Album Review: TENGGER – Earthing

[Self-released; 2022]

To say the least, it has been a time of change for Seoul-based act TENGGER. Watching the world fall into shambles during the COVID pandemic, it became increasingly difficult to delve into the usual comforting spiritualism of their Krautrock-tinged, ambient adjacent music, in more ways than one. Beyond the immediate challenges to morale and mental health, the married pair found themselves divided by travel restrictions. Vocalist and harmonium player itta was in Korea with their young son, Raai (who has more recently begun to join his parents on stage), while synth maestro Marqido was in Japan.

They began to feel that, more than ever, nature and man were becoming enemies, and that the Earth was plunging backwards onto a dark, sad path. Amidst the two years they were divided, the pair managed to rediscover their passion: during a meeting in Shikoku enabled by their son’s school vacation, viewing the lush forest and landscape, the trio were struck once more by natural beauty. They were left with a simple message, one that carried them through to the creation of their new work, Earthing: “There’s nothing divided and we are connected all in the life circulation.”

In spite of all the difficulties they faced – including the closure of their home label, leaving them to release the album entirely independently – they began to work remotely, slowly piecing together what would become perhaps their most soothing, healing project to date.

It also proved to be a time of musical change: Marqido left behind his longtime instrument, the modular synth, in favor of FM synths. As he witnessed his favored instrument being used more and more across the world, he was suddenly reminded of the FM synthesizer he’d bought with pocket money all the way back in his middle school years, and was inspired to make a return to its comforting, nearly forgotten familiarity. Itta, meanwhile, was inspired to move somewhat beyond the influence of the Indian harmonium sound she often employs, instead opting to increasingly layer her voice.

The difference, particularly in Itta’s ever-present, serene vocals, is striking. Working largely remotely, which the pair found challenging, they shared the album piece by piece across the internet, resulting in something, yet again, different than they’d ever put together before.

Still, it was their moments in Shikoku that stood tall among the influences for the album: having tended to record in Seoul in the past, they found themselves truly immersed in the beauty of nature they’ve always sought to capture through their music. They even captured field recordings of cicada and, strikingly, Suzumushi (鈴虫, a kind of cricket native to Japan), allowing the insects’ vocals (if you will) to lead on two tranquil, all-consuming tracks, most evident on the endlessly patient “Maunam”.

TENGGER have managed to subvert the largely electronic origins of their music to arrive with something that simply feels – if you’ll forgive the word – divine. There’s a new sense of calculated care present within Earthing. Whether necessitated by the remote nature of the majority of the recording, or brought on by their rediscovery of their passions, it’s their most transcendent work to date. It’s all still waters on the surface, but clearly contains a deep reservoir of emotion just beneath. Even its cover art was carefully selected: TENGGER see the concept of tensegrity as the true embodiment of oneness. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic dome, they came to see this encircling body as one conveying the message of nature, surrounding us all with its warm waves. The music of Earthing does much the same. There’s never been a better – or more necessary – time to bundle up in its embrace.