In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.
Kim Minkyung’s Harmony, her debut solo album under the stage name Cacophony, was wrought from distressing circumstances—the illness and eventual death of her mother. While Kim had put a hold on writing music at the time, this tragic event had prompted her to start up again—she attributed her artistic sensibilities to her mom, and the album became a way for her to process all that had happened.
Prior to all this, Kim was in 쥬마루드 (Zumurud), a duo known for crafting stately ballads and vocal jazz, as well as performing live covers of Lana Del Rey and Korean rock legend Shin Joong Hyun. While the music on Harmony is more ambitious than anything Kim had released to that point, you can hear its roots in an untitled Zumurud song. It’s a sparse track built around a vocal loop that demonstrates Kim’s understanding of her voice as a vital tool: one that’s strong enough to imbue her songs with intense emotions. This back-and-forth theatricality can be read as a post-modern interpretation of pansori, a traditional form of Korean musical storytelling that involves a singer and drummer: in this album’s case, a metaphorical dialogue between mother and daughter, griever and grieved.
On “Breath,” Kim structures the song’s verses as a conversation between herself and her mother. “Breathe inside of me and sing,” Kim pleads. She responds on her mother’s behalf, with words of comfort: “I’m standing here”; “I’m embracing you.” Any semblance of closure is shattered shortly thereafter on “kk,” an unsettling track punctuated by clattering percussion, beeping EKGs, and Kim’s anguished howls of pain; she proclaims the song’s title—a spelling of a Korean onomatopoeia for laughter—in a sardonic tone that drips with anger and confusion. She continues to wrestle with her mother’s passing on “In the End,” coming to terms with how her mom lives on in memories, and this idea succinctly is portrayed via the presence of reverse tape effects.
One of Kim’s most impressive feats on Harmony is how she utilizes different musical styles to convey whatever mood she’s feeling, at each step of the healing process. The French-sung “Comme un poisson dans le ciel” is a smoky trip-hop song that finds her longing for freedom from her current turmoil. The song’s downtempo beat and synths create a sense of uneasiness and fatigue, but its sultry nature indicates how she seeks peace via intimacy. On the dreamy “Tell Me,” reverb-heavy guitar melodies create a bed of pillowy ambience, all upbeat whistling, woozy synths, and steam-engine sounds. It’s a beatific backdrop for a raw-hearted request: “Tell me you love me.” And on “Spring,” the song’s closing track, she speaks of how the season proved painful, but how this new relationship has allowed her to wait for the “late-blooming flower.” She ends the song with a verse in French: “I don’t understand / You don’t understand / But we have la vie en rose.” As impossible as it may seem for her, by the end of her journey, she’s finally found happiness.