2021 was a dense year of music with a lot more releases than I could cover. Also this year, Korean Indie reached 10 years of existence which was a nice touch. There was a definite trend in the types of music that were released throughout the year which can be seen through this list. With 2021 coming to a close, here is a list of my favorite releases this year from full lengths to EPs and singles.
Dajung : Jay Knife
Dajung‘s return was a welcome release. Taking many of her j.knife-era tracks and reintroducing herself as Dajung, she’s set herself up as a new voice within Korean music. She presents her influences plainly while also presenting something unique. It’s the perfect kind of new chapter in Korean music, not locked into old styles, and taking a more international inspiration to music.
St. lenox : Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for our Tumultuous Times
St. Lenox‘s fourth full length is dense and layered. It’s an album that requires more than a casual playthrough because of the very specific and detailed lyrics that tell stories. Like I say in my review, St. Lenox makes me feel dumb about music because as much as I appreciate it, I still miss a lot.
Universe Mongae (우주멍게) : Adults Only
Electronic music has some of the widest variety of styles. You can basically find an artist that will speak to your current mood. Universe Mongae has been consistently releasing music, but Adults Only cements her style and perspective. It’s a no-holds-barred set of songs that captures her power as an artist.
COR3A : Commemoration
Ambient and noise-based electronic music isn’t uncommon, but finding artists takes a lot of work. COR3A features three distinct voices that combine as one voice. It takes masterful skill to create ambient audioscapes that stay engaging and interesting. These three songs continue to elevate COR3A as some of the subgenres experts.
HAEPAARY : Born by Gorgeousness
One major trend that I saw in 2021 was artists/groups taking Korean traditional music foundations and evolving them in different ways. The genre has been in the background for some years, but this year it exploded. HAEPAARY was among the artists that released music and Born by Gorgeousness will be one of the standout releases for this genre.
eundohee : Unforeseen
The progression that artists can have from release to release is amazing. eundohee’s Unforeseen is a timeless album. The indie rock foundation expands and you get a release that has a different level of depth. Even though it was released in 2021, this album will never sound dated and serves as her signature, at least right now.
Meaningful Stone (김뜻돌) : COBALT
The difference between Meaningful Stone’s A Call from My Dream to COBALT is astounding. It’s almost like she rebooted herself. COBALT is a more mature and confident EP and every song builds on the one before it. Her full length showed off her songwriting skills, but COBALT sounds like she’s actually having fun. I can’t guess where she’ll go from here.
Wings of the ISANG : The Borderline between Hope and Despair
It was surprising to see a new Wings of the ISANG album arrive. The 10 song album brings me back to my post-rock and shoegaze days and bands within this genre are shrinking. The Borderline between Hope and Despair is a statement album. And it’s an album that’s worth your one hour and 15 minutes of attention.
Meejah : Queen of Spring
I spent a lot more time trying to find and listen to Korean diaspora artists, especially those who are exploring their ethnic roots. Meejah’s Queen of Spring is an audio exploration of the “8 trigrams in Korean and Taoist philosophy” and presents a heavy, but melodic and ambient experience. It’s a deep album that deserves attention.
Synsnake : Fluxus
If you didn’t know better you might confuse Synsnake and Messgram. Both bands play a synth-accented melodic rock and hardcore style. Synsnake’s full length might be a little uneven with some songs working better than others, but at a cohesive album, there’s nothing better for the genre in 2021.
Soumbalgwang (소음발광) : Happiness, Flower
I don’t think there’s another album that has the energy level that Soumbalgwang brings. There are times that I thought the album shouldn’t work as well as it does, but every single track on Happiness, Flower is great. There’s a level of abandon that’s been missing from music, but Soumbalgwang brings it back right when it’s needed.
Neon Bunny (야광토끼) : KOSMOS
I think Neon Bunny was stuck under her Stay Gold-era for a long time. KOSMOS essentially is a “fuck you” to expectations that she would reproduce the same type of music again. Neon Bunny is in a new place in her music where she controls the narrative instead of meeting mass audience expectations and her music is better with that in mind.
Cacophony : Reborn
Cacophony doesn’t make music, she makes experiences. I’ve only glanced at the surface of Reborn, but it’s like listening to a soundtrack. Her music isn’t tied to the release year, it’s more tied to the moment you hear her music and how your perspective changes after hearing a single song.
Bosudongcooler : Sand
Bosudongcooler‘s Sand might feel like a melancholy indie rock album, but that impression might blur the talent behind the music. There is comfort in every one of the band’s songs even if the topic might not be the best and generally Sand stays in your mind far beyond the 33+ minutes.
Music that Stuck Around
There is also a bunch of music that I listened to throughout the year. I don’t review singles and usually leave those to playlists. Here are some of the albums that I listened to consistently throughout 2021.