‘Tinnitus‘, is yet another addition to the list of remarkable rock releases this year. Not that I’m surprised; Hanumpa has been one of the more exciting acts in the Korean rock scene these past few years. While their second album failed to leave much of an impression on me, I loved their relentless, forward-thinking first album, ‘독감‘. ‘Tinnitus’ bares more similarities to this first album, but it feels more polished, like the band has settled more into their sound.
Hanumpa’s sound contains hints of other Korean rock groups such as Ironic Hue, Unchained, and Asian Chairshot. It’s not that they’re derivative, just that their sound embodies several common Korean rock trademarks that can be heard in many other groups; it’s emotionally gritty, rhythmically complex, contains long, striding melodies, and is sung in a gutsy fashion. As a bonus, the vocalist plays the Mongolian horse-head fiddle, which is pretty badass if you ask me.
One thing that makes ‘Tinnitus’ stand out is its use of unconventional time signatures, such as 5/8, 7/8, 3/8, 7/4, and 5/4. (“Crow” is almost completely in 7/4 and 7/8. When was the last time you heard a rock song in which that was the case?) The percussion and guitar parts are heavily syncopated, which messes up your rhythmic sense and creates a thrilling instability (or maddening, depending on what your musical preferences are). Hanumpa rarely resort to straight rhythms in 4/4 time. And when they do, it’s refreshing and intentional.
I’d have difficulty picking a favorite track on the album. I love the pressing yet contained energy of “백야” and the relentlessness of “곡예사”. I also enjoyed “Vanishing,” “Crow,” and “Freeze,” and how they’re simultaneously intense and elegant.
Hanumpa’s musical choices on this album are deliberate and purposeful. They seem to have a strong vision of what they want their music to say, and think carefully about how they want it to be said. The band steers clear of harmonic and rhythmic cliches, keeping their music fresh and gripping throughout.
Although it is quite calculative in this sense, ‘Tinnitus’ still has a soul. It has gripping emotional material and doesn’t alienate the listener despite its complexity. On all levels, ‘Tinnitus’ is quite the solid effort with a lot of meat to bite into, and it’s an album that definitely shouldn’t be missed.