Indie Music Year in Review: Emsterz’s 2013 in Music

Here is Part 3 of the Indie Music Series! Emily is honestly the person that got me into Indie music more than I ever have before, and one of the best sources out there for someone who is just getting into the less popular side of Asian music. I hope you enjoy reading her take on Indie music this year…which may not all be from this year!


In many ways, 2013 is a special year for me. The first entire year when I’m away from home, the year I started my Tumblr and officially lost my life to Korea, the year I started to take the music I listen to more seriously. In terms of music, I’d say this was the year I officially lost hope in pop and learnt to embrace what has become the ubiquitous presence of electronic musical elements today. My foray into ‘indie’ music started with korean indie (eternal gratitude to my beloved sister for introducing me to this wonderful world!).Since then, I’ve dipped my toes into some parts of Taiwan and Mainland China, a teeny bit of Japan and over the summer, swaths of Singapore, my hometown. More than music or dramas though, I met some amazing peeps over the Internet and that’s been the best part of this entire thing. Thank you Shweta for trusting me with this space.  So to commemorate this wonderful year, here’s a list of the top albums that defined my 2013 in music. They’re not necessarily released this year, but they certainly made this 2013 my 2013.

MYK_saltnpaper_albumcover 9. SaltNPaper – SaltNPaper (2013)
This is the album in which I officially concede defeat and accept that Koreans are just crazily talented AND gorgeous people. Who knew MYK could sing? Who knew he could do RnB-ballads so well? SaltNPaper is MYK’s debut under this pseudonym, and it’s a classic American pop-rock album, with added subtlety and melancholy thrown in. The album flows seamlessly from beginning to end. It’s perfect chill music, for those lazy afternoons and late late nights.

Recommended Tracks: Hats, Field Day, After the Wreckage

HanHeeJung_1 8. 한희정 Han Hee Jeong – 날마다 타인 Another Day (2013)
Perhaps more known as Dawn, the vocalist of kindie duo Bluedawn, Han Hee Jung’s fourth individual album marked a clear departure from the acoustic-centred music of her previous individual and Bluedawn albums. I love Bluedawn, and was very sad to find out that they’ve disbanded since 2007. This album came at just the right time to fill in some Bluedawn withdrawals, and to my surprise, the music in the album is very different, an interesting mix of quirky, electronic and acoustic elements. The songs really grow on you, and make you want to dance in this idgaf way. And despite the unusual arrangements, Dawn’s voice always remains at the centre of the music. It’s great because Bluedawn’s music tends to be more about the ambiance, so I never really took note of her voice until now.

Recommended Tracks: 나는 너를 본다, 날마다 타인, 바다가 (Feat. 김보미 from Jambinai)

YanWeiLing_Utopia 7. Yan Wei Ling X Utopia 世外桃圆乐团 – 浮光掠影 Seconds of Life (2012)
I discovered Utopia while I was bored to my wits on a plane ride and decided to channel surf at random. It was the best discovery I’ve ever made by accident. Utopia’s music reminds me of the feeling when you’re underwater and you stay completely still, without breathing, until you no longer feel the water around you and it’s like you’re floating. Not trippy, but very out of this world. Vocalist and leader Olivia Oh does folk songs individually, so this is a surprising change. I’m definitely looking forward to what they do next.

Recommended Tracks: 最遥远的距离是自己离开自己,天使尘,浮光掠影

DesertsChang_1 6. 张悬 Deserts Chang – Games We Play 神的游戏 (2012)
I adore Deserts not just because of her music, but also because she is such a cool and awesome person. Deserts is well known for her no-nonsense-I-say-what-I-want attitude, which makes her live performances particularly endearing, because she just has so much personality. Deserts has been a big name in chinese music for many years now, her song “Baby” is one of those that every Chinese-speaking person has at least heard before, even if they don’t know who sung it. But I still think she’s ‘indie’ because the bulk of her music is under-appreciated, because she’s not so known outside of the Chinese community, and because she’s the kind of artist who goes like F-you to the entertainment industry.

