2019 In Review: Day 5 – Rock And Alternative

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2019 In Review

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

2019 was replete with comebacks from big names in the rock scene, ranging from indie darlings like Jannabi and Thornapple to old-guard stalwarts in Method and Goonam.

At the same time, I’m impressed every year at how quickly new faces rise as the cream of the crop in this field, and we certainly had no shortage of that between bands like Surl, Gerda, Eighteen April and more.

Our list is an attempt to celebrate all corners of the scene with due recognition.


  • 9 and the Numbers – 서울시 여러분 (Many Minutes in Seoul) is not included below, as it was our Album of the Year as featured on Day 3.
  • The “next-best ten” and honorable mention lists are sorted by artist name.
  • The 2019 Rock and Alternative Spotify playlist is here and also embedded below:


Best Rock and Alternative Album 2019

YNHISG - no caption version

Rock N Roll Radio – You’ve Never Had It So Good

Rock N Roll Radio’s music has become much darker over the years, and You’ve Never Had It So Good can be quite heavy indeed. The roiling storms of “Here Comes the Sun” and “The Mist” (our Best Rock and Alternative Song 2018) put up post-rock desolation as a backdrop against Kim Nae-hyeon’s arid vocals, while even the hopeful moments like “Nothing Lasts Forever” is tinged with nihilism.

The twist is that the band managed to marry this with the disco-like mirth that defined their earlier work. The album’s uptempo backbone – “Take Me Home”, “Keep Your Mouth Shut”, “Dahlia”, and so on – was tragic and remorseful and undeniably groovy: Rock N Roll Radio’s own path to a coveted but rarely convincing balance. It felt like a spiritual successor to Sister’s Barbershop’s final stuff (and not unlike concurrent work by O.O.O), and that’s a great place to be.

The Runner-up

Hyangni – 3

In the now-two-piece band’s first outing after reorganization, Hyangni showed us a corresponding and interesting shift. 3 doesn’t really have the same explosive and haunting drama that characterized 2 (picked for this same spot last year), with the exception of a couple notable tracks. But as a quirky, kitsch electro-rock romp in the mold of Nunco’s work, 3 works extremely well. That’s due to unflinching sound quality and attention to detail – gyrating synths and driving riffs mesh again and again in “Exploration”, “I’ll Feel It” and more – and also to the impressively unpredictable emotional range the band manages to cover with this bouncy soundset. The cheekiness of “See the Fight” coexisting with the pure release of “Letter from Virus”’s ending? I’ve never been so glad to be caught off-guard.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

Band Nah – 우리 (Us)

The Black Skirts – Thirsty

The Bowls – If We Live Without Romance

Eighteen April – Voices

Gerda – The Uprooted

Jannabi – 전설 (Legend)

Method – Definition of Method

Pieta – 밀항 (Escape Escape) [read our review]

Saza Choi – Saza

Thornapple – 계몽 (Enlightenment)


Best Rock and Alternative Song 2019

Jannabi – 새 어둠 새 눈 (Land of Night)
Written by Choi Jung-hoon; composed by Choi Jung-hoon, Kim Do-hyung, Yoo Young-hyeon; arranged by Choi Jung-hoon, Kim Do-hyung, Yoo Young-hyeon, Dr. Kwon

In an album often so grounded and nostalgia-inducing, Jannabi also tried something intrepid with “Land of Night”. There is an art-rock vista here, painted in sweeping strings, prancing flutes and piano, echoing and fading guitars, and marching snares and brass. The gorgeous soundscape radiates warmth as Choi Jung-hoon whispers sweet nothings and “Let there be light”s. As the song closes in striking imagery, as the choir sings “Let’s go to the land of night / wrapped in an ashen blanket […] close your eyes, your eyes / if you are afraid, then flee”, the aftertaste it left – this mix of wonder and unease – was unlike anything else we heard this year.

The Runner-up

Saza Choi – 연기가 보고싶다 [금단] (Withdrawal)
Written, composed and arranged by Saza Choi

Weighing in at a hair under ten minutes, “Withdrawal” is not a lighthearted affair. Saza Choi delved into the depths of addiction and withdrawal in this anguished song, with words simple and rushed and straight to the point. Those enable the bigger picture: a psychedelic vista erupting in haunting echo riffs and sinking into bottomless descending melodies. Soon enough, Choi’s soulful guitars turn into a breathtaking dazzle over the course of a three-minute interlude, most of it on solo. Tense yet enrapturing, those minutes took us away to somewhere unreal.

