The best songs of 2017 - Part 2 (#1 - #20)
So here it is, our final rundown of the 40 best songs produced in Korea or by Korean artists. We already did part one of our list and you can read it here. Now we're getting down to the real nitty gritty with our top 20 songs of the year.
Rainbow99 | Night Bus
Ambient, experimental. For fans of Sigur Ros, Kraftwerk, Bjork.
What a year it has been for this man. The guitarist/producer has been in prolific form with a series of collaborative albums that have spanned different genres and outlooks. He’s put out so much quality work this year that picking a standout is difficult but his double album Europe edges it. The epic ode to travelling across the European continent is an ambitious project but Rainbow 99, together with vocalist HYEJiPark has put together an astonishing body of work that really speaks to the wanderer in you. Of all the great songs on this album, the 80s synth inspired ambience of Night Bus is our favourite. This chilled track makes us want to stare out of a train window on a long journey, preferably listening to Rainbow99. For more information click here.
Twomyung | Cat on Window Sill
Trip-hop, electronic, post-punk. For fans of Massive Attack, Portishead, The Cure.
Earlier this year we were blown away by the brooding work of TwoMyung. Their clever, Massive Attack-inspired music is the product of a two-piece made up of Hyun Seo and Kyeong Jun. Their 2017 EP is 5 tracks of cool, dark electronica that’s is somehow frantic and composed at the same time. Cat on Window Sill is a particular highlight, drawing on their love of trip-hop and adding a post-punk atmosphere to proceedings. For more information click here.
HIZY | Cliché
RnB, dark-pop. For fans of MIA, Santigold, Peaches.
One of the most surprising releases of the year was the debut single by Seoul-based songwriter HIZY. The title of this track must be ironic: the ethereal, almost sinister Cliche is loaded with cliché-breaking production and atmosphere. The vocals are extraordinary with a weird sense of juxtaposition – they’re both hushed, aggressive and contradictorily sultry. It’s an ice cold track that sits firmly on the cutting edge of modern RnB. For more information click here.
Kero One and Azure | Real Ones
Rap, hip-hop. For fans of Jurassic 5, De La Soul.
Korean-American rappers Kero One and Azure released a jazz-hop masterclass this year with their exceptional album Kero and Azure. We could have included one of several songs from that LP on this list but their track Real Ones is a highlight. An ode to not being a jerk, the humorous lyrics outline the behaviour you need to be a “real one” such as “driving drunk homies home” and “not sliding in my girls DMs”. It’s backed by outright funk blast of a bassline and very cool beat. It’s a fun track that was a firm favourite of ours over the summer. For more information click here.
Secret Asian Men | Time
Indie, rock. For fans of Wavves, Teenage Fanclub.
We’ve been huge fans of SAM since the release of their debut album in 2016 and we were eagerly awaiting the release of some new music this year. I’m pleased to say that we weren’t disappointed – 2017’s Context EP is fantastic. Drawing more from the bands 90s alt-pop influences, the 5-track release is a confident and nostalgic soundtrack to coming of age. Time sees the band at their most raucous and energetic, a sound that undeniably suits them. For more information click here.
Say Sue Me | Good For Some Reason
Indie, surf, rock. For fans of The Drums, Surfer Blood.
What a year it’s been for KSM favourites Say Sue Me! Their popularity has really exploded in the last year with international radio DJs clamouring to play their lively, surf-infused indie pop. And rightly so, they rarely seem to put a foot wrong with their 2017 single Good For Some Reason continuing this consistent quality. The track is a typically summery affair with jangly guitars and surf rock riffs. The lyrics, about staying positive in the face of pessimism, reflect the band’s sound perfectly. For more information click here.
Akimbo | Genesis
House, experimental. For fans of Jambinai, Santigold, Simian Mobile Disco, Cassius.
