Album review: The Two Koreas – "Science Island"

Sometimes a straight forward rock album is exactly what the doctor ordered. Noisy, sloppy, balls to the wall rock has the power to erase any traces of trend-mongering buzzbands that exist only to grab a quick piece of the action. The Two Koreas don’t seem to be interested in any of the current trends and instead are slicing right through the middle of it all with pure rock verve. Literate lyrics shouted atop a noisy, energetic garage rock band.

Every song is forthright in its earnestness, and pushes forward with such aggression that the honesty and effort shines right through. The singing is delivered in a speech-like, declamatory style that slips in and out of the beat similar to Eddie Argos of Art Brut’s style, but with the rock attitude of Sammy James Jr. from The Mooney Suzuki.  The lyrics are all shouted, and yearn to be shouted along to. It sounds as though they are writing anthem after anthem. Continuing with the comparisons I could say that they are like a noisier, more garage rock oriented Tokyo Police Club that is rough around the edges, or like Surfer Blood in their fondness of catchy hooks. I can even hear strains of Wire’s post-punk throughout. The point being: The Two Koreas aren’t trying to re-invent the wheel, and that’s fine because this is rock music done well with all the energy and catchiness one could ever possibly desire.

The Two Koreas - "Science Island"

There is nothing hidden in these songs, it’s all out there in the open. The band is able to continually build up the energy, sustaining the tension for as long as possible until reaching a near breaking point. The entire album is chock full of jangling, noisy guitars and ill fitting melodies with shaky vocals. I don’t mean that in a negative light at all. The guitar matches the vocals in its ability to slip far behind the beat, giving a general feeling of looseness throughout. Much of “Science Island” is sinister in its sound.The echoey vocals make it sound like a one man gang vocal. It is dark and serious; defiant with the sound of an angry mob riotously marching through the streets, growing in numbers as they do.
The band is at their strongest on the tracks “Haunted Beach” and “Karl Johans Gate” where the music steadily builds, unchanging except for increasing dynamics with verses and choruses blending into each other over top. “Diamond Geezer” is a standout track with a lead line that cuts through the bass and drum backbeat, sounding similar in tone to East Bay Ray of The Dead Kennedys. The track also matches the sort of sinister, yet upbeat sound that was characteristic of so many Dead Kennedys tunes.

The lyrics are plentiful and fast paced. It’s nearly impossible to catch them all as they come flying at you. The lyrics seem to do one of two things: either speak down to someone or provide the listener with some sort of fortune cookie type advice. Take for example, the song “Withering Heights”, which is a great example of their ability to start with high energy yet continuously build past it. It sports the lyric,“You take the wrong advice, you pay the highest price.” That has got to be one of the best lines on the album, shouted through the dissipating reverb of the guitars after they abruptly stop only briefly enough for this to be spoken. After that the energy picks up exactly where it left off. “Disco Slave Song” is another noisy one chord romp with a shout-along hook and organ solo in the breakdown.

The Two Koreas’ “Science Island” is a welcome return of jangly, loud garage rock. Sometimes music that is formed from the simplest, most honest of ideas is the best music.