Artist: Pal Hwang Dan
Album: 2013-2021 Seoul
Format: Digital / Tape
Master: Pal Hwang Dan
Artwork: Saphy Vong
Release Date: 19 November 2021
Pop iconoclast Pal Hwang Dan returns for his third release on Chinabot, 2013-2021 Seoul. Through solid-gold synth-pop hooks and his deadpan, romantic vocal delivery, he paints a picture of life in modern-day Seoul filled with yearning, loneliness, absurdity and rampant consumerism.
It’s not just watertight song-writing which makes 2013-2021 Seoul is his most clear-eyed release yet. His vision is immediately clear in opening track Usadan-ro (우사단로), an irresistible slice of off-kilter hypnagogic pop. The accompanying music video shows Pal Hwang Dan dancing around his crappy, tiny Seoul apartment, playing like a child and eating maggots on avocado toast.
“There was no sunlight outside the window, only saw the Che Agency sign,” he sings over the propulsive, bittersweet melody. “The phone was dead, woke up, not knowing the time.” A defiant assertion of energy within the empty isolation of city life, Pal Hwang Dan shows his iconoclastic charisma as a modern Korean pop performer with a vision more in line with Parasite (2019) than K-Pop’s high glitz.
Alienation and consumerism are recurring themes in 2013-2021 Seoul. 19800 Won (19800원) is a melancholy, spoken-word and harmonica track reminiscent of early Dean Blunt. Named after a t-shirt he designed and sold for 19,800 Korean Won, the music video is positioned as a t-shirt advert shot through a surreal vapourwave lens. In a black suit, Pal Hwang Dan performs his song karaoke-style behind an ever-increasing frenzy of graphics in an advert gone horrible wrong.
He nonetheless retains a romantic wistfulness, his childlike, hooky melodies and soft vocals suggesting a wistful optimism. The video for Far Away (멀리있어) sees Pal Hwang Dan waiting on a beach to have a picnic, sketching the sea and holding a rose. His lover never comes, however - instead, we see naively hand-drawn adverts, ratings and prices for the picnic items, like Coca-Cola and Kleenex, a nod to the Korean obsession of rating consumer products. Far Away (멀리있어) has a savagely playful romanticism and cynicism reminiscent of Serge Gainsbourg.
Despite his strong pop sensibility, he never abandons a deeper sense of avant-guard strangeness. Jungchon Alpine Club 중촌 산악회 is about the Japanese nationalist writer Yukio Mishima who committed seppuku in 1970 after a failed coup, someone Pal Hwang Dan describes as “foolish but interesting”. His frantic, pitched repetitive vocals contrast with the dark experimental country underneath, creating a sense of creeping unease.
“I grew up in Anyang City,” says Pal Hwang Dan. “After I became an adult, I lived in Seoul for a long time. But Seoul has always felt foreign to me.” 2013-2021 Seoul is such a powerful depiction of disjointed urban life it is immediately recognisable to city-dwellers everywhere. A bold evolution of craft and vision, it cements Pal Hwang Dan as one of the most unique voices in pop music today.
“Pal Hwang Dan gleefully combines 1980s synths, video game music and crisp, melancholic synthpop into a sound as shiny and metallic as a Technicolour mecha battle royale” – The Wire
“Emanates an alluring darkness — like, somewhere, there is a disco apocalypse waiting for us… If that's what we're headed for, then sign me up” – The Fader
'Following two releases on Chinabot, the label welcome Korean artist Pal Hwang Dan back for his third: an LP titled ‘2013-2021 Seoul’. His work sits at the intersection between pop and avant-garde, laced with his deadpan, new romantic-esque vocals which touch on a plethora of subjects. Exploring what modern-day Seoul means to him, the LP ruminates on alienation, consumerism, loneliness and absurdity, characterised by his experimental and singular take on pop music." – The Ransom Note
About the artist
Pal Hwang Dan, real name Pal Boche, is a musician living in Seoul, where he moved in 2013. He is inspired by industrial, K-pop and animation. He works as a composer for advertising and video game soundtracks. His first album with Chinabot, Saneopseonjip, was released in 2018, followed by A Length of Line in 2020.