2014 was a packed year for Korean indie. It was difficult for me to keep up with everything that bubbling up from its rapidly expanding and diversifying music scene, and I’m sure I missed several great releases from this year. As a listener in 2014, hip-hop and experimental stuff slipped off my radar and I gravitated towards rock music. Korea’s output of solid and engaging rock albums was nothing short of impressive.

My list is by no means exhaustive. I’d like to think of it as an “albums I enjoyed the most” list rather than “best albums of the year list.” These albums are the ones that stuck with me the most – the ones that had that little extra something to keep me coming back for more.

ironic hue for melting steel

Ironic Hue : For Melting Steel

It took me a while to truly appreciate this album, but now I can’t stop listening to it. Ironic Hue’s music isn’t necessarily cutting edge, but it’s dimensional, level-headed, and has remarkable emotional maturity.

파급효과 (Ripple Effect)

Just Music : Ripple Effect

This album has its flaws, but it was arguably the boldest thing to come out of Korean hip-hop in 2014. It’s moody, relentless, and packed with fire. Nochang, who headed the album, deserves a round of applause for being so competent in his singing, rapping, and producing. I think he has the potential to become one of Korean hip-hop’s pioneers with his striking trademark sound.

unchained visible

Unchained : Thorn

Badass. Nothing more to be said.

pavlov 26

Pavlov : 26

Grungy, sassy, boyish rock’n’roll with killer energy. 26 is deceptively spontaneous; its energy is so raw and pure that it sounds like it jumped right out of Pavlov and into the microphone. But the more I listened to 26, the more I started to pick up on little intricacies in the rhythm and arrangement that made me realize how thoughtfully crafted this album actually is. It’s smart and fun – the best combination.

life and time the great deep

Life and Time : The Great Deep

The Great Deep screams “SUMMER!” louder than any other album I’ve heard, and it doesn’t even rely on ukeleles or steel drums. I love how youthful and chill it is, and it never fails to bring a smile to my face. It’s brimming with bouncy rhythms and dreamy lines that just carry you and bring you to a warm place.

hanumpa tinnitus

Hanumpa : Tinnitus

Tinnitus is forward thinking, complex, and wild, but not alienating. There is an impressive amount of craft put into this album; it’s well developed not only in its composition but in its emotional content. This album could have been totally pretentious, but instead it’s a fun, stimulating, and cathartic ride.

the blocs blocs

The Blocs : Self-Titled

You can’t go wrong with this album. Blocs bare their hearts with melodies that really grab you and dig deep. The atmospheres are vast, immersive, and easy to get lost inside of. I could blame Blocs for sounding too derivative of other musical groups, but their voice feels so clear and sincere that I don’t really care.

lee jang hyuk vol 3

Lee Jang Hyuk : Lee Jang Hyuk

Lee Jang Hyuk is like musical poetry; it achieves a lot with very little. Lee Jang Hyuk brings his musical ideas to life with beautiful restraint and eloquence. The album is crystal clear, without any excessive bells and whistles to murk it up.

loro's wandy

Loro’s : W.A.N.D.Y

I was initially so frustrated with W.A.N.D.Y’s basic piano writing that I wrote it off. But in the past couple weeks, I have begun to wake up to the album’s beauty. I appreciate it for its humanness; through their music, Loro’s capture the spectrum of human emotion and offer a means to understand and heal from those emotions. The album is exquisitely crafted, and each track contains moments that will take your breath away.

Honorable Mentions:

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Danpyunsun and the Sailors : Animal

I never completely got into this album, but it deserves respect for being so adventurous, and for having some of the most kickass violin writing I’ve ever heard.

Kim Sa Wol x Kim Hae Won

Kim Sawol x Kim Haewon : Secret

A high quality treat to the ears.

juuno shift

JUUNO : Shift

A crisp and articulate electronic album that sets itself apart with its emotional depth.

oohyo girl sense

OOHYO : A Girl’s Sense

A Girl’s Sense is a perfect spot between sweet but not too sweet.

rainbow99 SEOUL

RAINBOW99 : Seoul

Seoul served up some of the juiciest atmospheres of the year. It’s dark, moody, and evocative.

solutions

The Solutions : Movements

Perky and adorable but also nicely crafted. “I Don’t Wanna” was my Korean indie jam of the year.

A composer of music myself who has been inspired by Korean indie music for many years, specifically rock, electronic, and experimental music.