While trying to decide between listening to something ambient or something driven by a steady rock beat, listeners can instead find an enticing blend of the two in Korean band HEO. HEO combines the strength of indie rock with the melodic and rhythmic surprises of electronic music, all while maintaining a subtle but compelling darkness to their sound. Nowhere can this sound be heard better than in HEO’s latest album, Structure (2014).
The album opens with the instrumental track, “Sound of A,” a perfect example of the way HEO constructs tracks that are both ambient and zany at any given moment. After a little over a minute and a half of spacy sounds over a thumping beat, bizarre bubbling sound effects burst over the main melody and beat until shuddering into a quieter space. That brief quiet then leads right back into the bursting, dissonant sound effects that give the piece texture and definition, as it starkly contrasts the calm, smooth beat-driven beginning and end cap to this stellar first song.
The next track, “Luna,” starts out very keyboard-driven before a more indie rock-influenced guitar line rounds out the intro and the album’s first whispery lyrics drift above the main melodies. This delicate lyrical delivery carries through the album, but it receives proper introductory treatment in “Luna.” Because of its musicality and lyricism, this track has been recognized beyond the album itself. “Luna” is also featured on WiFi PR Group’s compilation, Indie Anthems Vol. 9, a collection of international independent artists that WiFi PR wants to put on the radars of music lovers and industry tastemakers the world over. Released at CMJ Music Marathon in October 2014, the digital mixtape included HEO and other electronic artists and is now available on the Indie Anthems Bandcamp page.
While electronic and dark ambient music often take front and center in HEO’s music, tracks like “Word of Silence” showcase the group’s ability to deliver a harder rock sound that can also dissolve into a lighter, soaring indie rock anthem by the song’s end. “Ride the Wave” is another heavier rock track that kicks off with distorted guitar licks and a kinetic bass line that harken back to the zany attitude HEO has displayed in some of its more electronic-driven songs. “Ride the Wave” also focuses on highly effected vocals that sound like they’ve been through a vocoder and back as they saturate the rock rhythms with an electronic sensibility.
In “Hard to Keep,” HEO takes a step back into softer alt-rock territory to deliver an emotive set of verses with more natural voices and steady rhythms in the keys. Hovering a little closer to the ground with this track, HEO shows a more serious side to their music while launching into a song that’s just over 11 minutes long.
For a dark-ambience-meets-indie-rock sound that transports listeners to a world of Korean musicians trying to get by with a unique breed of music in hand, HEO offers all that and more. Structure is their pinnacle effort thus far and has the potential to skyrocket them to festival bills like SXSW and international indie fame.