Anna Lindgren of Indieful RoK provides her pick of the best albums of 2009.
Since finally giving up my life as a student to get out into the real world a couple of years ago my relation to new music has changed a lot. I see an interesting looking album or single, place an order for it, after one or a few weeks take it out of a box with other interesting CDs, and then I add it to the top of one of my CD piles. Actually listening to it is a completely different process – one that depends on where my interest is at the moment and, when interested enough, how easily I can find it among everything else in those piles. As a consequence I’m sure there are plenty of really good albums released since October last year that I still haven’t listened to although they fit my taste in music perfectly. Another consequence of the suboptimal way in which my music collection is currently arranged is that in spite of the over abundance of music at my disposal, there is some music I keep returning to when failing to find that album I wanted to try.
One of the albums successfully retrieved from the piles several months after release was Apollo 18‘s Red album. What little I had heard of Apollo 18 until then had gone well with the “Hardrock + Groove + Psychedelic + …” description I had found on Jelly Boy’s blog (Jelly Boy being the bassist) when the rock band was just starting out. So in spite of the Explosions in the Sky and Mono references plugging the release I was quite surprised to be met by the most amazing post-rock ever to come out of Korea. Beautiful calm, strong and intense passages, with breathtaking transitions in between. It didn’t take long to realize that this was the best release of the year and as 2009 comes to an end that assertion still holds.
The first album from Broccoli, you too? (브로콜리 너마저), called 보편적인 노래 or Universal Song, was an album that came creeping up on me. It didn’t sound like anything special the first I heard of it and even after a year of listening I cannot name any stand out track. Yet I’ve often found myself wanting to listen to nothing but their variety of mellow indie pop songs. Although I like those with male vocals just as much, I have realized now that much of the charm of Broccoli, you too? as far as I’m concerned came from the warm and friendly female vocals offered by Gyepy, who is no longer with the band.
When Apls first emerged, there was a lot of talk about the electronica act being the Korean version of m-flo. I never cared much for the kind of music m-flo makes, and cared even less for Apls’ first album. Yet when the duo returned with a couple of videos for EP sixmini > sexbig, I had a look. And then I had many more. The sexy Nicetalk and the cute Lucky7-Chez Elle were nothing like what I had expected and left me yearning for more. When I finally got to listen to the rest of the CD, I couldn’t stop.
After having backed Huckleberry Finn for several years, Lune presented her gorgeous debut album Absinthe backed by Huckleberry Finn member Lee Ki Yong, a.k.a. Swallow. Her vocals are strong, the melodies captivating, and the arrangements well-executed – piano, violin and acoustic guitar are all used exemplary to accompany Lune’s semi-whispery “voice of the moon”. The result is a slightly melancholic, mature sound of top quality.
Julia Hart is one of those bands I would listen to when first exploring the world of Korean indie pop. Although the other bands in the same vein I listened to at the time have either disbanded or moved on to a sound that no longer agrees with me, Julia Hart consistently brings out the sweetest guitar pop. With digital single 돌아와 / 한국소녀의 겨울 band leader Bobby Chung has outdone himself, creating two seriously addictive tracks with delightful melodies. “돌아와” with its hand claps and simple refrain well achieves the Beach Boys vibe it was going for, and as ordinary as “한국소녀의 겨울” might sound at first it’s only a couple of minutes before it gets truly magical. Oh, the bliss of nostalgia that does nothing to disappoint!
The past year offered an unusual amount of solid releases, I’d say. Below are another few just as good as the ones above, just not as addictive.
- Donawhale: Dive To Blue – Accomplishing the impossible, an album even better than the one that made me a fan, Donawhale’s second album is full of airy loveliness.
- Dringe Augh: Individually Wrapped – Wonderful songs with lively guitar play, inspired by British folk from the 70s. Check out Dringe’s MySpace page
- EE: Imperfect I’mperfect – Electro pop in the 80s never sounded this good + it’s difficult to resist a song with lyric like “fake face you cockscomb and I’ll take you home bomb hot bomb”. Try the MV of High Collor on YouTube here.
- Plastic People: Snap – The folk rock duo’s 3rd full length does not offer a single weak track. There’s the folk and the rock, of course, but also some C86 style twee and a touch of psychedelic pop.
- Stretching Journey: Stretching Journey – Fun proto-punk with psychedelic rock flavours.
- The Black Skirts: 201 – Catchy power pop and fun lyrics delivered by the charming Bryan Cho – it’s no wonder the band is as popular as it is.
- The Plastic Day: 30 Seconds Between The Dreamer And The Realist – Post-punk and grunge both at once with lots of thick sound. Still growing with every listen.