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My Top 10 Korean Songs of 2021

2021 has ended and I’m back with yet another Top 10 list for the year. I don’t really have any pithy comments or things I want to say about this year. I’m a tad bit sick and dreading working over New Year’s, so I’m just going to keep the intro short this year. The one thing I will mention is I somehow ended up with nearly half a list of songs sung entirely in English, which was not my intention. But it’s my list, so we’re going with it anyways. Here are my top 10 Korean songs for 2021 and I hope you enjoy them! Feel free to comment or share anything you liked from the year too!

10. Pulling Off The Stars - KIRARA

KIRARA remains one of my absolute favorite indie electronic artists, and they are still very unknown to most people. They make incredibly creative music that utilizes a variety of sounds and styles, even experimenting with sounds that border on unpleasant at times. Pulling Off the Stars is one of the best examples of their work, an over-9 minute musical journey that rises and falls and drops in amazing ways that always keeps you guessing. I love putting it on and just letting it take me where it will.

9. The Feels - Twice

The Feels is actually a last minute addition to the list for me, a more recent obsession. I bounced off it when it first released, but another listen a month or two ago made me a fan. This is mostly due to how ridiculously catchy it is, especially being entirely in English and being super easy for me to sing along to. The verses have this great punch to them, and I love some of the little vocal runs and fun stresses given to things. Best of all, however, is the amazing chorus, which has popped into my head at least once a night for weeks now. This is just a fun pop song, something that Twice is startlingly good at again and again.

8. Next Level - aespa

Next Level has one of the coolest sounds of the year. I love how the song keeps switching up its style again and again; every section has the same deep synth production, but it goes from super dirty and raw sounding to a bit more playful and back again and it’s great. I love how it keeps you guessing constantly, and it’s a lot of fun seeing where the song goes next. The ‘tude-filled vocals and performances follow deftly with each style change as well, which is impressive. This is just a song that doesn’t really sound like anything else this year, and it struck me immediately when I first heard it.

7. We Go - fromis_9

fromis_9’s We Go has one of the most stupidly catchy hooks of the entire year. It’s a song that instantly dug its way into my mind and never faded away, both due to its bouncy production and pleasant vocals. The chorus is appealing to my ears in a way that makes it nearly impossible for me not to bounce and sing along to, despite not knowing a word of Korean. Nothing about this song really stands out as unique or does anything special, but it is simply a remarkably solid pop song that I want to listen to again and again.

6. Abittipsy - Youha

Youha’s Abittipsy is actually the first song I enjoyed enough to add to my shortlist for this year, and it’s neat to see it on the final list too! The production has an amazingly powerful, synthy hook to it that immediately made me take interest. Add in some deftly punchy vocals that dance perfectly along with the strong beats and compelling lyrics about drinking to deal with the hard parts of life and you have a track that has stuck with me since it was released in January. I particularly like the parts where the song slows down, as if the alcohol is wearing off and reality is sinking in again before drinking and getting happy again. It’s handled so well, especially in the also fantastic video.

5. Hey Kid, Close Your Eyes w/ Lee Sun Hee - AKMU

It was hard picking my favorite AKMU song from 2021, but I have to give it to Hey Kid, Close Your Eyes. It is one of the most gorgeous songs I heard all year, and everything about it is simply amazing, from the haunting anti-war lyrics to the striking black-and-white music video. It’s a song that somehow manages to be beautiful and emotional and yet still be catchy at the same time, especially the harmonic chorus that stands out so strongly. The vocals are as on point as ever, thanks to how well the brother and sister duo always manage to synergize with one another. Add in guest vocalist Lee Sun Hee and you get a breathtakingly memorable track.

4. Gone - Rosé

Blackpink member Rosé’s first solo release, Gone is an amazingly evocative and uncomfortably sad song that has stuck with me all year. What immediately grabbed me was the twangy, melancholic instrumentation, particularly the percussive acoustic guitar slaps that give the song its beat instead of a traditional drum sound. The vocals are equally impressive, conveying so much sad emotion despite remaining very measured for the most part. It’s a very subdued, controlled sadness, and it adds so much to the tone of the song for me. It’s really a fantastic performance that manages to be appealing to hear again and again despite the subject matter.

3. Pinktop - The Volunteers

Pinktop was one of the biggest surprises for me all year, from The Volunteers first full-length album, a group including Yerin Baek, a phenomenal vocalist whose solo work very nearly ended up on my list for 2020. This song is so unlike anything else I heard this year, and it’s really hard to describe its sound. Well, I mean, Pinktop is an indie rock track, but it doesn’t really sound like anything else: poppy sometimes, folksy at others, and just remarkably unique. The main guitar riff is killer and I love it so much. Yerin’s vocals are laid-back and suit the singular sound of the track perfectly. Even the relatively simple breakdown section at the end of the song works surprisingly well. This song just vibes with me in a way that I absolutely adore.

2. LMLY - Jackson Wang

Another Jackson Wang track makes its way onto my Top 10 list! This year, it’s LMLY, or Leave Me Loving You. Just like with last year’s 100 Ways, Wang has crafted an experience that stuck with me all year. It just has so much about it that I love. A catchy, driving beat and solid production paired with his gorgeous voice that I just can’t get enough of. A sad story told smartly through both the lyrics and the video itself. Another great performance from Wang in the gorgeously produced and shot music video. I just feel like he is so good at making this kind of song, and he has both the vocal and acting chops to pull off both sides of it. I absolutely adore this song and video and can't wait to see what he does next.

