April 3, 2017
Released On March 11, 2013
Released By Super Freak Records
Jinbo is an independent Korean R&B artist and producer who’s been making music for a number of years now. I’ve always admired artists who wield a great amount of creative control over their music — musicians like Grimes, Empress Of, or James Blake — who don’t just write or perform, but are involved in almost every step of the recording process. Jinbo definitely fits this mold as he writes, records, produces, engineers, and mixes all his music himself. He released his debut album, Afterwork, in 2010 (which went on to win the Korean Music Award for Best R&B Album) and followed up with his second studio album, Fantasy, a few years later. Afterwork was an outstanding first album with a strong point of view and aesthetic. Fantasy, on the other hand, might be considered the slightly weirder younger brother with its more adventurous sound and spacey sort-of-concept structure. It’s much more heavily electronic than Afterwork was, filled with synths and samples that sparkle like the stars in the album art, conjuring a sort of galactic retro-futuristic sound that owes a debt to the past but still looks confidently forward. With a runtime of thirty-four minutes, it’s a fairly quick listen, but Jinbo crams an astounding amount of variety into that runtime, from instrumentals like synth-funk album intro “Neon Pink Ocean” or the scientific/symphonic mashup “Reboot My Universe” to catchy, smooth R&B songs like the title track “Fantasy” and “It’s Over” featuring Korean rapper Swings. My personal favorite is “Cops Come Knock,” an upbeat R&B track that features a wonderfully surprising bridge full of chopped and screwed bleeps, bloops, and vocal samples. It’s this kind of willingness to take risks that makes Jinbo such an interesting producer and musician and makes Fantasy such an engaging listen even if it isn’t as consistent as his debut — he takes his R&B sound to new dimensions on Fantasy, and with this album turning four years old last month, I’m itching to hear what new frontier Jinbo will explore on his next major work.
As is the overall mission statement with our weekly newsletter, we choose an album to discuss because we think it deserves a wider audience. And Fantasy and Jinbo’s work as a whole certainly fulfill that criteria. But this wasn’t the sole reason I wanted to cover this record. I’ve been a fan and listener of K-Pop (South Korean pop music) for a few years now, and over my time listening to what was coming from the Korean mainstream, I stumbled into the wealth of independent Korean music that’s being released by artists like Jinbo. With the Hallyu Wave and K-Pop continuing to have a greater international presence (not to mention having been think-pieced to death) and foreign music in general becoming more accessible through the internet and things like Bandcamp, last.fm, Soundcloud, and streaming services, I hope Jinbo and this article can be a gateway for readers to other great music being made in the independent Korean music scene and others the world over. In Korean indie R&B alone, artists like Alshain, Boni, Nieah, Joe Rhee, Jeebanoff, and Soma (just to plug a few of my other favorites) have released outstanding music with incredibly distinct points of view and really interesting syntheses of influences unique to their South Korean background. So, take a listen to Jinbo’s Fantasy and maybe keep an eye out for music in places that aren’t your typical channels. You’ll be amazed at what you might discover!
This album is really incredible. There’s a clip on “Reboot My Universe” (which might be my favorite track) that talks about the concept of folding the universe to make long-distance space travel possible, which is appropriate because that is exactly what it feels like is happening on this album. There are parts that feel like they could have easily been on The Weeknd’s latest album, but then there are parts that feel like they’re soundtracking one of those “hard science” sci-fi movies, where, yeah theoretically all of this amazing stuff is possible. I didn’t notice that some of the raps were in another language (Korean, as it turns out) until my second time through (and first with headphones) and what was especially fascinating to me was that it didn’t matter what language they were in. The feelings and concepts expressed were crystal clear. They’re the stuff of countless songs stretching back hundreds of years. And I love that. I was saying to my wife that it was somewhat dangerous to play an OYR album for the first time, with no background, while we made dinner with the kids playing in the same room. You never know what you’re going to get. With that said, I hit play and my immediate reaction was, “And see? It’s off the beaten path, but still really cool sounding and fun to listen to!” I had no idea how right I was. This is such a weird album and I love every bit of it.
