Christian Hyun, recording as Jupiter Mountain, is a 20-year veteran of the music scene. Deeming his latest output “electronic folk and bedroom pop,” Rain Sounds on Vinyl melds a rich ambient tone with the kind of lyrical anxieties one might author during a pandemic. And since the resultant lockdowns made touring next to impossible, Hyun secured new conceptions of what it means to create (and perform) art, alone. Enter a period of self-professed cryptic ramblings, musical interludes and “homemade sweatshirts with weird stuff sewn on them.” Because if rhinestone eagle jumpsuits worked for The King – especially during peak gluttony – then a dash of wardrobe flamboyance certainly can’t hurt the expressive notoriety here. Ten tracks and 39 minutes of exactly that make no excuse to the contrary. Conclusion: this dude is party rocking in fancy pajamas, even if the beats are tuned to a deeper shade of mellow. And there’s absolutely no need to apologize for that.
The opening track “Gathering Steam” presents the album’s best attributes. Atari-type effects cede to a textural Mellotron of sorts, which cautiously smooths our path. Not only is the piece incredibly well programmed, but the vocals – arresting in their own right – are full of clever turns-of-phrase without coming off as too cute. Said words are released in a very “mouth forward” style, as if held on the palate rather than summoned from the diaphragm. And the near falsetto at the close of each couplet respects the harmonized chorus to follow. It’s crisp, catchy and poetic, paving the way for all that happily (or, within Hyun’s emotional subtext, unhappily) follows.
Although nothing reaches the magnitude of that opener, gratifying nuggets pepper the balance while paying homage to relevant artists. “Pacific Northwest” channels the Postal Service with a more masculine bent, while its chorus drips with pop sensibility. “Time Gets Softer” is a hypnotic number vis-a-vis Flock of Seagulls, minus any aspirational haircuts. And “Higher Than Dust” is Beatle-esque in comparison, had the Fab Four been around to binge on 1980’s production cues.
The following cuts, “Bad Things” and “Autumn,” take an introspective dive. The former boasts a dug-heeled grove amid music so precarious, it feels one half-step from implosion. Sure, the tune could break wide at its bridge, but that would be too easy (not to mention, predictable). The latter pairs throaty lyrics with spiraling synths. It marks a perfect score for a rainy night, even if the vocals from guest Grace Rowland seem criminally underused. In the same vein, “Going To The Mountain” is an equally contemplative song for Hyun. Penned for his ailing father, it imparts the acceptance of death and features tasteful violin by South African musician Kristel Birkholtz.
The further Hyun shifts from electronic influences into folk (read: the final two tracks), the more Rain Sounds on Vinyl loses the plot. Folk is, after all, a funny beast. Without a super catchy melody, it risks leaning toward the subway busker demographic. And nearly anyone can strum a few chords. The artist’s true strength lies in the substantive moods colored via keen – but never overwrought – programming. Well, that and the baked mac & cheese recipe he’s promised with the physical version of the album. It’s amazing how a dash of comfort can offset all this heavy thinking.
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