2012 In Review: Part 3 – Best Rock/Alternative

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[2012 In Review Series]

0. Prelude – Best Album Art
1. Introduction
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! Another great harvest of rock music came out of what is arguably the country’s deepest, strongest scene outside of pop. There were bands that really pushed the envelope in sound design and experimentation, and there were others that refined a good thing until it was masterful. Narrowing down the honorable mentions (especially on the songs side) was difficult simply because of the relative parity in this scene, but a few stood out above the rest.

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 rock (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 Rock/Alternative Album 2012

Lowdown 30 – 1

Simply put, Lowdown 30 opened a new horizon for Korean blues rock with this sophomore album. Painstaking attention to sound is apparent at every corner, from 처연 (Solitude)‘s distantly ringing, amorphous background tone to 암전 (Change In Blackout)’s hypnotic twelve-note riff. 너의 조각 (Pieces of You) and 플라스틱에로모듈 (Plastic Erotic Module) escape genre constraints with writhing hooks and fuzzy riffs on infinite loop. The band even went and actually rebuilt 아스팔트 (Asphalt), a grungy, auto-wah-fed blues metal track that was already so good as to be our Best Rock/Alternative Song 2011. This is one of those rare albums where each track is a surprise; if that wasn’t somehow enough for you, Yoon Byung-ju‘s chameleon-like voice add even greater dimensions to the wildly diverse instrumentation. A profound understanding of blues, punk, and its derivatives permeate Lowdown 30’s cross-genre approach, and with a hearty dose of experimentation, they craft a breed of sound hitherto unheard.

Runner-up Rock/Alternative Album 2012

No Respect For Beauty – Why Perish

Post-rock is a minor genre in Korea, even for the indie scene. So it takes some intrepidity for a rookie band to debut in it while signed to Pastel Music, and it takes even more to skip the whole EP thing and go straight to full-length. Following genre conventions, Why Perish is filled with vocal-less epics seven and eight minutes long. Yet even its heavier tracks, rife with the distorted guitar and incessant cymbals of shoegazing, are oddly clinical; there is little angst or fury seeping out of them. Instead, No Respect For Beauty fills those spaces to a suffocating density with controlled chaos. Hauntingly hollow guitar rings out over a storm of effecters and crashes (Owls on the Ground); ominous melodies rush to frantic, uneasy resolutions (Day of Departure); a buzzing abyss reminiscent of The Hitchiker‘s Hexameron (2011) stands agape in endless motion (Declaration of Existence). If there is emotion in Why Perish, it is not directed anywhere; rather, it is expended and diffused into atmosphere, usually unresolved. Through all this, the rookie band evokes a most uneasy sense of anxiety and the unknown – things that we are familiar with, but seldom experience in the full. Nothing that No Respect For Beauty does is new, but this debut effort is one of the strongest punches in the gut you’ll get all year.

Honorable Mentions

Analogsoop – Drama

Go-eun‘s do-everything vocal performance dominate what is actually very smartly written instrumentation.

Boohwal – Purple Wave

The rousing rock ballads return, but the real attractions are Kim Tae-won‘s continuing experimentation in his thirteenth album.

Galaxy Express – Galaxy Express

The ridiculous explosiveness here is somewhat analogous to getting pounced by that one-eyed leopard.

Glen Check – Haute Couture (read our review)

This endlessly danceable electro-rock hybrid was this close to being the runner-up pick.

Guten Birds – 팔랑귀 (Gullible Ears)

Rough and unkempt, with such intricacy that you wouldn’t believe it’s a three-man band.

Hot Potato – Who Doesn’t Like Sweet Things.

Kim C and his band’s observant diary is as nuanced as the period punctuating its title.

Method – The Constant

The flashiest, steeliest, most satisfying iteration yet from a stalwart of the metal scene.

Yellow Monsters – We Eat Your Dog

A striking blend of rebellious energy and unexpectedly catchy hooks.


Best Rock/Alternative Song 2012

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Glen Check – French Virgin Party (audio link)

A single riff can sometimes define an album, and this is the case with French Virgin Party‘s pulsing synth rhythm. It is the song’s alpha and omega (literally – the song starts and ends on it), the tireless engine that drives the titular party to heady heights. At the same time, it captures what makes Glen Check special. Note how the band constructs this riff with a rhythmic focus – the snare, bass, and deep synth are doing the heavy lifting while the thin guitar merely rides atop the pulses. Vocalist Kim Jun-won stays out altogether, only coming in after the rave ends to provide embellishment. That’s the sound philosophy of the Haute Couture album in a nutshell. They create such dynamic energy without using the tools that make it easy to do that. The end result yields a promising avenue of future work, and as an added bonus, some of the most exhilarating three minutes of 2012.

