Hyunhye Seo Credit: Courtesy the artist

Hyunhye Seo, also known as Angela Seo, has been a member of inscrutable experimental-rock band Xiu Xiu since 2009, providing synths, piano, and vocals to flesh out their consistently beguiling, unsettling sound. On her debut solo record, Strands (Room40), Seo conjures discomfort in new ways, trading in Xiu Xiu’s outré pop grotesqueries for two 18-minute pieces, one of ambience and the other of solo piano. “Strands I” starts off surreptitiously, with a low, nondescript hum that quietly grows. The desolate atmosphere at play in the track’s oscillating electronics gives off the constant sense that we’re all by our lonesome, forced to confront our inner demons. The text that accompanies the album bolsters this cryptic feeling: Seo describes strands of her hair turning up everywhere she’s been, serving as unpleasant reminders of regrettable decisions and past selves. Moments of relative peace occasionally arise as the track progresses, with gongs and other percussion creating foggy drones, but any serenity is short-lived; the song’s serpentine flow ensures that no moment of solace lasts long. “Strands II,” the piano piece, is even more anxiety inducing. Its ambulatory melodies feel like they’re in constant search of an ending, and they’re shrouded in just enough reverb to create a hazy, disorienting environment—a feeling that’s intensified when piano notes coalesce into a cloud of groggy clanging. Halfway through the track, Seo repeatedly taps a single key and lets it fade into nothing. After a pause, she moves into passages that make astute use of silence, where the negative space creates as much tension as her piano playing. The two pieces on Strands are two sides of the same coin: Seo can capture the ominous with whatever tools she employs.   v