Back at the end of last year when I gathered some of my friends to write about their year’s explorations in Asian Indie, I didn’t keep up my end of the bargain by writing my own list. Part of the reason was that they had pretty much covered the music I was going to cover, and the other (maybe more truthful) reason was that I got disenchanted with blogging all together. Thankfully, they are all wonderful people and didn’t kill me for letting them down, but I decided that I had uphold my promise at some point, and here it is: S.O.I.’s (Approximately) Midyear Indie Findings. Most of these songs are not released in the first half of this year, but it’s what I’ve found in the last 6 months or so? Approximately? Kinda?
“Blind” takes the cake for being the biggest shocker of this list, for the dark, soulful Taru in this song is NOT the Taru I knew from OSTs a couple of years ago. She’s been known for singing cheerful, almost childish songs for Dramas, and if I payed more attention, then I would have known she put out great songs for a long time, including the whimsical “Daydream” (2009). Goes to show that OSTs can be very misleading as to what kind of music a singer puts out; that is, unless you’re Every Single Day, which releases the same song Every Single Time. Seriously.
Fromm “A Spring Day Out”[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-n2EsCF48go]
Hypocrisy comes to bite me when it comes to “A Spring Day’s Out”‘s MV, because I LOVE it. It screams hipster-folk for which I usually take immense dislike towards, and yet I’m gobbling this up like anything. Maybe it’s the simplicity and the earnestness that separates it from its more pretentious cousin. Anyhow, Fromm has been on my radar ever since Aaina and Belle wrote about her (and quite spectacularly, may I add), and I found myself really enjoying her voice. Her accented voice reminds me a lot of Lim Kim (the fact they have similar physical features is mere coincidence, I hope) but with a rounded, deeper timbre. “A Spring Day Out” contrasts a lot of what was on Arrival (a fabulous album you should all check out!), but it’s not out of place amongst her work. Fromm has a vibrant, fun presence with this song, similar to “좋아해,” though “A Spring Day Out”‘s beauty is found in it’s airy, summery quality. I really like the use of glockenspiel (and related instruments)–it brings out an adventurous element that livens the aforementioned “summery” feeling found in the melody.
Yukari “Yule” (from Echo)
I actually found out about Yukari towards the end of last year because she was definitely the big k-indie electronic artist of the year. Electro-Ambient Pop (I’m totally making this genre up, but it’s a good description) is something I never really listened to until Emily basically fell head over heels for Saram12Saram‘s title track and I ended up writing about them. Those two are very different artists though, with Yukari having a much harder edge that I really appreciate. The stronger beats and defined melody help keep the momentum going, which helps prevent the lethargy that can often show up in Saram12Saram tracks. Echo is a great album, and if you like her sound here, definitely go listen to the whole thing.
(And find “Wind Blow” from Saram12Saram while you’re at it. It’s great studying music.)
Robbin “그리움이 되었네(Feat. 이정아)” (from Robbin 1st EP)[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JxrHYVlIXE]
Don’t be fooled and try to listen to his whole EP after discovering all the awesome in this one song (like me) for you’ll probably end up really disappointed (like me). I was thisclose to leaving the song out just because my devastation with the album failing was just that soul crushing. Ok–so it wasn’t that soul crushing, but the Robbin EP has become the archtype of “good songs, bad album” in my mind. I understand that a lot of LPs (and EPs) these days are driven by singles, but Robbin’s album reached a totally different level of incongruous. It even rivals SNSD albums in that arena, and that’s not something to be proud of.
The unfortunate part about all of this is that while the album totally derailed, the songs themselves stand alone pretty well. “11 살” is a classic hip-hop track, “Kiss Me” and “Waffle” embody everything that makes a cute, romantic K-indie song, “사랑에 눈 먼 자(Feat. ELENA, 송래퍼)” is the light-hearted “coffee shop song” (as I like to call it), and the second best of the lot, “별(Star),” has a delicate melody and is guitar heavy. While decent songs are all fine and dandy, I come out of the album questioning what Robbin’s sound is supposed to be. Are you folk? Hip-hop? Electro-pop? K-pop has a culture of experimentation and evolving, radical concepts, but K-indie certainly doesn’t work that way. K-pop sells the idol, while K-indie sells the musical concept. Being inconsistent with your album’s “musical thesis” can easily backfire, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened to Robbin. In any case, I won’t deter you from seeking the EP, but certainly don’t listen to it like one.
The Barberettes “가시내들”
Here’s Korea’s answer to Barbershop quartets, aptly named “The Barberettes.” I know they sang a song or two for The Prime Minister and I, but “가시내들” is by far my favorite. I’m a sucker for a cappella in any of its incarnations, and this song is no different. The harmonies are repetitious, but soothing in all the best ways. Just listen, and you’ll understand what I mean; it’s much better heard than said.
Monni “더는 사랑노래 못 쓰겠다”
No musical round up of mine will feel whole without some sort of rock, and “더는 사랑노래 못 쓰겠다” fills the quota and then some. Like the “Barberettes,” Monni’s song caters to the old soul in me. It revives a lot of older rock motifs, and it’s an easy song to find yourself grooving to. I admit it ends up becoming rather circular, though with a catchy chorus, all is forgiven.
Olivia Yan “光的模樣 The shape of lights”
Olivia is better known in these parts as the front woman of Taiwanese electro-ambient-pop-rock group Utopia, though her solo demos and covers, (like this song) are just as wonderful to listen to. This is one of my favorite demos (or is it a cover? I have no idea) from recent months, mostly because of the sense of peace it conveys. The electro elements are subdued in “The Shape of Lights,” letting Olivia’s voice really shine like it really should–something this acoustic cover confirms.
Kang Seung-won and Younha “Him”
Alright, so I lied. No musical round up is ever complete without at least one Younha track, and this one is going to be no different. “Him” is flat out gorgeous–it lays everything out bare, carried by its honesty and delicate effervescence. The song bubbles along at its own pace, and in doing so emphasizes the character of each note. The small pieces become equal to the whole, which makes for an engaging listen in spite of its simplicity.
Well, that’s it for now! Let me know what you think of these songs–and about releases from this year I may have missed out on. To be honest, I left out a lot of stuff (well obviously, since I only featured like seven songs), so I may get around to writing a part 2. That said, my promises when it comes to this blog should be taken with salt and pepper. (And a re-listen of Saltnpaper, if that’s your thing…)
(None of the media belongs to me beyond the words on this post.)