Akimbo is an incredibly unique artist. Mixing traditional Korean instruments with a very contemporary, avant-garde house sound is an experiment that has paid off wildly for the DJ, who’s making waves with his completely original sound. Possibly the best example of this is his 2017 single Genesis. Like many of songs, Genesis fuses Korean drums and vocals with subtle electronic production. The result is an implosively intense 6-minute track that’s both danceable and disturbing. For more information click here.
Tengger | Spiritual
Ambient, electronic. For fans of Sigur Ros, Kraftwerk, Explosions in the Sky.
Spiritual is a relatively energetic number, by Tengger’s usual, ambient soundscapey standards but it suits them well. Taken from their recent album of the same name, the track sees the psychedelic electronic duo at their experimental best with visceral pads and glistening synths laid over a looping beat and accordion sound. It’s the perfect introduction to a fantastic album. For more information click here.
Dead Buttons | Bloom / Foggy Night
Rock, garage. For fans of The Cramps, White Stripes, The Beatles, Misfits.
OK, so we’re kind of cheating here by having two cuts from Dead Buttons’ rabbits but we just couldn’t choose between these two songs. Both in their own way represent separate facets of Dead Buttons sound and between them reveal what made their 2017 album such a joy to listen to. Bloom shows the band at their most ferocious drawing heavily on their love of all things punk. It’s a messy, untamed affair that invokes the energy of White Light White Heat. The second track, Foggy Night, is a little more elusive. In a way, it's a shame that Season 3 of Twin Peaks came out a month before rabbit, since this creepy, Cramps-esque track would have been perfect for the soundtrack. For more information click here.
75A | Fake Diamond
Trip-hop, minimalist. For fans of Massive Attack, FKA Twigs.
So for the second instalment in a row, we’re cheating. 75A’s self-titled debut came out in December of 2016, a few weeks after we released our best songs of the year list. This album, especially this track, absolutely blew us away and we felt it needed to be included on one of these lists so here it is. Fake Diamond is absolutely dripping minimalist atmosphere; from the opening drums to the delicately delivered vocals to the heart-wrenching synth-pads. For more information click here.
Yaeji | Raingurl
House, electro. For fans of Disclosure, Charlie XCX, Alice Glass.
What a year it has been for Yaeji. The Korean-American producer has been at the forefront of critical praise with Pitchfork Magazine calling her “the most exciting voice in house music”. With tracks like it’s easy to see why she’s so talked about. With its unusual production and offbeat style, Yaeji has produced a dance floor anthem that subverts house music tropes. Her witty lyrics are delivered through a cool, aloof semi-rap vocal style. For more information click here.
Bye Bye Badman | Monolove
Indie, rock, synthpop. For fans of Bombay Bicycle Club, Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
In the few year’s we’ve been writing about Korean music, Bye Bye Badman have gone from a promising but obscure indie-disco band to one of the most popular acts in the country. With their melodic mix of guitar-pop and retro synth sounds, it’s not hard to see why they’re so well loved. Their 2017 singe Monolove is a perfect 3-minutes of warm pop heaven with a pulsating bass and a driving beat. The track is accompanied by a really cool 80s inspired video which matches their very cool 80s-inspired sound. For more information please click here.
The Black Underground | Big Buzz
Fuzz, punk, rock. For fans of Jesus and Mary Chain, Bauhaus.
In November this year, the Portland-based noise-pop band The Black Underground release their nihilistic magnum opus The Darkwave Disco. Fusing the band's usual thick fuzz guitar sound with a darker, post-punk style. The result is a menacing rock and roll record that’s halfway between Jesus and Mary Chain and Bauhaus. The album is extremely good but the chugging lead single Big Buzz is our selection for this list. For more information click here.
Howaho | Two Windows
Atmospheric pop. For fans of Bjork.
Howaho is two piece project featuring two of our favourite vocalists; Mohho (from Gutten Birds) and eeeho. They give one of their strongest performances to date on their 2017 single Two Windows. The brooding, atmospheric track is distinctive both for its great vocal delivery and it’s downright beautiful music. The fuzzy-pad backdrop acts as the song's spine while a collection of different instruments, both real and digital perpetually join the song building into an emotive crescendo at the end. For more information click here.
