Jambinai – A Hermitage

I fell in love with the music of Jambinai six years ago. When I fall in love with new music I’m usually very excited for whatever comes next only to become somewhat more disappointed with every new release until I end up listening to material more out of a sense of duty than anything else. With Jambinai it’s the exact opposite.

Jambinai’s sound has changed considerably since the band’s 2010 debut EP, seemingly growing richer, fuller, and heavier with every year. With a combination of old live favorites, new additions to the setlist for this year’s tour, and melodies never before heard, second full-length album A Hermitage (은서; 隱棲) goes even farther–taking Jambinai in new directions while maintaining the band’s unique core sound.

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Much like Jambinai’s recent live performances, A Hermitage opens with the shock that is “Wardrobe”–a hard-hitting number leaning towards progressive rock. The geomungo sets the rhythm before heavy electronic effects, drum layers, and electric guitar effectively construct a thick wall of sound. The wailing haegum supports the lyrics as they are screamed, at times challenging the otherwise dominating guitar. It’s a powerful beginning, only hinting at the true capacity of traditional Korean instruments when placed in the skilled hands of the members of Jambinai.

“Echo of Creation” has been one of my live favorites for years. The sharp contrasts between the loud and the quiet, the intense and the serene. It feels like a privilege to be able to listen to it at home, truly able to indulge in every single second. It’s a struggle not to turn up the volume too much.

The same can be said of “For Everything That You Lost”, which with its more traditional post-rock build-up benefits even more from a controlled listening environment. The yearning sound of Lee Ilwoo‘s piri entices the listener. Sim Eunyong‘s geomungo adds extra character as she both plucks it and plays it with a bow. More depth is reached once Kim Bomi joins in with her haegum. Everything comes together beautifully in what might the most radio friendly tune on this release.

Although the tracklist on the CD cover revealed that “Abyss” features rapper Ignito, I was not prepared for the song to be almost completely focused on his rap past the first minute and a half. It’s an intriguing mix that works out very well with the geomungo laying down the beats and the haegum accentuating the words. While I’m not usually much for hip-hop, I’d happily hear a lot more of the same.

In “Deus Benedicat Tibi” it is Lee Ilwoo’s taepyeongso that is the main agent. After a couple of minutes of play reminiscing the traditional Korean march music the track is inspired by, the feeling of impending doom comes down hard. Far from easy on the ears it remains a fascinating listen from beginning till end. Enjoying the sound of wind instruments doesn’t come easy to me, but I just love the twist this takes.

In stark contrast to the track preceding it, “The Mountain” offers an ethereal atmosphere. While the haegum paints an image of a landscape cloaked in mist, the geomungo and bass provide a structure to frame it in. The dynamics bring out all the best sides of Jambinai. Had it not been because I was already so attached to “Echo of Creation” and “For Everything That You Lost” this would likely have been my favorite track on the album.

Whenever I see Jambinai play “Naburak” live I think about all the jokes about the triangle as an instrument, and how misinformed those are: “Naburak” offers triangle action like no other! That said, “Naburak” to me is primarily about the geomungo and this is where Sim Eunyoung really showcases the variety of sounds her instrument is capable of. First included on Jambinai’s self-titled EP from 2010, the 2016 version of “Naburak” is more mature, better mixed, and somewhat heavier.

A Hermitage closes with “They Keep Silence”, also the first single to be revealed ahead of release. The enthralling geomungo line keeps the pace up throughout and the entire song is extremely captivating. It leaves me wanting much more, and so I go back to track 1 and play the CD again just one more time.

This is Jambinai’s first release on UK label Bella Union. I’ve already seen live audiences falling for Jambinai’s music in multiple countries across Europe, so now I’m extremely curious to see how this album is received on the international stage. There’s plenty of variety here, so I’m thinking any music fan with an exploratory mindset should be able to find something to hold on to.

A Hermitage will get a world-wide release on June 17. Korean CD edition will look somewhat different from the international version, featuring the same cover as the vinyl release. Already now the album can be streamed in full at The Line Of Best Fit, where Lee Ilwoo introduces all the tracks one bye one.