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Felt - Forever Breathes the Lonely Word Music Album Reviews

Each Sunday, Pitchfork takes an in-depth look at a significant album from the past, and any record not in our archives is eligible. Today, we revisit the misanthropic pop perfection of the indie British band’s sixth and best album.
In November 1986, a writer for NME visited the flat of indie-pop enigma Lawrence. The mononymous musician lived in a quiet suburb outside of Birmingham, England, alone except for a collection of records, a set of first edition Kerouac paperbacks, and enough cleaning products to stock a small hospital ward. “A platoon of Airwick Solids stoically occupy strategic vantage points; the toilet bowl harbors not the usual one, but a breeding pair of those Cartland-pink santisers; a wicker basket provides a mass grave for spent aerosol air fresheners.” Since he rarely left the antiseptic apartment, Lawrence explained that his days were typically spent wasting time with mundane activities, like assiduously washing his floppy brown hair.

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XXX - Language Music Album Reviews

The debut from the young hip-hop duo is an antidote to mainstream South Korean rap and pop—personal, anti-capitalist screeds over experimental trap and techno hybrids.

Hip-hop in South Korea has made it over to the mainstream, partly due to the massively popular music competition show “Show Me the Money,” which is like is like “X-Factor” with more hypebeasts in bucket hats. As the reality TV program has gained popularity, major Korean record labels have become more willing to invest in burgeoning rap stars instead of the typical idol or group. XXX’s Kim Ximya, who raps on top of production by the duo’s other half FRNK, has suggested that the commercialism of Korean rap has killed the authenticity of the genre, as it increasingly mirrors the formulaic nature of K-pop. “For most of the Korean rapper population, I feel they did not write about what they actually felt or what they were actually doing,” Kim said in an interview with Billboard. “They were making music they thought people would like to hear.”

On their debut album Language, XXX present themselves as the alternative to the sanitized, hyper-glossy rap music typically pumped out by the billion-dollar Korean music industry. If BTS are measured and subtle about their politics, XXX cuss in two different languages to get the point across. Kim launches invectives against the corporate K-pop machine, money-thirsty rappers, and oppressive standards of “success” (as defined by capitalism). He’s at his best when he’s absolutely seething with rage—a refreshing mode of delivery that doesn’t appear often in K-pop’s biggest hits.

“Y'all wanna know what the fuck hip-hop is?” Kim spits with vitriol on “S_it,” before he answers his own question: “Such luxury does not exist in Korea.” And although Kim’s intermittent English lyrics are sometimes clunky, they help non-Korean speakers get a sense of the themes he’s tackling here. It works best in “Sujak,” when he starts off by rapping in English: “Strip club/Casket/Body in that basket.” Kim charges the song with nihilistic energy before switching over to Korean to elaborate on living in a soul-sucking society that values money over people. It seems almost utilitarian, like how other K-pop stars add in random English interjections in order to appeal to as many international listeners as possible. But his bilingualism is more impressive in the moments when the shift is seamless and the two languages flow together, like when he rhymes Korean words with English ones and vice versa.

While Language repeatedly takes aim at the overwhelmingly high pressures of the Korean music industry, Kim’s rage never becomes monotone or boring. His frustrations are nuanced, as he portrays his internal conflict of wanting to succeed within the system that he’s actively trying to fight. On “Ugly,” Kim admits that he ascribes his self-worth to his success as an artist. “This ranking system and poverty is fucking my mentality/In the end, my music doesn’t reach the charts,” he raps. And on “What You Want,” he illustrates how easy it is to find himself slipping back into the capitalistic ethos. His train of thought begins to unravel: “Art is human/Human is greed/Ergo greed is money.” He snaps himself out of the cycle and starts over, until he inevitably finds himself talking about money yet again.

Since they’ve gained attention globally, Korean rappers have been accused of biting off their American counterparts and even “mocking” black culture. But XXX seek out their own identity by opting for dark, intense production that would fit in more at a warehouse rave than an upscale club, bolstering their anti-establishment attitude. On Language, FRNK veers towards Arca’s Stretch 2-era twisted experimental trap and leans into the bombast of Hudson Mohawke and Lunice’s TNGHT bangers. In a standout moment at the end of “S_it,” a fascinating breakdown chops up the sound of knives unsheathing with ominous plucks from the gayageum, a traditional Korean string instrument. Instead of lifting sounds from another scene, XXX take cues from their own culture and mash them up with weirder found sounds, proving that Korean rap can innovate, not just replicate.

XXX have lamented the fact that they’ve started to gain more recognition in America than in Korea. (Kim said: “I really wanted to break the system first back home.”) But they’ve carved out a space on the internet instead of on TV or venues in their native country, where the music industry might not want to champion two iconoclasts who don’t fit the status quo. Their exile from mainstream Korean rap and pop, of course, is why Language is such a thrill to listen to.


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