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South Korea's Underground Music Secret

South Korea's Underground Music Secret

maansun.com ... It's a pretty simple web page, a dark and barren site with a couple of tabs to choose from on the left hand side. The site houses 20 different artists, which when clicking on the catalogue page, takes us to a collection of their albums, EPs and individual tracks. The site is almost completely in Korean but is still pretty easy to navigate without understanding the language.
It is on this site that you can find the creative collective known as byul.org, and one of its members, Jowall. Jowall’s older brother, TaeSang Cho, is the founder of Byul.org which since 2000, has been a band as well as a design studio, a home for fashion designers, poets and much much more.
The production history of their first album dates all the way back to 2005, despite the album eventually dropping years later in March of 2012: byul.org’s experimental ambient project Secret Stories Heard From A Girl In An Opium Den

This is one of 3 albums I want to discuss today.

I’ve been on this South Korean Experimental Dream Pop kick, I think that’s the best way to describe the sound of these projects, and I haven’t felt something this refreshing from one single corner of music in, honestly, quite a bit. Whether it’s bombastic lo-fi shoegaze, polite, droopy or quirky instrumental work, or something unbelievably rich and warm, each album I want to dive in today is quite different from one another, yet they all deliver this similar adventurous or wanderlust energy that I haven’t been able to find in a lot of other projects in a while. This stuff hit me pretty hard and I feel like I’ve unlocked a hidden area of music I just had no idea existed and well, I wanna talk about it.
Let us get lost in the world of South Korea's dreamy underground experimental pop scene, and the expansiveness that lays waiting for us on the other side.

byul.org - Secret Stories Heard From A Girl In An Opium Den

Byul.org is a creative collective to the highest degree, they currently sit at 6 members in total, with guitarist/vocalist Hwang SoYoon joining the collective in 2018.
The album I began to mention before, Secret Stories Heard From A Girl In An Opium Den, consists of 15 tracks when adding in the LP and CD exclusive tracks as well, and was initially constructed with the goal of creating an LP for both Europe and the U.S. through Burnt Toast Vinyl, a record label in Philadelphia. Secret Stories Heard From A Girl In An Opium Den is byul.org’s first official album internationally and domestically, it introduced us to the minds of the collective through quirky and playful new-age songs like its opening track simply titled “2”. I find a real beauty in listening to music where I can’t understand the language that is being sung, and because of that, byul.org’s vocals become a true instrument in itself with no direct context or anything like that for me. I am really only judging what is being sung through the literal sound of the voice itself and something like this always helps me focus on everything else that’s going on
around the vocals since I really have no meaning or message to go off of in what’s being said...I can only base what I think is going on through the emotion present in the singer’s voice.
The vocal hook sitting on top of all of these other glimmering sounds just makes everything so bright and colorful. I love tracks like “Bleu Bulb Light”, that warm guitar seemingly soaked in like whiskey if that makes any sense, it’s like your sitting with bunch of friends in an abandoned barn passing a bottle around on a beautiful spring day, watching that one friend pull out the acoustic guitar and play some songs (except they are actually pretty good for once lol).
The music creates a scene straight out of a movie, and maybe we have never had that “abandoned barn with friends” experience specifically, but it’s the moody, emotional bliss distilled through the vocals again that just causes the sounds to make you miss those good friends you haven’t seen in a while. ”Universe Factory” brings these sounds together on top of some light, fuzzy waves of distortion. This is an example of more of the traditional ambient parts of the project. Subdued and reflective stretched sounds that make everything feel like a 20 minute track despite it being over in just about 5 minutes. This track specifically would have been perfect as a video game start up menu in the 2000’s.
“Byul.org began as a loose group of friends who occasionally had drinking sessions together. They were young and foolish back then, which made them brave. Out of nowhere they started drawing sketches for a magazine, in which they put in rough records of our friends. In turn, the magazine helped them find even more friends. Secret Stories Heard From A Girl In An Opium Den is a collection of stories and sounds from such activities. And Byul.org are still making
things together with old and new friends as foolish drinking buddies.” - Burnt Toast Vinyl

