Best Albums of 2018
selected by Guwon Jeong and Jeon Daehan (모임 별) <BR> “Nobody’s Gold” (모임 별)
“Nobody’s Gold”

If you were an “indie kid” of 2000s in South Korea, would be the prime bias of your playlist. Their music consisted of gloomy synth pop and ambient/drone, but their method was somewhat special compared to typical indie acts in 2000s. “Monthly Vampire”, six volumes of occasional publication series released from ’01 to ’07, contained magazine and compact disc, and they showed weird and covert characteristic of the band. Cult followers were made, but after the release of the first album, “Secret Stories Heard From A Girl Of An Opium Den” (아편굴처녀가들려준이야기) in 2011 – which actually remastered their older materials – there have been only rare notices about their second album.

The long waiting ends with the release of “Nobody’s Gold” (주인 없는 금). However, it’s not that kind of “loud return” of giant musicians. Rather, “Nobody’s Gold” feels like it has been already there for a long time. Album goes from dark electroacoustic pieces (“The Place Where Designers Go To Die”, “The Night Before The Typhoon”) to lethargic dance music (“Nari Yuko Jin”, “Bean Tale”) and dramatic guitar-driven pop (“Friendly Enemies). And those are all the things have made.

So, is it bad? Not at all. The band explain the album contains “the everyday lives and thoughts of band member, friend, and colleague.” Despite its assorted formation, “Nobody’s Gold” is threaded with deeply personal senses we feel in our lives. That is why we can read warm, surreptitious intimacy in this album. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “The Bats We Are” + album stream on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, www.

Decadent (데카당) <BR> “Decadent”

Decadent (데카당)

I mentioned Decadent’s debut EP last year. Hopping through various styles, they have quickly become one of the most promising indie rock acts in South Korea. But what we also noticed is their self-indulgent romanticism, which sucks up listener’s heart into hedonistic atmosphere.

“Decadent”, their self-titled debut full-length, exaggerates this sybaritic side. “Delusion without self-awareness / accordingly, self-torment as pastime…”, the vocalist Jin Dong-Wook sings in “Tomato Murder Case” (토마토 살인사건), which pretty much sums up the entire nature of the album.

The elements of jazz fusion and (weirdly) Santana-esque viscous guitar meet glam rock’s flashy attitude and sophisticated radicalism of post-punk. Performance and sound become much more exquisite than on their EP, but that does not hinder the rampant power of the band, if not encourage them.

Freshness is crucial, especially for the old genre like rock music. Without a doubt, “Decadent” is the freshest South Korean rock record of 2018. These ambitious style-benders don’t hesitate their methods and push it ahead. Maybe, that kind of confidence is where the freshness comes from. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “Disease” (병) + album stream

Decadent on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

Dongchan (동찬) <BR> “Fog” (안개)

Dongchan (동찬)
“Fog” (안개)

Dongchan is an electronica musician who previously used the name Kernalstrip. His last two albums under this monicker, “Walking Through The Galaxy” and “Dazzling”, are well-made electronic albums based on the down-tempo beat, and filled with a fluent piano sounds combined with glitch-ful effects. Suddenly, Kernalstrip decided to use his real name Dongchan, but his musical style has not been turned upside down. Dongchan still mixes synthesizers and the real piano, with some noises in the background.

However, there are some changes in his new album “Fog”. First, Dongchan collaborates with other musicians like OYO of 75A, Theoria, etc. It results in more disruptive tracks that he didn’t make usually as Kernalstrip. There’s also more depth in his music now (which does not mean his past works weren’t authentic, quite contrary). Dare I say it, it is about the sincere representation of the private life in his music.

Like the decision of changing the stage name to the real name, Dongchan’s new music makes us contemplate his inner states with aesthetic sounds. (Jeon Daehan)

♪♫ Listen: “Wait and See” (feat. OYO) + album stream

Dongchan on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook, Twitter.

Electric Planet Five <BR> “Waltz, Seoul”

Electric Planet Five
“Waltz, Seoul”

Waltz is a kind of folk dance which was popular around 19th century in European countries, and it also refers to the music for the dance. Waltz is basically performed in 3/4 time, and nowadays there are some variations in rhythm. However, in any version of Waltz, there is the grace peculiar to Waltz.

Electric Planet Five’s new album “Waltz, Seoul” can be an outstanding example of the contemporary variation for the Waltz. Some tracks only consist of an acoustic piano or a keyboard, but other tracks re made with diverse instruments, such as the sound of the synthesizer and the drum machine on the track “3’O Clock”, or the double bass in a grave tone at the track “Rain”. Despite the variations in the dynamic, all the tracks follow the basic structure of Waltz faithfully, so the album never loses its gracefulness.

