Jee Jee Band enchants and frustrates the listener with music that is cute, jangly, multi-cultural and experimental. The Oakland-based duo of Matt Jones and Jee Eun Lim met in 2011, after Jones took a teaching gig in Busan, South Korea. This far-flung vocation came after a bout of illness because, according to liner notes by Forced Exposure‘s Byron Coley, Jones was “lured by the magical healing qualities of kimchi.” The group’s first album, Korean Gothic, was recorded in late 2013 on an iPhone 5, and if its tracks are as tossed-off as that sounds, these faux-naif amateur musicians generated an awkward charm on glistening tracks like “Grandpa Don’t Know GMO.” The pair enlisted friends like Tim Sheldon and Sebadoh’s Bob Fay for their second album, Glass Fish. The band retains its fey charm, but with sparer and more experimental arrangements, and mixed results.

Some of the Korean Gothic charm came from an inspiration that the duo was to some extent parodying, namely slick K-pop. Jones and Lim took this defiantly upbeat music and skewed it with off-kilter textures and an aesthetic straight out of, as Coley accurately points out, Beat Happening and Shonen Knife. But Glass Fish is not quite as easygoing as these ancestors.

The album starts with the shimmering synth line of “Nam June Paik,” an homage to the Korean video artist of the same name. Jee Jee Band knows something about fine art, but it has a fey, childlike way of approaching it. Typical of their man-child musical aesthetic is a title like “Stegosaurus Carved into Angkor Wat.” But tracks like “I’ve Got a Mop, I’ve Got a Sponge” are darker than they seem (despite lyrics like “I’m gonna have some fun/ Make the dirt go run run run”), thanks to a jittery minor-key funk. Lyrically, this is very much a K Records approach, but in a moodier key that recalls the angstier side of the Raincoats.

Coley notes that these childlike lyrics are “a conscious counterweight to the corporatization of Korean culture represented by the vast majority of K-pop product.” But the joys of Korean Gothic came more from pretty melodies than from a conscious attempt to subvert pop forms. Glass Fish takes its seemingly whimsical model and makes something more deliberately alienating. “Road Trip to North Korea” was recorded over email, with Jones in Busan and Tim Sheldon in Massachusetts. The sing-song melody is tempered by snippets of radio signals that don’t always come in clearly, with the recording’s geographical divide suiting the title journey’s political and cultural divide: “Starving people on the phone/ Turn off the ring tone.”

Closer “Outsider on the Outside” is the most mysterious track on the album, its central musical figure a piece of lilting minimalism that doesn’t quite resolve. “A truck drove through my head/ Now I’m dead.” Glass Fish veers between childlike wonder and modern alienation, and as the album ends it finally finds its surprisingly bleak direction.

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