조월 Jowall - 아무것도 기념하지 않는 전곡 듣기

Jowall, one of the members of byul.org, and their solo project 아무것도 기념하지 않는 전곡듣기 (which translates to: Listen to the whole song that celebrates nothing) is the music I want to talk about next.
This thing is just so crushingly grand... it is so shiny and rustic, and is Jowall’s most recent release. 아무것도 기념하지 않는 전곡 듣기 is Jowall’s first compilation album that consists of 6 tracks from previous releases alongside 1 completely new track.
The track “어느새”, which translates to “Suddenly”, is slow, simple yet full of life; Delicate vocals, sluggish drums, sunny guitars and even some whistling all come together to create that perfect morning cup of coffee for your ears. There’s this little piano piece that plays alongside the track as well, that comes more and more to life as the track plays out. And once again, not understanding the language just delivers everything said as nothing more than beautiful sounds, sometimes not everything needs to be super meaningful.
Track 4, “The Future Was Beautiful” changes up the mixdown and brings a much more cruddy, distorted feel to these instruments all jamming out with one another. Track 6, “악연” (which translates to “Bad Relationship”) returns back to that somber, looking-upon-the-horizon imagery through nostalgic and comforting instrumentals all coming together for your ears to lay upon, only to eventually explode out into instances of the more distorted sections of the album.
아무것도 기념하지 않는 전곡 듣기 plays with 2 different sound styles in their own territories, rich and rustic to harsh and distorted, and for some songs, clashes them both together at the perfect moments. And I love every second of it.
The album art looks like that infamous picture that made its rounds on the internet that asks you to concretely like name one thing in this photo, and it translates perfectly into the muddy, yet wonderfully composed, mix down nature of the compilation album as a whole.
As Jowall played in Byul.org, he also played in another band called 'Underwears Band' from about 2001, a post-rock / shoegaze band. He played in both bands for a while and in 2009, released his first solo album 네가이곳에서보게될것들 (translated to: Things You Are Going To See Here) while he was living in New York. 네가이곳에서보게될것들 is a rather dark and moody album from Jowall while 깨끗하게, 맑게 (Translated to: “Clean & Clear”) from 2013 was intended to be relatively brighter and more musically diverse.
To get the best of both worlds with Jowall’s creative touch, I really believe nothing beats 아무것도 기념하지 않는 전곡 듣기 . The 7 tracks of 아무것도 기념하지 않는 전곡 듣기 display a wide range of sharp, almost ancient acoustic work alongside silky, delicate vocals that seem as if they’re hanging from a thread. Jowall walks this delicate tightrope alongside more traditional hazy and distorted shoegaze-y production at times as well, and I hope this article can introduce the magic of Jowall’s work to many other artists and listeners out there as well.

Parannoul - To See the Next Part of the Dream

This next album many of you may have already heard actually, as it really gained some incredible popularity and traction throughout the internet after its release in February of 2021.
To See the Next Part of the Dream by Parannoul is a 10-track noise rock shoegaze album from Seoul created by someone we pretty much know nothing about, and it’s because of this fact (along with the saturated fuzzy textures of the sound design overall), that the album plays as if it’s coming from behind a bedroom door... a creative mind on the other side pouring out their incredible talent and secluded thoughts through the gateway of a Bandcamp upload. “It really does sound like someone routing their guitar directly into their computer to avoid
waking up their parents.” Ian Cohen writes at Pitchfork, which I think just nails it perfectly.
I spent a lot of time listening to this thing in the Summer and Fall of 2021, it’s the perfect blend of harshness yet tranquility for any season of the year. It’s never boring, it’s never too overly fuzzy as I have found for myself personally with many other shoegaze albums I am recommended. Everything on the album combines into one, singular lofi plane of a sound and it’s mixdown feels like every instrument and vocal layer are present on the same battlefield. It’s washy and muddy, yet there is no instrument or wispy sound effect that somehow suffocates the
other. Each stem curls up into a ball and tries to hide from the sea of sound created by Parannoul and as a whole, it all crafts the perfect harsh, noisy, shoegaze-y trip.
Each track on here parades into one another through pompous guitar work, these raw and barren vocals, and there is pretty much this same lo-fi texture throughout the entire thing. A project like this though, and how it is presented by the creator through their writings on the Bandcamp page, really works in this production style though, and you’ll find yourself glued to the home-made novelty Parranoul engraves into the album.
I love every track on here, but the standout on To See the Next Part of the Dream is definitely the track “흰천장 (White Ceiling)”; A 10-minute adventure that gradually wakes from its slumber as the track builds onto itself minute after minute. Once you're 6 or 7 minutes in, the track becomes this overload of instruments, screams and alarm clocks, it’s just this crazy blend of everything that showcases Parannoul’s abilities as a musician best.
The sounds of To See the Next Part of the Dream brings to life the idea of being at a crossroads with yourself and all the clutter in the world around us... trying to somehow find joy in the constant cynicism we tend to fall into daily.
To See the Next Part of the Dream was released through a variety of physicals from cassette to CD, all long sold out, and I am always hoping this thing could eventually receive an official vinyl pressing as I’d love to pick one up. If you love moody vocals with extremely fun instrumentals, all soaked in a lofi buzz, To See the Next Part of the Dream will be candy for your ears.
There is so much great stuff coming out of Korea and these artists are just a handful of what’s available, I highly recommend just searching on Bandcamp for more or visiting maansung.com as well, I’ve had a blast just not understanding the language yet finding these intoxicating experiences through a variety of projects that blend so many different genres or sounds together, all to create something genuinely refreshing. It was much needed for me and I can’t wait to find more.
Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, and until next time, much love, ur boi, Pad Chennington.
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Also known as "Youtube's Vaporwave Valedictorian", Pad Chennington is a content creator who has created a substantial following on YouTube for his videos discussing all things Vaporwave. Starting in the Fall of 2017, Pad's videos range from reviews to breakdowns, interviews to unboxings, and much more, always revolving around odd and interesting music genres found throughout the internet. Pad has also recently released an album in February titled "CONTRAST" that is available as a free download via the My Pet Flamingo label.