Let’s check the title of album, again. “Waltz, Seoul”. We made sure that Electric Planet Five’s new album is a great Waltz album. But why Seoul? Maybe the answer could be “Waltz (of) Seoul”, “Waltz (in) Seoul”, or even “Waltz (from) Seoul”. But it might not be “Waltz (for) Seoul”. Whether you are in Seoul or not, it doesn’t matter anyway. This is obviously Waltz for everyone, everywhere. (Jeon Daehan)

♪♫ Listen: “Flower” feat. JY Lee, Inseop Song + album stream

Electric Planet Five on Facebook, Instagram, www.

Hyejin Shin (신혜진) <BR> “cnsntr”

Hyejin Shin (신혜진)

Noise, glitch, and beat. Those are all you can hear in “cnsntr”, the debut EP of Hyejin Shin. Sometimes a melody-like “thing” cuts through your ear inside the aggressive noise field, but that thing is too sharp and metallic to consider it as a proper melody. This EP is not for everyone. But if you enjoy somewhat borderline and leftfield stuff (especially, Autechre) you would be immediately absorbed into this glitchy abyss.

Aggressiveness of “cnsntr” comes from the nature of heavy irregularity. The sonic material of the album is severely distorted, only to make listeners nervous. But what makes this album more unreliable is the violent interference of silence, not only between the sound but also “next to” the noise and glitches. Darkness is more fearful when it stays beside the uneven shape, because we won’t know what will come next.

This is where Hyejin Shin stands out. She knows the power of silence as well as the distorted beauty of noise. “cnsntr” is one of the tensest pieces released in 2018, and this noisy asymmetry won’t stop triggering your nerve. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “nerv” + album stream

Hyejin Shin on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Instagram.

Jang Pil-soon (장필순) <BR> “soony eight: Sogilhwa”

Jang Pil-soon (장필순)
“soony eight: Sogilhwa”

Anyone who hears Jang Pil-soon for the first time is mesmerized by her voice. Her hoarse, rusted tone goes deep into one’s ears, or heart. Even if you cannot understand the meaning of her words, you are able to understand the deserted emotion created by Jang’s voice. In “soony eight: Sogilhwa”, it is accompanied by minimal folk instruments and atmospheric ambient sound.

Jang Pil-soon is easily one of the most legendary artists in the South Korean music scene. She has succeeded the lush history of Korean contemporary folk music, and reinvigorated it with progressive attempt. With Penicillium Music (푸른곰팡이, formerly “Hana Music”), the musical community which she belong to, “soony eight: Sogilhwa” is made in Sogil-ri, the beautiful town located in northeastern part of Jeju island.

What does “community-based” music mean? “soony eight: Sogilhwa” shows some kind of answer to this question. Jang Pil-soon made another small record, but it encompasses a load of things inside it. Verdant nature, tiny but reliable community of nomadic musicians, loneliness and other deeply personal matters… It proves that the slow, but astounding force of South Korean folk music is still living through history. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “The Beautiful Name (아름다운 이름)”

Penicillium Music on Facebook.

Jangmyeongsun “A Premature and Meaningless Confession”

Jangmyeongsun “A Premature and Meaningless Confession”

When can we say that something is transparent? American Philosopher Kendall Walton said that if things are transparent, then “We see the world through them”. Thus, if something is transparent, it should be like a window that can project the landscapes through it.

At first, I couldn’t understand this thesis, because it is not logical. Intuitionally, seeing the photograph is just seeing the photograph, not the thing/world itself. However, after I heard Jangmyeongsun’s (장명선) album, I started to believe in the transparency.

“A Premature and Meaningless Confession” (이르고 무의미한 고백), the singer-songwriter’s first LP, seems opaque only in terms of its sound. She uses the opaque sources such as synthesizer’s calm sound, flickering glitch effects, and some reverb for vocals. These sounds form dreamy and ambiguous atmosphere over the whole album.

She said she wanted to present the premature and meaningless anxiety at the moment of falling in love, and express the relief of the anxiety. If you understand Korean, then you can feel it on this album exactly. She does not just mediate the feeling by the sound and lyrics, but delivers it directly to listeners.

Now, I cannot help agreeing with Walton’s argument: We listen to the world through Jangmyeongsun’s music. (Jeon Daehan)

♪♫ Listen: “All of Yours” + album stream

Jangmyeongsun on Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, Bandcamp.

