[2012 In Review Series]
0. Prelude – Best Album Art
2. Best R&B/Soul
3. Best Rock/Alternative
4. Best Rap/Hip-hop
5. Best Dance/Electronica
6. Best Pop/Ballad
7. Best Crossover/Miscellaneous
8. Best Original Soundtrack
9. Best Collaborative Work
10. Label of the Year
11. Rookie of the Year
12. Song of the Year
13. Artist of the Year
14. Album of the Year
15. Concluding Remarks
Welcome back to our 2012 In Review series! Today, we look at the “best of the rest” (without the negative connotations of that phrase) – in short, everything not covered over the past five days. There’s some jazz here, as well as opera, ethnic, gypsy, acid, gospel, reggae, string performance, and more. This is always a fun category to pick for simply because of the sheer diversity, but keep in mind that for this very reason, simple comparisons between works are often impossible or unreasonable. So take these picks with a bigger grain of salt than usual.
Again, please remember that the Album of the Year and Song of the Year (and their runner-ups) are not included in the genre categories. That means that there could be a crossover (or any other genre) album that isn’t being honored on this page because it’s the album of the year. As always, honorable mention picks are sorted by alphabetical order of artist names.
Note: Two albums in that would fall into this category and likely be nominated – Kumapark‘s self-titled album and Han Ji-yeon‘s Ascetic – are not included, as I was unable to review them in time.
Best Crossover/Miscellaneous Album 2012
Jambinai – 차연 (Différance)
For all our pursuit for something new – how often do you really see something truly revolutionary? A sound you’ve never heard before? True outside-the-box thinking is rare, which is why we hold new sounds in such high esteem. Jambinai is one of the few bands this year to do this. You see, their niche is a crossover between Korean traditional music with heavy metal. It’s an intriguing concept from the get-go, but words don’t do much justice. This sound has to be heard to be believed. Jambinai doesn’t just, say, replace guitars with geomungo and call it a day. Their compositions are built from the ground up with this fusion style in mind, creating unique motifs and moods that cannot be achieved otherwise. The chaotic whirlpool of geomungo and screeching haegeum near the end of each act of 바라밀다 (Cross the Hill Yonder) are more disorienting and madly apocalyptic than your regular effecter-based post-rock riff; using haegeum allows the band to control multiple parallel melody lines at once, as seen in the lengthy solo that takes up most of 구원의 손길 (Hand of Salvation). Outside of the metal-inspired sounds, ambitious tracks like 10-minute ambient epic Connection help reveal just how many future paths are open for this style to explore. For its originality as well as its endless potential, Différance is one of the most valuable gains of 2012.
Runner-up Crossover/Miscellaneous Album 2012
Sentimental Scenery – There Is Nowhere Else in the World (read our review)
When an artist puts out something as great as 2011′s Soundscape, I’d fully expect him to take a break and recharge; Sentimental Scenery instead went and arguably outdid himself with this winter-themed collage. Eschewing all vocals (both his own and his usually numerous guests’) and lyrics, he sets his sights on describing the psychology of winter. He identifies some feelings that we associate with the season – hope, renewal, anticipation – and brings it to stirring life in tracks like View and Genesis. Even though he forgoes his usual synthetic sound arsenal, he evokes quaint imagery and dreamy abstraction with deft handling of analogs and acoustics. The finished work is a dazzle from beginning to end, and proof that what makes this artist special is his, well, sentimentality, not his toolset.
5 Days Market Project – 5 Days Market Project (1st)
No matter who’s at the mic – Collie, Hulsey, Jones, or Yoo - this album always regresses back to the peace of Jeju.
Bae Sun-yong – Bugler’s Holiday
Unafraid to venture outside the predictable, this trumpeter achieves some exhilarating crossover moments.
Crystal Rain – Romantic Blue
Their brand of acid sometimes burns, but oftentimes it’s a sting followed by a gentle caress.
Handsome People – Are You Handsome? (read our review)
The fourth (and last, I promise) album that I missed on this year. An unwieldy hybrid genre is tamed under their direction.
Park Ju-won – Gypsy Christmas (read our review)
Brilliant, imaginative reinterpretations of familiar carols.
SAZA Choi Woo-jun – SAZA’s Blues
Is it blues or is it the oldie style of ppong-chak? Both, but this talented guitarist has a better answer: it’s his.
