Wednesday, May 28, 2014

REPLY 2013: Top 20 Korean Albums of 2013

After weeks and months of pushing off on it, I've finally decided to just go ahead with it and post it: the Top 20 Korean Albums of 2013. Unfortunately, I was terrible at keeping track of everything I listened to in 2013, but from what I could remember, I listened to just over 100 albums released between December 1, 2012 ~ November 30, 2013. Which is probably a dozen or so fewer than what I listened to from 2012 for that year's round-up post. Which isn't bad, but still, it probably could've been better. Also, I was terribly uninspired in 2013 (as you could see from the dire lack of updates on this wee blog) which ultimately resulted in these awfully late round-up posts. I am not proud of myself. But let's get this over with and move on. Few important notes about this post:

  • This list includes albums released between December 1, 2012 and November 30, 2013.
  • Unlike my previous round-up lists, this list is not ranked. The list is in alphabet order.
  • This is a subjective list.
One interesting thing to note about this year's list is that it's unranked. It was really difficult to rank the albums, hence, alphabetical.

Honourable Mention:
The Ratios || Lusty Initialization
2013.09.17 || Evermore Music || Mirrorball Music

Honourable mention for 2013 is Kim Bada's electronic rock band The Ratios' re-recorded release, Lusty Initialization. Originally released in 2008, Lusty Initialization was an "electronic heavy rock" album that was different from what was popular in the scene in those days. This newly recorded re-release still proves the timelessness of the album and announced the triumphant return of The Ratios.

favourite tracks: "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! (feat. Crayon Pop)", "Love Is All", "Into the Rainbow"

Asian Chairshot || 탈 (Mask)
2013.05.20 || Dada Music || CJ E&M 

Asian Chairshot topped my "top 30 songs of 2013" list with their shockingly beautiful track "소녀". The rest of the album is no exception; the band maintains an utterly engrossing and powerful sound throughout the EP. The album itself is only four tracks long, but lasts an impressive 25 minutes, with all the songs over 5 minutes long. Fusing grunge with vocals and melodies reminiscent of Korean traditional music, Asian Chairshot manages to mold a truly memorable sound through Mask.

favourite tracks: "소녀", "꽃"

이이언 (eAeon) || Realize
2012.12.26 || Elephant Music || Sony Music 

eAeon's first solo album Guilt-Free is probably one of my favourite albums of all time, despite only being released in early 2012. I don't know too much about music, but I am certain that eAeon is a true genius. He has a very distinct sound that is uniquely "eAeon", and he shows us a glimpse of his world again in this short acoustic EP. Taking a different approach from his usual electronic sounds, he goes full acoustic on this album, and pulls it off beautifully. Notable is his acoustic take on Daft Punk's "Harder Better Faster Stronger", which is a real treat to the ears.

favourite tracks: "My Little Piggy", "Bulletproof", "Harder Better Faster Stronger"

f(x) || Pink Tape
2013.07.29 || SM Entertainment || KT Music 

f(x)'s second full-length album solidified f(x)'s spot in my heart. Choke-full of pretty electronic gems, Pink Tape showcases f(x)'s best musical assets, playing the girl group's strengths to the fullest. From the lovely vocals of Luna and Krystal, refreshing rapping from Amber, to the adorable half-talking/half-rapping from Sulli and Victoria, this album is a true delight among all the tiring idol releases of 2013.

favourite tracks: "첫 사랑니 (Rum Pum Pum Pum)", "Airplane", "미행 (그림자: Shadow)", "Snapshot"

화나 (FANA) || FANAttitude 
2013.07.19 || The Ugly Junction || CJ E&M 

The most impressive factor about FANA's second album is that the album doesn't have any featurings, which is very rare in a Korean hip-hop release. FANA manages to get through the 11-track album by himself, and does a great job at it. Despite the album being only FANA and his rapping, it is never boring, and actually pretty damn catchy. Including awesome songs like the hopeful head-bopping "Que Sera Sera" to the menacing personal anthem "Gum", FANAtittude is one of the few hip-hop albums that I thoroughly enjoy.

favourite tracks: "Que Sera Sera", "신발끈 블루스", "Gum"

