As we approach April, the signs of spring are everywhere – the birds are singing, the sun is shining, flowers are blooming and Busker Busker are booming out of speakers across Korea. Aside from the nation’s spring anthem, “Cherry Blossom Ending”, Busker Busker’s discography is full of romantic, whimsical tunes perfect for soundtracking your spring days, so I’m here to bring you some of the best of their B-sides.
Composed of guitarist and vocalist Jang Beom-jun, bassist Kim Hyung-tae and drummer Brad Moore, Busker Busker released no small number of iconic songs during their short two years together as a band. We last covered them six years ago(!), and while they haven’t released anything since, it’s interesting to see which songs have stood the test of time, remaining classics even now.
Catapulted to success through Superstar K3, the trio released two studio albums and one EP before disbanding, leaving frontman Jang Beom-jun to continue their musical legacy as a one-man act. As the guitarist, vocalist, songwriter and all-round brain of the band, to speak of Busker Busker is pretty much to speak of Jang Beom-jun.
Navigating between high and low notes with ease, his brassy, vibrato-laden warbling tone is instantly recognisable. As a songwriter, his work has a mysteriously addictive quality, bridging indie, folk and pop with melodies that are easy to sing along to and lyrics that are charmingly innocent. A very creative and able guitarist, he populates his songs with chirpy, twirling riffs that are as expressive as his vocals, supported by equally lively drums and bass.
Their first album, aptly titled Busker Busker 1st Album (2012), was arguably their strongest. With a theme of spring, the album contains a vibrant array of sprightly tunes, including the iconic “Cherry Blossom Ending”, as well as gems like “Ideal Type”, “First Love” and “The Flowers”. It also features the gorgeous ballad, “Yeosu Night Sea”, one of my personal favourite songs from the band:
Doubtless the best ballad of their discography, “Yeosu Night Sea” paints a picture of a peaceful walk along the beach at night in Yeosu, a city on the southern coast of South Korea:
The Yeosu night sea
There is a beautiful story underneath this light
I want to let you hear it so I call you – you ask what I’m doing?
I’m at the Yeosu night sea
The Yeosu night sea
With a gentle, waltzing rhythm, the song begins with a simple acoustic guitar and gradually builds momentum, before coming to a crescendo with an epic electric guitar solo. Pensive and beautiful, “Yeosu Night Sea” showed that they were capable of writing compelling, heartfelt ballads as well as quirky, light-hearted songs, and it has remained one of my favourites since its release.
They followed up their first album with Busker Busker 1st Wrap Up Album, a five-track EP released later that year. While this and their second (and final) album, Busker Busker 2nd Album, both contain strong tracks, they are noticeably weaker than their predecessor. There are moments where it feels like their arrangements aren’t as light on their feet, their ballads are more melodramatic and Jang Beom-jun’s vocals more overbearing.
Still, there’s no shortage of highlights; their EP features the whimsical “Showers”, as well as a lovely guitar rendition of the title track “If You Really Love Me”, closing the EP on a more poignant note. Busker Busker 2nd Album, meanwhile, follows up the first album’s spring theme with a more melancholy, autumnal feel, captured in the album’s title track, “Love, At First”.
While it features several sombre ballads in a similar vein, thankfully the album doesn’t forgo the vivacity of Busker Busker 1st Album. Songs like “Your Lips” (featuring Chae Ji-yeon) and “Beautiful Age” offer more light-hearted and playful songwriting, with fun, stop-and-start instrumentation and amusingly innocent lyrics:
I like being with you, how do you feel when you’re with me?
We’re still at the stage where this kind of night feels awkward
So we’re still at a beautiful age
A large part of what makes Busker Busker’s music enjoyable is the fantastic song arrangement. Simple and unfussy, their songs often plait together as few as three instruments – drums, bass and guitar, with the occasional keyboard or harmonica. Vocally, the songs are just as bare – perhaps due to Jang Beom-jun’s distinctive singing tone, their songs rarely have any backing vocals or harmonies, and it’s easy to imagine these songs sounding exactly the same (if not better) live. These elements – drums, bass, guitar and vocals – communicate and quip amongst one another in an almost dialogue-like exchange, making the overall arrangement fun, memorable and a vital part of the song’s identity.
Busker Busker’s distinctive mix of quaint charm and romantic sentimentality makes their music effortlessly timeless. Six years on, their albums sound as new as if they were released yesterday, and it’s no wonder their music has remained relevant even years after disbanding.
While I’ve attempted to choose stand-outs from their discography, their albums work best as complete listening experiences in and of themselves. Their instrumental interludes (such as the orchestral openers, “Spring Wind” and “Autumn Evening”) are particularly lovely, and help weave their songs together into stories, intensifying the overall mood and emotion. Refreshing, romantic and full of life, their albums make for perfect spring listening, and there’s no doubt they’ll be accompanying many a romantic’s spring for years yet.
(YouTube . Lyrics via Pop!Gasa. Images via CJ E&M, Chungchun Music.)