written by: Drowningn00b
Artist and Album: Nell – ‘Escaping Gravity’
Release Date: June 10, 2013
Science fiction uses science in fantastical ways to explore themes like power, relationships, love and death, to name a few. In Ken Liu’s award-winning short story, “The Paper Menagerie”, origami animals come to life with a mother’s breathe. As awe-inspiring as that is, the story’s theme of family bond is what you walk away with. When science fiction is done right, it’s those human themes that remain, not how mass relays work or what limitations the force has.
The use of synthetic sounds works in the same way. K-indie is no stranger to the sub-genre of electronic music, but you get something different from different acts, like Peterpan Complex and Neon Bunny, who make dance music, and Rainbow99 on the somber side. Since South Korea loves trends, synths are everywhere now, with acts that never used them jumping on the bandwagon for profit’s sake. The latest is Nell on their new EP, ‘Escaping Gravity,’ but do they do anything of worth with synths?
From the beginning of “Boy – X,” this EP is loud. For the opening cut, Kim Jong Wan’s voice is restrained behind a fuzzed effect, and, with thundering drums and big synth loops that leaves no subtlety to the production, the underlying emotion feels smaller than the composition is letting on. It’s that epic take that continues in the single, “Ocean of Light,” one of Nell’s most dance-ready songs. While it does use synth, it is still a Nell track, from the instrumental break, to the emphasis on the vocals and the background vocal chants near the end. The song has great energy and progression, and paired with “Boy – X” signal that Nell can do synth without losing sight of themselves. This is where that symbiosis ends, however.
Nell’s strength is in the lyrics and Jong Wan’s way of conveying them, but those aspects take a back seat as Escaping Gravity continues. Relying heavily on electronic sounds and less on the rock elements, the tracks “Perfect” and “Haven” take on a cold and metallic feel. As beautiful as the latter’s poetry can be, the loud and aggressive composition buries the heart of the words. In the former, the persistent plucking sounds is a reminder that a machine made this; like Nell became obsessed in the minutiae of creating sounds rather than telling a story. This lingering effect is highlighted in the outro, “Walk Out,” with a piano coming through old speakers. The song’s antique style is the one “human” cut after the robotic chaos of the later numbers on Escaping Gravity. That it comes across as genuine without lyrical content speaks to the emptiness within the EP.
Nell is no stranger to large soundscapes. The songs “Cliff’s Parade” and the live version of “믿어선 안될 말” make it clear how well these guys do in loud sonic arenas. For Escaping Gravity, the band’s use of synthetics keeps you at arm’s length from the heart of the songs, if they have one at all. The ballad “Haven” has one, but gets lost in the cacophony of its composition, while “Perfect” and “Burn” feel hollow. This EP is pretty, but it’s a shell all the same.
|Boy – X||
|Ocean of Light||
0 – could do without
0.5 – mediocre/filler
0.75 – pretty good/grew on me
1 – liked immediately
Points to stars conversion: [(3.5/6) x 5] + 0.25*
*there is a 0.25 bonus for every album. The logic is that, if every song were “pretty good”, it’s a 4-star album.