I think it is safe to say that 2008 was one of the best years for new music in Korea in quite some time. Maybe not for K-pop, which continues to take a beating (certainly financially, and I would argue creatively). But for live music and the indie scene, 2008 was full of new sounds and creativity.
First, let me say that I do not consider myself an expert on new music. That’s simply impossible when you get much past 30 (although I am doing my best to fake it). I am certainly not a completeist (I am constantly amazed by how much Anna finds about Korean music, without living here or speaking the language). In addition, I should add that several CDs I picked up this year actually were made in 2007, so maybe last year was not as dire as I thought at the time.
Anyhow, here is a quick run-down of the most notable albums that I came across this year.
Vidulgi OoyoO, “aero” – Probably the top shoe-gazer band in Korea at the moment (along with Bulssazo, but Bulssazo did not release an album this year). “Seeing Myself Through Your Eyes” is a great, sprawling track that gradually picks up tempo as it goes on. “Elephant” has a soft, beautiful melody over top a moody smear of guitars. “Even Freedom” is a favorite, too. Although there are bands I like more, this was probably the best full-length album of 2008.
Oriental Lucy, self-titled – Another mini-release, and another disk that does not live up to the band’s great live performances. But Oriental Lucy is one of the best bands in Korea today, with wit, style and a great sound – some soul, some rock and a lot of snarl. I am just happy to have a copy of their song “Horang Nabi.” Great song, even if the energy level on this recording was a little low. Their mini-CD is, hopefully, a taste of a lot more good stuff to come.
I&I Djangdan, “Culture Tree” – A reggae dub band? From Korea? I&I Djangdan must be the most surprising sound to come out of the Korean underground in a long time, but they are also one of the best. Thanks in large part to the lead of Kim Banjang (famous for the more mainstream funk of Windy City and Asoto Union), Djangdan has a solid music foundation and enough creativity to really intrigue. Sometimes they overdo it with that pansori-fusion thing, but overall a great pickup (even if it is just a mini-CD).
Kingston Rudieska, “Ska Fiction” – Not a great album, but Kingston Rudieska can be really awesome when they are having a good show. I still prefer their first mini-album from 2006, but “Ska Fiction” is not a bad disk to have either.
Pastel Music 5th Anniversary album – Pastel is a little quiet for my tastes, but this was a pretty good overview of their bands and sounds. For such a small label to make it to five years, through this terrible music market, definitely deserves some recognition. Plus it has a song by Bulssazo, the other great shoe-gazer band.
EE “Curiosity Kills” – The triumphant return of Lee Yunjoung, singer of the biggest and best indie band of the 1990s, Pipi Band. Her voice is still as spritely and manic as ever, her music still a wondrous electronic cacophony. (Sorry to give short shrift to bandmates Lee Hyunjoon and Mr. E, but I do not know anything about them).
The other great thing about 2008 was not the new releases but the old. Shin Joong-hyun and Sanullim both released impressive box sets, finally making some great old music available that has been very hard to find for the last few years.
Shin Joong-hyun released two five-disk sets, ranging from the earliest days of his career to the most recent, with a focus on the late 1960s and 1970s. I have not compared as closely as I should have, but I do believe Pony Canyon also cleaned up the recordings somewhat.
Sanullim’s box set was even more impressive – all 17 of their albums, released in their original order. That’s a lot of music. Sadly, I have not picked it up yet, but it is definitely on my Christmas list.
- Vidulgi OoyoO on MySpace
- Oriental Lucy website
- I&I Djangdan on MySpace
- Kingston Rudieska on MySpace
- Pastel Music website
- Hot Potato at Cafe Daum
- EE on MySpace
Other selections for 2008