Heymun – ‘HYMN’ review: An ambient rebirth with an organic twist

Malaysian artist completes her transformation with new album

Heymun has described her record ‘HYMN’ as a book, with each track a different chapter. The metaphor may seem innocuous: the Malaysian-born, Australian-based artist was in a dark place emotionally while she was writing ‘HYMN’, and experimenting with modular synths while completing this record helped her find a way out of it. The beauty of the conceit, though, lies in just how accurately it captures the record, not just thematically, but also sonically.

Written, recorded and produced by Heymun, ‘HYMN’ is the showpiece closer of a triune of records (the other two being her 2018 self-titled record and 2019’s ‘1:11’). It concludes a three-year process where Heymun deconstructed the artist that she once was and became the artist she is today. Her acoustic guitar appears permanently tucked away in her closet, a relic from her early days as a folky singer-songwriter, replaced by the Teenage Engineering’s OP-1 and POM-400 Modular Synth.

Those modular synths, plus the Moog Grandmother, were her main instruments of choice on this record. ‘HYMN’ showcases Heymun’s move away from traditional songwriting tropes and structures, with tracks such as ‘In The Dark’ starting like a song but eventually ending up as more of a collection of parallel sounds.

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Like a good book, ‘HYMN’ does not follow a predictable linear narrative. Instead, each track fleshes out a specific emotional aspect of the tale. ‘Starting Yet Again’ is the record’s emotional core: the point of the book when the story becomes clearer and the reader becomes more emotionally invested. The track is anchored by a floating piano line as her breathy delivery slow-dances with the cooing synths behind it, creating a soft textural canvas. It’s left-field, but still relatable to people who are less familiar with ambient music.

Closer ‘Need Some Air’ does seem to end things on an ambiguous note, with its bubbling synth hum barely intelligible against Heymun’s repetitive lyrical mantra: “Take me up, I need some air”. It provides a sense of conclusion not just to the artist she was before, but also ends the record on an emotionally heavy note that lingers, like the rich aftertaste of a good whiskey.

Heymun’s presence on her record is more like an impression: instead of acting as focal points, her voice and words serve more as an accompaniment to the instrumental textures, like she’s trying to find an escape from the humming sonic mist around her. She has described the process of composing these songs as “something she gets lost in sometimes”, at one point closing her eyes and imagining she was touching sound while manipulating her synthesizer.

Heymun fundamentally still aims for an organic connection between her, her composition and the listener. While she has in the process of making this record managed to largely dismantle her more traditional songwriting instincts, she has also retained just the right amount to sweeten her new approach. That tranquil marriage between her more soulful songwriting nuances with her newfound experiments with technology is what makes ‘HYMN’ a joyous listen from start till the end.

Details

Heymun album HYMN review Malaysia Australia
  • Release date: October 25
  • Record label: Independent
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