1. Butter - BTS

To understand why Butter is at the top of my list, I need to provide a little context. At my workplace, they play music constantly. This is generally a mix of slightly older Top 40 music and classic rock/pop hits (or currently, Christmas songs >_<). You can imagine my surprise when I heard Butter playing at work for the first time. I couldn’t help but dance and sing along a bit, and I do it every time I hear it, even though it doesn’t come on all that frequently. I really think that’s why it feels like the song that needs to be at the top of my list. I mean, it’s definitely a great song with some very smooth production and flow designed to slide into your head, especially that absurdly catchy chorus that I love singing along to. But I don’t vibe with boy groups very often, and I know a big part of my love for Butter is just being able to have a bit of fun when I’m frustrated at work. It may not be the best reason to call it my favorite Korean song of 2021, but it just feels right.


My Top 10 Japanese Songs of 2021

Here we are at the end of yet another year of Japanese music. I normally go into some detail about the year as a whole or my process of putting this list together, but those feel a bit trite at this point and I don’t really have much to say. I’ll just say here are my Top 10 Japanese songs of 2021 and I hope you enjoy them! Feel free to comment or share anything you liked from the year too!

10. Bijin - Chanmina

Bijin is a track that I think embodies Chanmina’s style as a whole. The lyrics, which are about the expectations towards women’s beauty and needing to conform to certain expected standards, are delivered powerfully in Chanmina’s attitude-laden, almost vitriolic style. Combined with the unsettling production, the end result is probably Chanmina’s most provocative release yet. And despite the heavy subject matter and vicious delivery, it’s still a track I want to keep listening to, particularly due to its tight beat and flow.

9. Manners - Band-Maid

I actually bounced off of Band-Maid’s 2021 releases when they first came out. The sound was harder in a way that I just didn’t vibe with. I decided to give them another try near the end of the year and found them growing on me. Manners is my favorite of the bunch because it has this great groove to it, unlike any of the other tracks from the album or single releases. The sound almost feels like a playful swagger, especially during the verses with that fantastic bass line. It’s just stuck with me in a way the others haven’t.

8. Peace & Love - cluppo

Cluppo is actually rhythm guitarist and backup vocalist Miku Kobato from Band-Maid, in the group’s first solo spin-off project. Peace & Love was an immediate hit for me due to its overwhelming cuteness and sincerity. Miku is super adorable and does a great job playing to the camera during the video, making for a delightfully saccharine experience that I love using to cheer myself up if I’m feeling down. I also love the strangeness of the song’s sound, mixing pop, light rock, and a tad bit of electronic sounds to make something that I find very memorable.

7. Take a Picture - NiziU

Take a Picture is a silly, predictable pop song and I am willing to admit that. It doesn’t really do anything unique, NiziU’s vocals are slightly rough around the edges, and the production is a tad bit plain. But I still love this song to death anyways because it’s just so damn cute and catchy and fun. I love the bubbly energy, especially during the chorus. I love the bright, well-shot music video filled with amazing outfits. I love the way the song flows from verse to bridge to chorus and back again. And I absolutely ADORE the stupid camera shutter sound effects during the chorus! It’s just one of those songs that hasn’t left my head all year.

6. Dingga - Mamamoo

Dingga actually came out originally as a Korean track in 2020, but I didn’t care much for it then, for whatever reason. When I listened to the Japanese version this year, however, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It just works so much better in Japanese for me for some reason, the lyrics having a smoother flow and sounding better to my ear. It’s a pretty typical Mamamoo track: super catchy, great production, and lots of ‘tude in the vocal performance. I also kinda love how the video is pretty much identical to the Korean version, just with altered close-up shots when actual singing is happening. They do a great job matching it up, but it still amuses me.

5. Gum Gum Girl - Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

I’m so happy to be excited about a Kyary track again! Gum Gum Girl is another killer song from producer Yasutaka Nakata and artist Kyary Pamyu Pamyu. There’s not really anything surprising here, admittedly, but there doesn’t have to be when everything is so solid. The production is tight and energetic and has a fantastically bouncy beat. The vocals are adorably twee and do a great job of wedging their way into my head for days and days after hearing them. And I absolutely love the creative music video with its over-the-top fight choreography and silly little story it tells.

4. Starry Night - Queen Bee

Starry Night was my first exposure to Queen Bee, and it made me an instant fan. The highlight is vocalist Avu-chan’s unbelievable voice: it’s completely, astoundingly gorgeous and has a range that has to be heard to be believed. Paired with the song’s bizarre instrumentation, you have a track that is incredibly striking and unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s not exactly catchy per se but is certainly memorable and breathtaking in its sound. The video is also worth mentioning, as it neatly shows off the talent and flair of Avu-chan and the rest of the group with some stunning visuals and costuming.

3. Nainainai - Atarashii Gakko!

I have been mildly obsessed with Atarashii Gakko! since Nainainai’s release. I’ve watched all of the group’s new music videos and even watched behind-the-scenes and extra members videos, which I practically never do. Something about this group fascinates me and makes me want to know more. Nainainai is my favorite song of theirs, and I love its silly attitude and humor paired with its earworm-y beat and fantastically flowing vocals. It’s a song packed with memorable lines that I constantly think about: Mizyu’s “Yabai!” has literally been one of my favorite moments of the entire year. It’s such a great song, and I can’t wait to see what else this group does.