Full disclosure: I’m Korean. That said, as much as the country and its culture were part of my upbringing and is a cherished part of my adult life, I am quite far from someone you’d turn to for fluency in hanguk-eo (Korean language). Still, despite being at a linguistic deficit, music by Korean artists — particularly those who write in the hip-hop space or with a more rhythmically based aesthetic — projects this quality that’s hard to turn away from, even if individual words themselves are at times lost to the listener. The flow, fall of syllabic emphases, less aurally pointed, and more fluid character of Korean speech — over the very syllable-sharp Mandarin, for example — makes it feel as though the language fits like a smoothly contrasting glove against the definitive downbeats of R&B and the exactness of Jinbo’s very digital instrumentation. Drum machine beats and synth tones of every texture and length (from long release waves to quick droplet laser tones, and 8-bit chip tune sounds common to Anamanaguchi), punctuate Fantasy. Their variety serves as elements of sonic transition and additional contrast against the sleek, suave, and-or downright sexy vocals that run throughout the album (“Callin’ me to the back seat / I’mma lay you down / let’s do it to the sex beat / Let’s take it slow baby / I’ll make you go crazy tonight”) minus the opener, “Neon Pink Ocean,” “Reboot My Universe,” and “Don’t Be Sad When You’re Sad.” (The latter is fast paced and vibrant, sounding like it belongs in the next installment of Megaman.) Simultaneously, single syllables falling so well at the end of phrases provide opportunities for plenty of spoken or sung punch, which only helps to makes every track feel like one to which it’s worth grooving out. Furthermore, Jinbo’s adept blending of Korean and English lyrics, wherein the resulting hybrid doesn’t feel forced, misaligned, or done for a sake of pandering gimmick, keeps one’s ears on edge and locked on, even while just laying back to enjoy the record.
I admit it — before this week I had never listened to a K-Pop album in my life. I’m sure I’d heard tunes from the genre in commercials or passing by a club on a drunken escapade, but I’d never devoted the time to actually sit down and listen to a full length project. After listening to Fantasy, I immediately get why so many people enjoy K-Pop. It’s the same reason I enjoy pro wrestling (note: I am writing this mere hours before WrestleMania 33 kicks off) — it’s fun! Sure, you could be judgey, and step all over Jinbo’s marginal vocal chops, but why? I think playful tracks like “Tape It Slow Baby” clearly show us that Jinbo isn’t trying to convince us that he’s Donny Hathaway; he’s just trying to convince us to be the first drunk people on the dance floor. Say what you will about the vocal stylings, but the instrumentation on this album is top notch. The chord progressions are as infectious as the rhythms. I really dig the mid-’90s R&B influence on tracks like “Fantasy” and “Be My Friend.” The groove established by the slap bass on both of these tracks had me reminiscing to the glory days of Zhane (I’m convinced that half of this album was directly influenced by Zhane’s 1993 classic “Hey Mr. DJ“). I bet Fantasy is a great playlist for a second date. While it’s a bit too forward for a first date, it’s goofy, playful and sexually suggestive enough to break the ice in the clutch. Note to self: work on getting to date number two.
I would never claim to know as much as the average person about K-Pop. It’s truly just one of those genres that almost flew under my radar. Prior to hearing Jinbo The SuperFreak’s Fantasy, I had all kinds of preconceived notions about what it would sound like based on the little exposure I’ve already had to the K-Pop genre in general. Boy bands come to mind, along with matching outfits and perfectly styled hair. What I got instead was a dark, abstract, and highly accessible album that I know I’ll be picking apart for months to come. Fantasy is the perfect record for anyone that is on the look out for something more modern sounding, while it takes influence from pop, soul, world music, and rhythm & blues. The title track has a sound that could be compared to the vaporwave genre for its cold, yet bright sounding chorus and darker underbelly. “Loverbot” is another track on this release that feeds into this same style, with its distorted and often jarring vocals and its cheery instrumentals. It’s unfortunate that my mental idea of K-Pop was so grounded in what I’ve glanced in the past, rather than what it really is — a genre that is often misunderstood and written off as boring or lacking in real thought. Fantasy takes everything you once thought K-Pop could do, and smashes it with its own hammer, and this is an album that could potentially change your mind about what you thought K-Pop was all about, and make it that much more alluring.
