2011 all told was not a bad year for K-pop, and K-indie too is reaching listeners through more outlets. My own record-buying was somewhat slower than in previous years, but nevertheless I picked up enough to have a lot of rejects in my pile. And here are five of the disks that will stay with me for a while.
Jongmyo Jeryeak: Ritual Music for the Royal Ancestors
14 November 2011
[Buy at Amazon.co.uk]
This one isn’t going to set any feet tapping, but it’s a significant disk because it’s a the only available commercial recording of Korea’s Intangible Cultural Asset Number 1, the music for the Royal Ancestors, which takes place once a year on the first Sunday in May at the Jongmyo shrine in Seoul. The performance by The Court Music Orchestra of the National Gugak Centre was recorded in 2003. Full marks to the Ocora label of Radio France for producing this disk, which according to the Joongang Ilbo is the first of a series of disks of Korean traditional music that they will be releasing.
Nothing can substitute for the live experience of being at the rituals themselves – the sight of the solemn dancing, the ritual chanting, the smells of the burnt offerings and the sheer spectacle of the occasion. And in fact this 65 minute disk could almost put you off attending the 2-hour ceremony. But don’t be put off. Try out the disk, and then go to the rituals themselves.
Thomas Cook: Journey
19 May 2011
[Buy at YesAsia]
No, this is not a tribute to the UK’s largest and almost defunct travel agent, but the second solo outing of Jung Soon Yong (정순용), who started life as vocalist and guitarist in My Aunt Mary. His previous solo disk was in 2001, and the ten-year wait has been worth it. “I want people to take my music everywhere,” said Jung, in a recent interview with the Joongang Ilbo. It’s a mellow creation, and in a Korean music industry that seems to be dominated by K-pop on the one hand and, in the indie world, by rather too much shoegaze and latin-infused music, it’s good to get a collection of melodious songs by a talented singer-songwriter that, yes, you’d be happy to take with you anywhere. None of the tracks are going to set the world alight, but as an album it is companionable and comfortable and tends to grow on you.
Neon Bunny: Seoulight
7 April 2011
[Buy at YesAsia]
If Thomas Cook is for rainy autumn evenings, Neon Bunny is an album for summer mornings. A former keyboardist for the indie band Black Skirts, Im Yujin’s debut album is a carefree collection of pop-infused songs which make you feel as if the sun is shining. Im avoids the cute, twee sounds which are familiar traits with some other female indie singers, preferring an accurate but breathy and innocent sound to go with her up-tempo songs. The album was put together with New York based composer Cliff Lin, and Im cites The Strokes and The Libertines among her influences. This is a fresh-sounding album which will get your day started.
BEAST: Fiction and Fact
18 May 2011
[Buy at YesAsia]
In a year in which there has been an outpouring of K-pop albums, how to select just one? 2NE1, Kara and Girls Generation have been taking Japan by storm, the Wonder Girls have been relaunched with a slightly more grown-up look, while Big Bang won the inaugural Worldwide Act category in the MTV European Music Awards. In the UK though it was the Cube Entertainment artists that got the coverage. Yes, SHINee made two appearances, one brief visit to Abbey Road and one a website-crashing gig to launch the London Korean Film Festival. But it was Cube which made the investment to bring their main artists to London, and trail them a couple of months earlier at the Thames Festival. And undoubtedly the standout act for Cube is BEAST. Their single Fiction almost became the late summer’s anthem when it showed a few times at the Korean Village at the festival, and then was the highlight of the United Cube concert at the Brixton Academy in December. BEAST’s first full-length album, Fiction and Fact has some great sing-along tunes.
2K11 Seoulsonic North America Tour
10 March 2011
[View on iTunes]
While the big commercial K-pop companies were touring their acts to their adoring teenage fanbase across Asia and Europe, something a bit more grown-up and musically more exciting was happening in North America: three Korean indie bands were touring gigs which included SXSW, the big music festival in Austin, Texas. The literature describes the bands as follows:
- A high octane, runaway bullet train, Galaxy Express is a scintillating tour de force trio that wildly whiplashes audiences with a centrifugal forging of raw, sweaty, psychedelic rock n roll.
- Slamming dance beats powered by electrofied punk riffs, Idiotape is the idiosyncratic triad hotwiring Seoul’s live club circuit.
- Distilled hallucinogenic spirits stirred into a soothing, shoegazing blend of ambient, alternative rock. Quench your aural thirst with Korea’s very own — Vidulgi OoyoO.
Vidulgi OoyoO isn’t quite my cup of tea, but is nevertheless worth a listen. But Galaxy Express and, on a good day, Idiotape, produce sounds of sheer exhilaration, and would be totally amazing to hear live. The collection of tracks from the tour was assembled by DFSB Kollective, who have also put together iTunes playlists which are a great way of getting in to one or two K-indie bands.
For a good round-up of some of the top K-pop singles of the year, visit Call Me Patricia