A Talent, Disciplined and Wild: Youn Sun Nah, Lento

By Daniel Garrett

Youn Sun Nah, Lento
Produced by Youn Sun Nah and Axel Matignon
HUB Music/ ACT Music and Vision/Warner, 2013

Youn Sun Nah is a wonderful singer; and her album Lento a beautiful, thrilling work.  Youn Sun Nah, a Korean singer born to artist parents (a conductor father and actress mother), has made a big splash in Paris and elsewhere, and is quickly becoming one of the leading song interpreters.   Her band on Lento features guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist Lars Danielsson, accordionist Vincent Peirani, and percussionist Xavier Desandre-Navarre.  Elegantly meditative, the title song “Lento,” attributed to Alexander Scriabin and Youn Sun Nah, is sung with clear diction and conviction.  “Lament”  is tough, declamatory; theatrical, with a taut beat.   It was written by Youn Sun Nah, as were “Soundless Bye” and “New Dawn.”  Youn Sun Nah’s treatment of Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” is beautiful in its simplicity and tone.  The interpretation by Youn Sun Nah of “Hurt”—recorded by Johnny Cash—reminds me a little of Annie Lennox as well as Cash: “Hurt” creates the aura of a ravaged spirit, despairing, angry, and the eloquence of plain-spoken truth.   “Empty Dream,” written by Vincent Peirani and Youn Sun Nah, has humming, and a slight vocal huskiness when sung.  Accordion?  Ulf Wakenius’ composition “Momento Magico” is shaped by a fast rhythm and original wordless singing.  Excellent.  (The great east and west do seem to meet.)   The singer’s control as she accompanies the rhythm is exceptional.  “Soundless Bye” is a ballad of equal quality to what comes before; and  “Full Circle,” by Vincent Peirani and Youn Sun Nah, offers wordplay.  A Korean tune written by Chun S. Park is offered.  “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” a Stan Jones narrative of cowboy adventure, is forcefully sung; and a supernatural warning comes on the western plain.   “Waiting,” by Lars Danielsson and Cæcilie Norby, is one of the few Lento songs that sound like established jazz (much of the music of Youn Sun Nah could be considered art songs or a high grade of traditional popular music).  Her voice is really beautiful and she easily creates a significant atmosphere.   There is a traditional Korean song, then “New Dawn,” which is poetic, a pious wish.

Daniel Garrett, a graduate of the New School for Social Research, and the principal organizer of the Cultural Politics Discussion Group at Poets House, is a writer whose work has appeared in The African, All About Jazz, American Book Review, Art & Antiques, The Audubon Activist, Black Film Review, Changing Men, Cinetext, Contact II, Film International, The Humanist, Hyphen, Illuminations, Muse Apprentice Guild, Option, Pop Matters, Quarterly Black Review of Books, Rain Taxi, Red River Review, Review of Contemporary Fiction, Wax Poetics, and World Literature Today.  Daniel Garrett has written extensively about international film for Offscreen, and comprehensive commentary on music for The Compulsive Reader.