2. Chu Chu Chu ft. GUMI - Louis Vision

Chu Chu Chu is another one of those songs that I’m not sure anyone else likes as much as me. It’s a slightly overproduced, incredibly overwhelming, and overly saccharine electronic pop track that would probably drive some people completely mad, but I JUST LOVE IT SO MUCH. It’s one of the most absurdly catchy songs I’ve heard in years, and I cannot stop listening to it again and again. It’s a ridiculously simple and repetitive song, filled with a predictable beat and silly, autotuned vocals, but it burrowed its way into my head like no other song this year. I just never manage to get tired of singing along to it.

1. Mitei - chilldspot

Every week, I go through the new music that’s come out and add what I like to my playlist for the year on Youtube. I’m usually doing something else while I do this, multitasking to save myself time. Often, I’ll hear something I like and hit the button to save it before moving onto the next with minimal attention. Mitei was one of those songs that was immediately arresting, making me stop what I was doing to fully listen to it. Its amazing production, particularly the driving beat and gorgeously ethereal guitar sections, and punchy vocals that flow effortlessly together make for a truly amazing song, one that I simply cannot sit still for whenever it’s playing. No other song grabbed me so immediately like Mitei did, and that’s why it’s my favorite Japanese song of 2021.


My Top 10 Korean Songs of 2020

2020 has concluded (finally…) and it’s time to take a look at its best Korean songs. This year’s list came together with surprising ease, despite how many times I thought over the last twelve months “man, there aren’t really any amazing bangers for this year yet.” Nearly every song on the list was on my tentative playlist within a day or two after hearing it. When it came time to refine and order everything, I pretty much already had everything ready to go, only needing to shift a few things around and settle on the top spot. Looking at the completed list, I feel like no songs are being left out. Even a few of the weaker entries have some kind of meaning for me that makes them feel like a necessary inclusion on the list. I wouldn’t want to put this list up against some of my past years’ lists, but these ten songs are an absolutely iconic part of 2020 for me.

10. Dolphin - Oh My Girl

I’ll be the first to admit that most of my favorite songs, or even the songs that appear on these lists, are the featured single releases. Every so often, however, a B-side sneaks into my favor. What better example of this than Oh My Girl’s Dolphin, a B-side that had a surprising amount of popularity in Korea, getting covered by many big artists (such as IU, another artist on my list) and even charting higher than the main single release from the same EP. It’s an oddly slow song at times with production that kind of feels all over the place and has strangely-paced verses for a mainstream pop song. It manages to work thanks to a fantastically memorable chorus that, despite its simplicity, has earwormed me countless times this year. Dolphin is a song that falters a bit here and there, but I can’t deny it’s one of my favorite songs of 2020 anyway.

9. Bazooka! - GWSN

Bazooka! from girl group GWSN is actually the very first song I added to my tentative 2020 list. Part of its inclusion on this list is likely just because I’ve been listening to it again and again longer than any other song on this list, but it’s still a fun song that’s worth being included. This track has a simple but appealing production with good bassy synth and a solid beat. It also features some of the catchiest lines of the year--I can’t tell you the number of times “Ba, bazooka” or “watch me, watch me...catch me, catch me” popped into my head since its release in May. On the other hand, the verses are a bit more lifeless and inconsistent between the different members, which drags it down a bit. Bazooka! is a song with some flaws, but it’s still an iconic song from this year for me nonetheless.

8. Scandalous - Keembo

Keembo is a new duo composed of two members from former girl group Spica, a group which had one of the very first songs I ever heard in Korean. Scandalous is their first release, and it’s been stuck in my head for most of the year. The production is a strange mix of synth and little guitar riffs that actually work oddly well together and good little instrumental stings between verses. Vocally, I really enjoy the back-and-forth verses between the duo, as if they are competing with one another (which they in fact use as the theme in the fun music video). They also pair nicely during the choruses too, with some decent harmonization. Scandalous is another song that I wouldn’t quite consider A-tier, but it still got a lot of play from me in 2020.

7. Super Single Magician - H3ather Sun

On occasion, there’s a song I fall for that I don’t really think anyone other than me enjoys or really “gets” in the same way. For whatever reason, it gets into my head and becomes a minor (or maybe even major) obsession, to the point where I feel like I have to include it on the list. H3ather Sun’s Super Single Magician is one of those songs, a track that feels a bit amateurish at times but I find it oddly compelling nonetheless. The production is why I kinda love it; despite its slightly low-budget sound, it has a great driving beat and is ridiculously catchy, especially the main hook. Despite their heavily synthesized sound and clunky English, the sparse and repetitive vocals are strangely alluring too. I don’t know if anyone else will understand the appeal of Super Single Magician, but here’s hoping at least one person does!

6. Eight feat. SUGA - IU

I have been a long-time fan of IU, and I don’t think that will ever change. She has an utterly incredible voice that always flows perfectly, no matter the song, and I love hearing it again and again. Her songs have appeared on several of my lists (including the top spot of my very first one in 2013), and here she is again, unsurprisingly, with Eight. This song alternates between soft, comfy verses and a powerful chorus, showcasing IU’s talents in her two best elements. It’s one of those songs I just want to close my eyes and lose myself in for as long as I can. Even guest vocalist SUGA’s plain verse doesn’t hinder the song too badly, thanks to its short length and okay cadence. Eight may not be IU’s boldest or most creative song, but it’s still more than deserving of a spot on my Top 10 for 2020.