Can music be too sexy for lawnmowing? Maybe the bigger question is: Does your external world need to match your internal one? The sense of harmony you feel when those worlds are in alignment certainly is good and nice and fine, but there’s subversive fun to be had when they aren’t… My family just moved to a house in a more suburban neighborhood. Green grass, cul-de-sacs, the whole deal. I set out to wrangle the lawn for the first time on Saturday, and while it may have been outwardly embarrassing — mower clogging and sputtering out every few minutes, clumps of grass flying into my neighbor’s driveway — my ears and thoughts were in a whole other, entirely sexier universe thanks to Fantasy. The cognitive dissonance was hilarious from the very outset. Those waves. That raunchy ’90s R&B synth. “Neon Pink Ocean” took me miles away from the physical space my eyes were dutifully constructing. (Though there were moments of strange synchronicity: “Let’s take it slow, baby” might as well have been the mower’s overmatched engine begging me to empty the grass bag more often, and I’m pretty sure it was the growing pile of clippings in the trash can singing “Put it on me / Put it on / C’mon put it on and on and on.”) I stopped at one point to chat with a few of my new neighbors, and I’ll never forget the moment when I took out my earbuds and rejoined the outside world. I had to stop myself from laughing; it was like stepping back through a dimensional portal. How’s that for a fantasy?
Many years ago, during the Swedish garage revival that produced The Hives and Sahara Hotnights, amongst others, I was talking to my then-roommate about the peculiar influences of these bands. They sounded so much more ’90s to me than the rock bands of the time, like The Walkmen and The Strokes. He jokingly suggested that Sweden was so far behind that they were just getting into Nirvana and grunge. While this isn’t necessarily true, I do know that countries tend to have “bubbles” of what is popular there at the time, that is not exactly parallel to pop and indie in America. For example, in the UK, boy (and, to a lesser extent, girl) bands have never really gone away, but in the U.S., we can point to very specific times when they were popular (each generation has their own, the most recent of whom is even from the UK). This week’s selection, Fantasy by Jinbo the Superfreak, a multi-hyphenate Korean artist, resembles ’90s R&B more than anything that is happening here, where much popular R&B sounds wholly contemporary. “Tape It Slow Baby” could be an Usher song, complete with peppy background music and Jinbo’s “I’ll make it slow, baby” coos. It’s really easy to write this off as a facsimile of other artists, but that would be an inaccurate description. Jinbo is not only bringing ’90s R&B to Korea, he’s also infusing it with space travel samples (“Reboot My Universe“) and interesting instrumentals (“Neon Pink Ocean“). The production by DIGIPEDI deserves to be noted — the record really does sound fantastic. Jinbo’s songs are so positive and upbeat — and from his Instagram it just seems like that’s the kind of dude he is — that I think we could all use some of what he is putting out there in the world.
Melissa Koch (@bunnycaper)
Mediocre Runner, Aspiring Celebrity DJ
This is an interesting pick in that most of us are probably not listening to much, if anything, from the Korean music scene. Jinbo The SuperFreak is obviously influenced by American pop music, specifically ’90s R&B and hip hop, adult contemporary, and a little jazz mixed in but with a heavy leaning towards new jack swing. Browsing his social media you’ll see old Bobby Brown, Usher, and Blackstreet videos next to clips of Erykah Badu rapping tongue twisters and things like speeches on Quantum Consciousness. Jinbo blends all of these references with Korean culture, and filters the results through modern production. The more adventurous back half of Fantasy, starting with “Reboot My Universe,” has some hints of Flying Lotus and I could hear some of these tracks in the soundtrack for Adult Swim.
