Every once in a while, a band’s name will catch my attention. Brown Eyed Soul, Yellow Monsters, Romantic Punch, Linus’ Blanket. Sometimes a band’s name doesn’t mean anything or make sense (Vanilla Acoustic or Bluepaprika? Really?). Other times, their names signal what you might expect musically, like House Rulez and Sultan of the Disco. With the myriad band names out there, coming up with an original one that’s memorable is tough, a job I am glad not to have.
Enter Danpyunsun and the Sailors. I know there are bands that have appendages like that (and the faces, and the warblers), but “the Sailors” is interesting. A musical career, already a journey, but to make that explicit in the name is on the nose. And since it’s Danpyunsun and the Sailors, and not just The Sailors, or Danpyunsun with a backing band, what does that mean for the music and the perception of it based on the name? For the record 동물, the group introduces folk elements to Danpyunsun’s traditional Korean vocals for amazing effect.
First thing to note is Danpyunsun himself. A solo artist in his own right, he’s a traditional Korean singer, much like trot singers, whose voice catches in his throat at times. Because of this, his delivery lends urgency to the music. That forcing, matched with equally rambunctious Sailors, makes for the killer single, “노란방 (Yellow Room).” The energy is electrifying, as if the song can’t come fast enough, even in its five minute run time. His voice isn’t always rushing to come out, like in the swift “손 (Bud).” Though small, the changes in Danpyunsun’s vocals are delivery, preventing the record from getting monotonous, and at best, encourages you to pay attention.
Which brings me to the Sailors. Sure the name is tacked on, but the band is fully integrated into Danpyunsun’s vision. Of course “Yellow Room” can be done with him and his acoustic guitar alone, but the Sailors backing amplify the thunder in his music. Without the Sailors, “공 (Ball)” would not have the anthemic feel that it has. Not only that, but the Sailors bring in Danpyunsun’s duet partner, the fiddle. Calling the fiddle portions solos doesn’t give Kwon Jee Young enough credit.
Acting as part backing track, part rhythm section, part soloist, she intercedes when Danpyunsun goes silent, like in “황무지 (Wasteland).” Jee Young even goes toe-to-toe on a strumming-plucking duet with his guitar in “동행 (Walk With Me).” The fiddle is integral to Danpyunsun and the Sailors’s folk sound, and that it fits so well only makes me ask, what took so long?
Together, the solo artist and his new band are better together. The sound of the music is fuller, with songs that are louder, quieter, and more majestic than they otherwise would have been. Folk music is not always my go to, but props to Danpyunsun and the Sailors, “동물” is the record I never knew it wanted.
Having no idea who Danpyunsun was or his earlier work, I listened to this record based on the band’s name alone. Much like small o, Danpyunsun and the Sailors’ folk is centered on the acoustic guitar and fiddle, but Danpyunsun’s vocals lends their music a more Korean air than Oh Ju Hwan‘s Western style. Beyond that comparison, “동물” is bloody fantastic. The record vascilates from ballad to fast tempos and mid-tempos, and from quiet to boisterous within each track, and none of it feels forced.
From the languishing tone of “백년 (Hundred Years)” to the thundering “노란방 (Yellow Room),” Danpyunsun and the Sailors prove you can add a full band to a solo act and make it feel like it was missing all along. Folk music recalls a time before electronics, and Danpyunsun and the Sailors make that genre feel alive and urgent on “동물,” making it a record I’m happy to have tripped upon.