5. Sunset Bench - Jane

I really love a good instrumental-only track, but I don’t encounter many of them in my weekly perusal of Korean music. When I first heard Sunset Bench by Jane, I was taken on a beautiful musical journey in a way that reminded me of the great instrumental artists like Eric Johnson. The guitar has a delightfully warm tone and playful sound that I absolutely adore. The artist does a great job mixing things up throughout the song to create a wonderful musical journey. I also like the video despite its simplicity, as the song feels just like something a random guitar player might noodle around playing on a bench near a beach as the sun starts to go down. I just wish there were more great instrumental tracks like Sunset Bench.

4. Alien - Lee Suhyun

In my opinion, Lee Suhyun is one of the greatest female vocalists in Korean pop music today. Half of brother-sister duo Akdong Musician (AKMU), Suhyun put out her first solo release in 2020, Alien, and it’s an eccentric yet amazing track. The production, while very memorable, is also peculiar as hell, with a retro, 70s-esque funk flow that I really dig. I love the little touches too, such as the little claps in the verses and the echo effects on the vocals during the chorus. Vocally, it’s a lot of fun and quite catchy, albeit a poor showcase of Suhyun’s breathtaking vocal range. Finally, the music video is an absolute blast with fantastic visuals and costuming as well as some silly acting and a great little dance during the chorus. I love Suhyun’s work in AKMU, but I’m actually more excited to see more of her solo work after hearing Alien.

3. Lovesick Girls - Blackpink

Despite being one of the seemingly biggest pop groups in the world, I hadn’t enjoyed a single Blackpink song until Lovesick Girls. Finally, they’ve released a song that sounds unique to the group and not, as an acquaintance of mine put it, “ 2NE1’s scraps.” My favorite part is the killer verses that flow so damn perfectly with the fun, upbeat production. The punchy lead-up during the bridge ties nicely into the powerful, and ridiculously catchy, chorus. I love the lyrics themselves too, which describe being too obsessed with love and how that can destroy a person. Lovesick Girls is the first Blackpink song to make me want to hear more from the group, and I really hope they continue on with this sound.

2. I Don’t Want No Champagne - Chimmi

Chimmi’s I Don’t Want No Champagne is a song I stumbled into unexpectedly with no expectations yet IMMEDIATELY fell entirely in love with. It’s such a pleasantly smooth track that’s peaceful and mellow in both production and vocals. I love the soft acoustic guitar, complete with palm stops (one of my favorite sounds!) and a stylish little solo. The smooth vocals from the guy and the breathier vocals from the girl both stand out individually and pair together pleasantly. It’s also a ridiculously memorable chorus, thanks to the easy English lyrics, which I’ve been singing to myself since June. Finally, there’s the video which works oddly well for the tone and lyrics of the song despite obviously being very low-budget. I Don’t Want No Champagne is maybe my biggest surprise of 2020, a song I had no expectations for but ended up adoring the hell out of nonetheless.

1. 100 Ways - Jackson Wang

This one’s a bit weird--an entirely English song from a Chinese artist, Jackson Wang, who’s part of a KPOP group, Got7--but I was so obsessed with this video all year long that it HAS to be at the top of this list. 100 Ways is one of Jackson Wang’s many solo releases, and it’s a fantastic display of his raw talent and magnetism. The whole song sets such a powerful mood with its every facet, from the powerfully sultry vocals from Wang to the punchy synth production. Best of all is the “holy shit, this is AMAZING” music video, which is filled with creative choreography (those synchronized hands movements are so good!), gorgeous costuming and set design, and an incredibly cool concept that tells a complete story in just three and a half minutes. 100 Ways might be my most-played song of the entire year, across any genre, and I think only one view of the video will tell you why. It’s a song and video I will remember for years to come, and it certainly defines Korean music in 2020 for me.


My Top 10 Japanese Songs of 2020

Another year of Japanese music has concluded! My list for this year took a weird journey. I’ve been adding stuff to a tentative playlist all year in order to keep up with things I liked and have an easy way to listen to them again and again. This list looked very different before December. As I started the refinement process, I ended up throwing out a good chunk of stuff I thought was a lock and adding newer songs instead. Also, nearly every one of those songs that stuck around moved to wildly different positions on the list. This was a hard one to put together, as I almost feel like my sensibilities for what belongs on the Top 10 changed from the beginning of the year until now. In the end, this is what I came up with--a memorable group of songs that had the greatest impact on me in 2020.

10. Haru wo tsugeru - yama

On the surface, yama seemed to me like just another Japanese electronic producer with catchy, but otherwise unremarkable songs. However, Haru wo tsugeru is a song that grew on me steadily over the course of the year. Every time I hear it, I like it a little more, and I have a hard time imagining it not being on my list. This song’s best aspect is its superbly catchy production, with a snappy synth hook that persists throughout the song that rarely lets up from beginning to end. The vocals are punchy, yet smooth, and fit nicely along with the production, but there are also plenty of sections without vocals that allow the production to shine on its own. Haru wo tsugeru is the track that made me start paying attention to yama, and maybe it’ll do the same for you too.

