Jang Kiha and the Faces are prolific Korean indie veterans who have been championing their eclectic and undeniably fun genre blend for nine years. They recently released their fourth album, Who’s Good At Their Own Love?, further re-shaping their musical voice into a sound that is more taut and sparse than their last two albums.
No one — no one — can accuse Kiha and the Faces for not being distinct enough. Who else fuses Korean trot into their sing-speaky rap as somehow convincingly as vocalist Jang Kiha? Who else owns the same brand of dorky and intoxicated but somehow sincere breakup fury? Who else molds ten genres into a sound that has remained cohesive and consistent for nearly a decade?
Who’s Good At Their Own Love? is guaranteed to be a fun hang because of these qualities of the band alone, particularly Jang Kiha’s committed and theatric performances. He’s essentially invented his own rap style, a complex tapestry of spirited accents and articulations, onomatopoeias, virtuosic chants, and sassy inflections that spring like freshly unpackaged bouncy balls. You can bask in it all during the cathartic (yet too-brief) Korean 90s hip-hop reminiscent rap-break in “빠지기는 빠지더라.” Imagine the uninhibited theatrics of drunken talking combined with the high-speed efficiency of someone who has had a lot of caffeine. That’s Jang Kiha.
This album borrows from pop, reggae, mo-town, and surf-rock (with a little bit of Queen mixed in) and follows in the compositional footsteps of these genres pretty loyally, adhering to their characteristic chord progressions, riffs, grooves, and arrangement techniques. It’s also very pop-y in nature (particularly the lower tempo songs): it does not deviate from the standard verse-chorus structure, is hook-centric, and has melodies that are sweet and memorable but not particularly inventive.
This presents an imbalance: the album’s derivative songwriting and arrangements do not always successfully represent Jang Kiha and the Faces’s fresh and original color palette and performance energy. It seems as if Kiha and the Faces are inhabiting a compositional mold that is a little too prim and predictable for their vital energy. Their inventive spirits were infused with the musical fibers of their 2011 album Jang Kiha and the Faces: a sweaty ride driven by polyrhythms, spastic melodies, thrilling character changes, and bulging psychedelic arrangements. I’d love to hear them continue to follow this path.
I’d love to hear, for example, the guitar or drums or synth deviate from their destined accompaniment role and upset the sound world with some dissonance, or simply more singing lines. Or for the melodies, structures, and chord progressions to give up being standard and safe in exchange for more creative autonomy and risk-taking. And although Jang Kiha is a thoroughly engaging performer, I’d love to see him go even further: break his volume threshold, tap into his higher register, and really let go, simply because I know he can (Relationships can really suck! Let us hear that!)
There are some moments on the album, however, when the leash is broken. “괜찮아요” presents an engaging dialogue between tensely taut verses and lush, romantic choruses. “ㅋ” has a winner of a chorus (when Kiha makes use of his upper register at the tail end) and particularly charismatic performances in the verses. A few other songs (“내 사랑에 노련한 사람이 어딨나요,” “빠지기는 빠지더라,” “가나다”) hit the ground running, never let up, and have so much fun with their unique spirits that you have to drop what you’re doing an do the same.
This album works and would make an extremely likable person: it’s fun to be around, beams with sincerity, and has a contagious energy that lifts the spirit. But it’s halfway to being an insane, glittery, downright cathartic dance party in the rain with its spirited performances and perky, pixelated hooks and arrangements… so next time, Kiha and the Faces, how about going all the way?