For fifteen years now, Nell has held a very special place in the Korean music scene. Their brand of introspective, psychadelic rock offers a necessary compliment to k-pop’s glitzy allure. They also have a special place in my heart, as lead vocal Kim Jong-wan has done production and songwriting work on Infinite’s Sungkyu’s solo albums. With Dream Catcher, and its accompanying album, the band promised something new. It’s certainly not a complete reinvention, but the song offers enough electronic excitement to push Nell forward.
Jong-wan’s characteristic melodic and vocal approaches haven’t changed much. Dream Catcher‘s verses, in particular, have that deliberate, poet-like delivery to them that causes the listener to lean in with anticipation. What’s new here is the almost entirely electronic underpinning — a series of dreamy, ice-covered synth drops that give the song a vague carnival-esque feel. This instrumental thrust plays throughout almost the entire running time, but once we hit the chorus, the song gives us a much more anthemic, full-band sound. It feels as if the guys are reaching for Coldplay-level grandeur, and what’s here is breathtaking. The vocal layering works wonders, giving the hook widescreen appeal. But at the same time, it leaves the listener wanting more. I can’t help but feel like Dream Catcher needs a second chorus or refrain to round things out. As it stands, the song feels somewhat unfinished. It seems to constantly strive for a bigger scope than it delivers. Just when it begins to surge, it pulls back again.
This is a minor gripe with a track that ultimately keeps with Nell’s tradition of offering high quality, emotional rock. It’s great to have them back, and especially in such an adventurous mood. I hope they decide to push things even further in this direction with the next album.