K-Pop Beyond The Charts is a weekly review column highlighting Korea's modern day musical innovators who have yet to find mainstream success.
In pop music, every step an artist takes towards complexity is potentially a step away from success.
"Keep it simple, stupid" has been a well-served motto in a field that has rewarded the lowest-common-denominator artistry of your Lil Jons or Keshas.
Which makes Korean duo From the Airport's efforts all the more commendable. On the group's single "Flying Walls," from their debut full-length, the evocatively-titled "You Could Imagine," released on Jan. 9, the electronic rock act deliver the pop goods without sacrificing thoughtful song craft.
Formed in 2012, the mono-monikered multi-instrumentalists Milo and Zee have gained plenty of popularity on the strength of early singles "Colors" and "Timelines." But this latest offering is something different for the band.
Stylistically, From the Airport pick and choose from prevalent trends from the past few decades.
The verse's tense palm-muted guitar, juxtaposed with a half-time stomp from the drums, wouldn't have been out of place on a boneheaded nü metal single. However, the song's comparatively delicate synthesizer swirls suggest a throwback to the so-called "New Romantic" sounds of featherweight '80s acts like A Flock of Seagulls or Duran Duran. Meanwhile, a rude interruption of EDM-style bass pops its head in sporadically. This all serves to illustrate that these aesthetic choices are more or less interchangeable. The stylistic choices are secondary.
But what really makes the song strong is the writing.
Each section of "Flying Walls" refuses to be contained by a single chord progression. The grungy tension of the verses is cut by a thoughtful pre-chorus that disrupts the rhythmic dirge with a smattering of syncopation. The chords move in unpredictable directions, until eventually moving skyward with increasingly exciting ascending motion.
That said, it never approaches unnecessary ornamentation. This is simply artful composition that doesn't sacrifice a whit of pop sheen. It's just smart songwriting.
Similarly, the chorus doesn't sit still. It's divided into two equally catchy portions, rather than simply repeating one idea ad nauseam. It's a risky move given the success rate of pop songs that latch onto a single motif and repeat it until it's beaten half to death. From the Airport perform it with gusto and it really works.
As if to show off, they even leave the listener hanging on the last chord--a suspension, whereas any normal song would meekly resolve.
It's the end of this particular musical landscape...or is it?
Watch the music video for From the Airport's 2015 single "Flying Walls" RIGHT HERE
Jeff Tobias is a composer, musician and writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. As of late, he has been studying arcane systems of tuning and working on his jump shot.