So much happened this 2014. As crazy and sometimes downright horrible this year has been, I’m deeply grateful to these past 12 months for opening my eyes to Korean hiphop, bringing me back into pop music, and re-connecting me with the Chinese music scene.
To remember this one and only 2014, here are 14 albums that have kept me sane and made my days better through the crazy months, in alphabetical order.
Akdong Musician – Play
They gave me so much happiness through most of 2014. Play was so cute, so fun, so innocently lovable. I’m even a fan of Chan Hyuk’s semi-rap just because it works so well with their entire package. Judging by how well they did on the charts, Korea loved them too. A testament to the power of music that achieves what it sets out to do, all other things aside. Truly, I owe these two so much.
Recommended tracks: 200%, Melted 얼음들, Give Love, Don’t Hate Me 안녕
The Breathing – Return (2013)
I honestly have no idea why The Breathing picked such a random album cover but boy is it misleading completely re their music style, which is a brand of grungy electro-pop/rock that sounds incredibly modern, like it gives off this vibe that you can only find in the early hours roaming a big city. It’s definitely a lot more “Western” sounding that most of the rest of Korean music, whatever that means. Me, I really just love the ennui and the total IDGAF sound.
Recommended tracks: Return, The Glory, For Someday, Song of Freedom
HA:TFELT – Me?
I listened to a shit ton more kpop this year, and if I had to summarize it, 2014 would be the year of kpop (female) solos. Really, we had Gain showing us how sexy and classy is done with Fxxk U, Jieun showing everyone what you can achieve just by singing songs suited for your voice, Nicole’s MAMA was great, Taemin’s Ace was one solid vision done right, and finally Zhoumi’s Rewind came back to remind us of what old school goodness sounded like. HAT:FELT though, really took the cake with this solo EP she self-produced that encapsulated all her strength and vulnerability, insecurity and self-identity within seven epic electronic pop ballads.
Recommended tracks: Iron Girl, Truth, Nothing Lasts Forever
Hello Nico – Plankton of the City 浮游城市
Probably the best Taiwanese debut this year, and they totally owned my soul. Profound, emotional, dark indie rock written by a really introspective and amazingly talented lady. Vocalist and songwriter 詹宇庭 Zhan Yu Ting has been a talent to watch since her college days (I loved all her acoustic demos), but this band and this EP really blew everything out of the water. Whatever it is they’re releasing in the future, I’m there.
Recommended tracks: 我們苦難的馬戲班, 荒芜, 花
Juuno – Shift
This EP unveiled entire new worlds of electronic sounds, all while keeping the dark, affecting quiet intensity of Caskr’s music. Definitely the best release from the first half of 2014.
Recommended tracks: 시간을 믿은 시간이 너무 길었다, Poly Evil, 후일담
Kim Sawol x Kim Haewon – Secret
How can two distinct, gorgeous voices and a guitar blend so perfectly? The album is literally an eargasmic experience, I can’t get enough of the immensely chill yet incredibly sexy sound that flows throughout from the first note to the last.
Recommended tracks: 안아줘, 지옥으로가버려, 사막 Parts 1 & 2
Lee Jang Hyuk – Vol. 3
‘Raw’ is a word used way too often to describe music that’s very emotional, or rough around the edges, but there’s a sincerity to the great melodies that Lee Jang Hyuk writes and delivers with a quality that can only be the rawness that comes from personal experience. He’s not that great a singer, but it works really well with the awesome guitar arrangements.
Recommended tracks: …I can’t really pick…every song has a different message.
Loro’s – W.A.N.D.Y
If the end of the world came with a soundtrack, this would be it: moments of violent destruction interspersed with moments of peace and epic beauty. The key is to just let Loro’s take you away, as they make that last declaration of humanity before the final apocalypse: “We Are Not Dead Yet.”
Recommended tracks: Just listen to the whole thing, in order.
