As you’ll recall from my writeup of a performance at Hongdae’s Club FF last year, ABTB is my favorite Korean band to see live. It’s no mistake, then, that when the opportunity to listen to their first album in four years floated my way I eagerly grabbed it. daydream is something out of a gothic fairy tale. Deep. Dark. Fearless. It’s got all the mythos yet the heady realism of a work of art from the mind of Guillermo del Toro. These might seem like heavy words. Steeped in a rich shade of purple. But even the album’s cover hints at something not quite from the waking world.
daydream is muscular music. Tough, loud, full of grit. Piss and vinegar. The crack and ache of the blues runs a really thick, cragged line through the album. But that doesn’t overshadow the fact that this is true power rock. Heavy vocals, ferocious guitar, drums that demand attention and respect.
While overflowing with grit and grime, there’s so much heart and soul in the music. Leeny’s guitar is its own voice. A teardropped croon that blasts like a power vocalist and balances the growl and sheer triumph that is Park Geun-hong’s voice.
From daydream’s opening, the listener finds themselves wrapped in a hazy mist. Swirling wisps of Technicolor vapor that instantly set them afloat. “nightmare” and “a-void” are apt titles. The songs are actually dreamlike. Are not unlike that odd space between waking and dreaming where the body feels anchored, but the mind doesn’t quite know where it is.
“the struggle for recognition” is the first song that fights the mind’s natural inclination to want to wander during sleep. With that intro, the drums pounding at the door like a pissy landlord asking for this month’s rent, there’s no possible way you can’t pay attention to the track. No one could ever deny the sheer heart attack of Dae-hee’s drum. He beats you down with the force of his blows. Meanwhile Geun-hong’s voice resurrects you and makes you brand new. Not only must you give these men recognition. You ought to kneel down and give praise to the fire they pulled you through to give you rebirth.
Of course, even the purest of intentions to ground us are twisted with the ethereal magic that is Lyn’s guitar. This man… What can I say? Everything about the way he attacks his instrument sends me into absolute fits. He is, without putting too fine a point on it, a bona fide wizard. What he does in the context of this band is so far beyond magic. It’s this sorcery that makes songs steeped in reality like “the struggle for recognition” and “my people” such works of art. The war between reality and fantasy creates this tension on daydream that does so much to give the album its scope.
What surprises me, however, is just how fluid ABTB is with their sound. They relish a chance for experimentation. Pushing the rock element beyond the confines of the genre. “neurosis” takes me back to my childhood just a bit. Giving me bits of Korn with the darker edges of the sound (especially the gut punch of the bass drum). But mostly there’s the crackle and warble of late-’90s “rave music.” That test tube hybrid of death metal and electronica that saw a band like The Prodigy have such an impact on music from the decade. It’s noisy, crunchy, completely left-of-center from the core foundation of the album. I absolutely ADORE it!
It’s touches like “neurosis” and even title track “daydream” (featuring the wavy mysticism of Shin Yoon-chul, the frontman of Seoul Electric Band) that give the album its dreamscapes. Yes, you can feel the ground beneath you on this album. However, everything just feels so watery… unsure perhaps. Are you really awake? Or have you exited one fever-fueled fantasy for another? This is the question ABTB asks you for daydream’s entire 48-minute runtime.
By the time we reach “dead end,” there’s certainly no hope for you to answer those questions with any certainty. It’s certainly the album’s most blatantly otherworldly. Giving me the same dramatic soundscapes as something from Vamps during their Roentgen era. Perhaps bits of the mythology surrounding a band like Evanescence or even X Japan seeping in there. Bursting the blues wide open to give us unadulterated fantasy rock.
The unbridled passion on daydream is overwhelming. I’m not sure what the members of the band went through in the interim between albums. What I do know is that it was enough to create one of the most emotionally physical albums I’ve heard in quite a while. Never brooding, this isn’t an album for the faint of heart or the kitten needing to be coaxed back to sleep after an ugly dream. daydream is actually intrusive thoughts that invade an unguarded mind.
Loud, demanding, insistent. An album that will continue to rattle around my eardrums. Specters of its presence whispering at my peripheral vision long after the last note.