Mid Air Thief’s “Crumbling,” and The Beauty Of Music

What is music, if not just sound manipulated and meticulously arranged in a way that makes sense to the human brain? When you listen to a song, why does your brain conjure up emotion and create vivid images in your head to match the music? Though one could answer these questions scientifically, with facts and figures and studies outlining every little detail of the processes that cause our enjoyment of music, that would take the beauty out of it. Ultimately, we love music because of its abstract qualities, and through those its ability to portray emotions in ways that are unique to the listener. In the modern-day, many listeners seem to gravitate toward music that is either crushingly dejected or joyously uplifting, which is why it is so surprising that perfect fusions of the two styles, such as Mid-Air Thief’s Crumbling, are so overlooked. 

Mid-Air Thief is the name used by an anonymous artist in South Korea who started making music in 2012, switching between multiple pseudonyms before releasing the album Public Morality in 2015, followed up by Crumbling in 2018. Whether Mid-Air Thief is one person or a group is impossible to know, considering that they do everything in their power to make sure that their identity is kept a mystery. Crumbling was posted to streaming services with absolutely zero promotion or warning beforehand, with the only communication being a quick thank you message in Korean on Bandcamp, while emails addressed to singer Summer Soul, who does a portion of the vocals on the album, are labeled as from “Mr. Mid-Air Thief”. But this total anonymity is most certainly for the better, as the songs on Crumbling are better enjoyed without a face attached to them.

From the opening track “Why?”, it’s easy to tell that Crumbling is something special. Mid-Air Thief sings airily over an instrumental that transitions seamlessly from a psychedelic melody on the acoustic guitar into a whirlwind of shimmering synths, before returning to acoustics. The song ends on a sudden switch into a hyperactive drum beat topped with layers of bleeping keys, creating a mind-melting groove that burrows its way deep into a listener’s brain. Mid-Air Thief’s incredible talent is on display through this opening track alone. Every second of this relatively short song is produced absolutely seamlessly and is packed with a ridiculous number of little details to uncover, an endless number of tiny puzzle pieces to find and put together. But one of the most impressive aspects of Mid-Air Thief’s songwriting is their ability to perfectly convey and switch between completely opposing moods, ranging from depressed indifference to total euphoria while blending organic and electronic instruments in such a way that they melt together into one captivating, emotionally resonate whole. 

Even through a language barrier, Mid-Air Thief’s feelings of existential dread are unmistakable. Crumbling’s cover depicts a distant figure on a rocky beach, who could either be prodding the ground with a stick, or fishing. Behind them lies a lifeless ocean, while above the sky towers into infinity. It’s a striking image for how basic it is, a juxtaposition of a life, small and indiscernible, next to an incomprehensibly large universe in which they are nothing more than a speck of dust. But then, what does it matter to them? All that they’re focused on is their rod and the ocean in front of them. Similarly, the music on Crumbling is constantly shifting between bleak, stripped-down acoustics and maximalist electronics, though this dichotomy is most prominent on the lengthy opus “Crumbling Together”, where Mid-Air Thief’s lofi guitar and downtempo vocals are accompanied by blissful waves of bells, chimes, and synths that bubble up from nowhere, before receding into the ether just as fast as they came, leaving Mid-Air Thief alone in the darkness with nothing but their voice and guitar. The song ends on a shivering synth, the distant sound of bells that were once there now fading away in the distance. But even after the music has ended, the album’s jubilant melodies and jaw-dropping crescendos are bouncing off the walls of one’s brain, a true testament to just how transcendent a good piece of art can be.