It should come as no surprise to anyone that Decadent is the topic of this week’s discussion. Considering every End of Year list I participated in included them, it’s quite obvious they’ve made an impact on me. This four-piece band has done far more than just impress me with their impeccable musicianship. They’ve completely shifted my stars. I know I sometimes to wax purple from time to time about these artists. But really, when they’ve got the skill set of a band like Decadent, can you really blame me?
Forming in 2016, the band — consisting of lead guitarist Pahk Chang-hyun, vocalist Jin Dong-wook (who goes by Dennis), bassist Seol Yeong-in, and drummer Lee Hyun-suk (who goes by Christian) — really took Korea by storm when they first appeared on the scene. They’d been performing around Hongdae for the better part of a year before the release of their debut EP, simply titled É (ㅔ). When the lead single “A” dropped, it was like a detonation. While it may not have made the kind of waves among younger audiences as their peers in K-pop, among the indie crowd the song caused a bit of a stir.
Decadent is something out of a different time. Equal parts blues-rock and neo-soul, theirs is a sound that instantly demands attention. For those of us deeply connected to the blues and R&B, Decadent was like a reminder of where we came from. This isn’t to say by any means that they have the deep-seated pain and vigor of legends like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, or even Stevie Ray Vaughn. However, there’s no denying that within the unit there’s a sense of understanding. A feeling that they know something that many people who purport to do the blues seem to have forgotten or never understood in the first place: the authenticity of the moment. There isn’t any thing faked or forced in the music. It takes heavy inspiration from the likes of the aforementioned pillars of true blues music, but within it there’s a genuine sense of self. As if each member of the band has a heavy knot stuck in them from past hurts and takes each moment they’re on stage or in the studio to let that sucker loose.
É was a snapshot of the depth of their musicality and the richness of their musical knowledge. Guitarist Chang has a connection to neo-soul and R&B that speaks to more than just a passing fancy in the genre. His love of artists like D’angelo and Dwele informs the heaviness in tracks like “A” and “Spring.” His lyrical finesse pales in comparison, however, to the way he plays that guitar. He makes a mean kind of love to that thing. While at once being full of romance, he seems to have something to prove as he lays it down.
Then, of course, there’s that damn voice. Dennis Jin surely must have a hurt in him that runs deep. That type of soul doesn’t come from someone who’s never been broken into and invaded by the ugliness in the world. While Chang gave “A” its purpose and blues, Dennis gave the song its soul. The type of heights he reaches while in vocal reverie is really something holy. Honest to God I heard his voice and instantly wondered what he’s seen in his life to tear some of the wails he lays out so effortlessly.
But make no mistake. This is a band. In every sense of the word. What everyone experienced for about 20 minutes in their debut album (and for me that 20 minutes was spent utterly destroyed by the sheer heartbreak that was the lead single) was but a small shiver up the spine compared to their subsequent single album and self-titled LP.
If É was their birth, the “Space Brother/You and I” single album showed them walking with confidence and fire. Let me tell you something, it takes big brass ones to pull off opening any album with a Latin ode to the classical chorale, but that’s just what they did with a cappella track “Pacem.” It did the job of truly showing Dennis’s range and vocal dexterity while also forcing you to ask just what the hell this band was really on about.
With the first rippling pedal-distorted note of “Space Brother” you find out. The first thing you notice is thick ticking in the gut. That would be the elegant drum structure of Hyun-suk. There’s more to him than just keeping time. He has a brilliance to his playing far beyond his years. He keeps the band from splintering at the sides, he’s so steady. Then you notice there’s something a little thick at the bottom there, to catch the fraying moments of Chang’s guitar elocution and Dennis’s soaring vocals. That would be Seol’s bass, keeping rhythm and keeping listeners anchored. The single did the job of informing the listening public that Decadent is comprised of wider dimension than a typical blues-rock quartet. In it they truly unrolled the meaning of their namesake: rich, indulgent, damn near sinful grandness.
All of it came together in breathtaking fashion with 2018’s Decadent, the band’s first LP. First birth, then first steps. With their self-titled full-length, they took off running and haven’t stopped since. With performances every single week since the album’s release, they’ve quite literally been running wild, performing as if to stop would mean the end of the world.
It’s a marvelous piece of music that perfectly reflects both musical and emotional growth from the band’s humble origins back in 2016. There are, of course, elements of the blues-inspired rock brought them to life. But as with anything you put your name on, the LP defines exactly who Decadent is in this moment. The blue-and-gray-tinged melancholy of opening track and lead single, “Disease,” to the depth and austerity of “Ausgang,” the funk and swag of “Salome” and crowd favorite “Peter Parker.” All culminating with the grandiose emotional jubilee of “B,” a track that would do Jeff Buckley (whom Dennis counts as his biggest musical inspiration) proud (heavy doses of “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” pouring from its digital confines). Decadent is a magical piece of music. It’s a journey through the brilliance and emotional core of the band. They’ve certainly earned their nomination for Best Modern Rock Album at this year’s Korean Music Awards.
In two years, Decadent has established themselves as a band with a breadth and musical scope rarely seen contemporary “indie” music. A back-to-back showcases at the legendary Zandari Festa (in 2017 and 2018), a third-place win on EBS’s Hello Rookie, and award nominations. With every release they give new texture and dimension to their artistry. Extremely subjective beauty, indeed.