Glen Check matures with “Young Generation”

November 22, 2013
Kim Jun-one and Kang Hyuk-jun of Glen Check  / Courtesy of Soundholic Entertainment

Kim Jun-one and Kang Hyuk-jun of Glen Check
(Courtesy of Soundholic Entertainment)

By Kim Young-jin

These days conversations about Korean pop music are so bogged down by the same old questions that it’s hardly fun to argue about it anymore.

Is the video too salacious? Does it mimic too much? Can they cross over to the West?
Lost is the more important question of whether the music is actually good or not.

The new album by synthpop duo Glen Check, “Young Generation,” allows us to set aside the inane. Rebellious and danceable, this collection takes inspiration from 1980s bands like Pet Shop Boys and Duran Duran. Bright, fun and textured, it represents a step forward for the band; and with lyrics in English that hit on universal themes, it deserves to win them wider recognition.

The album ­ which comes in a two-CD set ­ is the second full-length offering from the duo, which is comprised of vocalist/guitarist Kim Jun-one and Kang Hyuk-jun on keyboards and programming. Following last year’s well-received “Haute Couture,” it marks a continuing evolution of the group’s sound. While their first popular single, 2011’s “Disco Elevator,” featured heavy guitars and a thumping beat, their arrangements since have leaned toward the electronic.

The first CD essentially features songs based on rock music, and the second electronic sounds. However, everything here unabashedly features synthpop samples such as the classic “hand clap.” “The Match Opener” starts the album darkly, with string pizzicato building intensity as a wall of synthesizer sounds builds, before a head-bopping beat kicks in.

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The remainder of the first CD uses the same general formula: smart, syncopated beats built out of sampled sounds, slightly-buried vocal melodies and stop-and-go dynamics that strip the songs down to simple elements and builds them back up again.

“Pacific” is a bright, poppy riff straight from the 1980s. “I can see you rise again, gonna find the place where you and I began,” Kim sings. “Youth in Revolt” has a herky-jerky rhythm that breaks down into a heavy syncopated, heavy-metal riff.

The second CD kicks off with a slick guitar riff that sounds like Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” before breaking into an anthem-like stadium rock sound that’s the stuff for driving at night with the windows down. The childish “Oh yeah” vocals come courtesy of Kim’s younger sister. “Brooklyn” features chopped-up samples and a hand-drum groove that feel like they should be played out of a boom box.

Fans of synthpop will find plenty to like, as will fans of the Korean indie scene. For those who tire quickly of synthesizers, the album may have less replay value, and the songs generally take on a similar, driving tempo. However, the sounds are diverse and the shifting rhythms keep the music lively. Overall, it’s a solid effort from an independent-minded group, with a sense of originality that provides a breath of fresh air.

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