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imagine naked! Will Ainsley , May 25th, 2022 08:12

Will Ainsley dives into OHYUNG’s masterful selection of muscular, shuddering, trembling ambient excursions

In Stephen Pressfield’s excellent The War Of Art book, he suggests that,“The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.” For instance, Spike Lee wrote the screenplay for Do The Right Thing in two weeks, and Brian Wilson reportedly wrote ‘God Only Knows’ in just forty-five minutes. In this spirit, let’s consider OHYUNG’s new ambient album, imagine naked!, which was “written and recorded”, according to the press release, “mostly over just a 72-hour period”. I’m unsure just how much heavy lifting “mostly” does, but there’s something essential about these tunes that suggests OHYUNG’s full immersion in the pneuma of their work. 

Ambient music seems perfectly suited for this type of instinctive, expedient production. Much like Lee and Wilson creating their masterworks, in imagine naked! there’s an absence of flab or needless digression. Tracks like ‘my torn cuticles!, ‘i’m remembering!’, and ‘yes my weeping frame!’, introduce the main sonic motif – be it billowing synth quake, percussive clunks, or cascading piano refrain – almost straight away and never really deviate. Of course, there are long songs but OHYUNG hews these various vital textures into shape and allows them to direct themselves. They evoke a sense of certitude, as if saying with an air of finality, “these are the sounds I’ve chosen”. 

OHYUNG’s music has an overarching haptic intensity. Pulverising, weighty textures in ‘my hands hold flora!’ fall around you like heavy-tog blankets, while ‘philodendran’s tail’ (an album highlight) includes muscular folds of sound overlaid with wind noises, hollow-sounding percussion, and glittering electronics. In ‘symphonies sweeping’ the bass parts are so blank-sounding you can’t really make out any sonic qualities, just their solid presence, like a shape in water. This sense of a feeling rather than sound extends to how melodies and textures seem just out of reach, drowned in a desert haze. In ‘tucked in my stomach!’ you can almost identify what sounds like a trombone at bassiest grumble before it’s lost in the mire. Melodies peek out here and there, almost bashfully, at the tail ends of synth washes, or, in the case of the titular track, the strains of a glockenspiel engulfed by whooshes, hisses, breaths. In ‘symphonies sweeping’ I was reminded of hearing church bells, in the way you can only focus on the overall sound, rather than an individual melody. The moment you think you’ve noticed a particular interval the melody has already changed, never to repeat itself again. You must consider these pieces as a whole. 

Recently I reviewed the debut album from Loraine James’ excellent Whatever The Weather project, and I see some parallels here. Both OHYUNG and James have previously operated in the realm of hectic dance music, favouring caustic textures and martial rhythms. However, take tracks like James’ ‘Change’ or OHYUNG’s vigorously-titled ‘FUCK ELON MUSK’ (from 2021’s excellent GODLESS album made in collaboration with drummer Matt Evans), strip away the naked rhythms and biting electronic textures, then you’re left with beds of reverb, electronic washes, and hazy soundscapes; in short, an ambient track. That bedrock was always there, but it has simply been allowed to come to the fore. It’s an enjoyably democratic way of making electronic music. By giving hitherto-submerged textures precedence, these artists dislocate their tracks from the centring influence of the kick drum.

The apocryphal story goes that, after being asked by a fellow restaurant-goer to sketch something on a napkin, a middle-aged Picasso produced the rough likeness of a goat, asked for £10,000, and was met with the protest “but it only took you thirty seconds!”, to which he replied “no, it has taken me forty years”. That a work of art is created in a short amount of time is often indicative of prior hard work running headlong into both inspiration and good fortune. It suggests its creator knows exactly what to create, exactly where the brush, pen, or cursor should go next. imagine naked! is testament to working directly.