I think it’s telling how we humans, as complex as we are, find ourselves in a constant search of the uncertain – specifically pertaining to how the innate drive to learn manifests itself into the desire to understand others. Music has provided a perfect vehicle to further explore this feeling since time immemorial, but there is still much to uncover when it comes to the human psyche. Still, that doesn’t stop us from being curious because, at the end of the day, we are all social beings that want some sense of belonging in this ever-changing world. Our latest Weekly Featured Artistcotoba, strive to delve into these thoughts and examine how they are communicated through their craft.

Consisting of Dafne (guitars/production), DyoN (vocals/guitars), Hyerim (bass), and Minsuh (drums), cotoba is a Seoul-based rock act formed in 2018 whose musical stylings they describe as ‘odd-meter music with fascinating melody, with enormous energy on the stage’ and as ‘math/post-rock, with songs about emotions that aren’t often addressed in songs‘. This last line especially rings true to their ethos as a band, ultimately influencing their sound by putting an emotional spin to the angularity usually characterized by the genre:

Dafne: ‘The ultimate goal in our music is to express the beauty and darkness that I think about. I have been trying to capture the sadness of loss in my music and make it beautiful. That beauty is defined within me.

Minsuh: ‘Our music may feel unfamiliar at first, but if you attempt to listen to it, there will be no other special music like this.

Of course, math rock is not a stranger to melodies or having an emotional weight to it – look no further than bands like tricot and TTNG. What I find fascinating, though, is how cotoba have such a defined philosophical vision in a way that is succinctly expressed through their music and performance. This is not something that had been developed throughout their run as band either, as even the concept behind their very name further ponders on the very nature of humanity, particularly when it comes to language and how we articulate feelings such as loss, beauty, and connection:

DyoN: cotoba means word/language in Japanese. There are many emotions that cannot be expressed through word and languages we possess, especially related to the feeling of loss. Our music translates those feelings into music. For that reason, we did not have many lyrics when we made our first debut unlike now. And as a vocalist, I still insist ‘let’s make instrumental songs without lyrics or vocals‘! hahaha.’

Dafne:Humans are the only ones on Earth who communicate in many different languages. I think that’s terribly sublime and lonely. Even if we speak the same language, each human being has a different linguistic meaning. And that’s the reason for this loneliness. But those humans form a society and live in it. It’s very interesting. And that’s why I’m so curious about how the language we’re expressing will reach out to our listeners. We’re speaking to our own listeners in our own language. Humans are as individual and unique as we can call each other ‘the universe’. The language of cotoba is lonely like the blue planet Earth, and it’s a curious message to other human beings.’

Hyerim:I think there are emotions that cannot be expressed in words, and sometimes people feel lonely because of that. Personally, I hope I can understand those emotions and express them through my playing. I hope people who listen to cotoba‘s music feel a little less lonely.

Minsuh:For me, with this meaning of our name, I consider it important to do music that can give people something.

It was through math rock, then, that cotoba deemed fit to tackle the ambiguity that bring these often difficult emotions to face with and, in turn, instill some sense of hope and unity to those who come across their songs. Fittingly enough, the band particularly took inspiration from the colorful yet wistful musings of Japanese math rock, as the band comments on the songs and artists that sparked their fondness for that specific sound:

DyoN: tricot – “blue”! Before listening to that song, I had a stereotype that math rock is noisy, a little bit showoff-y, only focused on math itself. But the song was truly touching with an emotional vibe and mathy parts that were being used to express that emotion, which I was doing! One of my songs that was written before I found out about math rock, was using 5/8 polyrhythm to elaborate my vulnerable feelings. The song of mine and theirs were the same in that way, and it was the beginning of me loving math rock.

Minsuh:The first song that attracted me to math rock was toe‘s “Kodoku no hatsumei”. It was music without any lyrics, but I felt something deeply resonated through its harmony and beat. It was a fascinating experience because until that time, I had understood the theme of music mainly through lyrics. So it was a moment when I recognized the new possibility of music.

Dafne: ‘At first, the charm of this genre was that it had less vocals. It also creates a lot of sounds from my favorite instruments: Telecaster or Jazzmaster. It was also attractive that there were few cases of traditional rock sound. I liked its anomalous directional features rather than the other music with a definite answer. The patterns of drumming that were divided into small pieces were also interesting. I enjoyed listening to the music of the bands toe, tricot and, as a guitarist, TK and Kinoko Teikoku gave me great influence.

These influences can certainly be appreciated on their 2019 debut release Form Of Tongue. Although the EP only consists of four songs, it nevertheless feels intentional and dynamic, with instrumentation that manages to showcase a healthy balance between groove, technicality, and atmosphere. The first two songs pose as traditional math rock instrumentals: The opener “odori” is fiery regardless of its two minute length – with passages that sway between electric staccatos and a tasteful guitar solo – while “oatmeal” pulls back a bit without losing any technical heft, its pacing feeling like a breeze where you can really appreciate the surprisingly clean and airy sound coming from each instrument. The following two songs, “frittata” and “Disparition”, introduce the vocals in a manner that seems very natural, adding an ethereal yet punchy quality to the music that ultimately reveals a musical chemistry that works right from the start.

