It's hard to pin down what it is that makes pop music … well, pop,
especially as it's become more of a genre signifier mired in a specific song structure, rather than than actually being popular. It's a question that doesn't stump Mag Kim, founder and primary songwriter of Albuquerque band Gerunding, but it does cause a pause in the conversation. In a way, "pop" is the perfect descriptor for the band's sound, which is admittedly nebulous, though built with the familiar song blueprint of verses, bridges and choruses.
"Every aspect is very intentional," says Kim, whose careful songwriting tends to explore facets of identity, culture and personal struggle while anchored to strong melodies and glittering, unbridled guitar.
Kim describes the concept of Gerunding's upcoming debut full-length as being conceptual—not in any operatic sense, but as a thematically cohesive work in three acts.
"All of the titles are what's known as 'semantic gaps,'" Kim explains, referring to words in one language that do not have a direct translation in another. "I was the first person in my family to be born here. And so for me, culturally, I am American and also Korean. When I go back to Korea, it's pretty obvious, and they have a word for that, like 'foreigner,' but it's a specific kind of foreigner, y'know?"
This is the basis of "Gyuppo," a new-ish song available in demo-only form on Gerunding's Bandcamp page (gerunding.bandcamp.com) for those who download the EP. It's a sprawling number that delves into feelings of displacement and detachment as well as into some of Kim's complicated feelings toward being raised in a religious household, specifically as a Christian.
"In my teens I thought I was the antichrist," he sings on "Gyuppo," setting up an apocalyptic verse that crashes into the song's rumbling outro, replete with shoegaze and dream-pop tones. Other songs, such as "Makjang," deal with further personal issues, such as drug use and its consequences, but what sets Kim's lyrics apart is his erudite use of language and imagery. Each word
works as a simplified entry point for more complicated explorations of identity and human experience.
Kim says Gerunding's sound evolved from these demos, which he recorded with a former bandmate as a duo. The current lineup boasts a more fleshed-out sound, however, with bassist Kyle Ruggles from Albuquerque psych-rock band Nuzzle and Prism Bitch drummer Teresa Esguerra.
Kim is self-deprecating in venerating his bandmates.
"I kind of feel like I'm hiding myself behind two shields of musical ingenuity," he says, though his guitar work and vocals are easily strong enough to stand up alongside Ruggles' and Esguerra's chops. Still, Kim feels the music itself is simple and based on formulas, hence the descriptor "pop." But the Beach Boys were ostensibly a pop band, and that made for no less complexity in their arrangements. Gerunding's music is more stripped-down than Brian Wilson and company, granted, but it doesn't feel proper to claim it's just pop music.
"In my head, I'm just following the formula," Kim tells SFR. "I'm just doing one verse-to-bridge-to-chorus, and kind of changing it up a little bit and making small alterations."
Kim draws parallels to classical music with its repetitions and alterations of motifs within longer movements. Such attention to detail and musical know-how reveals what makes the songs a bit headier than the usual
verse-chorus-verse pop fare.
"What drives me insane with the idea of pop or, like, Imagine Dragons is that at this point of history, we have so much to steal from and to be inspired by," says Kim. "How, out of all of that's available to us, are we still sticking to the four power chord, drum, bass and clapping bridge breakdown? You know what I mean?"
I do know. And that's why I'm grateful for bands like Gerunding to break up the monotony.
Gerunding with Ritual Talk and Future Scars
8 pm Tuesday June 11. Free.
Second Street Brewery (Rufina Taproom),
2920 Rufina St.,