Review

2014 in Review: Day 2 – R&B and Soul

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Crush

[The 2014 in Review Series]

1. Introduction and Best Album Art
2. R&B and Soul
3. Rock and Alternative
4. Rap and Hip-hop
5. Dance and Electronic
6. Pop and Ballad
7. Folk and Country
8. Jazz and Blues
9. Crossover and Other
10. Best Collaborative Work
11. Rookie Artist of the Year
12. Artist of the Year
13. Song of the Year
14. Album of the Year
15. Staff Picks
16. Storylines and Other Recognition
17. Concluding Remarks

Welcome back to our year-end series. 2014 may have been a sort of transition year for Korean R&B, as most of the scene’s big movers and shakers were missing from it. Instead, we got a lot of quality contributions from new faces and some steady presence from smaller-name veterans. It’s also increasingly clear that this genre is much more fluid now than perhaps ever. A lot of the names you’ll see below don’t have their roots in R&B or soul, for one; but more strikingly, the sounds, methodologies and talents of this scene are increasing melding into the hip-hop genre. Not surprising, given the close relationships that these genres have always shared, but the extent to which they are converging – particularly in the mainstream – merits close observation going forward. On to the picks, then!

Important: same as the last two years, the Album of the Year and Song of the Year (and their runner-ups) are not included in the genre categories. That means that, for example, there could be an R&B album that isn’t being recognized on this page because it’s the album of the year. Also, note that all “Next Ten Out” and “Honorable Mention” picks are sorted by artist name.

Albums

Best R&B and Soul Album 2014

Alshain - Natural Hi-Fi

Alshain – Natural Hi-Fi

At this point, being multi-talented is almost a prerequisite to make waves in this scene, and newcomer Alshain certainly fits the bill. Credit his shrewdness as a composer for the fact that his debut album, Natural Hi-Fi, was the year’s boldest-sounding R&B release. He wields the sound sources of PBR&B and modern electronica as deftly as those of funk and lush soul, resulting in impressively cosmopolitan arrangements like “Good Girls” and “Trippin Out / Are You OK?”. Recognize his effectiveness as a vocalist, carrying tracks like “Sun” with effortless performances that never force themselves into center stage. And don’t forget his vision as a producer, balancing experimentalism (“Landing”) alongside immediate gratification with a keen eye for coherence. It’s hard to ask more from any album, let alone a debut release, and this excellence on all fronts made Natural Hi-Fi an album with plenty of punch for now and incredible promise for the future.

Runner-up R&B and Soul Album 2014

All That - Trilogy

All That – Trilogy

There’s no other team in R&B that looks like this, and so it makes sense that All That sound different too. With the addition of a dedicated guitarist and drummer, the new-look All That’s music gained a whole new dimension. The sounds of Trilogy were a richer extension of what producer EachONE was able to achieve before, often adding complementary heft to vocalist Kuan‘s lithe performances, but also achieving a lot of character on their own – check out the playful guitar backing of “이태원 그녀” (“Itaewon Girl”) and the intricate drumwork of “Green Light” that add atmosphere and energy to these tracks. The varied thematic palette and excellent cast of featured performers were neat flourishes on what was already a fundamentally sound and sonically unique album.

The Next Ten Out

Songs

Best R&B and Soul Song 2014

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Yun Soll – Holiday (Featuring King Kong)

Another song titled “Holiday” won this category last year, and this rendition was no less deserving. Here’s an attitudinal neo-soul track characterized by visceral groove, and while that incessant opening synth riff would be a show-stealer in most tracks, Yun Soll’s vocals are just as impressive. Moderation is an art form often lost in today’s belt-first-and-ask-questions-later brand of popular R&B, but Yun lets her notes float a little and rides the beat en route to an enchanting performance. It’s a song of slow, deliberate courtship, sweetened to soulful perfection.

Runner-up R&B and Soul Song 2014

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Crush – Hug Me (Featuring Gaeko)

Crush is one of those people who are both an R&B artist and hip-hop artist, and he draws abundant inspiration from both fields. “Hug Me” is a happy marriage of sleek, groovy melody and explosive, sharp synths. Crush dazzles with the composition: textures are satisfyingly dense and full, the deliberate tempo is electric, and even punctuating silences (like those during Gaeko‘s bars) are pregnant with poised energy. The man also possesses a soulful, slightly steely tone rivalling that of Zion.T and knows how to use it. Coupled with his persuasive vocals, “Hug Me” is fantastically impactful.

