It would be too simplistic to say that National Pigeon Unity is the Korean counterpart of 2-person bands like Royal Blood or Twenty One Pilots; there are nuanced differences in the expressed sentiments. NPU’s music is the result of filtering sharp, heavy sounds and explosive energy through caricature and irony. It not only contains the legacy of Korean punk rock from the live clubs of Hongdae, but also throws different genres of rock into the mix as a measure of contemporary relevance.
Form serves content in 999. A Korean phonetic imitation of pigeons’ cries sounds the same as repeating the number 9 (pronounced “goo”). The album was released on September 9, 2019, and has 9 songs. Beyond the number 9, the simple and repetitive lyrics, in addition to the rather single-minded sentiments expressed in each song, all add up to the persona of the pigeon.
It is with the arrangement of songs and sounds in the album that 999 departs from simplicity. The album in its entirety feels like listening to a concert setlist, designed with crowd control in mind. The soundscapes also oscillate from the grounded to the psychedelic, perhaps to mimic the experience of a pigeon’s flight path.
“Hyper Sun” contains a lot of hints to this kind of arrangement. It is an energetic kickoff of a concert, and the extreme panning of the guitar on the left and drum on the right makes it feel like you’re listening to the band perform right in front of you. “Mango” saves energy by capitalizing on funky guitar riffs and basslines, and the following “Same Same” is where the energy first explodes. The almost orchestral soundscape in the middle of the song both gives you a taste of flight and serves as a device to avoid simplicity.
Instrumental songs like “Watermark Park” and “Feel It” focus more on the sound design than melodies to take on the flight and speed aspects of the album. The wavelike drum crashes refer back to the first song of the album, while the psychedelic guitar reverbs reinterpret post rock through the language of punk. Linking the two songs is “Facetime,” the surf rock curveball of the album. The hefty bass melody line in the verses is key.
The energy from “Same Same” is again seen in “Whirlwind (소용돌이)” and “Yes or No,” fitting choices for the last couple of songs at a gig. “Da-Da-Run Around the World” is the anthemic finale of the album and the show, its tangled sounds dismantling the sense of space first established in “Hyper Sun.”
This album is a Rorschach test for the listener’s experiences and tastes. It will hold a lot of sentimental value for people who have been a part of the punk rock communities in the Korean Indie scene.