With the release of their latest EP, Linus’ Blanket has crashed through a year in which K-pop has seen some incredibly abysmal lows, both musically and image-wise. However, this neo-jazz/pop outfit has used their playful sound and lead singer Yeongene’s spritely vocals to offer Korean pop music fans something a little different to feed their need for a bit of light in the wake of all the heaviness.
With a blend of jazz and lighter poppy fare, Linus’ Blanket balances new-school trends with an old-soul dedication to exploring the more technical aspects of jazz. It’s no surprise the group’s music is so heavily rooted in jazz and its more unique stylization. Guitarist Kang Min-sung spent a lot of time in Japan in his earlier years as a musician. With bands like Advantage Lucy as inspiration, he formed his own Japanese-Korean inspired outfit called Miniskirt. In 2001, with lead singer and keyboardist Yeongene, he applied his experiences with a band comprised of members from his homeland of Korea.
The group’s debut album Semester was a testament not only to Min-sung’s extended time in Japan, but it also gave listeners an inkling of the sound they were to produce in the future: music that is both Japanese and Korean in nature but is also inspired by an American and Franco-jazz flavor. Using the English language as the vehicle, Semester went on to be quite successful in Japan and gave Linus’ Blanket the confidence they needed to release more of their enigmatic jazz-pop.
Gene’s sweet voice and the band’s combination of pop-flavored jazz with essences of bossa nova have garnered them a great following in Japan. With the backing of a huge market behind them, the band released their second EP Labor in Vain. The album offers a mellower sound than their debut; however, the blissful groove of the album highlights the band’s ability to apply subtlety to their effervescence. English lyrics are more prevalent in their second release, Gene describing the use of English as a means to force listeners who aren’t native speakers to concentrate on the music. Title track “Labor in Vain” and its subsequent reprise are testament to just that. With the softer shades of Gene’s voice and the English lyrics, the music most definitely had to make an impact.
The groove is heavily influenced by the lilt and sway of bossa nova, while the vocals continue to invite audiences to fall into the rhythmic complexity of the band’s composition. Labor in Vain is a delightful caress rather than an overloading of the senses, which has become the hallmark of the Linus’ Blanket sound.
Their first full-length album Show Me Love did more to introduce the band to a wider audience. With songs taken from their first two EPs, the album featured a range of sounds — light jazz with a bit of big band thrown in for good measure and a hint of Franco-jazz splashed on top. With this LP, Linus’ Blanket stretched their already impressive musical wingspan to show audiences just how rooted in technical proficiency they are, the composition of the tracks borrowing very obviously from a genre that’s mostly regarded as being a barometer of a musician’s technical savvy. One must have the skill to tackle complex composition but the dexterity to improvise and give what can be mechanical and boring some swing and flavor.
Listeners also got a chance to witness some of the cheek the group possesses. Their lyrics are playful, and the music is at times frivolous in that way that a child chasing dragonflies or a puppy splashing in puddles is. It’s music that doesn’t insist upon itself and doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Title track “Show Me Love” is elegantly extravagant, not heavy as to be fattening, but sweet and fulfilling. It is the perfect representation of Linus’ Blanket’s versatility in terms of stylization and playfulness.
Tracks like “Misty” and “Confession” are warm and sensitive, giving the album dimension and emotion, while tracks like “Music Takes Us to the Universe” are experimental pieces meant to further explore the band’s range. Indeed, Show Me Love is the perfect example of how to introduce a band to a wider audience.
Between the release of Show Me Love and their latest EP, the band gave fans single “Parade,” a sly bit of sexiness that was tongue-in-cheek, hiding the sensuality and suggestion of the lyrics (“So where do you wanna go, baby?”) in their signature jazz-pop.
Then, with their latest release Magic Moments, the band sat in that sensuality for a while longer. “Parade” seems to have been an introduction into fare that was meant to titillate and suggest, an EP full of whispered “sweet nothings” in the ears of every person who gave it a listen. The play of Yeongene’s soprano against guest artist Bily Acoustie’s warm tenor is ever so lovely, most definitely giving fans their first moment of magic.
However, lead single “Love Me” plays up Gene’s sassiness. It’s another track that uses the play between two very different sets of vocals (this time matching Gene with Kim Tae-chun). Giving us more of that jazz-pop explosiveness that fans of the band are used to, “Love Me” is a perfect lead-in to the album and for newcomers trying to expand their musical tastes to include something a little more wine and cheese and less sugar and spice.
What Magic Moments does for fans of the band is give them a newer dimension to ponder. While it still very much has the moments of lightheartedness that fans have become accustomed to, there’s a maturity couched in the composition and even in the cameo appearances. For newcomers to the band, it’s a fresh and light alternative to what people are used to with K-pop.
Though Linus’ Blanket is by no means the only band bringing some of that jazz flare to the forefront, they’ve built a career on forcing the audience to take stock of the music, even before the lyrical content. It’s a tactic that’s worked to bring in fans from all walks of life. With a steady release of material in the last five years, Linus’ Blanket is definitely one of those bands on the rise in public consciousness. Perhaps they’re just the group to put some fire and spark some creativity in Korea’s music scene.