As children, we are all adventurers. Every step outside the house is the start of a grand expedition. Largely unaware of the world’s cruelty and pettiness, most children are romantics, bravely flinging their hearts into each endeavor and friendship.
Then, adulthood arrives. For some, it might come early, courtesy of premature burdens and tragedies. For others, adulthood takes decades to sink in. But we all get there eventually and it’s not the nicest place. Adulthood means societal pressures, cynical perspectives, and perhaps worst of all, the monotony of routine to replace the brilliance of childhood adventures.
Indie band Jannabi have long been fascinated by the transition from youth to adulthood. Very few artists have so memorably articulated the agony of being a self aware young person in the process of maturing. You can feel the magic slipping out of life, but in the face of reality’s disappointments, are powerless to stop yourself from becoming yet another jaded adult.
In their new album, Jannabi continue to explore this topic, but with a bold new lens: What if you don’t want to stop being a dreamer? Is there a way to reclaim childhood’s enchantment while acknowledging the real world for what it is? The Land of Fantasy (with the whimsical full title The Land of Fantasy: Captain Giorgio and The Old Fashioned Heroes) doesn’t definitively answer this question. However, the album’s own balance of cynicism and romanticism makes a compelling case that yes, you can bring a joyful adventurer’s spirit to adult life.
Musically, The Land of Fantasy is a boisterous album. With only a handful of notable exceptions, every song is full of sonic joy and playful touches. The jolly bounce of “Oh Brave Morning Sun” features a conspicuous tambourine, “Confession Show” begins with a carnival-worthy riff, and Choi Jung-hoon (not to be confused with infamous former FT Island member Choi Jong-hoon) frequently stretches his grand voice into even more generous hollers than usual. In this way, The Land of Fantasy feels like a departure from Jannabi’s recent sentimental turns in Legend and Small Pieces I, returning instead to the carefree bravado of 2016’s Monkey Hotel.
The sound of The Land of Fantasy is also brilliantly lush, frequently layering dozens of voices and instruments into an inviting maelstrom. Prime examples of this include orchestral album opener “The Land of Fantasy” and the regal yet humorous “Bluebird, Spread your wings!”. The fullness of the album is exceptional given that Choi Jung-hoon is currently more or less operating as a one man show. Fellow bandmates Kim Do-hyung (who was part of The Land of Fantasy’s production), Jang Kyung-joon, and Yoon Kyul are enlisted, on hiatus, and fresh out of the army respectively. Jannabi will in all likelihood return as a quartet (or a trio or duo), but for now, Choi Jung-hoon stands alone. You’d never know it from listening to The Land of Fantasy.
For non-Korean speakers who don’t seek out the translated lyrics of The Land of Fantasy, the album is still worthwhile. Sonically, The Land of Fantasy is a mesmerizing soundtrack to the whimsical world Jannabi have shared fairy tale-like illustrations of on their Instagram. For those who do choose to dig a little deeper though, an entirely different side of the album unveils itself through its lyrical content.
If The Land of Fantasy’s sound captures the spirit of adventure Jannabi want to cultivate, its lyrics question and challenge that possibility. Time and again, Jannabi state their feelings in the most dramatic way possible. In “Confession Show”, an ode to resilient lonely hearts, Jannabi declare “I’m the King of survival! The conqueror of friendship! HA HA HA HA HA”. In the softly romantic “Summer II” (a successor to their 2016 hit “Summer”), love isn’t just fun, “it’s mystical”. Jannabi strive to view their joys and pains alike through an epic lens. But cracks quickly appear, especially when it comes to maintaining burning loves like the one Jannabi experience in “Summer II”:
Even this outstanding love can’t last forever
Oh my heart back then, when morning came
It was an insignificant small light
The sun rises again tomorrow
Hurry up, let’s leave, get intoxicated by the night
In the harsh light of day, Jannabi struggle to stay as enchanted as they desperately want to be. This conundrum repeats itself throughout The Land of Fantasy. In the musically cheerful “The King of Romance”, awkwardness and lethargy weigh down a burgeoning relationship. Cynicism invades other songs even more intensely. “The Ballad of Non Le Jon”, a quirky ode to The Beatles, also doubles as a bitter reflection on the harshness of existing in the public eye.
This feels like a thinly veiled exploration of Jannabi’s own rocky time in the limelight, a connection that can be drawn throughout the album. The Land of Fantasy is about a person whose hopes have been dashed struggling to regain optimism and purpose. This narrative aptly mirrors Jannabi’s fast rise and then tough stretch of publicity which threatened the very existence of their career. As Choi Jung-hoon sings in “Oh Brave Morning Sun”:
Love is not a fantasy beyond the clouds
But foolish faith is needed
Come on, pick up the pieces of the dream that was broken overnight
Jannabi are putting up an admirable fight against mundanity and despair in The Land of Fantasy. But at times, the battle becomes too much and exhaustion threatens to end all their adventures.
