I have yet to fully understand what makes the music of Taehyun CHOI’s band Kuang Program so magnetically visceral. Even their earlier and relatively tamer material (such as their first album You or Me) feels like it’s always on the brink of imploding. Maybe its Choi’s unruly singing and shouting, the band’s frantically repeated notes and rhythms, or the sweaty arrangements. But there’s something more to their music: a spirit that’s simultaneously violent and fragile, a raw spirit that is so deeply ingrained into the fibers of their sound that it eludes words.
This spirit is equally present in Choi’s recently released solo album, Parted Songs 2013~2014. This album is all-out experimental in contrast to Kuang Program’s post-punk rock sound. Choi forfeits melodies and standard structures and arrangements to play in an uncanny musical sandbox of found sounds (balloons, slurping straws, scraping and tapping), samples (radios and exercise tapes), and a whole bunch of synths. This album is strange and awkward and by no means conventionally beautiful, but it’s one of the most powerful releases I have heard all year. Here’s why:
Choi translates his gut into sound without sugarcoating it for the listener. There are no indulgent melodies or catchy beats unless they are ironically juxtaposed with the experimental. Rather than intricately composing his music, Choi seems to focus his energies on making sure that each sound is visceral and comes straight from himself. Listening to the album feels as if he’s jamming his heart out alone in his room and that we are listening through a door that hasn’t been opened for our ears yet. To release it to the world is a vulnerable feat.
Most of this album feels like your brain is getting a painful and jarring but somehow satisfying massage. Choi’s music whistles and shouts and booms so primitively that it fulfills the inner urge to scream. “Judo Finale” sounds like a distortion laden vocal fry scream fest. “Vidulgi” and “Suitcase Horror” sound like guitar strings slowly being disembodied on a cushion of reverb and samples.“Hit Run (not used)” and “Dust Factory” both contain mellow guitar loops tumored by the relentless chiming of notes and croaking synths that don’t belong. Other songs like “Part 2,” “Tree 2” and “Vor den Gesetz” are gaseous sound worlds that float by void of any meat to chew on, reflecting the unresolved and restless psychological landscape that Choi has created. My favorite song, “For Nim & Song,” uses a peppy exercise tape, breathing sounds, and sparse electronics to create a strange, funny, and uncomfortable bodily experience.
There are faint tints of restrained indie-pop beats and synths throughout the album, but they are in constant friction with the dissonances and the distorted screams, synths, and found sounds. The unnerving experimental sounds often feel like uninvited growths on songs that just want to get funky (“For Nim & Song,” “Ending Alice”), or painful and destructive thoughts in a mind that just wants peace.
With this album, it’s much less about technical or musical finesse as it is Taehyun CHOI’s ability to make us feel his music right in our gut. It may not sparkle with intricate compositional craft, but it sparkles in an arguably more meaningful way: it personifies the ugly and complex feelings we spend so much time trying to grasp and come to terms with as humans. Musicians that make themselves vulnerable by addressing and expressing these feelings are truly special, and Taehyun CHOI is one of them.