LKL Critics’ Choice 2010: Mark Russell

Mark Russell returns with his pick of 2010’s releases

First of all, 2010 was a very good year for Korean indie music. I had not even noticed until I started putting together this list, when I kept rediscovering one solid album after another. Not just great in one genre or another, the Korean music scene is more diverse than I can remember it ever being, with great hard rock bands, acoustic, postrock, dance and whatever Jambinai is.

Anyhow, this is far from a complete list, but it is a list of some of the Korean music I found most interesting in 2010. Hopefully the music scene can keep up the momentum and turn it into more mainstream success soon.

DJ Soulscape – More Sound of Seoul

Far and away the best album of the year. DJ Soulscape mixed together a huge smorgasbord of great Korean music from the 1970s, most of which you’ve never heard before. It’s as educational as it is fun, and all-round brilliant. (Actually, this might have come out in 2009, but it is so good, I don’t care; it deserves to be heard).

Apollo 18 – Violet and Red

One of Korea’s best rock/post-rock bands today put out two interesting albums this year. Red was a re-release of last year’s album, but completely re-recorded and with a few extra songs added (thanks to the money they earned from a KOCCA grant, after their Hello Rookie win in 2009). Together with 2009’s Blue, each album has a slightly different feel, while still being a unified sound.

Apollo 18 - Violet AlbumApollo 18 - Red AlbumGlittering Blackness, Fall - EP

Apollo 18 Violet and Red albums, plus Glittering Blackness, Fall

Glittering Blackness, Fall – EP

Glittering Blackness, Fall is one of the most interesting of Korea’s many instrumental, “post-rock” bands. Their EP is just four tracks long, but each is a surging blast of noise and swirling progressions.

Oriental Lucy – Midnight Hotel

More quirky and electronic album (and Portishead-like) than their first EP, Oriental Lucy is more alternative/indie rock, like the kind of thing you might hear on KCRW or some college radio station in the West like that. At times more New Wave sounding, singer Soohee’s brings their songs an unusual urgency and energy.

Oriental LucySunkyeol EP

Oriental Lucy and Sunkyeol

Sunkyeol – EP

A moody, acoustic ambient release, I found Sunkyeol a pleasant surprise. I am not sure what I was expecting, but their album was surprisingly moving for such a simple sound. I am told it was actually recorded in 2006, but just released last year.

Lee Sang-eun We Are Made of StardustLee Sang-eun – We Are Made of Stardust

With her 14th album, Lee is quite a veteran of the Korean music scene. But while some of her albums can be repetitive, and sometimes boring, this is one of her most creative and lively in quite some time. A little uneven, sure, but most of the songs here are quite pleasant and catchy. Even more surprising, her voice sounds clearer than it has in quite some time. Has recording technology found a way to reverse the effects of 20 years of smoking? No idea, but this was a good album.

Jambinai

One of the most unusual new bands around, Jambinai uses Korean traditional instruments, but cannot really be considered “traditional” music at all. With their ambient, surging style, they are closer to post-rock than anything from the Joseon Dynasty. But their use of Korean traditional instruments makes their sound incredibly haunting and captivating.

JambinaiSwimmngdoll - 8wimmingdollLowdown30 - Another side of Jaira

Jambinai, Swimmingdoll and Lowdown 30

Swimmingdoll – 8wimmingdoll

One of the more interesting and unusual entrants into the post-rock, shoegazer genre. Swimmingdoll songs start out pleasant and haunting, but then jar with odd atonal shifts and dubs.

Lowdown 30 – Another Side of Jaira EP

Growling blues rock, like the Black Keys. Not all the songs work, but the best are gravelly, heavy fun. The first song Jungdok is especially good.

This article was originally published on the Korean Creative Content Agency’s (KOCCA’s) website, korean-content.com, and is reproduced with the author’s permission.

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