K-Pop, hip-hop, and R&B mastermind Jinbo the Superfreak’s Fantasy LP was released in 2013, only a few years after winning Korea’s coveted Best R&B and Soul Album (2011) for his well-timed debut, Afterwork. Whereas Afterwork captured Jinbo’s mix of rap, hip-hop and samples, bringing the artist a wider audience, Fantasy showcased someone more relaxed, experimental, and celebratory thought through a more soulful, and wider, pop spectrum of sound. Fantasy is a brilliant time capsule LP in the Jinbo canon in the sense that it sounds so familiar, bridging exploratory futuristic electronic beats, hip-hop and soul, with less straight-forward elements than Afterwork. It sounds more like Jamiroquai working with J-T on an Adventures In Paradise Riperton-era sonic contemporary album. It’s a mix of mid-’70s chilled-out soul rolled up in electronics, trigger-beats, fat grooves, orchestral bits, and Jinbo feeding you compositions like snacks in a spaceship. I listened to this album while rolling around West Philly; a city paradise of subway tracks, trolley rides, and graffiti. As a full-length, Fantasy has a continuous groove, and a moving flow, akin to a beautiful and warm sunny day. Album closer “Be My Friend” fills the soul-jam quotient on deep cuts, while rhyming, ‘Welcome to the Superfreak,’ and ‘No more hide n’ seek,’ as if this was a call-out to let us know this is just the beginning. End to end, this last track segues playfully back into the instrumental synth-funk of album opener “Neon Pink Ocean,” and title-track “Fantasy,” (a ’70s OG rollerskate jam, if I’ve ever heard one). My favorite track on the album besides “Fantasy,” is the instrumental, “Reboot My Universe,” which showcases Jinbo’s incredible mixing abilities fusing news media samples, movie samples (2001: A Space Odyssey, anyone?), instruments, oceanic space sounds, and — at around 2:15 minutes into the track: a beautiful orchestral portion that nearly cuts too short into the up-tempo beats of “Don’t Be Sad When You’re Sad” (is that a sample trigger of Jinbo’s dog barking?). Charming bits aside, Fantasy is a solid gem and Jinbo is a super-talent (even now remixing new and interesting versions of these songs from this album because it’s still that good) — don’t let the K-Pop tag fool you; Fantasy is definitely a soulful delight.
Heat you can smell, dry and earthy, rising up from the sand. The sticky feel of salt water tangling my hair. Syrupy sweet liquor, bright neon colors only allowed in this otherworld. Down here, hours away from my college apartment piled with half-done essays and books with Post-Its jutting out from the sides, the rules are different. In this otherworld I can sleep beside my best friend until the decorum of the early morning and burned off into the Pensacola shimmer; I can lie on the beach, pinking into brown, reading Valley Of The Dolls and dropping ice down my suit. In the otherworld I can eat fish on the beach, change into a little dress in the bathroom of a 7/11 before going to a lesbian club with a girl we just met. Walking in, safe in that space, I feel myself on display, eyes raking up and down each new girl that enters. The music in that space throbs, the kinds of beats that are the ones that must have been reserved for war marches across ancient lands. Jinbo smells like heat, tastes like the sweat you kiss off the collarbone of a stranger. Shimmery synth lines shake on top of those incredible beats, those that make you bob your head, or roll your hips, or pull some girl, her face tan and glittering in the colored lights, closer into you as you slide through the music together. Buoyant, littered with little hooks and phrases that make you feel like you’re singing along even when you know the lyrics don’t matter as much here, Jinbo combines elements of electronica, R&B, reggae, and pop into what can only be described as an album full of fuck jams.
This is my week to be immersed in Korean culture, having read The Accusation by Bandi, a book of harrowing, satirical, and heartbreaking short stories from North Korea, while listening to Jinbo The Superfreak’s South Korean take on “electro-soul” hip hop and R&B. Fantasy couldn’t be a more appropriate title for his collection of lighter-than-air confections, made up of slinky beats, bleep-blooping synths, sweet singing, and the occasional rapper for variety. I was reminded of Scritti Politti’s much-denigrated Anomie & Bonhomie, which also manages to combine similar elements in an equally effortless manner. Fantasy is also the perfect antidote not only for Bandi’s sad stories, but also for basically everything else that’s wrong in your life. The most insistent earworm is probably “Delete It Deal It,” with its “push push” chorus, but there really is not a bad track on the album. And if you’re wondering why the album is credited to DIGIPEDI X Jinbo, you’re not alone — but you also may be thinking too hard. Isn’t easier to just follow Jinbo’s instructions and Reboot Your Universe while sailing on a Neon Pink Ocean of musical delights?
