A popular metaphor for K–Pop is that it’s just like candy. Be it the bubble gum pop sound that popularized the genre in the early 2010s, or the addictive bass lines and mass production that define it today, the genre’s influence is undeniable. In tandem with the global fanaticism around K–Pop, there’s a musical movement impacting the way global listeners consume Korean music: an indie–rock revival. With fall (and seasonal depression) just around the corner, we could all use a little serotonin boost. Here are four K–Indie bands to freshen up your autumn playlists.
Perhaps the best–known act on this list, HYUKOH is the face of the K–Indie revolution. With one album and five EPs to date, the four–piece band is a seasoned act, almost to perfection. With a careful mixture of grunge, R&B soul, and '70s rock, the band’s lead singer Oh Hyuk’s raspy and captivating voice delivers a feeling of unfamiliar nostalgia—addressing themes of love, melancholy, longing, and completeness.
The vocalist’s upbringing is reflected in the music, with the frontman’s early lyrics musing on his adolescent years growing up in China on “I Have No Hometown” and his complicated relationship with religion in “Jesus lived in a motel room.” With soulful crooning in English, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese, HYUKOH’s reach has spanned all over the world, leading the band to perform at Coachella in 2019. As the weather gets colder, be sure to check out "Ohio," a song about the process of healing a broken heart.
JANNABI is for the hopeless romantics, point blank period. The quartet’s delivery of both sleepy nighttime ballads and hard–hitting Queen–inspired acoustic charm has captivated fans across the country ever since their 2019 single, “for lovers who hesitate,” won both Song of the Year and Best Modern Rock Song at the 2020 Korean Music Awards—deservedly so. Every track begins with a prelude of either calming acoustic guitar or alluring piano notes, as lead vocalist Choi Jung Hoon rides the soothing melodies with soulful fervor. Yet despite its vintage undertones, the music feels fresh, drawing from only the best of the rock bands by which the group is inspired.
If you’re looking for songs perfect for relaxing ambiance or tear–jerking ballads, JANNABI is the group for you. Their song "Sweet memories" is particularly fitting for an autumn stroll.
THE BLACK SKIRTS
The Black Skirts, despite the plural name, isn't a band. The act is Jo Hyu–il, also known as Bryan Cho, who is an outlier among his indie counterparts. The multi–instrumentalist wanders musically, moving from piano–based ragtime to slower ballads and then circling around to Men I Trust–style dream pop. It stands to say that The Black Skirts definitely has his own color: one of addictive chord progressions and resounding vocals, moving his listeners in whatever way he intends, and singing in English or Korean. And with this formula, he’s found success, lending his vocals to a number of K–Drama soundtracks; they've earned his records 201 and THIRSTY Best Modern Rock Album at the 2010 and 2020 Korean Music Awards, respectively.
Cho is an artist of impressive growth. Each of his releases showcase not only the artist’s depth as a musician, but also his ever–evolving delivery of life’s most common experiences. In the spirit of fall, we'd recommend the slow–rocking track, "Holiday."
SE SO NEON
With a name literally translating to “new kids” or “new boys,” SE SO NEON are the freshest faces on the Korean indie rock scene. Fronted by vocalist Soyoon, whose androgynous voice accompanies an awe–inspiring combination of city–pop and neo–psychedelic rock on each of their songs. With their sophomore EP Nonadaptation earning itself a spot on both Pitchfork and Paste’s year–end best rock albums of 2020 lists, the group has enjoyed critical acclaim, and it’s not hard to tell why: The music simply speaks for itself. But to summarize in one word, the music is "powerful," soul–strikingly so with a thrilling blend of guitar, drums, and striking vocals on each and every track.
Keep an eye out for SE SO NEONs rise.
With each artists’ unique sound, you’re bound to find a song, or even album, that resonates with you. Be it in English or Korean, a heartbreaking crooner or thrilling rage fest, we'd go so far as to say that each of these bands brings something new to the table. Give them all a listen this fall.