2019 has been a year of transitions for me. The process of leaving familiar communities for new ones was an opportunity for me to really think about my own tastes as opposed to the facade I tended to put up for the sake of socialization.
My picks for this year are, in this sense, more personal. There have been many releases this year that I think are meaningful within a cultural context, but I made it a point to set those aside this time. I’ll try to get around to writing full-on reviews for those. Here are my favorite albums of 2019.
I honestly don’t listen to that much hip hop because while I respect and enjoy the medium, I am often disgusted by the messages, especially when it comes to Korean hip hop. This album has none of the visceral machismo that puts me off. O’Domar instead showcases a refreshing level of self-awareness through his lyricism, and goes on to construct a concrete narrative. This is hands down one of my favorite albums.
Kirara : cts6
It’s no secret that we at Korean Indie are huge fans of Kirara and her music. But I beg you to set aside that history for a moment as I say this: cts6 fucking slaps. It’s sleek yet energetic, somehow at once polished and raw. It’s exactly one second into the album’s first track and I’m already off dancing. It’s rave music.
Lim Kim : Generasian
Her earlier release “SAL-KI” was a great statement of purpose that set up this album. Generasian is reminiscent of MIA’s earlier releases, but context is everything here. I don’t know where she got the idea to stick one to orientalism and fetishization of Asian women (oh wait…), but this album does that perfectly. It’s meant to be shocking and jarring, though I do worry that those who need to hear the message most won’t ever read closely enough into the album.
Sultan of the Disco : Easy Listening for Love
The title of the album is fairly self-explanatory. There are times when certain albums help define the mood of an entire season for me. This album was a staple for long summer drives this year.
Thornapple : Enlightenment
While perhaps lacking the almost lunatic rawness of their first album, Enlightenment showcases much more polished energy. This album signifies a rare point in a band’s career when experience and musical growth naturally seeps in without cannibalizing the band’s persona.
XXX : SECOND LANGUAGE
It’s hard to follow up on an album as impactful as LANGUAGE, but XXX has managed to pull it off. Technically it’s still the second CD of the first album, but either way it’s a masterpiece. FRNK’s beats are still singular, Kim Ximya’s rap skills are still unmatched. The persona represented in the lyrics is a little rough around the edges, but I’m partial to clues of the existence of a critical consciousness.
QRIAN : QRIAN – EP
This one came somewhat out of the blue for me, I only first discovered QRIAN because Kim Kate of the underground electronic music label Honey Badger Records had been involved in this album’s production. But his input in this album is marginal; Qrian handled a bulk of the production and performance. The album wrestles a sense of identity out of a misogynistic and racist society’s hands.
L-Like : Process
I started following L-Like because she is such a great DJ. I really anticipated this album because a lot of her sets were focused on disco and lounge music. My anticipation was well-met with this groovy album. It’s also cool that sogumm’s voice could be heard here, because her work with dress on Not my fault came out just a few weeks before this album and then she broke out into the mainstream shortly after through AOMG’s audition show.
This album was released in January, but I chanced upon it this summer. The 80s-inspired synthwave of “Neutralize” first caught my ear, and then came the funk of “Guilty Pleasure” and I was hooked. I do admit that my love for vaporwave and retro synth sounds was enjoying a resurgence because I began watching Stranger Things this summer. But still, it was refreshing to hear a Korean voice in this format.