Runner-up Rock/Alternative Song 2012

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3rd Line Butterfly – 헤어지는 날 바로 오늘 (The Day We Part, Today) (read our album review)

3rd Line Butterfly’s Dreamtalk was an album based on three immense strengths: bold and fearlessly experimental soundscapes, Nam Sang-ah‘s wonderfully evocative vocals, and deconstructive yet profound lyricism. A twist, then, that its best song is actually missing one component – that lyricism. Today was probably the album’s most mundane in terms of language, but this turned out to be essential. You see, the draw of Today is its guttural, instinctive sense of longing and attachment. As Nam recounts the same melodic motif over and over again, each iteration more emotional than the last, the lyrics too repeat and grow from descriptive to spontaneous. As Sung Ki-wan and Kim Nam-yoon‘s guitar and effecter work crescendos and spills over, the lyrics too grow desperate and base (at one point, the narrator holds herself from spitting in her lover’s face). Only a full minute of soaring solos, frantically slamming piano, and pained vocalizations fill the outro; there are no lyrics, no words, and no expression, as the narrator’s emotions, like the guitars, race away from us. Nor are they needed – not anymore.

Honorable Mentions

404 – 춤 (Dance). The part-chanting, part-trembling vocals are icing on the distortion cake.
Art of Parties – 섬 (Island). The brightest, most fleeting moment in one man’s life, as told in searing heat by Kim Bada and co.
Momguamaum- Déjà Vu. Absolutely hypnotic.
Deli Spice – 聯 ‘연’ (Connection). A rousing, seven-minute return to roots for the iconic modern-rock band.
Guten Birds – 스마일, 김치, 그리고 치즈 (Smile, Kimchi, and Cheese). [No studio version on YouTube.] All kinds of fun with tempo.
Haneumpa – 잠영 (Underwater Swimming). [No studio version on YouTube.] Appropriate title – that string-guitar riff immerses like quicksand.
HarryBigButton – King’s Life. [No studio version on YouTube.] Very overtly macho; they can afford to be.
Human Race – 불면증 (Insomnia). We were overdue for a modern-rock heartbreaker this year. Wait no longer.
Lowdown 30 – 너의 조각 (Pieces of You). [No studio version on YouTube.] You think the instruments really could do all the talking… and then Yoon Byung-ju makes a good thing great.
Method – Desolation Across. Relentless play and intricate composition construct a formidable soundscape.
Monolead – Film 2-607. A vast expanse sketched in lingering sound.
Monni – Can’t Write Love Songs Anymore. When Kim Shin-ui decides to let it rip like this, watch out.
Nell – Cliff Parade. [Read our album review] A tour-de-force soundwave powered by marching snares and an inexorable riff.
No Respect For Beauty – Day of Departure. You could cut this uncomfortable atmosphere with a knife.
Rocket Diary – 야화 (Night Flower). Tasteful sensuality is more common these days, but Rocket Diary’s rendition isn’t any less fun.
Story Seller – 절대적 착시 (Absolute Optical Illusion). [Read our album review] A deliciously creepy exercise in spliced-and-diced beats and wailing string-rock.
THEATRE8 – 사람을 찾습니다 (Looking for a Person). Theatrical sound is always lovely, but Seo Sang-wook‘s stylized performance is especially phenomenal.
The Koxx – 사랑춤 (Love Dance). A hazy, dreamy call of courtship.
The Pony – 안녕 (Goodbye). A heady, nocturnal romp of an apology.
The Reading Club – 별처럼 (Like a Star). Powerful in its mellowness; the soft sound nevertheless comes across as big.
The Solutions – Talk, Dance, Party for Love. Quintessential summer jam with those rushing guitars and ambience.
Younha – Set Me Free. [Read our album review] Younha carries herself like a modern-rock veteran as a gorgeous arrangement explodes in spectacular catharsis.

What do your picks look like for this category? Discuss with us in the comments, and join us tomorrow for Part 4, where we review the year’s best in rap and hip-hop!

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely of the reviewer and not of hellokpop as a whole.

Sources: Photos – Bugs Music and Daum Music; Naver Blog

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