Talk about an end of the year treat. Hanumpa’s 3rd 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 most exciting acts in the Korean rock scene for a while. 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, an instrument you don’t hear in rock music too often.
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). The percussion and guitar parts are heavily syncopated, creating a thrilling rhythmic instability. 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 “곡예사”‘s relentlessness. 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 and keep their music fresh and gripping throughout.
Although it is quite calculative and technical in this sense, Tinnitus still has a soul. It’s expressive and doesn’t alienate the listener despite its complexity. On all levels, Tinnitus is quite the solid album with a lot of meat to bite into.