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For JAMBINAI, South Korea’s maestros of intense folk-infused post-rock, it has been the best of times and the worst of times since the release of their third album ONDA in 2019. In February 2020, the quintet won Best Rock Album for ONDA and Best Rock Song for the title track at South Korea’s Music Awards, but then came the pandemic. The quintet’s brilliant new four-track EP Apparition captures the depth and range of emotions that JAMBINAI have felt these last few years, from anxious lockdowns and thwarted plans to the thrill of renewed creativity, hunger and hope. As co-founder and band spokesman Lee Il-woo recalls, “After ONDA we saw 2020 as a new opportunity to work on a bigger stage. I personally wanted to release a new album and tour to exhaust the energy of ONDA and find new inspiration, but it didn’t work out that way. We didn’t find enough energy to make a full album yet, so for now we are releasing four songs.” The title Apparition stems from Lee’s perception of the band he has steered since 2011.
“JAMBINAI have been making intense music for an intense group of devotees in invisible places,” he says. “The EP means to take off its shell and appear as a more mature band. Overall, I have tried to express a message of comfort to everyone living in a difficult time due to the pandemic and what’s going on in the world.” Lee’s projection of comfort starkly contrasts with the energy force that carries it: a unique combination of primary rock colour (electric guitar, bass, drums) and Korean folk instruments: the piri (bamboo oboe), the yanggeum (hammered dulcimer), geomungo (zither) and saenghwang (reed mouth organ). Apparition’s four song titles alone nail the otherworldly sensations that define the JAMBINAI experience. Lead track ‘Once More From That Frozen Bottom’ instantly conjures up a landscape that feels volcanic as well as icy. At other times, JAMBINAI employ the slow burn, establishing a mood of serenity before the volume blasts upward and the atmosphere turns supremely dark, such as ‘Until My Wings Turn To Ashes’ and a live version of ‘Candlelight In Colossal Darkness’ which closes the EP with a sense of reflection and acceptance.That leaves ‘From The Place Been Erased’, featuring the guest vocals of K Pop legend swja (also known as sunwoojunga, well known for working with 2NE1, Black Pink, and BTS). “I thought swja’s voice would go well with our music,” says Lee, “so I asked her for help. I am honoured that she willingly participated. Despite our heavy and strong sound, she understood its inner emotions.” Apparition proves that JAMBINAI are not just alive and kicking, but more energised than ever, making up for lost time and momentum. Playing the 2018 Winter Olympic Games closing ceremony in their home city of Seoul had set up the forward momentum that produced ONDA. The South Korean awards similarly upped the ante for the follow-up.
Though JAMBINAI also won the Asia category at global music bible Songlines’ annual awards at the end of 2020, only the thrill and thrust of new music and performance would truly count. First, money reserved for airfares for a cancelled tour in 2020 was used to film online performances for the digital TV channel Audiotree. Then in the spring of 2021, JAMBINAI played at the ‘virtual’ SXSW festival, from which the performance video for the aptly named ‘Time Of Extinction’ was taken, followed by a show for the Tiny Desk (home) Concert series.By the end of 2021, JAMBINAI were finally recording what became Apparition, but they didn’t stop there. Through April 2022, the band released four acoustic performances. There was even a collaboration with Soojung Baek’s boutique Craft Codes, combining two of her scents, “that seemed to match our music the best,” says Lee. The urge to create has only driven JAMBINA’s members further on.
In September, Lee will be working as a concert master of the traditional Gyeonggi Sinawi Orchestra for performances in Poland, Hungary, Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic then collaborating with hardcore rock trio PAKK at London’s annual K-Music Festival in October. He also wrote the music for the first series of the BBC’s Korean-set crime podcast “The Lazarus Heist”. JAMBINAI other two co-founders have been busy too. Kim Bomi and Sim Eunyong co-wrote the music for a modern art piece in South Korea’s National Museum of Contemporary and Modern Arts; having released a solo album at the end of 2019, Sim wrote and performed the music for a piece by choreographer Jinyeob Cha in June 2022. Kim also currently DJs for a Korean traditional music radio broadcast. The three members, with JAMBINAI drummer Jaehyuk Choi and bassist B.K Yu, will join forces for a tour starting in May 2023, and “when there’s an empty space, I want to make a new album,” Lee confirms. Not being able to celebrate the band’s tenth anniversary in 2021, “was a very disappointing moment,” he says. “But it’s okay. We will release more albums and become a better band until the 20th anniversary show.”