It sure is the year of the bands, with Bandage, a band formed during JTBC‘s Superband releasing its first full album, 432. Comprising of leader Chan-sol, Kyung-yoon, Hyun-bin and Hyeong-bin, the band debuted in April this year with the mini album Square One, and are returning this time with seven new tracks. A traditional band featuring vocals, guitars, keys, the bass, and drums, Bandage stays nestled safely within its established identity in this album.

Instruments take the spotlight in opening song “Intro”, and the track successfully creates the atmosphere for the rest of the album. Rhythmic variations are more common than melodic ones, and the instruments build up to a breathtaking finish, leaving listeners longing for more. It fulfills the role of a prelude, nothing more, nothing less, but it also works as a quick teaser of Bandage’s musical style.

In the K-pop landscape, I have gotten used to groups being experimental in the music they release; in fact, they are often lauded for the risks that they take, and the diversity that results from it. In Bandage’s case, however, a consistent pattern across the tracks of the album is in fact monotony. In “To The Light”, for example, it is not just the chords which repeat themselves over and over; the melody that Chan-sol sings in the verses consists mostly of the same note. In the hands of a less experienced vocalist, this might have resulted in a flop, but Chan-sol’s thick voice contains so much soul in it that he is still able to tell a story through these lines. Thankfully, as the song progresses, the melody also becomes thicker with harmonies, and the instrumental buildup towards the end of the song that is led by the bass is a welcome change to the placidness of the first half. The clarity of each instrument’s sound (when listening with earpieces!) really allows the layering of this track to shine, and it is definitely something that this band does right.

Speaking of instrumentation, the power of Bandage as a band is on full display in songs such as “bam” and “Into The Fire”. A marked contrast from the rest of their calming tracks, these two fall in the rock genre, and are laced with gorgeous solos by each instrument. With “bam”, the drums open the song for the first (and only) time in the album, quickly followed by an aggressive bass, and electric guitars. While the mood is initially laid-back, thanks to Hyun-bin’s low register in the monotonous first verse, it quickly picks up as exciting riffs are added into the mix. With a powerful electric guitar duet here, a snazzy synth pattern there, and an extraordinarily charismatic bass line by Hyeong-bin grounding the track together with the drums, it is absolutely delightful. Hyun-bin’s insane vocal range features prominently here too, as he goes up an octave with each new part of the song. While coasting along with his clean high notes, he lets off a scream that suddenly sets the song into rock territory. His electric guitar solos throughout the song successfully provide a nice balance to the deeper sounds of the other instruments, even as Bandage lead listeners on this unpredictable musical journey.

Hyun-bin takes the lead again in “Into The Fire”, his electric guitar full of glorious distortion this time. No fake-outs here: it is a classic rock song through and through. While it is a pity that drummer Kyung-yoon sticks to a pretty basic beat throughout, he is a strong driving force for the band, even as the members take turns in the spotlight in this track. What is pleasantly surprising, however, is that Kyung-yoon’s drumming stands out the most in songs with more subtle instrumentation. The delicate, emotional way he plays really enhances tracks such as “True Love Waits”. Perfect for a performance at a jazz club, the instruments all have incredibly attractive melodic lines, and the synthesizer saxophone is a nice, light accentuation to soften the edges of this piece. Kyung-yoon’s absolute control over his playing ensures that his drums never overpower the other instruments, but provides a nice change of pace and balance. Chan-sol’s lower register makes a return here, as well as his vocal runs, which are truly on point for this track.

Given the impressiveness of the aforementioned songs, the choice of “Coloring The Life” as the title track for this album might initially seem to be an unexpected one. Driven primarily by the acoustic guitar, this song is Kodaline-like, in all the best ways possible. With surprising chordal changes, harmonic vocal echoes, and gentle instrumentation, it is a warm track that offers comfort to weary listeners. It may be the turbulent times we are living through, but this quiet song is a relief, a chance for us to catch our breath and just bask in the beauty of music. The addition of the cello in the second half of this track is a masterful move, as it gives the song a steady gravitas, which works nicely with Chan-sol’s intentionally airy voice.

That being said, “Time To Love You” is the emotional highlight of the album. Captivating from the very first chord, this song feels like it could be used as a drama OST. Each lyric that Hyeong-bin sings sounds like it came straight out of his heart, and there is a sincerity to it that is not as obvious in the other tracks. His soft, sweet voice sounds even more emotional when layered with a string ensemble, and though it’s unfortunate that the other members of this band do not feature as much here, the track’s simplicity is ultimately its greatest strength.

With 432, Bandage have created a unique musical color of its own, even without the fancy experimentations we might be used to. The band sticks to what it has and makes full use of it. Even during Superband days, the chemistry among the four members have been evident, and the way they continue to complement each other so well musically promises a bright future for Bandage. They’ve only just started coloring their lives, and I cannot wait to hear more of them in the future!

(Images via Play M Entertainment. Youtube)