Akdong Musician have always seemed older than their years, bringing a sense of world-weary maturity to even their lightest pop songs. Since their first album in 2014, they’ve been going from strength to strength on the back of older sibling Lee Chanhyuk’s brilliant songwriting. And with The Tree (나무), they’ve brought that idiosyncratic vision to new territory, teaming with veteran singer Yang Hee Eun.
In some ways, The Tree feels like a passing of the torch. AKMU have appeared with Hee Eun before, and from a musical standpoint, the two acts compliment each other well. Hee Eun’s powerful vocals seem as if they’re rooted in some deep, intangible folk magic. The same can be said about AKMU’s melodies and arrangements. And while The Tree doesn’t necessarily conform to many of the norms of pop music (and especially k-pop), its emotional, hypnotic soundscape bears its own rewards.
The Tree‘s entire first verse and chorus are Hee Eun’s to tackle, and her brilliant tone cuts through like a knife, instantly pulling the listener in by way of its stark sincerity. It isn’t until the halfway mark when Chanhyuk and Suhyun join in, their voices blending in a series of gorgeous harmonies as the instrumental swells with a dramatic mix of piano and strings. It’s at this point that the track begins to take on a more dreamlike quality, forgoing pop song repetition for something built more strongly on emotion. It’s not a track that will appeal to everyone, but The Tree is a good reminder that bubblegum hooks and dance breakdowns aren’t the only way to power an effective k-pop release.