The Korean rock scene is overflowing with promising acts, and I’m definitely one to enjoy them. This summer, following releases from hyukoh, Love X Stereo, and Buzz, among others, Drug Restaurant is the latest act to have made a comeback to the music world with their EP Pomade. To say I’ve been excited about this record is an understatement. To say I’m satisfied with it, however, is a more complex thing.
Don’t get me wrong—the release definitely sated my desire to hear more from the band, fronted by eccentric genius Jung Joonyoung. It stays true to the band’s roots in alternative rock, which is basically what I expected. Another bonus for some: the English lyrics (though, in the past, I did appreciate the Korean lyrics a bit more). However, Pomade lacks some of the raw energy that crafted most of the digital EP Drug Restaurant (an absolute masterpiece, despite its too-short tracklist of only three songs and an intro).
The thing about Pomade that very much irks me is the lack of cohesion between tracks. The songs are good—and some of them are particularly exquisite, even—but it remains that some tracks feel like they belong on another release of their own, while you’d wish you could hear more of one type of sound or another. But, all in all, Pomade remains as good as any good rock album could be. My excitement about it might have dimmed a little after hearing it, but it’s there, nonetheless, and it’s all thanks to a selection of tracks which made the album for me.
The album opens on the highly dynamic “Don’t Be Afraid.” Though slightly repetitive, the song starts the EP on a good note. It’s raw, reminiscent of the best of brit-rock with its low guitars and rough vocals, and gets you right into the beat of the song from the very first second. The bass follows the guitars, and the drums aren’t overwhelming, but the song doesn’t lose its appeal despite its simplicity. Yes, the lyrics “don’t be afraid, don’t push me out” might get redundant, but that’s what makes the song what it is. It’s just one of those times where you have to recognize the annoying, repetitive line is the real, recognizable highlight of the song.
Here’s the first brilliant thing about Pomade you’ll notice: the next song (and title track), “Drink O2 in the Water,” follows highly similar chord progressions from the first track, making the transition between the two songs almost seamless. The real changes are in the rhythm and song structure. While “Don’t Be Afraid” might have given you envies of kicking things and wreaking havoc, “Drink O2 in the Water” will instead give you a strong desire to go back to the 1990s to start your own band in your garage, singing about your rundown town (even if you live in a big city like me) in attempt to find something new, all in an upbeat fashion. The music video follows that trend, in a twisted way, and is even considerate enough to provide the lyrics.
The next song, “Ain’t I Good to You,” is where my excitement just plummets, sadly. But here’s one thing: rock ballads aren’t my thing. They very rarely manage to move me at all. At best, I can stand them, but at worst, they bore me to death. “Ain’t I Good to You” stands somewhere in between that scale for me. But it’s a personal thing, really—I don’t think any rock ballad aside from “Last Night on Earth” by Green Day has really stuck with me since 2009, and this song is simply no exception. Sorry about that.
After “Ain’t I Good to You,” my enthusiasm just has a hard time climbing back up. “Starved” does a pretty good job at trying, though. The song is fast-paced enough to get my foot tapping along, and the bass solos are honestly to die for. But there’s just something missing, something I cannot pinpoint, that has me listening to the song with an itch to just press skip. It’s a great song—I promise it really is!—but it’s as though I cannot find why it is special, which in turns makes it hard to stick around to listen to it until the end. Please do, though; chances are, you’ll find yourself appreciating it despite yourself, like I did at times, and you might not question why.
“Escaper” is interesting. Starting with slow guitar chords, haunting vocals and, later, rhythmic bass and the sound of fingers snapping, it gets you intrigued for what’s coming next. But it drags on, and, finally, you lose interest once the verse really kicks in, going back slow and losing the hint of rhythm it had gotten at the beginning. Though the bass and drums combo makes a return later in the song, it just isn’t the same. The heart-wrenching chorus and bridge at least bring some raw energy to “Escaper,” which is something that was dearly missing in the previous two tracks.
At this point, the last track, “Catwoman,” has very little chance of surprising me—but, oh, surprise! It actually does! It starts with soft drums and muted synths before Joonyoung’s calmer vocals join in. It sounds like a late night treat right from the beginning. The guitar interludes interspersed in the song just add to the mystery vibe of the song, until the chorus kicks in in all its beauty: louder guitars, rougher vocals, and delicate falsetto backing vocals. It reminds me a lot of Arctic Monkeys’ music, a band that I love dearly and that I can’t help but hear through and through in “Catwoman.” For me, this song saves the album right in time before its completion, and the song stands out as the best track on Pomade.
If you have any doubt on whether or not to check out the EP, please do. The first two tracks are definitely reason enough to do so, and the last song is almost begging for you to listen. As for the three tracks in between, I’ll let you be the judge of those, because I can see they have potential to please a wide range of people; it only happens I don’t fall into that category. Though I still miss the Drug Restaurant I heard in “OMG,” “What?!,” and “Mistake,” I can still attest to the fact that Pomade was a good release with plenty of promising talent.