Many have lamented that 2014 was officially the worst year of K-pop ever, with lawsuits, scandals, and the tragic losses of young lives in the industry. In light of all of this, it can be refreshing to turn our eyes away from the hot mess of K-pop and look instead at what a great year it’s been for the K-indie scene. Our writers already grappled to decide their favourite acts halfway through the year in our mid-year review, and have (just) managed to narrow down a list of favourites out of all the great indie artists active this year. With the wide variety of talent that our team loved, did any of your favourite K-indie acts appear on any of our lists?
|Big Phony/Sosim Boys
Hania: We’ve all got a rather eclectic mix of artists here! Seems like it’s been a good year for K-indie, with all this musical diversity.
10cm‘s new album has only just been released, yet it’s been my favourite indie record of the year, endlessly replaying in the background as the soundtrack to my writing. I’ve already got a soft spot for the duo, and the wonderful 3.0 exceeded my expectations. The strength of 3.0 is that it plays on their trademark style, which fans are used to, but also dares to experiment with new genres and to poke fun at themselves, like in “The Burden of a Third Album.” Similarly, their videos this year have been great, such as the cheeky video for “Sseudam Sseudam” and the simple and nostalgic “Missing You.” The two year hiatus has clearly paid off as they’ve returned with, what is to me, the greatest K-indie record of the year.
Camiele, you mentioned your list was quite similar to your mid-year list. Have your favourite indie acts been up to much since then that has cemented their position in your list? And Miyoko, what do you love about Goldmund that’s kept them at the top of your list?
Camiele: Firstly, I haven’t listened to 10cm’s new album yet. Shame on me, I know! As far as just quality and the excitement of the work, I haven’t heard anything really that’s surpassed what I heard earlier this year. ILLAP is on hiatus because the DJ enlisted this year. But their album is still one of the best hip-hop albums, period, this year for me.
small-o and Big Phony‘s albums are probably the most beautiful and sincerely, completely gorgeous pieces of work. I just added Sisom Boys because they’re an indie pop band, which I was totally not expecting. And their pop is on par with what’s out there, but there’s a decidedly more acoustic lean to it at times. Sima Kim stays active, and his work is always impressive to me.
So rather than being all completely active throughout the year, the albums they have released have just been above and beyond most for me. (But once I listen to 10cm, this list may change again.)
Miyoko: I think it’s funny we have zero overlap; just goes to show how many great indie artists there are.
I am a little surprised at myself that Goldmund managed to stay in the #1 spot, especially since both Crucial Star and Guckkasten released albums in the latter half of this year. Guckkasten was the group that actually got me into K-indie; more on them later. But Goldmund really surprised me; Unplanned Works was their first album, yet it is so cohesive and thoughtful. It’s electronic music that focuses on mixing, so there are a lot of unexpected twists in the songs. I was just so impressed with the album, and I’ve listened to it all year, so it has remained number one for me.
Hania, can you talk a bit about Almeng? I’m not very familiar with them.
Hania: Camiele, I would definitely recommend listening to 10cm’s new album! It’s the perfect little Christmas treat to unwind with. Miyoko, Goldmund sounds completely different to my normal cup of tea, but you speak so highly of them, so I’m keen to give them a listen.
Almeng just came out of K-Pop Star‘s 3rd season, adding to the long list of young talents to come out of such shows. I find their songs so refreshing, playing with R&B and offering plenty of light and shade thanks to the fact that they are a male-female duo. Their recently released mini-album transitions delightfully between tender and bright, and I’m so excited to hear what they can do in the future. A quick look at their adorable video for “Phone in Love” just shows the quirky take they have on things. And how incredibly loveable they are. No doubt, these two will continue to feature in my favourite indie lists for a while!
Miyoko, I’m unfamiliar with the Clazziquai Project and The Solutions, but I’ve just had a listen and they’re both brilliant! They’ve both put their own spin on existing genres and have stamped out a unique brand for themselves. And Camiele, I’ve just had a listen to small o, and it’s right down my alley: a pleasant folksy vibe.
What I love most about this review is that we’ve all picked such a wide variety of genres! There’s a hint of acoustic and folk music, plenty of electronica and alternative rock, and a dash of retro-inspired music. It’s been a great year for K-indie!
Camiele: Firstly, I’ve just listened to 10cm’s latest album. And, yes, definitely need to rearrange my list to fit it on there. I’ve missed them since “Tonight I’m Afraid of the Dark.” Almeng is completely adorable. I love their vibe, their R&B inclinations are definitely interesting in terms of their dynamic as a duo. I’ve heard of both Standing Egg and Neon Bunny, but I never really took the time to listen to the latter. Now I’m sort of regretting not getting into Neon Bunny earlier. I’ve actually been interested in finding out if Korea does much in the way of House music. “It’s You” sort of has that slant to it though erring more on the side of electronic. For the most part, Happy Ending was more along the type of House music I’m into, but Seoulight was a fun album.
Now I’ve got to make a concession so I can add 10cm to the list. So now it’s:
Hania: Standing Egg are one of the staples for me in my K-indie diet. Although they tend to stick to their comfort zone, musically, they provide the pleasant acoustic down-time that we all need. This year, they came out with their mini-album 36.5 and later, a full-length album Vol.4 US. The good vibes abound in their MV for the adorable “Yes, You,” and we see love story play out in “맘에 걸려” and “Kiss Me” collectively. This host of great releases this year has cemented their position in my list, and I look forward to more from Standing Egg!
Miyoko: Hania, that’s one of the reasons why I love Clazziquai and The Solutions so much. Both their music styles are pretty definable, so it seems like you know what you’re getting, but they’ve managed to create sounds wholly their own. However, I also appreciate that they do their respective genres really well.
I’m gonna give one last shout out to Guckkasten because they’re a little different than the rest of the artists on my list. Everyone else tends to be a little soft, but Guckkasten satisfies my need for harder sounds. The best way to describe them would be psychedelic rock, but I also find them hard to define because there are a lot of influences running around in their music. Anyway, the band has been around for a while, but they haven’t released a full album in about four years, so I was really excited when Frame came out. It’s a great album and definitely deserves a listen, especially if you sometimes need something with more bite.
Our panelists have a huge range of favourites this year, and it’s remarkable that there’s been zero double-ups at all. This just goes to show what a great and diverse year it’s been for K-indie, with artists experimenting with electronica, going back to basics with acoustic, or pushing the boundaries of R&B (or in fact, meshing genres together). How do our writers’ lists of favourites compare to yours? Spread the K-indie love below!