Mary See the Future – My Fake True Love (2013)
I really fell for them after I saw their gig in Shanghai (Also, where I met a great new music friend.) Nothing spectacularly creative or new, just great indie rock ballads – with an interestingly strong sense of groove – that make me cry. I truly think only Taiwan has this power over me.
Recommended tracks: 任何时候, 礼拜天情人, Hole, Princess
Mayson the Soul – Jackasoul (2013)
K-R&B was a largely untouched part of Korean music for me until recently. A lot of people were raving about Crush’s album, but I couldn’t really connect with any of his songs. Then I found Mayson the Soul and yeap, I was a goner. Not only is his voice just unbelievable, his songs are just so much jam. All of them on this EP. Love the dark, uneasiness in Lost, the great beat and hook of Holiday with Beenzino, the bittersweetness of Bus Stop…
Recommended tracks: Lost, Holliday (feat. Beenzino), Bus Stop
Misi Ke – Play
I think what got me with Misi is that she took these melodies that could have been boring C-pop ballads and made them so heartbreakingly beautiful, thanks to how well she understood the nuances of emotion that intelligent instrumentation could produce. At the right moment, a quiet, acoustic ballad becomes an intense rock number; Misi’s clear, crisp voice becomes highly distorted and suddenly the sadness that simmered under the surface erupts, leaving me with the achingly bitter taste of imperfection, just like in life. My favorite is the gorgeous duet with A-Shan, a song that reminds me of the empty echoes that reverberate when you shout into a valley, only accentuating the loneliness that surrounds you.
Recommended tracks: 署名给, 卡夫卡, 指北山 (feat. 阿山), 这是我的地方
Moollonkyen – Psychedelik (2013)
I really struggled to write about this album. It was one of those that I download on a whim to try out without having ever heard of the artist or the release. The album title and cover had me expecting a heavy, creepy rock along the lines of Guckkasten. To my surprise, we get a mellow, sad, piano-based, electronically-embellished ballad that’s brought to life by a lady who carries so much sadness in her voice. Moollonkyen is the solo effort of the vocalist and pianist from Band Poe. She is also apparently a radio DJ who goes by the same stage name. The album gets even more interesting as you sort of see her sadness and sanity unravel, with the arrangements getting wackier, though she never ever loses control.
Recommended tracks:아무도 기억하지 않는, 둘이서,루하의 하루, Again
Seo Taiji – Quiet Night
Is it blasphemous that I’ve never actually listened to any of the past albums from the supposed founder of modern kpop? I mean, I really like Tik Tak the song, I just never got round to everything else. So throwing history and legacy aside, Quiet Night might be the kpop album of the year for me. It’s such a cohesive set of dreamy, bittersweet electro-pop songs done with absolute finesse. I’m not a fan of his nasally voice, and I definitely find IU’s version of Seogyeokdong a lot better than his, but he has all my respect for his long-acclaimed musical and lyrical talent.
Recommended tracks: Christamalo.win, 90s Icon,잃어버린
Waa Wei 魏如萱 – You Lovely Bastard 还是要相信爱情啊混蛋们
When I was in Taiwan, at a cafe cum indie gig place in Taizhung, I took a photo of a polaroid of Waa performing captioned “Everybody loves Waa.” Really, anybody who listens to Taiwanese music loves Waa. She’s just an amazing presence and icon in the music scene. And this 4th studio album of hers is by far her most mature one yet. Waa’s music has never really been definable, except for her signature playfulness, and this album is similar – she traverses a tremendous diversity of styles over the course of the album. I really appreciate how much she’s embraced a more dreamy, experimental music style, and it’s just great to see how much fun she obviously has making music.
Recommended tracks: 巴黎的忧郁, 爱不爱, 捉迷藏, 黑猫的计划
Some songs I loved, though not their albums.
Neon Bunny – It’s You
Only the catchiest song of the year. I’m still not sick of it.
Vicke Blanka – 追うBOY
Full-on bedroom dancing awkward that just fills me with so much life.
OOHYO – This Is Why We’re Breaking Up
I’ve never been in a relationship, but really, this is my breakup anthem for life.