Jvcki Wai <BR> “Enchanted Propaganda”

Jvcki Wai
“Enchanted Propaganda”

When you hear today’s mainstream hip-hop music, you may realize that this genre has come through a long way since the ‘80s. Blunt drum beats and jazzy samplings yielded their way to ever-splitting electronic particle and Auto-Tuned voices. Mumble rap, emo rap, Soundcloud rap… you can call this trend in any names, and love it or hate it, we cannot deny this kind sonic experience is pretty much exhilarating. (Personally, I like it)

However, explaining Jvcki Wai (pronounced “Jacki Wai”) and her new album “Enchanted Propaganda” only with these kinds of styles does not sum up the charming aspects of the record. She throws up heavy stuffs in her lyrics, such as mental illness, dogma, propaganda, capitalism, as light as she can, and rips them up in a processed, girly voice and cutting-edge trap beat. It brings weird pleasure. Instead of getting pressed down by those heavy symbols, Jvcki Wai playfully mingles them and uses that lump of symbols as a propellant of emotive explosion.

Some hip-hop fans in South Korea have argued that this album is too mindlessly trendy, or that it’s meaningless – without any value. Well, fuck them who only prowl after “authentic artistry” (of the corny past) and miss the pure energy of the present day. “Enchanted Propaganda” is the significant answer to the question: how emo rap can be emotive? And you shall not underestimate this intensity. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “Enchanted Propaganda” + album stream

Jvcki Wai on Soundcloud, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Kim Haewon (김해원) <BR> “Sea and Myself”

Kim Haewon (김해원)
“Sea and Myself”

Inevitably, folk music is a monotonous genre. Folk musicians heavily rely on voice, lyrics, and guitar, which are too little to generate diversity of sound. But that monotonous nature is the key element of folk music’s intimate force. So here is the question: is there any way to add sonic aesthetics of folk music, without downscaling the innate intimacy of folk music?

Kim Haewon manages to accomplish this hard task successfully in his first solo work, “Sea and Myself” (바다와 나의 변화). Having already proved his musical talent in the duet with Kim Sawol, Kim Haewon opens his quiet contemplation and warm deficiency by solid songwriting and humble sound effects. The soundscape of “Sea And Myself” feels like a person confronting wide sea. There are a lot of hollow space spreads across the songs, and tiny bit of electronic sounds seasons the skeletal guitar and voice, like ripples of the sea.

Considering that Kim Haewon is also a film score composer, it is reasonable that he integrates this sophisticated sound design into the sedate folk music. You will always find the new beauty of this profound folk album every time you revisit. But of course, you can just let this album flow into your mind freely, and it must be one of the most fascinating moments you will ever get. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “Sea And Myself” + album stream

Kim Haewon on Facebook, Twitter.

KIRARA (키라라) <BR> “Sarah”

KIRARA (키라라)

In 2016, there was “Moves” in South Korean year-end list. In 2017, there was “KM”. Do I have the unstoppable bias for KIRARA? Probably, but there are convincing reasons for that.

She produces extremely energetic yet astoundingly charming fragments of electronic sounds that makes you nothing but a dancing freak. It is the chaos composed of bright piano, thumping beats, glimmering effects, fractured soundscape. Nevertheless, we can dance to it. Joyfully, or with a little bit of sadness.

“Sarah” is accompanied with the death of KIRARA’s friend, Chris, who was a genderqueer like her. The album contains the time of 2016 and 2017, her anger, grief, turmoil, and the life as a transgender person, which is closer to death than “socially accepted” cisgender people. If you felt a handful of sentimentality in her music, it’s not the wrong perception. This is not only the danceable chaos of sound, but also the chaos of emotion.

And that is why this album is full of life. From rainbow-like escalating melody of “Wish” to the dripping minimalism of “Water”, “Sarah” unleashes tons of vitality in the name of electronic dance music. The word “Sarah” has the same pronunciation “to live” in Korean, and you will know the meaning of dancing while crying. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “Cone” (원뿔) + album stream

KIRARA on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter.

Mid-Air Thief (공중도둑) <BR> “Crumbling” (무너지기)

Mid-Air Thief (공중도둑)
“Crumbling” (무너지기)

In Mid-Air Thief’s new folktronica album “Crumbling”, things are crumbling. But you could ask: “Which things are exactly crumbling?” Everything. More specifically, everything that we state about the music with our language is crumbling. Folktronica, trip-hop, psych-folk, lo-fi… Whatever you want to call “Crumbling”, the sounds of the album evade any labeling. Its experimentative construction makes the classification as some several genres invalid. Thus, from this aspect, the genre classification becomes meaningless.

