Within the first few seconds of ㅔ, you think you know what you’re getting from Decadent: R&B with rock instruments. But it isn’t long before vocalist Jin Dong Wook pokes a hole in those parameters with a gritty, repetitive vocal riff, and then another with his falsetto that sounds like he’s mimicking an opera singer. The entire band follows suit, becoming more rhythmically rigorous and distorted up until the final section that’s littered with hazy effects, misaligned playing, and Jin’s creaky, erratic vocals. We’re not in Kansas anymore. The R&B material never returns, and the song finishes in a place much different than where it started. It is exactly this defying of expectations that makes Decadent’s first EP “ㅔ” so damn exciting.
Crossover experiments have a high risk of being tacky, but Decadent pulls theirs off with sincerity and subtlety. The band flirts with a variety of genres in their first EP, such as R&B, soul, pop, various forms of rock: progressive, art, psychedelic… Rather than forcing these genres together, Decadent weaves the threads of each together to form a gracefully unified — but still varied and exciting — whole. Their genre transformations are subtle and are likely to catch you off guard, sort of like The Thing but less menacing.
The band’s elasticity is exemplified by Jin Dong Wook, Decadent’s acrobatic chameleon of a vocalist with dozens of idioms inscribed into his throat: R&B, soul, rock (that gritty Korean rock timbre that I have yet to find the right words to describe…), pop, traditional Korean singing, vibrato-heavy opera-ish singing, and more. But it never feels like Jin is pulling stops to show off how comprehensive of a vocalist he is; emotional involvement and theatric charisma are at the forefront of his performances, and his library of idioms seems to be a means to that end rather than a standalone “schtick.” I’d vouch for him as one of the most inventive vocalists in Korean rock music now.
Decadent’s intricate genre patchwork isn’t the only thing that’s complex about their music. Their riffs and melodies are long, winding, and chromatic; their harmonies and melodies resolve in strange, elusive ways; their structures are unpredictable; their performances are filled with dotted rhythms and tuplets that would be a nightmare to notate on paper. But Decadent’s music is defined more by its expressive conviction — the extent to which the band digs their teeth into everything they do and mean it — than its complexity. For example, the band uses complicated phrases to bring home the frenetic energy in “빈” and grotesque syncopation to portray uneasiness in “Goldfish” –rather than simply to show off their chops.
Decadent injects expressive energy particularly into the rhythmic aspect of their music. They drag and push their rhythms, such as the beginning of “Goldfish” that creaks along with its offset parts, an intoxicated backdrop that grants plenty of breathing room to Jin’s improvisatory lines. Jin also provides more rhythmic drive and complexity than the average rock vocalist; he dives in head first into angular enunciations and pronunciations and delivers lyrics in quick, rhythmic successions. The instrumentalists (Park Chang Hyun on guitar, Seol Young In on bass, Lee Hyun Seok on drums) have good instincts particularly in their interjectional gestures, such as slides and effects and abrupt stops that fill up the soundscape and help drive the music rather than murk it up.
The one less convincing song on the EP is “A.” Despite Decadent’s committed performances, the track is overlong and sounds like an attempt to fit into a pre-existing genre mold and fails to showcase the stylistic agility of the rest of the EP.
Decadent takes ambitious risks in their first EP and succeeds ambitiously. Their personality is potent, their skill level is high, and their sensitivity and commitment as performers resonates in their first EP.