December 9, 2023

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파란노을 (Parannoul) / Asian Glow: Paraglow EP Album Review

At the beginning of 2021, Parannoul was just an anonymous bedroom artist on Bandcamp. By the end of the year, they somehow became more difficult to define. While To See the Next Part of the Dream became one of the year’s true word-of-mouth successes, Parannoul rejected most requests for press. The few Q&As they accepted were published on message boards and personal blogs, occasionally providing tiny, confounding glimpses into their process: Turns out those lusciously textured guitars that critics swooned over weren’t actually guitars at all, but MIDI presets. But for the most part, what we knew about Parannoul was what came from the music of To See the Next Part of the Dream, a person racked with crippling insecurities and a profound fear of exposure. The only thing worse than the outside world reinforcing their low self-opinion would be having their praise retracted in an inevitable wave of backlash. So if we’re to take them at their word, the mere existence of Paraglow, a collaborative EP with fellow Seoul artist Asian Glow, is about the riskiest move they could make—one that requires relinquishing control of both their art and their narrative.

But Asian Glow—who also works in a melange of noise, bedsit indie, shoegaze, and dream-pop—is a great match for Parranoul. The two already shared a split with Brazilian screamo act sonhos tomam conta on Downfall of the Neon Youth, a work that quickly became a defining document of emo’s fifth wave. And Asian Glow just set a precedent for their Parranoul collaboration in March with Weatherglow, a joint work with another reclusive and cultishly beloved Bandcamp sensation. Left to their own devices, Parannoul usually tends towards mesmeric repetition and scorched-sugar melody, whereas Asian Glow puts a higher premium on abrasion and “ideas” than straightforward song structure. Paraglow is a 30-minute EP that tries to fuse these two modes together.

Uploaded without fanfare to a new joint Bandcamp page by someone who didn’t write a bio for the album because they “wen [sic] to king gizzard last night with the boys,” Paraglow is presented as a true collaboration—even if the shoegaze production and alt-rock guitars suggest a hypothetical “darker, more difficult follow-up” to To See the Next Part of the Dream rather than Asian Glow’s “most accessible work yet.” Parannoul revealed that their first bolt of artistic inspiration came after hearing a middle school teacher use a Doves song in an otherwise boring class presentation. Opener “Hand” shows how, say, “The Man Who Told Everything” inspired such an overwhelming feeling of awe and possibility while rendering the lyrics secondary. In short, cue the strings. As much as the strings on “Hand” provide textural and melodic counterpoint, they exist to supercharge the drama, rendering Parannoul’s typically despondent lyrics (“Whose contact information is in my heart/Whose gravestone is in my heart? “The devil whispers you are nothing”) as symphonic. To be clear, “Hand” does not sound like either of these two ponied up for a real string section, but as with their past work, the uncanny valley of high-quality, synthetic instrumentation is part of the charm.

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