9. Don’t Be Long - Band-Maid

NOTE: There is no music video for this song as of yet, so I've embedded a live video instead. If you want to hear a "clean" version, here's a link to the song on Spotify.

Band-Maid really squeaked into the list this year. After months of not releasing anything new, they finally dropped a couple new singles in December. Their “main” release, Different, is much too cacophonous for my liking, but I do really like the B-side from that release, Don’t Be Long. Interestingly, this is an instrumental track, which sadly means none of Miku or Saiki’s great vocals. On the other hand, it’s neat to see a song where the always fantastic instruments can just go for it a bit more, worrying less about vocal pacing or typical structure. There are some great guitar sections, comprised both of deeply thrumming riffs and intensely energetic strumming, and some of the best drumming I’ve heard from the group yet. My opinion is still a bit fresh on Don’t Be Long, but I do know it should be on this list.

8. Shekebon! - Vickeblanka

I enjoy songs for a variety of reasons--fun production or instrumentation, emotional resonance, creative music videos--but catchiness is probably the most important of all for me. A song that gets stuck in my head again and again is almost assuredly going to become one of my favorites; this is certainly the case for Vickeblanka’s Shekebon!, which has one of the most earwormy choruses of the entire year. It’s a silly, stupid, repetitive chorus, but I love it to death nonetheless, singing it to myself constantly after a fresh listen. The verses are much mellower but still fantastic as the artist shows off his shockingly impressive vocal range. The contrast between the verses and the chorus is strange, almost as if they come from entirely different songs, although, somehow, they work quite well together. Combine that with some straightforward yet memorable instrumentation, and Shekebon! is easily one of the catchiest songs of 2020.

7. 16yrs - Doul

Every so often, there’s a young artist who comes along and blows me away with their raw talent--and Doul is one of those artists. 16yrs is a remarkable display of potential that was unlike anything else I heard this year. She has an amazingly impressive voice for such a young singer, only 17 as of the time of this post. I love how it has this thick, syrupy quality to it that draws out so much emotion from her vocals. The lyrics themselves are powerful too, talking about how younger people are often treated less seriously because of their youth and how their opinions and experiences still matter. 16yrs isn’t a complex song, but it’s a powerful one that left me eagerly waiting to see what Doul can do with a few more years under her belt.

6. Satisfaction - Reverbee

There have been a fair number of retro-esque hip-hop tracks out of Japan in recent years, but Reverbee’s Satisfaction might just be my favorite of them all. This is because it takes that 90s era hip-hop sound and infuses it with elements of upbeat Japanese pop and rock to create an energetic ride that I’ve been hooked on all year long. The most important part of a hip-hop track, in my opinion, is tight flow during the vocals, and the duo kills it here--every verse is smooth and hits perfectly with the beat. The chorus switches to a Japanese pop-rock sound, upbeat and packed to the brim with energy. It’s one of those songs that I just can’t help but bounce along to. Sadly, Reverbee has already disbanded, but at least they left us with Satisfaction.

5. Caught Up in Time - Faith

Faith’s Caught Up in Time is a song I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about in 2020, particularly in regards to this Top 10 list. I went back and forth on its inclusion again and again, wondering if some of its negatives meant it shouldn’t be on the list. In the end, however, it’s still a song I’ve listened to A LOT this year, so I feel like it HAS to be on this list. The first half of the song is my favorite part, a saccharine pop-rock track with unbearably cute vocals and fun lyrics that tell a story about a failed relationship. Halfway through the song, however, it suddenly shifts into something much more powerful, both vocally and instrumentally. Even now, I still somewhat dread this shift when I listen to the song, as I don’t care for the bombastic second half as much as the relaxed first half, even though I know it fits perfectly with what the song is trying to say. It also maybe goes on for a bit longer than it should. Even considering its flaws, Caught Up in Time remains one of the most memorable songs of 2020 for me, across any genre.

4. Time Warp - Perfume

Yes, another Perfume song on my list. Big surprise. While I didn’t feel very strongly one way or another about Time Warp on the first few listens, its charms kept me coming back and, eventually, the song grew on me to the point of making it onto this list. I absolutely love the verses, which feature a nice back-and-forth between the vocals and little production stings. The chorus is the weaker part of the song, as I think it interrupts the nice flow that the verses have, but I do enjoy the steady build to the wonderful instrumental bridge, ending strongly with the memorable “boku no time warp.” There’s another amazing Perfume music video to go along with the song too, making creative use of the time warp idea by constantly rewinding and showing things again. And those outfits are gorgeous! Time Warp is yet another great Perfume song, and I feel like that’s about all I need to say to justify its spot on this list.

3. Voice Memo No. 5 - Chanmina

Chanmina has been busy in 2020, releasing a ton of new videos and a few collaborations, including one with KPOP artist Taeyeon. Out of all of these songs, the one that has left the biggest impression on me was her first video of the year, Voice Memo No. 5. I’m still in love with Chanmina’s voice: smooth and sultry but with a bite too. Her killer flow is on display yet again in this track--every single vocal just feels so fluid and effortless in a way I think few artists can pull off. It pairs well with the simplistic but memorable production, the sparse drums/claps and smooth guitar riffs vibing nicely with Chanmina’s distinct style of singing. Topping it all off is a delightfully strange video packed with stylish cinematography and flashy “clown” costuming. All in all, Voice Memo No. 5 is another Chanmina classic in the making.