Recommended Tracks: 玫瑰色的你, 如何, 艳火

Nell_EscapingGravity 5. Nell – Escaping Gravity (2013)
There are some bands that have a special place in my heart, and will eternally love. Nell is one of them. Escaping Gravity follows last year’s Holding onto Gravity as their 2nd EP in the Gravity trilogy, and continues with Nell’s trademark sound. I’ve come to the conclusion that it must be the chords they use, because though Escaping Gravity gravitates much more towards the electronic, it still retains a distinctly recognizable Nell sound. I wasn’t immediately taken by the electronic arrangements, especially for the mediocre title track. Also, I loved their previous full album, Slip Away (2012), which took a more minimalistic direction. Nevertheless, Escaping Gravity had Haven, as epic as Nell gets. Listening to the 6 tracks in order, as Shweta analyzed in her wonderful Seoulbeats album review, the EP charts the gradual mental breakdown of Nell, culminating in the suicidal Haven. Nell’s depressing, but I love them because of that.

Recommended Tracks: Haven, Boy X

Jaurim_GoodbyeGrief 4. Jaurim – Goodbye, Grief (2013)
Kim Yoon Ah is a goddess and Jaurim is that band that’s loved by everyone old and young, mainstream or not. Goodbye, Grief combines Jaurim’s knack for great melodies and edgy playfulness seamlessly. Icarus is catchy and classic; Twenty-Five, Twenty One is gorgeous without being sappy, and Anna (my favorite) is epicly emphatic. I’ve been listening to this ever since October.

Recommended Tracks: Anna, Twenty Five Twenty One, Icarus

Frande_1 3. Frandé 法兰黛乐团 – 隨波逐流我不介意 (2013) (Title means “I don’t mind going with the flow)
I’m not sure what about this album spoke to me so much, but I’m head over heels in love with it. Perhaps it’s that sense of independence and disillusionment that emerges from their bleak sound and lyrics, or perhaps it’s just Fran’s enigmatic, captivating voice, but every track is great and I’ve just been looping this since I heard it a few weeks back. It’s not the most emotionally consuming music like Nell, but it gets under your skin and stays there.

Recommended Tracks: 二十一, 只是啊, 心事, 特别

Gaia_1 2.林忆莲 Sandy Lam – 盖亚 Gaia (2012)
I’ve always known Sandy as one of those mega-superstar singers that my mum listens to, one who sings well, but has sappy ballad songs. Imagine my surprise to: one, find that she’s still going strong, and two, find that her album is modern, explosive and absolutely fantastic. Title song “Gaia” for example, is an electrifying mix of synth, Sandy’s power vocals put together in complex, overlapping layers. My favorite track is 柿子 Persimmon, a gorgeous, dark melody that starts off innocuously with a elegant piano accompaniment, then growing in intensity as first the orchestra then the electronic beats come in. If you see the MV,you see Sandy engulfed in a thunderous storm in the middle of a freezing ice land. It’s incredibly dystopian (aka just my thing).

Recommended Tracks: 柿子,盖亚,无言歌

Vasco_1 1. Vasco – Guerrilla Muzik Vol 3: Exodus (2013)
It’s funny that a hip-hop/rap album ends up my No. 1 this year, when I rarely listen to the genre. I guess it goes to show how great Vasco is. Exodus blew me away with its intensity and emotion, and it’s made with the perfect combination of passionate rap, emphatic melodies and intricate arrangements. This is the kind of music people should call “anthems”. I’ll stop here before I break into swears because it’s that good.

Recommended Tracks: All We Go To Hell (ft. Swings)  , Grey (Ft. Kuan), Hero (ft. Crybaby)

P.S. Looking back, it seems like this year was the year of female vocalists/artists, funny because I generally prefer male voices but whoots anyway!

Find Emily on Tumblr!

23 responses to “Indie Music Year in Review: Emsterz’s 2013 in Music

    • haha! thanks for reading heisui! what’ve you been up to in the hols? xD I’m trying to get into TPOH (finished ep 5), Yikang is super cute, but the show is quite boring lol I guess it gets better? Anyway, happy new year!


  1. Man, yours is even more Asian :Db I thought Nell was disqualified because they’re nowhere near as indie as they were before so I chucked Haven off my list sobs. HEY WE BOTH STARTED LISTENING TO INDIE THIS YEAR 😀

    Dear Kpop,

    Work harder in 2014 please. Otherwise my money will go to Indie instead. Consider yourself warned.


