2017 has been an exciting year for the Korean indie music scene, both for emerging and returning talent. A lot of new, groundbreaking albums have been released, a trend I hope will continue into 2018. My picks are ordered along a train of thought instead of chronologically.
Having debuted this year, Se So Neon has taken the place that Hyukoh had briefly occupied before its rise to mainstream fame. Their first EP is compact, alluring, and powerful.
Silica Gel & Parasol : Space Angel
This single delivered a very heavy punch, paving the way for a trend of psychedelic kitsch in the Korean indie scene. The slightly out-of-tune guitar tone featured here went on to pervade the sounds of many other bands.
NST & The Soul Sauce had already turned heads during their test run the previous year as the reggae dream team. This album is a milestone linking music from two different roots into a coherent whole.
While Sister’s Barbershop announced permanent disbandment months after this album had been released, I could feel a sense of finality in just how meticulously the tracks were constructed – one only tries so hard thinking they would never have to do it again. Their legacy as pioneers of modern rock in the Korean indie scene lives on through numerous musicians.
No other Korean indie band is perhaps as committed to psychedelic and noise rock than 3rd Line Butterfly. Divided by Zero, their first full album since 2012, proves their veteran artist status.
While the band is new, its members are not rookies by any means. ADOY’s clever combination of synth pop and shoegaze featured in this album is a nostalgia-laden jab at “commercial indie.”
Jazzyfact : Waves Like
As Beenzino is serving his military duty, Jazzyfact is probably not coming back again for another couple of years, in spite of having broken its 6-year inactivity with this album. The Japanese city pop samples in the beats caught onto what had been on the cutting edge of trendiness among Korean hipsters, while the lyricism and style as always offer an alternative to trap.
Decadent is best described as a performance art collective rather than a band. Their music and performances are sharp and on-edge, almost feverish. They are also truly independent, with no label producing their music. Their energy will continue to pervade the Korean indie scene.
Shin Hae Gyeong’s music refuses to be defined by just shoegaze, instead combining modern rock and psychedelic elements with pop into a delicate structure. Shin Hae Gyeong adds an important aspect of diversity to the Korean indie music scene.
Jeebanoff : KARMA
While 2017 has been a prolific year for Korean R&B and neo soul musicians, Jeebanoff neatly ties all of such progress together and takes another step forward. Elements of hip hop, funk, new jack, and synth pop can all be found in the album. This is currently Korea’s most polished alternative R&B.
Yozoh played a huge role in defining what many Koreans think of when they hear the word “indie”: pop folk. While many have jumped onto the tide brought by the genre’s mainstream success, few have successfully taken steps forward with it, which is why this album’s forays into rock is promising.
Fana : Fanaconda
While the “dark” rapping styles of Ignito and Woo Won-jae have been turned into gimmicks as a consequence of the rappers’ mainstream exposure, Fana is steadfast in his pursuit of darkness. Each track, from the beats to the lyrics and execution, are works of art, as is the leather-covered album that cost more to make than its selling price.
I also loved releases by acts like Dear Cloud, Jeon Jin Hee, Bye Bye Badman, and Jun Bum Sun & the Yangbans, whose albums did not make my list because they were too season-specific or released too late in the year to have had a great impact on the scene. I would also like to shout out to the young talent on Soundcloud (the almost90 crew, GILLA, Rheehab, SLCHLD, and many more), blazing the trail for what seems to be becoming a new front of the Korean indie music scene.