Half of 2014 has already passed and that means it’s time to check in with our favorite indie releases so far! Although the label and definition of ‘indie’ vary, here at Seoulbeats we extend the term of indie to cover most non-idol music, as evident in our Indie Gem segment. While there was a tremendous amount of K-indie artists and releases to comb through, we’ve managed to pick our top five artists of early 2014.
|1||ILLAP||Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio||Goldmund|
|2||Big Phony||The Barberettes||ludiSTELO|
|3||small o||Bluepaprika||The Barberettes|
|4||Sima Kim/The Barberettes||From the Airport||Neon Bunny|
|5||Ugly Pumpkin||Fromm||Big Phony|
Miyoko: Laverne, I see we both have The Barberettes down. They were such a nice surprise for me; I didn’t know I needed a 1950s blast from the past until they came along. I also love how the sound they created in the album evokes older recording technologies.
Laverne: Miyoko, I completely agree! I think the use of older recording techniques gives the album a genuine feel instead of using modern techniques to try and mimic that sound. If I had heard “Mrs. Lonely” or “Kukerichoo” without knowing about The Barberettes, I would have assumed that the songs were by American artists during the 50’s and 60’s. I was also pleasantly surprised by how they incorporated elements of jazz and folk into some of their songs; I think it kept the album from sounding one dimensional.
Camiele: I added the Barberettes because I’d meant to listen to them before, and I just now did for the sake of this countdown. I love their style, very reminiscent of Franco-jazz (think the Triplettes of Belleville) with a definite nod to 60’s doo-wop girl groups. It’s a sound that you don’t really hear.
I wanted to add Linus’ Blanket to this list because they a) had one of my favorite videos this year with “Show Me Love” and b) because they have that same sort of feel as the Barberettes, Franco-jazz inclinations with a bit of 50s/60s rock ‘n’ roll. But the reason I didn’t add them is because they haven’t really been all that active this year, just the one single, which was actually from their first album. Most of their work was done a couple years ago.
Laverne: I’m not surprised both of you chose Big Phony in your top 5 choices as I recognize the quality of his work, especially his acoustic songs. But for some reason, I’ve never been able to truly get in to him. What about Big Phony drew you guys in?
Camiele: Big Phony drew me in purely on sentimentality. For one, this is a man who wasn’t born in SK, but a need to reconnect to his ancestry through music is what drew him there. And I think that’s rather bold, considering he never spoke the language. Also, Bobby, the album he released at the same time as Long Live the Lie, is probably one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve heard for quite some time. It reminded me so much of Elliott Smith’s Either/Or in the emotion and depth that I just fell instantly in love with him.
I grew up in an era where grunge was the most popular genre in the States. And while I respect and love Nirvana’s music and Kurt Cobain’s exceptional songwriting, I connected on a more visceral level with Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. So Bobby just touched a very deep part in me that still mourns the loss of Elliott Smith and his emotional depth. I also appreciate how very bare bones he is. If we’re talking strictly indie, it doesn’t get more indie than someone releasing an album he recorded in his bathroom or his one-bedroom apartment, then released on Bandcamp.
Miyoko: To be honest, I’m a little surprised that I put Big Phony on my list. Mid-tempo is not my normal jam, but this year I’ve found more of an appreciation for it. For Big Phony specifically, the song that drew me in was “Bedford Stop” — I must listen to anything that references Brooklyn in any way — and I found myself cycling through the entire Bobby album.
I was surprised that even though all the songs are similar in sound/style, they didn’t get boring for me. It doesn’t hurt that his vocals are gorgeous and work across a variety of genres, which is also why I listed his electronic experiment. Also, the Bobby album is exceptionally well put-together, and as Camiele mentioned, the way he recorded it is impressive.
Laverne, I’m not totally familiar with Bluepaprika except for one song I’ve heard. Want to talk about why they made your top 5?
Laverne: Well I’ve always been a fan of acoustic-folksy acts so when I heard “Love Confession” it intrigued me enough to check out the rest of their recently released album. “Love Confession” reminded me a bit of Standing Egg but the rest of the songs on Longest Night have a distinct feel to them. I think this is because Bluepaprika incorporate drums and electric guitars into their music which sets them apart from the acoustic-dominated indie scene.
Longest Night also mixes a range of styles with rock which is the main reason they made my top five. Along with the rock influences, “To the Sea” has a smooth jazz-like feel while “Hug” maintains a whimsical folksy feel. To get a better idea of their range, I’d also suggest listening to “Talk to Me” and “Let Her Go” which are funk and reggae influenced, respectively. To sum it up, Longest Night is a strong debut album that showcases Bluepaprika’s talent and explores a variety of genres while maintaining a distinct sound.
Camiele, thanks for introducing me to ILLAP! “Calm” is so mesmerizing and serene in an unsettling way. They’re definintely pushing boundaries musically and visually. Illap’s rapping is a big contrast to Ugly Pumpkin’s style, which actually came off as a little K-pop-ish to me. How do you feel about these two groups’ styles of rapping?
Camiele: What I love about ILLAP over Ugly Pumpkin, beyond just the raw energy of the group, how hungry they absolutely are, the production is just bananas! Also, Ugly Pumpkin’s sound, as you say, is more tailored toward a very mainstream market. And, in fact, that’s the reason why they’re on the list, because they tailor their sound so it’s palatable for all audiences, and yet they look nothing like what “typical” K-pop artists look like.
Two are decently cute, but really lanky, and one is short and not particularly attractive. And they’re all incredibly goofy. I dig their style, even if the compositions are more pop-centric. They have legitimate flow and represent pure hip-hop, which at its core is about who can reach the most people. But ILLAP’s sound, concept, and videos completely go against everything in the industry. Even the hip-hop industry sort of casts them aside, sort of like the weird cousin at the family reunion that everyone sorta stays clear of during all the games… haha.
Laverne: I won’t speak too long about Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio since I already gushed about their debut album Shut Up and Dance through our Indie Gem feature but even months after its release, I still can’t stop listening to it. It’s fun, energetic, and bridges different styles of rock. I appreciate bands who branch out into different styles (as with Bluepaprika) and create something wholly their own. Shut Up and Dance is an effortless listen that will get you pumped up and for that reason, Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio tops out my list.
Miyoko: Laverne, I totally agree about Rock ‘N Roll Radio and their album. So far this year the idea of an album as a cohesive whole has become important to me. Besides Neon Bunny’s single, my top picks are based on well-put together albums. A lot of my old favorites haven’t put something out yet this year, which gave me the opportunity to find groups I normally don’t listen to.
The biggest surprise was ludiSTELO’s Experience. When they were releasing singles, I did not peg them for a band I’d listen to regularly, but Experience turned me because of how strong the songs are when put together. The album is comprised of their previous singles with some new additions, and each track sounds very different in tone and structure, yet the album manages to be cohesive through the way the members play together. It’s sort of the opposite of how I feel about Bobby, but both have the same result: awesome albums that don’t get old no matter how often I listen to them.
Though these 13 artists released great material this year, they are by no means the only K-indie artists with quality releases. The K-indie scene is ever-growing and there are always new artists to discover so we’d love to hear your thoughts: Agree with us? Have some other artists to recommend? Let us know below in the comments!