Subtlety isn’t often celebrated.
By its very nature, it provides supportive elements to music, meant to add taste and restraint in an otherwise often brash and loud world of sound.
On his latest single, “Lemon,” released July 6 on an album bearing the same name, South Korean singer-songwriter Sun Jong Pyo employs subtlety to his great advantage. Whereas he had ample opportunity to go over the top, Sun chooses to cruise at a low altitude. The result is sleek, thoughtful and unobtrusive.
Sun made his name as the singer of the Seoul-based post-punk band Disorder, formerly known as Eloise. While that band has been quiet as of late, “Lemon” only, adds to a body of work Sun’s been accumulating over the past years that brushes against the spheres of fashion, dance and technology.
Compared to the Day-Glo sounds of contemporary K-pop, “Lemon” is several notches removed in its approach. The synthetic string sections and unaggressive drumming bring to mind the stylish compositions of the French duo Air, a very favorable comparison in my eyes.
The composition communicates a directness that is rewarding in its unhurried approach.
Most songs opt to allow a brief instrumental introduction to usher in a mood. Again, Sun zigs where others might zag. He begins singing at the song’s outset. This might seem aggressive under other circumstances, but here, it creates a feeling of urgency. The gravity of the song is apparent from the first downbeat.
Much of Korean pop music relies on an investment in melodrama, going back to the early days of the “trot” genre. Sun’s vocal approach is a refreshing contrast–although the song communicates melancholy and weight, his voice is unaffected and direct, allowing the emotion to be self-evident rather than tawdry or overly effusive.
The chorus of “Lemon” features an elegant melodic arc that could’ve easily been milked for melismatic emphasis. Instead, Sun keeps his cool. The result is calming rather than cloying, and helps to maintain the song’s modern veneer.
Although the song is patient and drifting in its mid-tempo momentum, it’s also highly focused. Very little time is spent without a vocal melody and the song makes economical use of its three-minute runtime. It’s so highly stylized that it’s almost too slick.
Yet somehow, “Lemon” manages to maintain its emotional integrity.
Watch the music video for the Sun Jong Pyo song “Lemon” 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.