Jinbo The Superfreak’s Fantasy lands somewhere between electro-R&B and psychedelic EDM, and each track’s location on the axis between these two genres seems mainly determined by whether it’s a vocal or instrumental track. On the songs featuring Jinbo’s vocals, the sound lands closest to that of American electro lovermen Chromeo; fans of that band’s breakthrough track, “Jealous (I Ain’t With It),” will probably find a lot to happily shake their hips about on tracks like “Fantasy” and “It’s Over.” There’s some hip hop styling coming through on the vocal tracks as well, especially on “Tape It Slow Baby,” which features a rap break on which guest Ill Jeanz switches from English to his native Korean for the only time on the album. With a little more emphasis on rap, these tracks might just sound like Snoop Dogg at his more ’70s-inspired moments, but they nail the electro-sleaze vibe quite well just as they are. The three instrumental tracks, though, end up on another plane entirely. Opener “Neon Pink Ocean” led me to expect an entirely different vibe from the album, mainly because I knew too little about the artist in question to realize that there’d be vocals elsewhere on the album. It has a groovy yet somewhat ambient feel that reminds me a little bit of the music from the Super Nintendo game Donkey Kong Country (not an insult, I love that game’s soundtrack), mixed with some elements channeled from M83. This vibe returns on the two mid-album instrumentals, “Reboot My Universe” and “Don’t Be Sad When You’re Sad.” The latter’s high BPM and frenetic drum machine programming makes me think of Squarepusher, while the former starts with ambient sonic beds and an array of samples from news programming, movies, and more to evoke the feel of sailing through space with tons of related cultural detritus flashing before your eyes. When everything kicks in about 2/5 of the way through the song, I find myself thinking of Daft Punk — not a bad reference point. I honestly would have loved a full album of this sort of psychedelic instrumental electronica, but that would only showcase one side of Jinbo’s talent, so I fully understand why he gave us this multifaceted affair instead. Fantasy scratches a number of itches in the electro-pop-ambient-space-EDM areas of your brain, and that’s always nice.
I can sense it in you readers — trepidation. “Huh? Everyone loves this record and it sounds good. Real good. But K-Pop by a dude named Superfreak? This is not for me.” You’re wrong. Dead wrong in fact. But I know me saying that isn’t going to turn the switch in your brain so I have a compromise for you. Don’t roll your eyes — it’s really simple. Just put on the opening track, “Neon Pink Ocean.” It’s not long, only two minutes and thirty-five seconds which is significantly shorter than the John Oliver video you’ve probably got bookmarked right now. Go ahead, put it on. I’ll admit the opening seconds aren’t too friendly, but just wait till that instrumental wave comes crashing in. Do you feel it? That warmth? That… natural feeling of pleasing sounds? Yes, there’s a lot of synthesizers and inorganic sounds bouncing off that wave, but don’t they feel… real? Give it a minute and you’re in for a real treat: that main riff. Catchy, playful, soulful, and again, natural. It’s a synthesizer again, but doesn’t the atmosphere of the song just make it sound like a horn instrument a bit? How impressive is that? You’ve got about a minute left by now and just let Jinbo play around with that riff a bit more as your head glides into the clouds with him. Before you know it, the song ends, in a jarring fashion I’ll give you much like the intro, but you have to admit it. You want a bit more. I’m not going to lie and say the rest of the album is like this, but if you loved the creativity of that opening and just how lush and tangible the composition felt… you need to play on. You’re going to get a heavyweight track that follows, “Fantasy,” and by that point, I don’t know how you wouldn’t be hooked by Jinbo’s gorgeous music really pushing back on what you that K-Pop is or could be.
Every Night by Saturday Looks Good To Me
Chosen By Guest Contributor Kerry Alexander (Bad Bad Hats)