At a time when even the most modest indie rock projects are expected to deliver a captivating origin story and commented talking points, still-anonymous South Korean artist Parannoul has this to say about his new LP: “This album is not what what you expected, but what I always wanted.” What we really know about Parannoul hasn’t changed much since 2021 To see the next part of the dream: They live in Seoul, are open to collaboration, yet intensely protect their privacy, and express what they really want from music through seemingly incompatible ways. In Parannoul’s hermetic world, hyper-realistic synth presets achieve the same strange dissonance as dream-pop’s gauzy guitars; emo shares a language with shoegaze; the bedroom pop sounds alternately like a person on a laptop and the soundtrack a planetarium laser show. Anytime on their amazing third album, After the Magic Parannoul can be described as any of these styles, all of them, or even none of them: a perfect synthesis that provides a direct line to its author’s unique worldview, even when they reveal nothing else about themselves.
Parannoul’s recent split LPs and singles suggested that the production could slowly move away from red towards softer, brighter tones. None of this, however, served as adequate preparation for the optimism revealed in the bracing, crystalline clarity of After the Magic More than any guitar-based act, the dramatic tonal shift is reminiscent of Oneohtrix Point Never reinventing his timbral vocabulary from his murky masterpiece. Replica to the immaculate, supernatural R plus seven. It’s still “electronic music,” though rather than let the ghosts in the machine warn us of technological entropy, Parannoul’s “fake” and “sterile” instruments create a curious warmth, if only from our memories of associate computers with creative possibility.
The first sound heard in the opening theme “북극성 (Polaris)” and, in fact, quite a few songs in after the magic—it’s an acoustic guitar, presumably not one of the MIDI presets used in To see the next part of the dream. Before long, Parannoul fills the space with the most obvious ersatz sounds: flawless cocktail piano rolls, basses, synth saxophones, all knowingly used as reminders of an older, more innocent technological age. Yet in their slippery benchmarks—early home computer-era ambient music, shoegaze’s drum’n’bass software update, various phases of J-pop incorporating cutting-edge electronics—after the magic the wormhole of nostalgia collapses, implying that one day 2023 will also be remembered as the good old days.
While Parannoul hasn’t entirely abandoned the super-driven guitars that made his earlier work sound like M83 and Smashing Pumpkins, the most unexpected change on after the magic It is how they remember the spirit of those projects in their most buoyant form. Whether the misery of the past was a coping mechanism or a conscious stylistic choice, what remains in its absence is Parannoul’s belief that any emotion worth experiencing has to sound as overwhelming as it feels. The magic is not in the mundane, but in big elemental feelings: turning 20, falling in love before you know how to describe it, literal and figurative space travel, resurrection at every sunrise, and the endless possibilities of a summer night. Or, like the lap-pop lullaby that closes after the magic suggests, just watch the fireworks.