All things considered, Form Of Tongue would eventually symbolize the foundation of cotoba‘s current musical language. The band is fully aware of this, as the EP would prove to be a testing ground for each member to bounce off of each other’s ideas and emotions at the time:

Dafne: ‘Form Of Tongue is an early version of the language of cotoba and can be described as the beginning. Each song may seem lacking in relevance, but it is meaningful that it contains various expressions that cotoba could do at the time. I think the album received more attention than I expected because it was an uncommon genre in Korea. There were quite a variety of reviews and analyses related to the album from highly positive perspectives.

With Form Of Tonguecotoba have garnered chart placements, won various awards, and set foot on important stages in Korea, eventually gaining international attention and having a spot on the Glastonbury Music Festival back in 2020. Due to the looming presence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent worldwide lockdown, however, it did not go through, prompting a series of examinations that influenced the releases of the band’s following EPs Name of The Seasons and Since the World is About to End.

As we’ve witnessed with countless of other artists, the pandemic brought a standstill that obligated everyone to reflect upon the current state of things. Sure enough, cotoba partook in this exercise that not only found themselves pondering on the world and the fragility of time itself, but also created a space for them to hone their musical sensibilities and strengthen the chemistry between each other. As a result, both EPs feel much more expansive in comparison to their debut effort, which led me to ask whether this was an intentional creative decision and, given the context they’ve provided, it all makes sense:

DyoN:There are many reasons (as to the sound of the two EPs), but in my personal point of view, this change was drawn by the growing chemistry of members, and that is the beautiful part of doing a band. In Form of Tongue we could not wait to present our music to the world so we were focused on ‘doing it’ and we were very new, so chemistry was not fully developed. For the second and third albums, we were able to focus on ‘what can we do together?’ while making them, each play affected the other member as a chemical spark, which made more abundant musical and emotional expressions.

Dafne:It was a conscious choice. First of all, I thought I wanted to make a wider range of music as a producer. Emotional expansion as a creator also contributed to this style change. With continuous releases of albums, cotoba‘s language has expanded its expression from ‘the occurrence and beginning of language’ to ‘individuals with language’ and ‘the world in which individuals with language exist’. As I came to express the ‘world’, I became interested in the despair of the ‘present world’. For example, environmental pollution, war, and an opaque future due to hunger which is the theme of Since the World is About to End.’

With a total of six songs (two of them being Japanese versions of tracks “reyn” and “summer Daytime”), Name of the Seasons picks up where Form of Tongue left off, further expanding the cotoba language with a more vivid sound palette that is both urgent and enveloping. Also immediately noticeable is how the arrangements feel much more patient, producing some of the band’s highlights like the build up to the explosive and atmospheric mid section on the aforementioned “reyn”, or the way each instrument slowly lock into an infectious groove throughout “Warm Salad”.

With Since the World is About to End, we can see how this language the band had been developing further crystallized and truly formed an identity of its own; a sense of confidence that candidly exudes from all the songs despite the rather heavy concept surrounding it. From the soaring vocal delivery on opening track “melon” and the psychedelic reveries on “Rescapé”, to the restraint beautifully demonstrated on “Things we looking for” and “goodnight Lilith”, Since the World is About to End is cotoba at their most sharp, displaying power and grace midst a point in time that seemed to foster a hopelessness so overbearing that a way out was nearly impossible to think of.

Now, hear me out: “oatmeal”, “frittata”, “melon”, and even standalone singles that sport out titles such as “curry” and “Orangette”… It’s generally known that food is a great judgement of character – a sure-fire way to really get to know someone even on a deep level. Considering cotoba‘s appeal to language and its impact on the way we understand human nature, I felt the need to ask on whether some of their food-related song titles were chosen deliberately. Well, turns out that there’s no deep meaning behind these titles –  food is simply just good for the soul and I am absolutely all about that:


Hyerim: ‘All the members like to eat, so it was a natural result I guess. I like the song “Warm Salad”.

Dafne: ‘There are two reasons why I personally gave songs food names. First, I like to eat. Second, I didn’t want to put a serious title on the songs.

You know what’s also titled after a food item (kind of)? Their debut full-length album 4pricøt. To add more, there is actually a cool concept behind the album title: 4pricøt is a literal culmination of the band’s sound thus far, comprising of eight tracks from previous outputs (some re-recorded) along with three new ones. Even though the ideas behind all these songs come from different iterations of the band, 4pricøt flows by beautifully, successfully presenting the full scope of their talents and sonic sensibilities.

