2012 In Review: Part 5 – Best Dance/Electronica
[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’re looking at another perennially strong scene in dance and electronica. In recent years, the idol market has been a significant source of quality dance music, and that was no different in 2012. So idol music fans will see plenty of familiar faces. Apart from those artists, a diverse crop of indie musicians, DJs, and even a couple live-session bands round out the list.
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 electronic (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.
Best Dance/Electronica Album 2012
eAeon – Guilt-Free
I mean no slight to any other artist when I say that this was perhaps the easiest pick to make in this entire series. No hesitation, no second-guessing. The fact of the matter is, eAeon’s attempt to create art out of nothing, to forge sound where there is none, is simply a greater level of achievement. Guilt-Free is a wholly synthetic album; apart from real bass in one song, not a single note in its ten tracks remains untouched by post-processing, and most of those notes are entirely programmed rather than physically played. As a result, the greatest joy of Guilt-Free is these fantastical and sometimes grotesque sounds that cannot exist in the real world. Impossible guitar strokes and dizzying, discrete string waves give 너는 자고 (While You Sleep) an unmistakable flavor, while strange bells and impenetrable static-infused synths are somehow packed into 5 in 4‘s irregular beats like an M.C. Escher painting fitted into two dimensions. This flawlessly detailed instrumentation already makes for a complete work (as evidenced by the instrumental version of the album), but it’s combined with a melancholia that permeates every melody and hook, as well as lyrics that express disturbing levels of emotions like anxiety, loneliness, and fixation. With that, Guilt-Free achieves the hallmark of great albums. It transports us to another world, one terribly twisted and deformed from our perspective – think Spicy Horse‘s rendition of Alice in Wonderland. Listen to the surreality of 무슨 일이 일어났는지는 아무도 (What Happened, Nobody)‘s slowly degenerating arpeggio melting into Kim Young-ha‘s avant-garde writing. There is plenty of beauty to be found if you look.
Runner-up Dance/Electronica Album 2012
F(x) – Electric Shock
This applies to several idol groups these days, but the great thing about F(x) is how consistent they are. After a string of high-quality releases (including last year’s Pinocchio, an honorable-mention pick in the 2011 list), theirs is a trusted brand among fans and critics alike. The five girls returned with their greatest work yet (and perhaps SM Entertainment‘s best in years) in Electric Shock, a short-but-sugary-sweet EP that went overboard with the quirky identity built up in the previous discography. Apart from Beautiful Stranger and maybe Let’s Try, there isn’t a track in Electric Shock that has “normal” lyrics. Creative (or stupid, depending on whom you ask) expressions of tired phrases, nonsensical connections, baffling imagery, and unpredictable sensitivity all abound in place of the cuteness or sensual appeal peddled by other groups. SM’s production finally fully catches up to the insanity in this release, giving the girls a tightly-layered yet spazzy playground to claim as their own – the intense rushing sensation of Jet and the shouted chorus to Love Hate, among other moments, are absolutely tailor-made to what this group stands for. Randomness for its own sake does not make a good work, of course; the genius of Electric Shock is in its exemplary marriage of concept and sound, and a singular focus on making its randomness embraceable. As a result, Electric Shock is an album that only F(x) and no one else could have done.
Casker – 여정 (旅程) (Journey) (read our review)
Even with the bevy of effects and tools, Casker’s music remains as graceful as ever.
Cassette Schwarzenegger – Gym With You
The stigma of a red-ocean genre is vanquished with clever instrumental choices and a healthy ear for melody.
Clazzi – Infant (read our review)
Another miss on my part. The cold, sterile urbanity here has a lot of legs.
G-Dragon – One of a Kind (read our review)
The culmination of an unbridled swagger and bold direction.
Kim C – Priority
This deep and moody bundle of dub paints volumes about the artist’s experience in Germany.
Neon Bunny – Happy Ending (read our review)
Our 2011 Rookie of the Year pick does a vitriolic, femme fatalist about-face.
Smells – Dance Wit Me [sic]
Evocative club-tune at its best.
Wonder Girls – Wonder Party
2011’s Runner-up Dance/Electronica Album winners add effortless attitude and beat-heavy sound to their game.
