Keda masters the geomungo, Living Hour engages in sonic hypnotism
Korean-born musician E’Joung-Ju, whose home base is now France, specializes in the geomungo, a 6-string traditional Korean zither that has a history that goes back to the 4th century. On the new album Hwal (Korean for “bow”) by E’Joung-Ju’s duo Keda, the geomungo finds a new life in modern times with the synthetic contributions of French composer Mathias Delplanque, originally from the West African nation of Burkina Faso.
Since the album has various approaches for melding or smashing together the two musicians’ disparate sound-making methods, it doesn’t have a clear objective, unless that objective is to tinker with levels of balance or experiment with how sounds react.
The opening “Dali” offers a tense mood with a shadow of suspense, with E’Joung-Ju’s notes accompanied by an assortment of artificial sounds, anchored by a pulse. It’s followed by “Encore” with a metronomic shaker beat, drones and lurking spectres, leaving the specific timbres of the geomungo’s plucked strings to be in the forefront.
There’s a semblance of a groove on “Eobu Nolae” with a soft, looped bass line, with melodic wandering dipped in reverb, with a hint of dub; that hint is more pronounced in “Swordfish,” the album’s densest song, with occasional delay effects and a mixed bag of clangs and clattering percussion.
The first version of “La Lune de Corée” on the album offers hovering, wispy electronics, but it is dominated by a drum machine sound, which is too distracting for this writer. However, the second version, which closes the album as its high point, is the superior version, where the light static and intentional electronic glitches are in the background, allowing the faint details of the geomungo to finally be heard, including the vibrato and string scraping noises.
Offhand, it may seem like meandering, but melodies emerge as a hum rises in volume; at last, a good balance between acoustic and electronic sounds is struck, and with the right amount of tension to keep things interesting.
The Winnipeg, Canada quintet Living Hour (formerly known as The Hours) is adept at capturing a particular vibe, and on its debut, self-titled album, it hardly matters that it rarely strays from it. It’s a sort of woozy atmosphere with a relaxed tempo, using shimmering electric guitar notes and chords, with the amps fine-tuned just right to elevate satisfying timbres.
The 8-song Living Hour offers standard four-chord rock/pop structures within its songs, primarily starting from song seeds from guitarist Gilad Carroll, creating experiences that have the feel and grandeur of epics but condensed into five-to-six minute packages. The band has cited influences including The Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star and Beach House, but only moods, rather than specific methods or styles, are borrowed from those acts.
Living Hour was originally released on a limited edition cassette last year on Tree Machine Records, and now the label Lefse has provided a wider release for it. The album sustains its blissed-out perpetual cascades for the duration, beginning with “Summer Smog” which reinforces the sonic hypnotism with a sung mantra of the phrase “what happens here.”
However, the album also has some elbow room for auxiliary sonic ideas. For example, “Miss Emerald Green” transforms near its end, leaning towards guitar-effect maelstrom territory, and “There Is No Substance Between” offers a temporary diversion in the form of a jittery rockabilly-esque guitar melody that serves as an unexpected prelude, atop reverent organ chords played by lead singer Sam Sarty.
Sarty delivers her pretty, drifting vocals on the closing track “Feel Shy” with a reverie of wordless singing that feels substantial rather than flimsy or airy. It’s always a temptation for music writers to use certain terms as shorthand, and up until this point, this writer resisted mentioning genres like “shoegaze,” “slowcore,” “psychedelic rock” and “post-rock” to describe the group. Fans of those genres may enjoy Living Hour, but it’s a band that doesn’t cleanly fit into any sole category.