Mid-Air Thief deconstructs the hierarchy of sounds used in music, breaking the distinction between linguistic and non-linguistic sources. Usually vocal is defined as an upper (or more key) element than instruments as the only method that can deliver the message or represent the narrative in music. But Mid-Air Thief treats his own and Summer Soul’s vocals like other sounds. Listeners cannot perceive exact lyrics because of superfluous reverb and intentional murmuring. The linguistic source is just one of several ones.

In addition, Mid-Air Thief uses some noise which is made from the mastering process with a cassette recorder, so the non-musical sounds and musical sounds are mixed up in the album. Generally, most of the popular music only adopts musical sounds, which are refined by an exquisite recording and mastering process. But Mid-Air Thief elevates the status of non-musical sounds, which were often classified as noise, deconstructing that whole hierarchy.

Repeatedly, everything is crumbling in “Crumbling”. But there is one exception of the collapse – that this beautiful album was one of the best recordings in South Korea, 2018. (Jeon Daehan)

♪♫ Listen: “Ahhhh, These Chains!” + album stream

Mid-Air Thief on Soundcloud, Bandcamp.



“CLAASIC”. What a sensual rollercoaster. If you don’t agree with this sentence, then watch the music video of “Encore”. Of course, I bet there are few people who disagree with my argument after they have listened to the full album.

Kwon So-hee – nowadays better known as SAAY – started her career as a member of the idol group EvoL back in 2012. A few years later, she intrigued listeners with her first mixtape called “THE ZONE”, which came out in 2017.

Co-produced by R&B singer and K-Pop craftperson Deez, her first solo full-length effort “CLAASSIC” is a superb unison of classic R&B/soul and progressive beats. You can’t stop the deluge of kaleidoscopic synthesizer blowing your ear, but SAAY’s powerful and voluptuous voice take their place firmly, even in this flood.

Modern R&B in South Korea is dauntlessly expanding its sonic borders without any procrastination. Musicians like Sumin, Dean, Hippy Was Gipsy, OLNL, and tons of other artists are excessively leading this trend, and SAAY is walking with them shoulder to shoulder with this impressive debut.

Like the name suggests, “CLAASSIC” will be revered as classic in the future, and it is already the testimony for the rich South Korean R&B scene of 2010s. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “Circle” + album stream

SAAY on Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.


SUMIN (수민)

By the general historical view, the future and the past are antipodes. However, in SUMIN’s new album “YOUR HOME”, the future and the past coexist at the same time. SUMIN obviously makes a reference to 80’s sounds. Mainly, the synthesizer sound which we can hear in the ‘80s synth-pop forms the coherence of the whole album. Shredded beat of 808 drum supports it.

Ironically, SUMIN utilizes these old-fashioned sounds to the state-of-the-art musical style. For example, in second track “Your Home” (너네 집), the beginning is simply formed by the bass line with the ‘80s synthesizer sound. But soon the track develops its overall soundscapes. Especially the accumulation of the chorus is the very contemporary (or even the futuristic) moment, because it seems like the structure of K-pop’s build-up.

Above this, SUMIN makes use of all the diverse styles of contemporary music, such as “PBR&B” and “Future Bounce” in other tracks. SUMIN is obviously one of the most “contemporary” musicians in South Korea. (Jeon Daehan)

♪♫ Listen: “Your Home” (Feat. Xin Seha) + album stream

SUMIN on Soundcloud, Facebook, Instagram.

Voyeur (보이어) <BR> “La Nuit Juste Avant Les Forets”

Voyeur (보이어)
“La Nuit Juste Avant Les Forets”

Shimmering sparks run through the dawn. Their color seems like green, or blue, but I cannot decide whether it is their real color, or the reflection of the forest around them. It is the impression I had when I first heard “La Nuit Juste Avant Les Forets” (숲에 이르기 직전의 밤), the delicate math rock record brought by Voyeur.

Math rock is a varying style, as it encompasses the cacophonous and gritty fuss, and cleaner, guitar-driven scattering melodic rock. The former examples are Slint and Polvo, while the other case can be applied to Japanese acts like Toe and Tricot. Voyeur follows the latter style, and the band compresses the essence of this style in five tracks. Smooth arpeggio of piano and guitar, impactful staccato, swift and versatile rhythmic approach…

But no, the magical moment created by Voyeur on “La Nuit Juste Avant Les Forets” (“The Night Just Before the Forests”) is not defined by the sum of split technical aspects. After following each clear note in the record, you will notice that some kind of dramatic force is spreading into your emotion. The spark lit the fire inside your mind, and fill the determination in your heart. (Guwon Jeong)

♪♫ Listen: “Budeogui Sochi” + album stream

Voyeur on Facebook, Twitter.