I spotted this some time ago and it has been on th long list of albums to review, having not full listened to it. Having done so now, I have some regrets in not having given this my full attention sooner. Mid-Air Thief, from Korea, are seemingly something of an anomaly in a sea of K-Pop.
It uncovers a more underground and avant-garde culture that we’ve found a challenge to discover.
There are still some of the powerful synthesized sounds we are used to hearing but there is an airy subtlety to what they do, yet it’s glitchy and immediate too.
Take the breathy vocal stylings on Animal Collective’s fabulous Prospect Hummer EP, the folky electronica of The Books or perhaps Four Tet, and the quirky glitches and synth squelches and indie pop sensibilities of Cornelius and you are somewhere in the right ballpark.
Opener 왜? (Why?) segues from lush folksy dream pop into a cartoonish electronic section, before the two elements combine. It’s magical.
Unlike a lot of chill-wave (shudder) style music, Mid-Air Thief stays on point. 쇠사슬 (Ahhhh, These Chains!) breezes along on a stunning melody, with pitch shifting synth sounds. The shimmering guitars and a subtle playfulness really could be Shugo Tokumaru if you didn’t know.
The sound production is fascinating with bit crushed and watery sounds merging and phasing.
Even making time for a stop-start guitar section. 감은 듯 (Gameun Deut) is full of interesting textures, guitars that sound like they have been recorded on scratched vinyl, bursts of indiepop, shifting phases, glockenspiels and oscillating synths. It’s almost fitting of the Beach Boys’ Smile at points, with several sections, a psychedelic edge and returning phrases.
곡선과 투과광 (Curve and Light) takes off like a dance track, shifts the focus onto calypso pop, then introduces woozy keyboard parts before breaking down into a reflective vocal. More strange keyboards and skittering percussion then accompany and build to a climax before it all fades out.
함께 무너지기 (Crumbling Together) is the album’s magnum opus. A slow building folk song, that builds into a phasing, Panda Bear-esque, swirling section. It picks up pace, introduces Beatles style backwards strings and shifts in and out of clarity.
수호자 (Protector) introduces some really dirty bass production when it gets going. There’s Shugo Tokumaru style syncopation, and more fabulous string parts. It’s gorgeous.
흙 (Dirt) really ramps up some of the pitch bending, to the point that it shouldn’t really work. But it does, oh so well.
It almost sounds like A Moon Shaped Pool era Radiohead in some of it’s more instrumental sections.
The vocal melodies are like Brian Wilson at his most creative, and we don’t say this lightly.
Closing track 무소식 (No Answer), also the shortest track on the album, is perhaps the most straight forward song here, but provides a fitting ending.
The obvious and cliched thing to say here is that this is Korea’s answer to OK Computer, but we won’t… even though we just did. This is a masterpiece and deserves a full international release.
You may enjoy this if you like: Animal Collective, Panda Bear, Shugo Tokumaru, Cornelius, Radiohead, Four Tet, The Books, The Album Leaf.