Best Dance/Electronica Song 2012
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Heureun – Leisure Love
Heureun isn’t even an electronic artist by origin, but here she is, taking this thing home. That’s part of the genre’s appeal – it lends itself to talented artists from other fields coming in and doing something dazzling. Dazzling, by the way, is a pretty accurate way to label the folk/pop artist’s electro debut. From the slowly building momentum of the club-friendly (read: one-minute) intro to the suddenly expanding pads to the punctuating raindrop synths and sequencers, Leisure Love is constantly gripping. Its sounds are all so diffusive as to evoke aquatic imagery, and Heureun’s echoing vocals come in and out of audibility. The song flows with abandon, rarely even coming up for air, singing an ode to simple but profound happiness. What a moment.
Runner-up Dance/Electronica Song 2012
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eAeon – Bulletproof
On the other end of the happy spectrum is… this. eAeon’s aforementioned synthetic sound is presented in typical deathly pale fashion in Guilt-Free’s lead single. The song’s technical complexity and melancholy appeal is apparent, but one especially notable characteristic is how inexplicably catchy it is despite everything. The artist sang a repeating hook and decided to have the melody follow a soaring and then resetting synth riff. The result is a memorable refrain that is effectively an auditory analog of the tangent curve. Ideas like this are found all over his album, but in Bulletproof it manifested in an especially big way.
3rd Line Butterfly – 스모우크핫커피리필 (Smoke Hot Coffee Refill). Our first band to appear in two categories achieves nebulous nirvana with an instrumental approach to lyricism.
Big Bang – Bad Boy. The heavy rhythm is memorable, and the groove palpable.
Cassette Schwarzenegger – Super Hi Fi. I was going to write something… and then realized the title really sums it up perfectly.
Clazzi – Love & Hate (Featuring Yi Sung-yol, MYK). Yi’s reassuring voice gives weight to a bubbly track.
Eniac – Love Again. Remember those Cassette Schwarzenegger guys above? He’s one of them under a different name. The busy man makes liberal use of sports anthem-worthy thick synths in this one.
F(x) – 제트별 (Jet). The speedy chorus seems to only gain velocity as F(x) half-sings and half-yells the delightful lyrics.
Ga-in – 피어나 (Bloom). (Read our related review) Ga-in weaves an endlessly charming first-time story with deftness and taste.
Glen Check – Blood, Sweat & the Beat. (Read our related review) And here’s our second band to appear in two categories. They blend the line between rock and electronica more with each release.
G.na – 2HOT. The pounding piano and brass are great, but most impressive of all is G.na’s unexpected vocal seductiveness.
Hakdong Station Exit 8 – Hot Summer Night. Four vocalists and five instrumentalists make for a richer sound than you’d expect from a dance track.
Kim C – LOVE. Warmth exudes freely from Kim C’s affection.
House Rulez – New Day (Featuring Black Illumin, Another Saturday). Dizzying speed and split synths of all manner characterize yet another solid House Rulez track.
Infinite – 추격자 (The Chaser). (Read our related review) Sweetune hits another home run with that trademark brass spam (in a good sense); Infinite’s treatment of the chorus is satisfying.
Mascota Pacific House – Thrill Me (Featuring Lil Cham). More than the dubstep, it’s Lil Cham’s performance that drives the synergy effect.
Neon Bunny – 왕자님 (Dear Prince). Im Yu-jin’s myriad jabs and sarcastic potshots work precisely because they’re so hilariously mismatched with her voice.
Neon Bunny – 첫사랑 (First Love). In the same vein as the above, but overtly condescending this time.
Seo In-young (Elly) – Anymore. She made honorable mention in last year’s ballad songs category, but this shows Seo hasn’t forgotten how to work the dance genre.
SHINee – Sherlock. (Read our related review) Exhilarating chorus lines and snapshot lyrics lift this (literally) hybrid dance track to greatness.
Smells – Dance Wit Me (Featuring Mongu). I’ll just say it again: “evocative club-tune at its best.”
SNSD-TaeTiSeo (TTS) – Twinkle. Addictive melody, deliberate pacing, tasteful performances – this one has it all. The final minute shows promising possibilities for future work.
SouLime – Tonight (Featuring Bizzy). Tonight, we party in hazy synth-string hits and tantalizing vocals.
Space Cowboy – Circus (Featuring Horan, Peacedelic Su). The sounds are familiar, but a Sentimental Scenery-esque arrangement make Circus an enjoyable ride. (Pun unintended.)
Sunny Hill – 베짱이 찬가 (The Grasshopper Song). (Read our related review) Frenzied, schizophrenic atmosphere and piercing lyrics equal Sunny Hill’s best release to date.
What do your picks look like for this category? Discuss with us in the comments, and join us tomorrow for Part 6, when we’ll tackle the elephant in the room – the ballad scene!
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the reviewer and not of hellokpop as a whole.