There are corners of the music world where no one right now is shining brighter than Parannoul. An anonymous solo act based out of Seoul, his unlikely ascendence from operating as an epitome of the homespun DIY bedroom-studio artist – practically all the instrumentation on his original releases is virtual and features vocals recorded on a smartphone as quietly as possible to avoid bothering housemates – to topping the end of year charts on a handful of very well trafficked music sites with his breakout second album To See the Next Part of the Dream, the trajectory of Parannoul has been thrilling to watch in real time. After spending a year honing his talents through a handful of collaborative splits with other rising stars of the scene, the follow up After the Magic has finally been dropped and has proved that organic growth through artistic maturity can walk hand in hand with purposful stylistic evolution.
The soundscape that Parannoul first operated in was one of loud and fuzzy guitars, jittery tin-can drums, skittering synthesizers, and vocals mumbled and faded out to the point of incomprehension. The densely packed production washes it all in a masked layer of static that’s mixed in a purposefully lo-fi manner that became the clearest marker of inaccessibility to new listeners. The songs were all over the place in length, ranging from 3 minutes up to 10, and had a habit of blending together as a big wall of loud noise that made individual moments stand out far more than specific songs. These features are not particularly unique or groundbreaking, and his sound has strong foundations in the world of emo, rock, and shoegaze, all the most easily traceable genre tags applicable to his releases. However, thinking strictly within those labels do a discredit to the limits being pushed by him and his contemporaries.
Emo music is an often maligned and relatively misunderstood genre, meaning many different things depending on who is asked. At this point in its lifespan, however, it functions more or less as an umbrella that has branched off into some truly wild places – think of how weirdly smooth it blended with rap and dance music. Now in what is unofficially considered its fifth wave, the community is the most exciting it has been in ages due in part to the rise of the self-described extremely online youths who have been making waves with their nonstop output and lack of care for genre boundaries – the annoyingly apt tag of Post-Emo hasn’t been tossed around without reason.
While each of these artists lumped together this way may not sound uniformly in line with each other in a way that previous generations of the genre tended to be, what bonds them together is a global mentality that is as much deeply aware of the scene’s long history as it is comfortable disregarding it. Acts like Della Zyr, Home is Where, Glass Beach, Weatherday, and Nouns are all bands who have songs that can pivot from jangly acoustic folk to a synthy pop-punk signalong to black metal shrieking all within the span of a few minutes.
The strongest exemplifier of this dissonant unity can be seen in the 2021 split release Downfall of the Neon Youth, a release featuring three songs each by Parannoul and the other two most prominent artists in his orbit, the Korean based Asian Glow and the Brazilian sonhos tomam conta, which succeeded at creating an atmosphere and sequencing flow despite what should have been a chaotic mess of clashing styles. It is in these circles that Parannoul has exploded and the anticipation for his new album couldn’t have been higher when it was announced a week before its release.
After the Magic is unmistakably a Parannoul album, but is an entirely new beast in mood and makeup. The shift can be seen best in the second track song “Insomnia,” a rerecording of a track off the aforementioned split. While the differences aren’t starkly explicit, it is insightful to see just how much the edges have been sanded down, with the vocals cleaned up and foregrounded, and the gritty tones of the guitar softened to a smooth and pleasant twinkle.
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This applies to the album as a whole; where To See the Next Part of the Dream kept us away at arms length by burying everything under the hazy production and loud guitars, here we are given actual hooks and choruses to latch onto, finally giving us discernable songs instead of big moments popping up every now and then. Lead single “We Shine at Night ”, “Insomnia” and the opener “Polaris’ ‘ all feature clear vocals and straightforward songwriting of a more traditionally recognizable structure, painting everything just clean enough to remove that barrier of inaccessibility.
The actual instrumentation on the album is another clear indicator of the maturing talent and expansion of scope at play; the virtual instruments are all still there, but this time they are backed by a rotating door of studio musicians who provide a much needed diversification of sounds. Swelling strings, horns and pianos alongside harmonizing vocals lend toward the newfound emphasis on melody that had been present on older releases but never really at the forefront, fitting perfectly with the overall feeling of joy and elation going on here in contrast to the elaborately burned out and disaffected energy of the earlier albums. There’s also a drastic increase of electronic sounds employed to the paint that they almost overtake the guitar as the most used instrument on the record, its application ranging from the auto-tuned synthpop of “Sketchbook” and the cacophonous buildup and explosion of “Arrival” to the washed-out waves buoying “Parade”.
After the Magic insists on optimism and euphoric joy to an almost cinematic degree – this is one of those albums that sounds just like its cover looks – coloring everything in a invitingly blissed out blanket of relaxation, and is a remarkable feat for an album that is as dense and busy as it is for almost every second of its runtime. In that regard the closest touchstones don’t lie in the bedroom pop and emo trappings that his past work recalled, but rather the overly saccharine and lush works by M83 on Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, Sigur Rós on Takk and Porter Robinson’s recent Nurture. Those albums all similarly blended elements of genres that compliment each other but would never have been intuitively bonded, with the huge waves and crests of post-rock sitting alongside a combo of instruments both live and electronic.
While the focus is more shimmering and dreamier than ever before, it isn’t to say the heavier elements of the sound have been excised completely. The last few minutes of “Blossom” and “Imagination” alone have more than enough explosive and strained vocals to shout along with and scratch that particular itch.
Parannoul stated at the release of the album that “This album is not what you expected, but what I always wanted.” The sentiment falls perfectly in line with what he has presented us with in After the Magic, but also fulfills the promise of potential displayed at the onset of his breakout. The skeleton of something great was always there, and seeing him grow and become increasingly fully formed with every single, demo, and split that has been released in the short time since that moment has been the carrot on a string hooking us to see where he goes next. With that moment finally here, it seems now that the main point to take away from all of this is to not dwell on either the past or the future but to hold them in the same regard as we do our dreams.
“I’m always afraid when what I have now will disappear and when people will leave me. I think these are some kind of magic that will shine bright for a while and then lights out, like nothing happened. This is an album that I made with my dreams I dreamed after my 2nd album.”
After the Magic is out now.
Featured Image Courtesy of Topshelf Records
After the Magic - 9/10