Son Sue-kyung – I Am (read our review)
The Britain’s Got Talent finalist’s debut finds a nice place between technicality and accessibility.
Yoo Da-hye – Cello Grapia
Rich but lean bossa nova overtones give lively resonance to this jazz cellist’s debut.
Best Crossover/Miscellaneous Song 2012
Sohyang – Jesus (read our related review)
It’s a more common sentiment among these more obscure genres, but I’m still taken aback when heavily ethnic music is achieved with this kind of fidelity by a Korean artist. Sohyang and her gem of a voice takes to black gospel in Jesus, and nearly perfectly captures the infectious energy and inexorable groove innate to the genre. From a simple, visceral enjoyment perspective, Jesus is a highly engaging listen. Bold melody and electric atmosphere are sustained effectively, and Sohyang displays some showmanship in her rousing refrain. The attention to detail, such as the complex piano rhythm and slightly divergent chorus backing, show that Sohyang and the POS team are serious about quality – not only in reproducing the choir-gospel sound, but also in smoothly making the transition to the Korean language and to Sohyang’s style. They’ve succeeded, and Jesus is one of the year’s most overlooked great singles.
Runner-up Crossover/Miscellaneous Song 2012
Jambinai – 소멸의 시간 (Time of Extinction)
Hear this: Time of Extinction is actually one of Différance’s less experimental tracks. No, that doesn’t mean much, but what I’m trying to say is that it adopts the methodology of extant metal music fairly straightforwardly. It’s built around a compelling riff (with these instruments, I half feel like I should call it an ostinato), kicked off by geomungo - acting as a bass guitar stand-in – and then coated with guitars. It’s powered by regular drums. A multi-dimensional input from the versatile haegeum is new, but unlike the rest of the album, this is a song that could probably be played with familiar instruments and still sound decent. That said, listen to the last third of the song, when stuff suddenly starts blowing up and the guitars and haegeum strings go on controlled rampages. Feel the unstructured mayhem. Try to make sense of it. This is when you realize: experimental or traditional actually has no meaning for this band. Either way, their sound is unparalleled.
2nd Moon – 그동안 뭐하고 지냈니? (What Have You Been Doing Since?). It’s been seven long years since they released one of my all-time favorite albums, but 2nd Moon’s comeback is as technically intricate and exhilarating as ever.
Bae Sun-yong – Holiday. [No studio version on YouTube] Clearly, Bae doesn’t always have to be the centerpiece.
Bae Sun-yong – The Lady of Seba. [No studio version on YouTube] Park Ju-won’s dazzling play stands complement to Bae’s performance.
Crystal Rain – Super Star. Soft, bubbly acid that will put a spring in your step.
Deviant – 즉홍곡 (Improvisation). This was never meant to be a standalone – it’s a beat for a rapper to flow on in the future. I’d say it sounds fine without, too.
Hae Won – You Are My Sunshine. Luxurious vocals and smooth jazz? Yeah, that will usually get the job done.
Hido – The Creative Process. Has a slight unfinished feel to it – especially the length – but in a vintage-minded track, that’s a bonus.
Jung Jae-il – Revealed. As one component of a cryptic concept album, the track is hard to figure out, but its theater origins are apparent.
Jung Kyoung – La Danza. Passion incarnated in dance… incarnated in opera.
Sagitta – 말하지 마 (Don’t Tell Me). There’s something magnetic about Lee Jung-eun’s flat-tuned performance.
SAZA Choi Woo-jun – Blue Gonna Blue. The drawl spawns a few “excuse me?” moments, but it’s surprising how quickly one gets used to it.
Sentimental Scenery – View. Overwhelming awe and a spring of hope.
Son Sue-kyung – Chaos. [No studio version on YouTube] The mainstream crossovers are great, but her violin work really thrives when it’s doing all the talking.
Skull – 쓰레기 (Garbage) (Featuring Rooftop Moonlight). His second consecutive selection to this category, this time a little lighter on the drama.
Super Brass – Hurry Honey. [No studio version on YouTube] Frankly, the best way to characterize the performances here is, as my friend described it, “haters please”.
Sweet Sorrow – Viva! (Featuring Lee Sora). There’s a lot of meaning packed into that exclamation of “viva”, but they don’t let themselves be burdened.
Windy City – 모십니다 (Full Greeting). They may be closer than anybody to a full integration of reggae and Korean tradition.
Wine Loop – 중독 (Addiction). [No studio version on YouTube] Cold, sensual, yet desperate.
