Album Review: Glen Check – Haute Couture
As of 2012, electronic rock is a major stream in Korean indie. I can’t really explain the sudden proliferation of electro-garage and synthrock bands coming out of the woodwork, but I’m not complaining – the majority of these (often very young) bands have accumulated electronica know-how and are well versed in their craft. Two of the best albums of 2011, for example, belonged to this hybrid genre: Idiotape‘s 11111101 and The Koxx‘s Access OK. Consider what bands like Achime, Telepathy, and Mongoose did last year as well, and the picture starts looking really good.
Let’s add Glen Check to the list. This trio made their debut just over a year ago to initial obscurity, but the name took off a couple months after the release of debut EP, Disco Elevator. After impressive outings at such occasions as the 2011 Jisan Valley Rock Festival, and a concert (slated for April 13 and 14) sold out in short order, Glen Check can probably be regarded as one of the more spotlighted rookie bands today.
Until now, Glen Check was straddling the line between electro-rock and just straight-up electronica: Metro being closer to the former and Disco Elevator to the latter, and so on. Haute Couture, the band’s first full-length release, moves it firmly into the former category. The album opens with the tense, ponderous buildup of The Naked Sun, before the track turns out to be a speedy, densely packed exercise in frenetic bass and taut synthesizer. It’s the start of a wild ride.
One of the problems that electronic rock runs into is the conveyance of energy and vitality, especially in comparison to its heavier and faster brethren. You’re essentially trying to create intensity without the sounds that make it easier to do so. Idiotape and The Koxx solved this problem with rhythm and tempo, while using relatively heavy synth textures throughout. What’s impressive about Haute Couture is that it does a similar thing, but with an extremely light soundset. Its highlights, including Vogue Boys And Girls and Au Revoir, fill the void left by instrumentation with ferocious rhythm and liberal application of bass. Neither are explosive in the way Idiotape’s work is, but both are nevertheless unconstrained, electric tracks.
In fact, drums and bass might be the most important elements of Haute Couture. While Glen Check even put in an all-bass-and-drum intermission track Bataille! (the first 1:10 of the video above) in the album, the best example of this approach is seen in co-lead single, French Virgin Party. The song kicks off with an exquisite synthesizer riff (starting at 1:10 of the video above) that serves as the main theme; but even here, it’s really the dull stuff underneath that makes the riff so memorable. The subtle, oscillating bass grounds down what would otherwise be an awfully light melody, and the drum line provides additional velocity with the relentless backbeat hi-hat. These elements take front stage during the breakdown portions. There are two short-and-sweet ones, one as an intermission and another as outro, and a pretty lengthy one in the latter third of the track; all show the sustaining power of the beat elements. They make French Virgin Party a serious candidate for song of the year.
Meanwhile, the vocals, performed by guitarist Kim Jun-won and sung in mostly English and some French (the members have French and Belgian backgrounds), generally take a back seat – as happens often in this genre. The vocal track is deliberately washed out for most of the album, effectively acting as just another instrument to bolster the melodic side of its tracks. The Flashback and Concorde have somewhat prominent vocal elements, but even these are swamped by the mass of sounds that make up the rest of the track. At any rate, the lyrics are abstract and minimalist; they serve not to tell stories or give fleshed-out messages, but to impress upon the listener a particular theme or idea with repetition.
Haute Couture‘s sound philosophy is not groundbreaking, but it’s still a refreshing take that pays real dividends. One of those dividends come in the form of distinction from other electro-rock bands: if Glen Check can continue this style, they’d be occupying a still-sparsely populated position in a rapidly expanding scene. Whether this band can become a leader and trendsetter remains to be seen, but they’re certainly helping themselves.
Tracklist (recommended tracks listed in bold)
1. The Naked Sun
2. Vogue Boys And Girls
3. French Virgin Party
4. The Flashback
7. Au Revoir
9. 60′s Cardin
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