reviewed by Michael Thomas
For an audio recording, so much of Imaginary Places seems visual. The title invites you to slip away from reality; the album artwork is just vague enough to make you think it’s either a building on a moonlit path or that it’s a building in the sky. There’s also the duo’s name, which comes from the Korean words 나무 나라, which translate to “tree land” or “tree country,” inspired by producer Gabsung Lim’s explorations growing up in South Korea.
And that’s before you get into the gorgeous soundscapes created by Lim, complimented by Leah Mertz’ unique vocals—they’re expressive without being overly emotive. Every song is like walking into a fragile world that lures you in with pretty sights before dropping truth.
With opener “Sweat,” we get a beautifully dark, atmospheric set of beats to usher us in. But Mertz quickly makes us regret we ever walked in: “Was it worth it? All the things you’ve done/Did it make sense that time?” We’ll never fully be able to explain our actions to others, and that sense of confusion plays in the music later, as it gets more aggressive and adds in more guitar.
“Playground” feels like walking into a dark, hedonistic club. Everything is so chill until you go a little too far. Eventually Mertz just says it plainly: “This world is one big playground/Everything that you know will die/It’s just a matter of time.”
Meanwhile, “Noonchi” feels like a video game with its retro beats. The title comes from the Korean word meaning roughly “being aware of one’s surroundings” or “being attentive,” and it’s the only song without Mertz on vocals. Paint your own picture.
There’s a more meditative element in both “Electricty” and “Diver.” The latter is the pinnacle of this EP, featuring a jazz-inspired, trip-hop kind of atmosphere. It becomes almost heavenly and surprisingly moving when Mertz begins to sing. Her first line is sung with enough vagueness that it could be “I will dive with you” or “I will die with you,” each emotionally resonant in its own way. The “oh-oh, oh-oh” vocalizations after each few lines makes it feel sacred.
Whether you want to chill out or immerse yourself in aural colour, all you need is to stop by Namoo Nara’s Imaginary Places.
Top Track: “Diver”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) + *swoop*