This year can definitely be marked down as one for the less inspiring years for discovering new musical talent. Korea is packed full of vocally gifted teens all eager to make the break into stardom and this year saw various girl and boy bands pop up from nowhere as companies vied for more of the fan market. JYP and YG seem to come out on top this year, though no company escaped controversy and lawsuits, events that will linger into 2010 for some time to come. It will be no surprise then that for me, this year’s choices are all (except one) veteran performers who have always produced quality music and have never let me down yet.
Drunken Tiger Feel Ghood Muzik (vol 8). From the Godfather of Hip Hop himself comes a long awaited release. Released on a double disc, disc one had the concept of Feel Ghood Musik that reflects his change in mood after his marriage and the birth of his son. Indeed, this first disc features a hip-hop duet with his wife T (Tasha). Melodic and catchy, it feels upbeat and makes a contrast with a darker sound of the Feel Hood — disc two. ‘Monster’ (track 1) is a powerful track and earned him high compliments from US industry execs saying he is comparable to US performers. Featuring many others from The Movement such as Bizzy, Palo Alto, Double K, DOK2 and newcomers such as Ann, it’s impressive that the distinctive Drunken Tiger sound is still there, even though the original line up is all gone. Hip-hop for me has always been a form of urban poetry, the truths that are perceived about the world in which someone is living. With Tiger JK the albums do reflect changes in his life and are personal and creative. In an industry overflowing with cookie-cut boy bands and girl groups, however vocally talented, it gives a bit of hope that the industry can still recognise some talent, even if it’s taken 15 years to do so.
Drunken Tiger available at YesAsia
Epik High – [e] (vol 8). This double disc album was as always full of the distinctive sound that Epik High produces with ease and expertise. From small musical interludes like ‘Oceans. Sands. Trees’ to electropop hiphop-fuelled statements such as ‘Wannabe’, there is always something new for me to explore in the 30 tracks. They still keep something unique and distinctively theirs, even when they experiment a little with something new or different. The two other releases this year, ‘Planet shiver – remixing the human soul’ and ‘Map the Soul’, are also worth a note, particularly the latter which was sold direct to the fans and came with a book in Korean and English about the process of making their music and what inspires them.
Epik High available at YesAsia
M – M-Rizing (vol 4). Lee Min-woo’s fourth album makes a break from his established style and goes for a mix of mainstream electronic dance style and more experimental sound. ‘Don’t Trust Men’, featuring Big Tone, and ‘Cool Life’ were the main promoted tracks from the album, and well chosen for doing so. The first appeals to the more mainstream audience and the second has a unique catchiness to it. ‘가면 무도회’, though, and the tracks that follow, almost flip the feel of the album completely. ‘가면 무도회’ uses the chorus from Bizet’s Carmen and is followed by the jazzy sounding ‘Wink Show’. Whilst there were fewer tracks written solely by him, the two that were, ‘Cool life’ and ‘가면 무도회’, were arranged by him also and they do stand out as far better quality. Lyrics were the main focus for his effort in the writing process, showing he works well with others.
Lee Min-woo: M Rizing available at YesAsia
Dear Cloud – Grey (vol 2). I first heard of this group via Dramabeans.com who posted a MV from their first album. I was intrigued at the time and then forgot about them until this year when their second album was released. It’s hard to class the music except as different, not mainstream and more like a UK Indie Band. Ethereal vocals and melodies that start some songs eventually crescendo with percussion and guitar to a more rocky sound. Others kick off cheerfully and its hard to pick a favourite track simply because they are all so good. I am fond of ‘늦은 혼잣말’ (track 4) and ‘Secret’ (track 10). If you are looking for something a little different they are excellent.
YB – Coexistance (vol 8). A slightly harder, more punk edge to their sound in this album that addresses Korean social issues and feelings about Korean society. If you liked their older work you will still enjoy this, but the added depth to the subject matter takes them to a new level. I think many of the tracks will be excellent live performances too. Its hard to comment fully on the lyrics when there are no translations as yet, but the sound is better than ever.
YB – Coexistance at YesAsia
I bought about 22 albums and singles this year, and of the ones that didn’t qualify I’d really like to recommend ‘Nell – Separation Anxiety’ An Indie style band that uses simple beats and melodies combined with distinctive vocals, they have a unique sound that I completely fell in love with. I wish I had discovered them sooner! ‘Let’s take a walk’ a reworked album of older songs contains a new favourite song ‘It’s ok’. These two albums are worth every penny you spend on them. So go do it!!