Dafne: ‘This album was like a gift for our fans who supported us. 4pricøt is a word derived from apricot. Apricot is a fruit that has a sour or bitter taste rather than a sweetness. Personally, I think there is less sweet taste in cotoba songs. Thinking of releasing an album with songs that don’t contain sweetness made me imagine putting apricots in a basket. And I wanted to give that basket to our fans as a present. ‘

“Free Will” opens the album with the blissful sonic bursts I’ve come to associate the band with, channeling a spirited demeanor with a contemplative undertone that gives the song an aerial quality that is easily entrancing (which is also the case for the rest of their repertoire, honestly). This is true even with their more kinetic moments such as the insane drum-led break on the following track “kyrie”; the fact that the band is able to maintain a feel of finesse and composure in the seams of frenzied arrangements is what truly got me into them in the first place. “Love&Art” and “Loss” (a song firstly released as a single in 2019) touch upon their keenness for post-rock with emotive crescendoes and an overall compositional tact that reveals the intent and sincerity of their music:

DyoN: ‘…I can only say vaguely as this band has many void spaces in their heart, but is fiercely trying to heal those holes. And their effort has a power that heals mine (and the listener) too.

Shortly after the release of the absolutely gripping single “water blue indigo” early last year, cotoba would release their fourth EP Humanoid operational in November, which also signals the band’s current lineup. Ambitious is how I’d describe this latest output, as this time the band completely engages in creating a sci-fi narrative to their music to further expand their understanding of human motives and the broader human condition:

DyoN: ‘This album is an observation in the form of a musical record. In the distant future, human species lost and died in fratricidal conflicts and wars with artificial intelligence. The narrator of these songs is ‘kyrie’, the humanoid robot of the future after the extinction of mankind. ‘kyrie’ was sent to this century for the purpose of studying humans of the past, and lived in a society for a long time, then created 6 songs about the aspects of humans:

‘”Intro session: Humanoid operational” (what people are longing for; salvation)
“coii” (affection for others)
“Isolation” (solitude in society and dissociation of oneself)
“Forest of kyrie” (an organism of complex character)
“o se a” (the pursuit of a beautiful being)
“Wind from the west” (willingness to continue beyond generations, and hope that continues)’

Thus, Human operational is a compelling account on where we currently stand as a species and an earnest reminder that there exist ways to move forward through sheer collective perseverance. Each song is meticulous but fervently driving, and a testament to the band’s increasing determination to perfect their already-exceptional brand of spirited math rock. The passion displayed throughout “coii” is sublimely outlined through the perspective of a dystopian outlook that highlights the measures people take to desire and connect with others, making for an overall exhilarating performance. Or how there’s a tenderness to the otherwise animated cut “forest of kyrie” that acts as a synthesis to what the band ultimately aspires for, and that is to both meditate and celebrate the complexities abound in each one of us, with their music as the vessel to relish in every story, experience, and emotion we get to encounter in our lifetimes.

Along with another single release back in February that continues the band’s foray into story-driven efforts, I am happy to let know that there’s much to look forward to as the future is looking busy but very promising for cotoba, with tours overseas and even a new album in the works:

DyoN:This is confidential yet, but in Korea, we can meet on 21th April, 5th May, 17th May, 2nd June.

Hyerim: ‘I think I can look forward to meeting you in more places and in front of more people.

Minsuh: ‘We are planning to release a new album within this year, including a tour of Southeast Asia in the summer and a tour of Europe in the winter!

I can’t help but be excited for what’s to come for cotoba. Their musical journey so far has been an exponential stride with fantastic songs that manage to be simultaneously fun and thorough, with a sense of wisdom that is concise and wonderfully down-to-earth. As music fans, we are constantly exposed to innumerable languages, day and night, minute after minute. It can be overwhelming sometimes, but the knowledge and experiences we gain from them is enough to keep us afloat and with a fixed gaze towards better horizons. This, in essence, is cotoba, and I wholeheartedly encourage you to take some time and learn more about their particular but definitely inspiring math rock dialect.

As per WFA tradition, I will now leave you with some last words (and a curious little anecdote!) from this talented band:

DyoN: ‘I recently found a tiny slug inside of a bunch of green onions, and I was determined to keep and raise it regardless because I knew I would be very sad when it passes away in a few years. It ate a lot of dill, doubled in size, wriggled around its own place (a paper cup with a plastic wrap ceiling, little air hole at the center of it, classic home for a slug), and spent a beautiful week together. But 2 days ago, when I woke up in the bed, it was gone. Just gone. And I could not find its body yet. I was not ready for the farewell at all but it happened too soon, I am struggling with it. I really don’t want to make an attachment again, even for only a week.

Hyerim: ‘Thank you!

Dafne: ‘Thank you so much for supporting us.

Minsuh: ‘Thank you always for your support to keep doing music! We are doing our best to make good music and show you good performances! We look forward to meeting all the fans from all over the world someday!

cotoba is:

Dafne – guitars/production
DyoN – vocals/guitars
Hyerim – bass
Minsuh – drums

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