하동균 (Ha Dong Kyun) || Mark
2012.12.17 || WS Entertainment || CJ E&M

Ha Dong Kyun's much-awaited return to the music scene was a quiet one, but one that left a deep impression on me. Listening to the Brit-rock influenced ballads on this short EP, I was able to confirm once again that Ha Dong Kyun has one of my favourite voices in the Korean ballad scene. Mark is is a beautiful album, full of sincerity and sentimentality.

favourite tracks: "From Mark", "Go Forward", "After The Love"

회기동 단편선 (Hoegidong Danpyunsun) || 처녀 (Virgin) 
2013.06.23 || Bissantrophy Records || Jarip Co-Op 

Hoegidong Danpyusun - Danpyunsun, as he is mostly called - is an odd one. His first release 백년 (Hundred Years) wasn't a particularly memorable album for me, although I didn't know anything about him and only listened through the album once. Virgin is a more daring project, and a glimpse of that can be seen through the album art, which prominently displays Danpyunsun in his cross-dressing garbs. (He wears dresses frequently for his shows.) The fact that he titled this EP "Virgin" is also notable. His lyrics are profound and almost political, and I hesitate to approach them in fear of poor analysis. Nonetheless, the folk sound of the album, reminiscent of old Korean folk tunes but also popular Western folk music of today, is addicting to say the least, and surprisingly well-polished in its roughness.

favourite tracks: "공", "언덕"

김태춘 (Kim Tae Chun) || 가축병원블루스 (Animal Hospital Blues) 
2013.03.05 || Electric Muse || Mirrorball Music 

The seemingly sudden emergence of blues in the Korean indie scene in recent times may seem odd but perhaps fitting, considering the political and social turmoil of the country at the moment. One of the front-runners of this musical movement, Kim Tae Chun is almost painfully direct and unapologetically political in his first album Animal Hospital Blues. He dubbed this album "comfort music for the losers of the world", which is apt, considering how approachable this album is.

favourite tracks: "가축병원블루스", "좆같은 세상 갈아엎어요", "내 사랑은 롯데캐슬 위에"

청년들 (The Lads) || 청춘 (Youth) 
2013.06.05 || Stay Young || Mirrorball Music 

Released through social funding without a backing from a music label, Youth by The Lads was a one-of-a-kind debut release. The album may come off as trite to many, especially to listeners who are familiar with the American and British garage rock from which the band seems to get a lot of their inspirations from. Yet it is attractive in its youthfulness and catchy rock'n'roll tunes. And even their familiar and mostly unoriginal sounds induce a sense of pleasant nostalgia more than anything else. A reminder that seems to shout, this is the music of the young generation, truly timeless rock'n'roll.

favourite tracks: "108", "Texas Song"

Mayson The Soul || Jackasoul
2013.09.30 || Finest Records || KT Music 

Biggest musical surprise in 2013 for me, as Mayson The Soul came out of nowhere with this amazing EP. Catchy and refreshing with Mayson the Soul's fantastic vocals, Jackasoul is a great little EP to listen to.

favourite tracks: "Holiday (feat. Beenzino)", "Lost"

Various Artists || 이야기해주세요 - 두 번째 노래들 (Please Talk - Second Songs)
2013.10.29 || Please Talk || Mirrorball Music 

Various female singer-songwriters returned once again to produce this beautiful collection of songs that remind us of the Korean comfort women who should never be neglected by history, ever again. A follow-up to 2012 release Please Talk, this album saw more famous artists like Lee Hyori and Horan join the group of very talented women from a variety of genres. The album itself feels more unified than the first album with its underlying acoustic sounds. There were 60 Korean comfort women alive at the time of the first album's release. And in less than a year, at the release of this album, the number decreased to 56. The album is a painful, but much-needed, reminder, asking us gently to never forget.

favourite tracks: "살아있었네" by 전기흐른 (Electricity Flowing), "날 잊지 말아요" by Lee Hyori, "나무무덤" by Jung Nari

Rainbow99 || Dream Pop
2013.03.28 || Magic Strawberry Sound || Mirrorball Music 

Talented guitarist and singer-songwriter Rainbow99 has worked with a variety of notable musicians like Hwang Bo Ryung, Adultchild, Oldfish, Siwa and Oksangdalbit along with his own myriad of project bands. For his solo album Dream Pop, he showcases a pleasant and dreamy sound befitting the album title. This is a vast album that seems to understand space very well, as the pretty sounds ring throughout the body of work.

favourite tracks: "Dream Pop", "KTX (feat. Hwang Bo Ryung)", "Morning, Airport"

