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AKMU breaks away from ‘bubbly’ image after two-year hiatus

By Yim Hyun-su

  • Published : Sept 25, 2019 - 16:09
  • Updated : Sept 25, 2019 - 16:09

Sibling duo back to fill much-needed gap in industry with signature acoustic sound

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(YG Entertainment)
It’s been nearly two years since the band’s frontman Lee Chan-hyuk joined the Marine Corps, putting their career on hiatus. Now a few months after being discharged in May, AKMU, also known as Akdong Musician, is back with the pair’s third studio album, “Sailing,” the latest in their shared career spanning six years, set for release Wednesday.

With 10 tracks, the record features motifs such as breakups and the sea, as evident in the titles including lead single “How Can I Love the Heartbreak, You’re The One I Love.”

The piano-heavy track first came to light when Chan-hyuk performed an earlier version of the song at a festival in 2017, going for a minimal approach with a simpler arrangement.

The song opens with Su-hyun’s soft voice coupled with lingering piano riffs before reserved yet powerful string arrangements kick in to add weight to the general solemn tone of the track.

“We performed the song about two years ago at Someday Festival and since then the song has been chosen as the title track. I was on a ship when I was in the Marine Corps and my experience then has spilled over into my album,” Chan-hyuk said during the press showcase Wednesday.

He also said his experience sailing on a ship as well as philosophy inspired him to write songs about topics often discussed in everyday life but neglected in the music industry: freedom and the environment, for instance.

“Most of the tracks were written on a ship and you can tell with the titles like ‘Sailor’s Song’ and ‘A Fish in Water.’ I wrote ‘Endless Night’ while I was feeling seasick,” Chan-hyuk said as he reminisced on his time on a ship for nearly a month.

“With no guitar, I had to write the songs with just a pen and a notepad which meant that I had to write down the lyrics and melodies and just try to remember them by singing repeatedly.”

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(YG Entertainment)
While her older brother was in the military, Su-hyun said she also worked on herself to meet the promise the siblings made that when they reunited, they would have become more mature.

“I came in touch with many emotions while living as a member of society alone. I took music lessons as well as working on not just my vocal skills but how to better express emotions through singing,” the younger half of the duo said.

It’s not just the album, a book is also on the way. “A Fish in Water,” taking its name from a new track written by Chan-hyuk, is to be released Thursday.

What motivated him to write the book is that he wanted to create something that would stand the test of time.

“Trends change, as well as people’s perceptions. There is a revolution taking place, all of which are the signs of the times. And I thought of what could remain unchanged with everything that’s going on. Since I’m not confident that I could express myself well with spoken words, I decided to express myself through the book and the album,” he said.

Looking back on their discography since they stepped into the music scene with the debut album “Play” in 2014, some of the biggest hits from the “K-pop Star” winners were more upbeat tracks such as “Give Love,” a cheerful pop rock number, or electronic dance music-tinged midtempo track “Dinosaur.”

As an album, however, “Sailing” is a departure from the usual “bubbly” image Chan-hyuk says the duo has felt pressured to stick to, and is a step toward a “more mature” sound.

“While Su-hyun’s bubbly persona has worked well for AKMU, it’s true that I tried hard to live up to that image. Though I had to compromise in the past, I got to fully express myself with the new album,” Chan-hyuk said.

The duo is also set to stage a free concert Sunday night at Mulbit Stage in Yeouido Hangang Park in Seoul, which will be broadcast online.

By Yim Hyun-su (hyunsu@heraldcorp.com)