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Nell: Separation Anxiety *

Album Notes

Everything that happens on the South Korean music scene of the '90 and 2000s should be measured against its predominant feature: the towering, almost monopolistic dominance of commercial pop produced by several big corporations. This makes Nell's Separation Anxiety sound pretty daring, because it's a paradigm shift from pure pop to pop/rock in the vein of Reamonn and Monkey Majik. The record is still slick and technological like an HDTV set, and the amounts of saccharine seem clinically calculated, erring on the side of overdose -- just listen to the superfluously heartfelt singing on the title track and "Afterglow." Separation Anxiety is a mild-sounding album, with a lot of faux-disco drum patterns, strings, and a very delicate vocal performance. It's typical that the disc opens up with ballads and then proceeds to build some steam in an obvious attempt to placate the audience not used to guitar music. But still, there are plenty of guitar riffs here, both acoustic and electric -- somewhere between U2 and Belle & Sebastian, with an occasional Smashing Pumpkins moment (a quieter one). Opening for AC/DC is out of the question for Nell, the band still delivers the main rock & roll goods. The music, for all its sweetness, is dynamic, and not in the way of techno-pop, which is the main tool of producers who want to do a fast track for the airwaves. Indeed, in the end it's easy to define Separation Anxiety by what it's not: it's not dance music, it's not R&B, it's not ballads of the Celine Dion kind, but it's got an identity of its own: it's simply a record by an emotive soft rock band with some chops to back up their convincing love crooning. ~ Alexey Eremenko


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