The Next Ten Out

40-Canvas-1024x1024

40 – Black (Featuring Swings)

All That - Trilogy

All That – Green Light (Featuring Soul One)

Alshain - Natural Hi-Fi

Alshain – Good Girls (Featuring Beenzino)

Boni - Push

Boni – Push

Boni & The Suite - Answer Me

Boni & The Suite – 대답해줘 (Answer Me)

Esna - I, I Love You

Esna – I, I Love You

Kim Na-young, Shin Jong-wook, and Tricky - I'm Sorry

Kim Na-young, Shin Jong-wook, and Tricky – 미안해 (I’m Sorry)

Musica Nube - Tedium

Musica Nube – 권태 (Tedium)

Saemi - Light On My Path

Saemi – Love One Another (Featuring William Gittens)

Satbyeol - By Your Side

Satbyeol – 너의 곁에서 (By Your Side)

Honorable Mentions

Albums

15& – Sugar
InTheSoul – InTheSoul Volume One
Mamamoo – Hello
Kim Kkot – Birthday
Romantico – Romance & Romantic
Soulights – Solace
Squared – Swim In You
T.Why – Twilight
Wheesung – The Best Man
Wine Loop – Night & Day

Songs

15& – Sugar
2NE1 – 살아 봤으면 해 (If I Were You)
Alshain – Sun
Baek – 30minutes
Boni – 미안해서 그래 (Because I’m Sorry)
Brown City – 너 같은 사람 난 (A Person Like You) (Featuring MC Kilo)
Brown Eyed Soul – 너를 (You)
Don Spike – Always (Featuring Lena Park)
Fly to the Sky – 너를 너를 너를 (You You You)
F(x) – All Night
Hi Suhyun – 나는 달라 (I’m Different) (Featuring Bobby)
Kiana – Body Clock
Lim Jeong-hee & 40 – 영화처럼 (Like A Movie)
Oh Seul-ki – 미니드라마 (Mini Drama) (Featuring CSP)
Parc Jae-jung – 얼음땡 (Ice Ice Baby) (Featuring Beenzino)
Ra.D – For Me
Satbyeol – Woo Baby
Seo In-young – 생각나 (Think of You) (Featuring Zion.T)
Soulciety – 247 (Featuring AMJ)
Taeyang – 눈, 코, 입 (Eyes, Nose, Lips)
TVXQ – 갈증 (Smoky Heart)
Wheesung – Night And Day

Sources: Photos – Crush from Tenasia, album covers from Daum Music

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4 Comments

  1. Jung Bae

    January 3, 2016 at 3:49 am

  2. Pauler

    December 29, 2015 at 7:23 pm

    Jung Bae hyung, we need you 🙁

  3. Jung

    January 1, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Hi Pauler – glad to hear that. One of my hopes each year is that people find something new that they like from this series. Sounds like Alshain might be one for this year!

    Thanks for the insightful comments as well. In particular, I agree on the Hoody song; I completely missed out on both the original and the remix. Would have made the list if I had found it in time. Appreciate the heads-up!

  4. Pauler

    January 1, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    First of all, I have been a huge fan ever since I stumbled upon your posts regarding 2013-In-Review on Hellokpop. Those year-end reviews have been my introduction to all the greatness that Korean music has to offer. My adoration for Red Light by Zion.T, KRNB by Jinbo or all the goodness from Alshain or Satbyeoul would not exist if it weren’t for your recommendation.

    A few quick thoughts on this year’s crop of R&B/Soul:

    -I still don’t care for 40’s music except for “Bravo” which is always a jam. His voice is all the right notes but his music is sometimes drifting too far to the boring side for my preference.

    -Every time I listen to The Suite, I immediately think of Maxwell’s classic Urban Suite. It’s not particularly a bad thing since Maxwell is a phenomenal vocalist, but The Suite’s music is still lacking in the personality and sensuality department. However, I can’t deny that duet with Boni, which is awesome and possibly Boni’s best work since “너뿐이야 (Day & Night)”

    -Alshain!!! Is Natural Hi-Fi as good as the 2013 winner? Probably not, but my god I don’t think a song could make me want to dive into sunshine more than “Good Girls”. Too excellent and Beenzino’s part was killer.

    -Satbyeoul outdid herself with “너의 곁에서 (By Your Side)” for sure. “Do Me” (still can’t believe she sings a song about “please bang me”) from last year is good, “Woo Baby” is a decent track but “By Your Side” is another league! Very fitting she puts the cover of Aaliyah, Monica and TLC albums on the main covers. A masterclass in how to do throwback R&B and still sounds fresh as hell.

    -A huge omission is Hoody’s “Baby oh Baby” (the remix version with her boyfriend Cokejazz) which is as good as any slow jam this year.

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