Apparently, middle school sucks just as bad in North Korea. Pyha, who made The Haunted House at 14, conveys this well enough to live up to an epic backstory. As if (a) youth, and (b) axis of evil imprimatur weren't enough to crush/beatify him, tUMULt's release of The Haunted House came after a years-long search for the artist by owner Andee Connors, who bought this record at random while on vacation. (Full story here.)
The Haunted House sounds otherworldly rather than foreign. Recorded on a 4-track and deeply blown out, it could be the soundtrack for the aftermath of a disaster. (The liner notes are photos of rows of bodies.) Pyha plays black guitar and howls. There are sometimes voices of children or choirs, and what appears to be the same drum-machine loop continues over many songs. It's kind of outsider and retarded, but also deeply and truly sad. It resembles black metal in that it presents deep vulnerability in cold and dark tones, but Pyha projects himself through the gloom and makes it personal. Melodrama is acceptable in the young.
I can't imagine Pyha live. The mark of bedroom recording is a critical part of the experience here, like we're hearing someone cry into his pillows. Nor can I employ New Criticism and assess the work apart from its story. Nor is anyone likely to buy this record in the U.S. without knowing all about it. This makes The Haunted House more like an artifact than an album; we have so little contact with North Korea that ephemera stand in for any kind of whole understanding. That's a huge thing to ask of a musician, but also makes the work in its particulars refractory to deep analysis.
Pyha is quite a bit older now, possibly 20. tUMULt has more of his early discs to release, though I’d rather hear what he’s making now. He seems to be a person who feels deeply, and since this diary of his adolescence stands up so well to public airing, his adult art must be somewhat interesting.