2. Monster-san ft. Aimyon - Ken Hirai

Aimyon is an artist I’ve had on my list multiple times before, but this year, my favorite song of hers was actually a featuring she did on a Ken Hirai track, Monster-san. Each of them have incredible voices on their own, but they also work amazingly well together. The verses have a smooth back-and-forth rhythm as each artist takes their turn before throwing it back to the other, and the chorus brings their unique voices together, paired with some neat echo-y effects, to create a fantastic refrain. Everything about this song, even the gorgeously shot and creatively choreographed video, ties into its themes of being stuck with someone you don’t want to be with but are unable to leave. Monster-san was not the Aimyon song I was expecting, but I got something even better, as well as a newfound appreciation for Ken Hirai too.

1. Say So (cover) - Rainych

Say So is a strange inclusion on my list: a cover of an English song (by Doja Cat) by an Indonesian woman, who goes by Rainych, performed in Japanese. I had never heard the original version of the song before hearing this cover, and after going back and listening to it out of curiosity, I can’t imagine any version other than Rainych’s. The production changes are subtle--pitched up a bit and taking a slightly faster pace--but bring additional energy to the song, especially when paired with Rainych’s crisply-delivered vocals. I also just think it sounds so much better in Japanese, especially with the peppier production. It’s impressive that it sounds so good coming from a non-native speaker. Finally, even Rainych’s facial expressions and little body movements in the video are perfectly adorable. For me, this cover is the ideal version of Say So and without a doubt, my favorite Japanese song of 2020.


My Top 10 Korean Songs of 2019

Another year, another Top 10! While I know that very few people care about these lists, particularly the Korean ones, I still enjoy taking the time to reflect on the past year of music and determine which songs I felt the strongest about. It gives those songs more importance to me in the future and makes returning to them even years down the line very nostalgic. 2019 was another one of those years that felt a bit weak, especially during the first half of the year. However, it all came together in the end, and this year’s list actually fell into place quite easily in the end. I hope whoever reads this list enjoys at least one of the songs, and I’d love to hear any comments or favorites from other people!

NOTE: Due to a current issue on Giant Bomb where video embeds are not working for me, I've instead linked to the videos instead of using embedded videos. If/when the issue is resolved, I will update these posts to add the embeds.

10. WiFi - Saturday

WiFi is one of the only “traditional” girl group songs from this year that hit for me. The sections with the punchy horn sound and refrain of “Wi Fi Fi” have stuck with me enough to earn it a spot on this list outright, despite the rest of the song not quite hitting that high. I still enjoy the pacing changes throughout the song, swapping between slow and fast verses and an even slower bridge that leads back into the chorus, and the part with all the ‘las’ is also great, if much too short. Oh, and the video is filled with cute choreography and costuming and is a lot of fun. WiFi is an admittedly flawed song, but I still find myself listening to it over and over nonetheless.

9. Super Clap - Super Junior

While I don’t usually love Super Junior’s releases, Super Clap is just too damn catchy to ignore. The entire production is fantastic--killer, echoey synth and a driving beat that makes my body NEED to move along with it. When it’s going full force, the sound just hums in a way that I can only describe as magnetic. Sadly, the few slower parts break the flow and bring the song down a few notches for me. As for the vocals, I especially enjoy the slightly delayed delivery during the verses and the memorable, repeated English phrases used during the chorus. There’s not really a lot to say about Super Clap--its hook is enough to keep me coming back for more.

8. Workaholic - Bol4

I continue to be a huge fan of Bol4’s mix of pop and indie acoustic rock. Workaholic has a lighter production that makes good use of the group’s typical acoustic guitar and some well-placed snaps to create a mellower sound. While the vocals don’t showcase the same skillful range featured in the group’s previous songs, it’s still a great performance that smoothly punches on the beat and nicely suits the theme of the song’s lyrics, which focus on the all-too-real slog of working a job you hate and not having enough time for yourself. I may not get down with a “beer cheers woo,” but the frustration of giving so much of my life to something I don’t enjoy resonates with me--that’s what makes Workaholic deserve a spot on this list.

7. Hedgehop - Numnum

Hedgehop is one of those songs that immediately distinguished itself when I first heard it. Its odd production, hypnotic vocals, and low-budget video made it stand out like a sore thumb compared to most typical KPOP fare, and I found it growing on me the more and more I heard it throughout the year. My favorite part is the minimalist production, with a great bass line and surprisingly effective use of both cowbell and triangle. Best of all is how well it pairs with the playfully fluid vocals to create a sultry sound. I just love the whispery style of the singer’s voice and how deftly it dances around the beat. Hedgehop is a song unlike anything else I heard this year, and I find I can’t get enough of it.

6. Bad Habits - Suran

Bad Habits was one of the very first KPOP songs I heard in 2019, coming out on January 1st. I think it speaks to the strength of the song’s main hook that it’s kept me coming back for the entire year. Whether it’s playing softly under the verses or resounding loudly over the chorus, it just works so well, especially when paired with the solid beats. Somehow, it manages to tread the line between a pop song and a ballad--remaining catchy and fun despite a slower beat and a more emotional sound. The vocals also do a fantastic job at resonating with the sound of the song, especially the higher-pitched bridges that build into the chorus. Everything comes to a dramatic conclusion at the end with an impressive key change that closes out the song with a bang. Bad Habits takes me on a journey every time I hear it.