Rock'n'Roll Radio || Shut Up And Dance
2013.10.21 || Hipsquare || CJ E&M 

This album took a while, but it finally got there. Much acclaimed rock band Rock'n'Roll Radio was famous in the scene even prior to the release for their energetic lives. And this album didn't disappoint. Utterly catchy, Shut Up And Dance is especially notable thanks to the perseverance and effort of the band members in making this album possible.

favourite tracks: "낸들 어쩌겠어요",  "Shut Up And Dance", "Neverland"

씨 없는 수박 김대중 (Seedless Watermelon Kim Dae Joong) || 씨 없는 수박 (Seedless Watermelon) 
2013.05.20 || BGBG Records || Mirrorball Music

Similar to Kim Tae Chun in his honesty and blues approach, but definitely more political, Seedless Watermelon Kim Dae Joong was the blues star of 2013 for me. Attractive in its ugliness, Seedless Watermelon Kim Dae Joong's sound is one that lingers, and Seedless Watermelon is a true human drama of an album.

favourite tracks: "씨 없는 수박 (pt. 1 & 2)", "불효자는 놉니다", "300/30"

선우정아 (Sun Woo Jung Ah) || It's Okay, Dear
2013.04.02 || Magic Strawberry Sound || Mirrorball Music 

Sun Woo Jung Ah not only proved her vocal prowess through her second full-length album It's Okay, Dear, but also her artistic ingenuity. Dramatic from start to beginning, Sun Woo Jung Ah's voice shines throughout the album, bold in some songs, timid in others. All the songs on this album are excellent, each one of them title track-worthy.

favorite tracks: "뱁세", "당신을 파괴하는 순간", "Purple Daddy"

Telefly || Avalokitesvara
2013.07.04 || Electric Muse || Mirrorball Music 

Telefly's first EP, released two years after their terrific first full-length album Ultimate Psychedelic, was a step up from their previous album in its exploding sounds. The five-track EP doesn't stop at all as it runs high-energy throughout the album, even during its slower tracks.

favourite tracks: "메아리", "구름"

We Are The Night || We Are The Night
2014.04.25 || Ruby Record || Sunday Disco

We Are The Night is a reform band of sorts, comprised of members from the emo-punk band Rocket Diary. Yet, through their self-titled album, they show a surprisingly thorough understanding of dance pop. Extremely catchy and danceable, We Are The Night is a perfect album for a summer night drive, and one of the best synthpop releases of 2013.

favourite tracks: "We Are The Night", "뜨거운 너는 내게 말했지", "벽"

야야 (YaYa) || 잔혹영화 (Cruel Film) 
2013.08.28 || D Ocean Music || Mirrorball Music

Singer-songwriter and artist Yaya embarked on her journey as a solo artist after her drummer Aya left following their first album 곡예 (Circus). Yet she maintains her original dramatic sounds in this album, with even more horror and mystique. This album is long, and at times painful to listen to. Its sound and subject matter cruel, morbid. But just like a good horror movie - it's hard to look away. It's a terrifying album, befitting its title.

favourite tracks: "살인자의 노래", "Red Devil's Woman", "붉은 마녀"

이승열 (Yi Sung Yol) ||
2013.05.23 || Fluxus || KT Music

This list is not ranked but Yi Sung Yol's fourth album V is probably the closest to the "number one album of the year" title. From the opening track "Minotaur" which incorporates an excerpt from Camus's The Stranger until the last track "Cynic" with its cryptic lyrics, V is a profound, dense album that demands your full attention. The sounds seem utterly strange as well, with the usage of the Vietnamese traditional instrument dan bau. This is a difficult, complicated body of art, and definitely not the easiest to approach. But just like any other good works of art, it makes you think for long after your first encounter with it.

favourite tracks: "Minotaur", "We Are Dying", "Satin Camel"

Zion.T || Red Light
2013.04.09 || Amoeba Culture || Loen Entertainment 

Zion.T helped put Primary on my "best of" lists in 2012, and he does it for himself again for 2013 with his solo endeavours. Red Light, the official first full-length album from Zion.T is a solid pop album, full of Zion.T's unique charms. Zion.T's wonderfully attractive voice shines in this confident album. There's not a single song to throw away.

favourite tracks: "도도해", "Babay (feat. Gaeko)", "지구온난화 (feat. YDG)" 

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