Young, Gifted & Wack is a vibrant electronic music label that has played a huge role in developing the Korean electronic music scene. All of its artists have hip, fresh visions and realize them with high levels of musical proficiency. The label recently released a compilation album that celebrates the label’s third birthday. And oh, oh, is it full of treats for the ear.
(Before reading the review, check out Chris’ post about this album, which provides a summary of all of the artists in the album)
The opening track, “Cat,” by Kernelstrip is a steady track headed by simple piano chords. The chords are slowly decorated by heavier electronic sounds. It has a dreamy and innocent atmosphere that your ear can’t really argue with. It takes a little while to get into with the repetitive, bare piano chords at the beginning, so my only issue is that I wouldn’t have chosen it to be the album opener.
Saram12Saram, although a relatively young group, have captured listeners with their high level of vulnerability. “fish wish kiss” is a captivating track that certainly embodies spirit. However, I would like to see Saram12Saram fool around a little more with harmony; they use the same chord progressions (six chord, seven chord, the one chord) that they used almost exclusively on their debut album.
The third track, “enlighten me,” is by Room 306, which consists of First Aid and Hong Hyo Jin. The two work beautifully together. I enjoy the contrast between the carefully manicured electronic background and Hong Hyo Jin’s free and soulful voice. The melody is strong and the song is well-paced.
Flash Flood Darlings never fails to create music for the heart. His lyrics discuss universal themes such as pain, recovery, and youth. Musically, he’s always true to himself; I never get the sense that he is doing things just to impress his listener. “just for the night” is a treat. In some ways it’s a standard, liberating party song, but it’s also somehow intimate and introspective. It keeps itself busy with different layers, but breaths. There’s no urgency as Flash Flood Darlings unravels his thoughts in a steady melody and lovely accompanying lines.
The next track, “Screw Driver” by goldendoodle, is loads of fun. It’s a flash to the past with some 80’s pop influences. I like the thick, constantly moving electronic accompaniment and how golden doodle’s steady and dreamy melody floats along overtop. The chromatic movement of the bass line as golden doodle moves from section to section is undeniably groovy. I imagine this song as a video game soundtrack (because of its 8-bit synths) in a bright, colorful, fantasy metropolis.
“taipei” by 75A is one of the most emotionally intense tracks on the album. The lyrics are mostly spoken, and handle some heavy themes such as insecurity, self-hatred, and discrimination via a raw, gripping monologue by the fuckuyoshi oyo. The arrangement also tells a story. It begins sparsely, with minimal percussive sounds and an extremely low bass pulse, and gradually fills in with guitar lines and vocal distortion.
“sacrificed” is a compact, groovy track that has an extremely vivid understanding of where it wants to go and why. I can credit First Aid for this, who not only has a great handle on electronics, but also on harmony and pacing. The combination is killer. This track blends a jazzy piano loop with stuttering drum-set and bass rhythms, twinkling electronics, and an elegant distorted vocal line.
“McCartney vs. Bieber” by LOBOTOMY is plenty of fun. The track uses the same bright synth chords for its entirety, but the way they are placed gets funkier (on off-beats, or in a quicker progression) throughout the song to keep things fresh. In between are rhythmically straight forward sections with an electronic keyboard that provide thoughtful breathing room.
The next track by Sima Kim is bombastic and adheres to several hip-hop tropes, but it has enough confidence and capability to make it quite exciting. I love how moment’s nonchalant, mono-tone delivery — that is, until he drops the bass about a minute into the song, and his voice raises and the arrangement thickens. The track is well-paced and cleanly executed.
The final track, “impulse drive” by theoria, is the album’s most avant-garde track. It’s a short track, but features a slow build from irregularly spaced breath sounds, to whirling percussive notes, to twitching beeps and bass sounds. The production is rhythmically nuanced: theoria never stops adding different percussive sounds, so that by the end of the song, there are usually over five percussive textures for every beat. It’s an impressively detailed and controlled soundscape.
This album is a testament to all of the exciting new things going on in the Korean electronic scene. There are so many incredibly talented musicians on display. The album is so fresh, hip, and enjoyable to listen to, and has the added bonus of plenty of musical depth. Young, Gifted & Wack is an influential label that I’m sure will continue to produce top-notch music in the rest of its years.