The Two Koreas: "Scared Straight"
By Ryan Pratt | 15 March 2011
Say what you will about the splintered face of indie music with its incalculable shards of genres and cliques; it still has its hierarchy. I mean, Memoryhouse getting signed to Sub Pop? That still means something—that quality-approved watermark now shimmering beneath their name—if only for the validation of being publicly separated from Bandcamp’s Wild West and Myspace’s foreclosed strip-mall. For the legions of new artists seeking to establish themselves online, it’s all about staking any available territory as one’s own, even if that means making up reductive genres and patenting them with an aesthetic.
That’s just what the Two Koreas are hoping to accomplish, following in the dubious tradition of witch house and shitgaze by bombing interviews and first-listen streams with what they call “glacial-garage.” Now don’t go updating your blog-loving vernacular quite yet; if using the word “glacial” is meant to connote any frosty production or sludge-y arrangements, it’s sorely lacking on “Scared Straight.” Sure, the opening track suggests a mission statement-like purpose with its relentless, one-note riff, and whether it’s lusting after a climax or riding one from start to finish, that repetition alone gradually (glacially?) amps up the tension. When the Two Koreas finally break those taut two-plus minutes open, however, “Scared Straight” barrels directly from pithy verse to rapid-fire chorus, capitalizing on Les Savy Fav’s raw chemistry of raging guitars with vocalist Stuart Berman shouting overtop. The quintet’s energy feels authentic, even when pocketed into the song’s back-end as such, but it’s their elongated build-up that begins to sound suspect, as if giving a repetitive riff the term glacial-garage verifies it as more than, well, a repetitive riff.
That’s the downside to coining genres: by filtering music down to a singular attribute, one risks damning its artistic pursuits to mere gimmickry. And unlike Crystal Castles or Four Tet—acts that have spent the majority of their careers running from shortsighted labels like chip-tune and folktronica, respectively—the Two Koreas developed this tag themselves. It’s an odd move for a band recently validated by the twin triumphs of having Toronto’s press in their corner and new LP Science Island out on the respectable Last Gang Records. Perhaps glacial-garage is the Two Koreas’ way of spicing up typical indie-rock that happens to be infused with a DIY punk spirit. After all, without its suggestive brand name, that’s what “Scared Straight” boils down to.