  2. Oh my gosh I just love that Vasco was your number 1! Haha it’s so ironic that your number 1 is a hip hop album — but Exodos completely deserves it. Such a powerful album, surprised it didn’t get much recognition on year-end lists. I’m curious, was it my review that led you to the album?
    My other favorites from your list are Gaia and Seconds of Life. Two of my all time most favorite albums, I credit you for introducing me to Seconds of Life !!


    • ok I’m replying this 12 days late but:
      yes, it was your review that brought me to Exodus! I’m not sure if we had started talking then or not, I remember I found your blog way before, forgot about it, then found it again after we started talking on Tumblr.


    • And yes, I haven’t actually seen the album mentioned or shared elsewhere at all! Quite surprising… Esp since so many artists were feat on the album too. Is Vasco a big name in khiphop?


    • Hey! Thanks for sharing Bai An, I’m glad she hit it big this past year and I love her voice, it sounds like a cross between Qu Wan Ting and Stephanie Sun. I’m not so into her songs though, but just my personal opinion.


  3. I LOVE and HEART frande, they own my heart and soul for their first album and second album. I accidentally caught their performance in a Taiwanese indie-band music show and fell heads over heels for the vocal’s dreamy voice.

    My other current-indie favorites are TETE (Korean), 宇宙人Cosmospeople (Taiwanese, not sure whether they’re considered indie as they’re under 相信音樂 label, Bai An, MayDay, Yan-J are all under the same label,), Lamp (Japanese), Waa Wei 魏如萱 (Taiwanese), Mad Soul Child (Korean), 果味VC Super VC (Chinese, the vocalist give similar vibe with Frande’s vocalist, their voice is SO melancholy) and etc..

    I almost know all from your list except for Vasco and SaltNpaper, will give them a try. Thanks for the recommendations!


    • OMG Hiiii thanks for commenting! LOVE 果味VC, but their new album is disappointing 😦 his voice is so great, but their music is going meh. My fav album is still Gift and Great Restoration.
      This is my first time hearing 宇宙人, for a moment I thought it was 卢广仲 singing O.O Lamp as well (Do you know Clammbon?). I think maybe I listen to more rock-ish stuff than you it seems xD


      • No No No, I didn’t saw Frande live, it was a live performance in youtube, a music show for taiwanese indie bands, Cosmospeople were featured in that music show too. I’m living in Singapore and I happened to watched the live concerts/gigs of Waa Wei, Cosmospeople, Crowd Lu before and they’re all fun people!

        Cosmospeople’s vocalist 小玉’s voice does sound like Crowd Lu’s but Cosmospeople’s music leans more to the funk, jazzy, upbeat tempo stuffs (THEY’RE SO AMAZING IN LIVE PERFORMANCE!!!! SO much energy!) while Crowd Lu is a bit more acoustic and indie-pop at times (I love his voice, I think I have a preference towards certain vocal types). I heard of 果味VC’s latest single and it was indeed disappointing, I LOVE that album you love too, their first 3 albums are really the best. Another chinese indie band to recommend, 旅行團樂隊(The Life Journey), they’re a bit more laid-back music and the vocalist’s voice sounds feminine, I also watched their live gig before.

        Waa Wei is easily my favorite female vocalist in the mandarin-indie scene. She joined Crowd Lu’s label (Cheer Chen’s previous label) and her voice is so expressive, she can be cute, dreamy or even melancholic. I LURVE her, watched her live gig and thought she had one of the most amazing voice and cutest personality. Waa Wei was the vocalist of a tw-indie band Natural Curls 自然卷, but she became a soloist after the band disbanded and she experiments with different type of music, she’s very versatile.

        I’m not sure about Clammbon, will check them out! I love it when I have people to talk about my indie stuffs obsessions. I’m picky about rock-stuffs as I’m more into acoustic, indie-pop, dream-pop, jazz, funk and melancholy sad melodies, which is what I love about the super vc and frande.


  4. I love it when i have someone to discuss about my indie-music obsessions, hahaha! I’m talkative about my obsessions. I used to listen more to k-indie few years back but after a while, pastel music sounds almost similar that I got tired of them and started to listen to wider variety of music.



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s