The editor provides an eclectic choice of albums from this year.
2009 has been a bumper year for new, innovative music and some welcome re-releases of the back catalogue. And anyone interested in the Korean contemporary music scene needs to be very grateful to Anna over at Indieful ROK for the work she does in bringing the indie bands to a western audience. How she ferrets out all the acts she finds is a wonder to me.
Yet despite my theoretical feeling of bullishness about music in 2009, when it comes to my own purchases this year I’ve had far more misses than hits. That’s maybe because I sometimes get misled by the hype with various artists; or I follow a number of performers and then I find they lose their edge. Jisun’s first solo outing without Loveholic, for example, I found disappointing, and I had similar feelings about Roller Coaster’s Jo Won-sun. Bada’s fourth is the last one of hers I shall buy, while BoA’s US album is designed for a particular market in which I have no interest. In search of something new, I came across the most bizarre fusion album ever: Kayarang’s first album, in which kayageum, haegeum and samulnori percussion are pressed into service to produce disco ppongtchak music. If I am beginning to sound a bit downhearted, well, 2009 has not been a year filled with happiness.
Take my first selection for album of the year: Roh In Memoriam, a limited edition compilation put out by Toystore Music to commemorate the death of ex-President Roh Moo-hyun (1946-2009), who committed suicide on 23 May this year. Featuring mainly Pastel artists, it opens with a simple reinterpretation of a Handel Sarabande by Sentimental Scenery, before contributions by Adultchild, Taru and Casker, among others. Sombre, dignified, but not too maudlin. And now very difficult to obtain.
Similarly hard to find is a recording sponsored by the Korean government of a set of Korean lieder performed by Barbara Bonney entitled The Best of Korean Songs. The compositions are from the second half of the twentieth century, written by composers such as Kim Dong-jin, Yun I-sang and Kim Kyu-hwan. Of these, probably the highlight is the slightly wistful Azalea by Kim Dong-jin. Cellist Mischa Maisky also has two numbers, including an instrumental version of Longing for Mt Geumgang, a popular song by Choi Yeong-seob composed in 1961. The Bolshoi chorus also sing a version on this disk. Although these compositions are twentieth century, they are firmly in the Schubert / Wolf tradition.
On to something more mainstream. Two years ago, Anna included Adultchild’s debut CD, B TL B TL, in her list. This year, Adultchild return with their second album, Dandelion. The title track is a simple acoustic number, with just guitar, voice, solo oboe and a closing melody picked out on a keyboard. This is not an album for someone who likes their music noisy and energetic.
Not much information is available about Nabimat (나비맛) online – at least in English. Anna over at Indieful RoK tells us that their music is marketed as “human rock”. This is their debut CD (self-titled Nabi:mat) after five years together as a band, and it has been worth the wait. A nice balance between acoustic music and Britpop-style swimming guitar sounds. Keyboard, cello and harmonica add to the mixture, together with the occasional something a bit more exotic: Piri, Danso, Saenghwang and delicately-played samulnori percussion. Well worth a listen, this is my runner up for record of the year.
Buy Nabimat’s first album at YesAsia
Finally, my album of the year, another debut, from a rebranded singer / songwriter: Younee‘s True to You. Younee has had a pop identity in Korea as Key’s Piano, and this reincarnation is an attempt to reach out to an international audience. Co-written with Richard Niles, who has worked with some of the pop and jazz greats, the album defies categorisation, but in live performances always wins over the audience. This is an album that will stay with you long after you’ve forgotten your other purchases from this year. I’ve written a more detailed review here.
Buy / download True to You at Amazon.co.uk