5. Art Gang Money - Swervy

Every single facet of Art Gang Money drips with attitude. The filthy low-end production sets me on edge, making me feel like I just witnessed something I shouldn’t have seen. The lyrics are hilariously over-the-top and utilize some broken English, but Swervy’s confident vocals make me believe that she can do all the things she says and more. The too-few verses are satisfying as hell due to Swervy’s (and guest vocalist Reddy) killer flow, slapping tightly along with the beat. The chorus is harsh in an almost oppressive way but is also the song’s biggest show of strength. Even the video’s old VHS aesthetic, overused effects, and frenetic cuts leave me wondering what the hell I just saw. Top to bottom, Art Gang Money is a TRIP.

4. Hip - Mamamoo

Mamamoo has always had a style entirely their own, a sound that fluctuates between pop, hip-hop, and even retro styles depending on the release. As such, I never know if one of their songs is going to really hit for me. Hip, however, was one of those songs I immediately dug from the first listen. There’s an odd rhythm to the entire song; the production dances all over the place, with tons of catchy little hooks and fun transitory sound effects, and the vocals jump between rap verses, regular verses, and the chorus with little warning, not much caring for traditional song structure. It’s an entirely addictive song though despite the strangeness, especially the chorus’ memorable “close-up” section and refrain of “hip” over and over again. Hip is a confident, attitude-filled song as many of Mamamoo’s tracks are, and I can’t get enough of it.

3. How Dust - KIRARA

At this point, it feels like KIRARA will always be on my Top 10 list every year. She releases fantastic new material again and again, and I have yet to tire of her inventive sound and style. Her best song of 2019? How Dust. It is a unique, wildly creative track that feels more experimental than anything she’s done in the past. There’s so many different beat styles and sound effects as it rises and falls; from section to section, you never know what you’re going to get and I love it. It also feels like her most playful song to date, taking you on a musical journey that is so dynamic almost feels as if it’s being created in real-time. While I really enjoy ct19071 from the same EP, it’s a bit too similar to her past releases. How Dust is something entirely new and different and I love seeing KIRARA continue to play with her sound and grow as an artist.

2. I’m Just Me - My Name is Red-Haired Anne

No song vibed with me this year the way I’m Just Me did. The production is a delightfully bassy, throbbing synth line paired with a simple beat and frequent snaps. I can only describe the sound as sultry, enticing me ever deeper and leaving me mesmerized by the trance it brings. The smooth vocals gel perfectly with the seductive production, as their light and breathy sound dance delicately around the beat. This is not one of those songs that I nod or dance along to but one that just washes over me and takes me on a ride. Even the repetition of the song doesn’t manage to hurt the vibe; it’s such an enthralling experience that I find it compelling from beginning to end. Other songs could learn a lot from how effortlessly I’m Just Me draws me in and wraps me in its thrumming embrace, making me never want to leave.

1. Fire Flame - Z-Girls T.P.I.

I have listened to Fire Flame more than any other song this year, across any genre. It hooked me from the first listen and never let go. The production is playful with tons of little effects, fun synth bits, and a memorable main hook. All three members give adorable vocal performances. The silly, catchy English lyrics have me singing along every time I listen to the song, especially the chorus which has earwormed its way inside my head SINCE JULY. The key change at the very end of the song is a great finale. Finally, the video is overwhelmingly saccharine and filled with candid moments that show an obvious camaraderie between the girls. Plus, that little dance for the chorus is so cute! While I won’t deny that Fire Flame is more than a little cheesy and generically by-the-numbers, it still remains my favorite song of the year--no other song brought me as much joy.


My Top 10 Japanese Songs of 2019

2019 was a pretty damn good year for Japanese music. It started strong and just kept going with solid hit after solid hit from artists both new and old. Even just a few months in, there were so many great songs I was worried I’d have a hard time putting my list together in December. While there were some difficulties, mainly in nailing down the bottom few songs, this year’s list was actually much easier to put together than most year’s lists. Those songs I’d been listening to for months easily nabbed a slot and a few last minute contenders slipped in for the rest. All in all, it’s a solid list that I feel proud of. Hopefully everyone enjoys at least one of my choices and I encourage any comments or sharing of your own favorites!

NOTE: Due to a current issue on Giant Bomb where video embeds are not working for me, I've instead linked to the videos instead of using embedded videos. If/when the issue is resolved, I will update these posts to add the embeds.

10. I’m A Pop - Chanmina

I'm A Pop is an impressive show of force from Chanmina, an artist I first discovered last year and found oddly compelling. Every aspect of this song exudes her confidence, from the spitfire vocals to her assertive attitude in the video. She shows off her language skills by singing in both Japanese and Korean and even throws in some English during the chorus, nailing the flow no matter which she’s using. Both the vocals and the production are hypnotic, seducing you with Chanmina’s commanding presence. I’m A Pop isn’t a song I’ll listen to that often, as I don’t really find it that catchy, but I can’t help but appreciate such an audacious, demanding performance.