Yoo Da-hye – Capoeirista. Yoo spends a lot of time silently, but her performance is mesmerizing when cello’s in the forefront.
What do your picks look like for this category? Discuss with us in the comments, and join us tomorrow in Part 8 for a look at the year in soundtracks!
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the reviewer and not of hellokpop as a whole.
Release: January 25, 2012
Distributor: KT Music
How do you express a season musically? Sure, it’s been done before. Vivaldi might have something to say about it, for instance. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to do or even to explain – how do we capture the essence of something so nebulous, so immaterial, if there even is one? Is it meaningful to do so? Sentimental Scenery, now Korea’s most prominent name in electronica and fresh from the magnum opus that was Soundscape, tackles these issues with a winter-themed project album in There Is Nowhere Else In The World. Let’s get one thing straight: if you could pick anyone to embark on a project like this, you’d pick this guy.
“But wait,” you say. “A winter album? In March?” Aha, but you see, this album actually came out in late January. “Still, a winter album? In late January?” And you would have a point. It’s important to remember that this not a Christmas collection; it’s a winter collection. At times they’re synonymous, but Nowhere Else makes clear that there is a distinction.
Nowhere Else‘s winter is often tranquil. A gentle piano breeze caresses intro track November, as if in transition; meanwhile, a barely audible snare and cymbal steadily march across fields of mellow chords in 9 Hours. Speaking of fields, Snowy Fields‘ broad, ponderous synths echo and expand across a cavernous space, and beats break down, merge, and flow into each other like melting snow in Unconscious.
But winter isn’t all quiet and peaceful like that. To be more exact, winter carries with it certain emotions that aren’t necessarily tranquil at all. Lead single View captures that emotion very precisely. The modern-rock number is at once the album’s most energetic and the most deviant from Sentimental Scenery’s usual style. The primary melody is very bold, powered by a Hans Zimmer-esque barrage of thunderous toms and sweeping guitar sustains. It’s brimming with hope and excitement, effortlessly gliding between ambitious build-ups and magnanimous climaxes. There is anticipation and giddiness here, refreshment and renewal, a sense of beginning.
This is incisive. Sentimental Scenery goes right to the heart: what is it that makes winter, winter? Beyond the pretty imagery, there is some fundamental emotional connection that many of us make with this season, and the artist extracts at least one subset of that connection (hope, renewal, anticipation) in View. He does it again in Beautiful Dream, which is perhaps the best track on the collection. The theme here is harder to pin down; a prominent bass line and punchy drums lead into a complex, amalgamated mass of sound after picking up some acoustics, shrilly bells, synth pads, and layered piano. And that elusiveness actually seems to be the point of this track. The cryptic bass and dreamy piano, coming together in that gorgeous melody, alludes to a confused, turbulent state of mind. The track ends with a clear sense of uncertainty – there isn’t quite the sort of denouement expected. It’s almost a thematic antithesis of View, although the track is too alive for me to say that with confidence.
In this way, Sentimental Scenery peels back layer after layer of the wintry season. Notable is this collection’s complete lack of vocals: the artist did cut down greatly on his own singing in Soundscape already, but there is nary a featured vocalist that used to add so richly to his worlds. That fits with Sentimental Scenery’s commitment to eschew imagery as much as possible, in favor of abstraction. Instead, his toolkit of sounds has expanded dramatically: while intricate, sensitive piano performances still dominate Nowhere Else, atop the usual shibuya-style electronica fare he also makes extensive use of band instruments and drums. Modern- and post-rock sounds as those in View and Genesis would have been unimaginable for him before, but here they are. These tracks achieve a grandiosity reminiscent of what he began to show in his last album, as well as a warmth not found there.
Looking back at the track that he’s taken in recent years – Harp Song to Sentimentalism to Soundscape – Sentimental Scenery continues to impress with versatility. In each release he’s shown a renewed effort to be separated from that horribly applied umbrella label of shibuya-kei. I think There Is Nowhere Else In The World is where he finally achieves that for good. This is a very good genre album that engages its topic in an interesting way, and also an exercise in unceasing sound experimentation. Great stuff to see – and hopefully it means the Free Tempo comparisons will stop.
Tracklist (recommended tracks are listed in bold)
3. The First Noel
4. Beautiful Dream
6. These Moments
7. 9 Hours
8. White Out
9. Snowy Field
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the individual and not of hellokpop.