“Farewell to Arms! + Hymn For the Cradle” comes at the album’s midway point and expresses the peak of Jannabi’s weariness. Despite the lively musicality of the song, full of choral flourishes and boisterous instrumentation, Jannabi are at their wits end:
The prelude to despair, a young coffin march
With no intention to combat
Bleeding against the younger sun, be noble, young flag of surrender
Come here, oh fall asleep
My worn out body hangs onto the cradle
I lay down with my arms under my head
“Farewell to Arms! + Hymn For the Cradle” leads into The Land of Fantasy‘s two most straightforwardly dark songs. Ominous interlude “Clay Pigeon Boy” tells the tale of a boy who flew so high he nearly became a star, but was shot down to earth. This story recurs throughout the album, including in a beautiful animated teaser. Once again in line with Jannabi’s real life arc, the boy rose up but was brought down. Now, he must rally to fly again.
Sorrowful rock ballad “Time” isn’t exactly optimistic about this mission. The song questions what all this striving is even for, “who was this song for?”. The epic instrumentation, powerfully poignant lyrics, and sweeping, haunting melodies of “Time” make it a highlight of the whole album.
“Time” isn’t all pessimism though. “The sad legend that you and I reclaimed became joyful” Choi Jung-hoon sings, a sentiment that is echoed throughout The Land of Fantasy, especially in the album’s back half. Title track “I Know Where the Rainbow Has Fallen” has a downright hopeful mood. The accompanying music video is initially disappointing with its rote story of three young people having mundane adventures on a picturesque island. For an album as fantastical as this, you might expect something more creative.
However, “I Know Where the Rainbow Has Fallen” actually captures the core message of The Land of Fantasy. Ordinary life can be an adventure, Jannabi tell us and themselves, and though it can be hard to mine magic from our harsh adult lives, we can turn to our youth for inspiration. We all once felt the call of adventure and got excitement from even boring daily activities, and we can do so again.
This call to reclaim our identities as dreamers, and a conviction that against all odds it can be done, peaks in “Bluebird, Spread Your Wings!”, a short yet impactful track. To the momentum-filled push of a marching beat, Choi Jung-hoon declares:
When the song brings me out in the morning sun
I want to fly again, I swear, I swear
Bluebird! Bluebird! Come, get your life!
Believe you’ll be alright!
On a life meets art level, the song is a clear reference to Jannabi’s intention to take back their joy in music after the trials of the last few years. In the context of The Land of Fantasy, “Bluebird, Spread Your Wings!” is a rousing call to action for all the stymied dreamers and adventurers who might be listening.
“Bluebird, Spread Your Wings!” would have made for a feel-good ending to The Land of Fantasy. Instead, Jannabi opt for a bolder and more ambiguous conclusion. In the spoken word next-to-last track “Goodbye Dreamin’ Old Stars”, the confidence of “Bluebird, Spread Your Wings!” has vanished and Jannabi seem on the verge of resigning themselves to a dreamless life:
Now everything I had believed in, I can say it was a fantasy
And yet, I want to believe again
To call it a fantasy, to be able to call it that, those times…
Still I have to go back home tonight
“Goodbye Dreamin’ Old Stars” introduces the fantastically energetic album closer “Come Back Home”. But while the home referenced in “Goodbye Dreamin’ Old Stars” seems to represent the end of adventuring, “Come Back Home” feels like the start of an adventure rather than the close. Joy ripples off the song in waves, as if the home Jannabi have returned to is the house of dreamers.
The track’s lyrics hint that this homecoming may be temporary, only a momentary reprieve from adulthood. “Tonight, even if it’s just for one night, let me go” Jannabi ask the real world. “Come Back Home” therefore ends The Land of Fantasy on a blissful but not simplistically perfect note.
It’s a far more satisfying and fitting close than any cut and dry victory could be. The Land of Fantasy is an album that explores the conflicts and contradictions of life. You can want to be an adventurer but be stuck ashore. You can be born to fly but be tied to the ground. You can be angry and hopeful, cynical and romantic, all at once. You can lose the battle but win the war, and visa versa.
Because it refuses to sugarcoat things, or wrap its story up with a pretty bow, The Land of Fantasy is an infinitely more convincing ode to the power and possibility of dreaming than any sappy, simplified release could be. By accepting that adventures are not forever, and that romanticism cannot conquer all, Jannabi open the door to a flawed but universally accessible form of dreaming. You can be a part-time adventurer and a jaded dreamer. And the imperfection of those pursuits doesn’t make them any less worthwhile or beautiful.