Every once in a while, among the hordes of wannabe Mac Demarcos and uninspired Tame Impala clones, a gem pops up on Bandcamp. One recent such gem called Crumbling comes from South Korea. An album by the group Mid-Air Thief, it seems to have received literally no promotion until it suddenly gained traction on internet fora such as RateYourMusic. No interviews with the group exist, and the Bandcamp page features little else other than a thank you message in Korean. However, the album itself is a breath of fresh air and one of the strongest, most unique releases of 2018.
Despite its lo-fi aesthetic, the album is actually impeccably produced. For the most part, it is rather straightforward indie folk or pop, but its best moments come from the points it transitions into more psychedelic territory. The opening track “Why” is the best example of this. It begins with a minute of your standard acoustic strumming and breathy vocals before entering a powerful chorus backed up by a variety of synthesizers. The track quickly deconstructs, spending the following three minutes with synth glitches crossing back and forth between both channels, eventually accompanied by the lead singer’s wordless vocals and an irregular drum pattern.
The second track, “These Chains,” is the album’s strongest. It constantly experiments with its own core melody, eschewing traditional structure and also using different ranges to heighten the effects of the psychedelic flourishes. Moreover, unlike most lackluster examples of psychedelic rock, the psychedelic moments are not there for the sake of existing, but rather to complement and enhance the main melody extremely well.
Influences from all over pop up in this album; from Animal Collective to Cocteau Twins to Real Estate and Grizzly Bear. Crumbling manages to synthesize these influences into a whole that is even more layered and intricate. Even after multiple listens, there are little details to notice, especially during the breakdowns such as the second half of the track “Curve and Light.” Its brightest moments remind me closely of Real Estate’s “Days,” which also contains several moments where the band “locks in” and creates a rare moment of bliss.
Crumbling is the quintessential fall album in all aspects, with even the album art contributing to the necessity to listen to it on a cloudy day at the beach or a misty morning. It is creatively produced and an increasingly rare example of psychedelia with actual pop sensibilities done right.