The Next-Best Ten (Alphabetical)

The Bowls – Standard (Feat. Yoon Byung-ju)

Decadent – 링구 (Lingu)

Hyangni – 재건축 (Reconstruction)

Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio – 비가 오지 않는 밤에 (A Night Without Rain)

Saza Choi – 연기가 보고싶다 [금단] (Withdrawal)

Secret Asian Men – You Were All I Had

Shin Hae-gyeong – 그대의 꿈결 (Dreaming of You) (Feat. Kim Sawol)

Surl – Cilla

Thornapple – 검은 별 (Black Star)

Woogotsa – 잠수 (Ghosting)

Honorable Mentions


Adoy – Vivid
Baada – Stardust
The Bowls – If We Love Without Romance
Broccoli You Too – 속물들 (Snobs)
Car, the Garden – C
Chain Reaction – Features / Creatures
Cheon Miji – Mother and Lover
Chiyoonhae – 개의 입장 (The Dog’s Point of View)
Cotoba – 언어의 형태 (Form of Tongue)
Danpyeon Shortcut – Take a Trip
Dasutt – Youth
Day6 – The Book of Us: Gravity
The Electriceels – 물의 빛 (Lights of Water)
Fishingirls – Fishing Queen
Goonam – 모래내판타지 (Moraenae Fantasy) [read our review]
In the Endless Zanhyang We Are X Eyre Llew – Carrier
Moth Pylon – Pylon
National Pigeon Unity – 999
Nell – Colors in Black
Night Off – 마지막 잠 (The Last Night)
O.O.O – Playground
Playbook – Playbook [read our review]
Romantiqua – The Last Letter
Secret Asian Men – Shade of Us
Seoul Sanggyeong Band – Bluesy Color
Smalltown – Favorite
The Solutions – Signature
Sonic Stones – Before the Storm
Surl – Aren’t You?
Surl – I Know
The Three Fakes – Fakes
The Vane – Run
We Are The Night – 아, 이 어지러움 (Vertigo) [read our review]
YB – Twilight State


9 and the Numbers – 24L
9 and the Numbers – 물고기자리 (Pisces)
9 and the Numbers – 주부가요 (Mom’s Frontline)
Akke – How Plants Grow
Allta – 혼몽 (Reverie)
Baada – 누구? (Who?)
Band Nah – 둘이서 (Moments)
Bek Hyun-jin & Kim Na-un – 그 근처 (Near Hear) (Feat. Kim Oki Saturn Ballad)
The Black Skirts – 섬 (Island – Queen of Diamonds)
The Black Skirts – 피와 갈증 (Blood and Thirst – King of Hurts)
The Bowls – Car
The Bowls – 고백 (Confession)
Car, the Garden – 나무 (Tree)
Charlie Bean Works – Even
Cheon Miji – I Want To Be Your Mother
Chiyoonhae – 개의 입장 (The Dog’s Point of View)
Choiyeguen – 안녕, 나 (Hello, Myself)
CHS – 서울몽 (Seoulmong) (Feat. Alan Akaka, Kim Oki, Taeyoon, Kimdoyeon)
Cotoba – Odori
Danpyeon Shortcut – Do Not Know
Dasutt – 등불 (Lamp)
Day6 – Rescue Me
Day6 – 한 페이지가 될 수 있게 (Time of Our Life)
Decadent – 애추 (Talus)
Duoxini – Unknown Field
Eighteen April – Dreamer
The Electriceels – 가장 멋진 파도 (Coolest Waves)
Fluorescence Noise – 순수 (Pure)
Gerda – Burden of Proof
H a lot – History
Hyangni – 싸움났어 (See the Fight)
Hyangni – 탐구생활 (Exploration)
In the Endless Zanhyang We Are – And So It
Jannabi – 전설 (Legend)
Kim Sawol – 사바스 (Sabbath)
Land of Peace – Indica (Feat. Motte)
Laybricks – Moon Part 2
Lee Changsub – 틈 (Miss You)
Low High Low – 풍속계 (Wind Gauge)
Lulileela – Dive
National Pigeon Unity – 하이퍼 썬 (Hyper Sun)
Nell – A to Z
Nell – 오분 뒤에 봐 (See U in Five)
Onewe – 귀걸이가 나를 때리게 (Ring on My Ears)
Onthedal – Pie
O.O.O – 꽃 (개화) (Melancholy)
Pieta – Fiction [read our review]
Pieta – 표류 (No Promise)
The Poles – Sun Shower
The Poles – 표류 (漂流) (Land)
Romantiqua – Oceanside and Lost in Thought (When the Tide Comes Up)
Samui – 두통 없는 삶 (Life Without Headache)
Se So Neon – 집에 (Go Back)
The Solutions – In My City
Sonic Stones – Chocolate Milk
Sonyen – Love
Surl – 눈 (Snow)
Surl – 안 괜찮아 (Not OK)
Surl – 열기구 (Hot Air Balloon)
Thornapple – 수성의 하루 (A Day of Mercury)
The Three Fakes – Alive
The Three Fakes – Hoist the Colours
Vassline – Within Dark Rain
YB – 딴짓거리 (Distractions) (Feat. Soul)
Zitten – Silver Lining

Lyric translations by author. Artist profile and album cover images from Bugs Music.

Read our past series:

2018 In Review

2017 In Review

2016 In Review

2015 In Review

2014 In Review

2013 In Review

2012 In Review