Japanese Breakfast | Road Head
Dream pop. For fans of Frankie Cosmos, Car Seat Headrest, Alvvays.
When talking about people who had a great 2017, you absolutely have to mention Japanese Breakfast. The band absolutely exploded this year thanks to their excellent second album Soft Sounds From Another Planet. Japanese Breakfast is the side project of Korean-American singer-songwriter and Little Big League member Michelle Zauner. Zauner's dreamy guitar-pop style and witty lyrics have been making waves, especially on Soft Sound’s lead single Road Head. Her words manage to be both blunt and abstract as she paints pictures of dirty rendezvous in her unique, poetic way. For more information please click here.
Grey Watson | Radical Passenger
Rock, psychedelic. For fans of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Elvis Costello.
Garage-blues guru and troubadour of spicy guitar jaunts Grey Watson treated fans to his latest single Radical Passenger in December. This track has a strong 60s vibe, in particular, the comfy-yet-not experimentalism of Pet Sounds or Strawberry Fields-era Beatles. The psychedelic vocal harmonies and maddening synths here clash head first with simple-sounding melodies and teasing drum parts. The deceptive lo-fi style of Radical Passenger gives way to subtle pads and the fuzziest of bass noises making this a full, warm sounding song. These build to a crescendo in the final third that features a guitar solo that Bryan May would probably steal and pass off as his own. For more information click here.
Land of Peace | Hometown
Indie, lo-fi. For fans of Mac DeMarco, Mild High Club.
Seoul-based indie band Land of Peace blew us away earlier this year when they returned with their new single Hometown. The track really does build on their previous work, exploring more ethereal and sun-kissed vintage sounds. The track draws on the psychedelic jangle pop of Mac DeMarco with just a slight hint of surf rock in there. The band recently released a follow-up single and between the two songs - we’re very excited to hear a full album in 2018. For more information click here.
The SeOUL Avenger | 9x5=45
Hip-hop, sample. For fans of The Avalanches, De La Soul, DJ Shawdow.
Criminally overlooked DJ and Producer The SeOUL Avenger might live in the USA now, but as you can tell from his name, he never forgets his roots. Speaking of roots, his NastyseOUL releases this year are sample-heavy musical adventures which extract a huge range of sounds from his record collection to form something new and exciting. Our personal favourite is the joyous 9x5=45, an earthy, dancey slice of sample-based hip-hop that shows the veteran DJ in a sprightly mood. For more information click here.
J.Knife | is there any way you could change?
Folk, pop. For fans of Bright Eyes, Nick Drake, Laura Marling.
Korean born singer-songwriter Jennifer Kim produced our favourite album of 2017 with the astonishing familiar sounds. The 14-year-old singer blew us away with her mature, soulful and even powerful songwriting. Album standout is there any way you could change? is particularly symbolic of Kim’s exquisite minimalist folk style and demonstrates a singer who really knows how to explore the emotions behind her work to full effect. Her dry and even harsh lyrics are underpinned by a delicate delivery creating an interesting juxtaposition that perfectly mirrors the conflict between anger and sadness that the end of a relationship can produce. A truly wonderful song. For more information click here.
Gonne Choi | Limbo in Limbo
Folk, experimental. For fans of Kate Bush.
This was a really tough call as there has been so much excellent music to come out of Korea this year but in the end, Gonne Choi’s Limbo in Limbo is the standout track of the year. Here, Choi delivers a riveting vocal performance in which she is able to shape narrative with a mere switch of tone and cadence. She effortlessly flows from emotionally-driven falsetto to her more trademark hushed growl with such aplomb. Backed by haunting guitar plucking that’s uncharacteristically simple of Choi’s records but is unbelievably effective, this track had us in awe upon release and sounds as fresh now as it did then. For more information click here.