Here’s a few words I’m throwing around in an attempt to characterise Silica Gel’s self-titled debut album: colourful, scintillating, immersive, galactic (both in theme and scope). Yet those don’t even begin to describe this psychedelic marvel. The band has variously labeled itself as shoegaze, neo-psychedelic, experimental, and progressive; I find these descriptors accurate, though they only scratch the surface of the music.
Silica Gel is expansive, yet amazingly catchy. Addictive hooks are weaved into songs that are given much space to develop and stretch out. Texture is one of the major aspects of the album: there is a heavy emphasis on synthesizers and the various effects they bring to the table. Sounds are given a weighty reverb. I commend the production, as it contributes greatly to the sensation of physical space created by the songs.
Silica Gel employs two main singers, Minsu Kim and Hanjoo Kim, who also play the guitar and synths respectively. The contrast between their voices, which occasionally appear in tandem, is apparent throughout the album; Hanjoo Kim’s hefty baritone pairs with Minsu Kim’s more flexible tenor quite well. However, a significant portion of Silica Gel does rely on instrumental interludes, e.g. “강,” “Woong’s Theme,” and “Intro (for 기억).”
“비경” kicks off the album with synthesizer drone, folk-esque melodies and a stately chant, complimented by delicate chiming that transitions into the beginning of “눈동자.” From here on we bear witness to the powerful, dynamic rhythm section of Gunjae Kim’s drums and Kyeongmo Koo’s bass guitar.
Combined with towering walls of synthesizers and guitar fuzz, “9” presents a rather syncopated, funky feel and a fiery guitar solo as the centre of the track. “강,” one of the instrumental interludes, is defined by a distinct flute-like synthesizer line and, similarly to “비경,” possesses some traditional influences. What follows next, “모두 그래”, has a start-stop structure involving a fast-paced refrain that collapses into a deluge of drawn-out synthesizer chords.
“Orange” releases some tension with a simple, repeated synthesizer sequence and a fairly leisurely pace. The unhurried tempo is continued throughout “연인,” almost sleepy in its relative lack of dissonance and slow-moving vocal lines. “연인” concludes with a slightly surprising guitar resolution that breaks off from its recurring themes.
“Hrm” follows in the vein of “Orange” in terms of speed and structure. It starts off simply, though the instruments join in gradually, along with brief vocal interjections. “Hrm” serves to shift into the epic, choral “Sister,” one of the shining examples of vastness utilized well on Silica Gel. On “Sister,” Silica Gel provides every note the time to resonate in my mind; all lines feel elongated in a way that uniquely does not feel boring or repetitive. The playful “Woong’s Theme” is a quick change of mood from the two heavier tracks that precede it. It enables the closer, “기억,” to end the album on a dreamier air.
“기억” is idyllic and enchanting, perhaps even functioning as a lullaby. With a swell of sound, it builds into a heart-achingly beautiful climax; the subtle flourishes of strings and chimes add to its wonderful lushness.
Silica Gel is a remarkable debut, and more so when considering that the band hasn’t been around too long on the scene. Silica Gel write songs that are superbly engaging despite their comparatively long lengths (which frequently average around the 5-minute mark), and achieve this with an excellent understanding of hooks and masterful layering of musical components. Honestly, mere words only cheapen the experience. This is something you need to hear for yourself. Sit back, and let yourself sink into the sonic landscape.