9. Bad Reputation - Nerd Magnet

Despite coming out this year, Bad Reputation is a pop punk song that sounds like it came directly out of the late 90s or early 2000s. The instrumentation is energetic and chord-heavy, with a solid memorable hook. During the verses, the singer nails the rhythm of songs from that era--not quite on-beat and almost laconic. The chorus is lively and fun and begs to be sung along to, thanks to the use of English lyrics. There’s even a terrific solo section that builds up the perfect burst of energy to lead into the song’s over-the-top finale. Bad Reputation is a wild nostalgia trip and one of my favorite punk songs in years.

8. Lost - Sekai no Owari

Despite hearing their music for years, I’ve never connected with any of Sekai no Owari’s music. This year’s Lost, their first attempt at penetrating the Western market by pairing with British electronic group Clean Bandit, somehow managed to resonate with me though. Most likely, it has to do with the stunning vocals, which show off an impressive range from the group’s vocalist. They have a remarkably catchy rhythm to them as well, with a pleasant rising-falling dynamic that fits nicely with the uplifting theme of the lyrics. I love the tight production as well, which stays in the background and smartly puts the focus on the vocals. Lost is a fairly simple, even typical-sounding, song, but all the elements come together in a way that leaves me a little bit breathtaken every time I hear it.

7. Last Dance - Lyrical School

The video for Last Dance is what I first fell in love with, a cute low-budget imitation of various movie scenes. Despite looking very cheap, it’s still an impressive imitation of tons of movies with a surprising eye for detail and I love the performances from the members of the group. As I kept watching the amazing video, I realized I actually really enjoyed the song too. There’s a pleasant rhythm to the verses where it always hits on the beat in a satisfying way. The production is simple but solid, particularly the ridiculously pleasant chorus filled with bubbly synth and the same punchy beat. It all comes together into a song that isn’t particularly noteworthy or impressive but one that I never tire of hearing. Last Dance is happy and upbeat and always manages to bring a smile to my face.

6. Denkousekka - Polkadot Stingray

Denkousekka hooked me from the first second--the absurdly catchy guitar riff kicks in immediately and gets even better once the drums and bass start up moments later. This instrumentation creates an enticing energy that powers the entire song, leaving me bouncing along with it. The vocals are equally playful, with lots of little growls and vocal flourishes that add a lot to the song; there’s even a quiet, vocal-only section that leads back into the end of the song that I really dig. Tying it all together is the high-energy chorus that lasts just long enough before hopping back into that killer main riff. Denkousekka is a song that rarely lets up, bombarding you for nearly four minutes with its cheerful energy, and I love every second of it.

5. Pretty Old Man - No Buses

No Buses is startlingly good at creating hook-filled, retro-esque indie rock songs that stick in my head for months after hearing them, first with last year’s Tic and again with this year’s Pretty Old Man. It’s a fantastically composed song, filled with multiple catchy guitar riffs, an excellent bass line, and even a playful instrumental-only section. All of it has a warm, slightly echoey sound that again makes it sound very retro to me, like it fell out of the 60s or 70s. There’s also the same simple yet hypnotic vocals from the lead singer. His imperfect English pronunciation somehow fits the tone of their music perfectly, creating songs that are somehow both easy and hard to sing along to at the same time. I don’t think Pretty Old Man is quite to the level of Tic, but it’s still a remarkably memorable song all the same.

4. Saredo-Shiawase - Zombie-Chang

I adore every aspect of Zombie-Chang’s style, from her unique visual aesthetic to her oddly compelling vocals. Saredo-Shiawase is one of her catchiest songs yet and almost immediately earned a spot on my Top 10 list from the first time I heard it. The production is superb, mixing an incredible thrumming synth line, straightforward yet catchy beat, and interesting use of various sound effects to create a striking sound--even the almost discordant whine throughout the song manages to add to the overall effect. Zombie-Chang’s vocal style fits this sound perfectly, deep and playful in just the right way. I also can’t stress enough how much I enjoy the way she hits the beat with the verses; it’s just so satisfying for me. Saredo-Shiawase is a song that sounds like nothing else, and I can’t get enough of it.

3. Undercover - Hommarju

Here’s an odd pick: a song from a Japan-only rhythm arcade game called Dancerush Stardom. I stumbled into Undercover completely by chance via my Youtube recommendations and immediately fell in love with it. It’s one of those songs that I cannot hear without nodding along, a song that was made to get up and dance to (obviously). The production is extraordinary: a bass line that slaps SO DAMN HARD, an absurdly catchy synth line, and a driving beat to tie it all together. The vocals are perfectly layered over the production, creating a pairing that has been so deeply stuck in my head that I don’t think a day has gone by where I haven’t hummed it at least once. It all comes together into a tight, two-minute long ride that left me speechless the first time I heard it and immediately had me reaching for the replay button. Undercover is my favorite electronic song of the year without question.

2. The Walls - Minna no Kodomo-chan

Minna no Kodomo-chan's mix of cutesy aesthetic and poppy vocals alongside dark instrumentation and even darker lyrics is a fascinating combination. Songs like The Walls are intense experiences that both chill and excite me. I love the dirty sound to the production, slowly ominous one moment and overwhelmingly intense the next. This is a song that goes in so many different directions that you never know what to expect next, taking you on a wild journey that never lingers long enough for you to get bored. The lyrics are as dark as ever, with the theme of being seen as nothing but a disappointment to everyone around you, and I highly recommend turning on the captions to read them for yourself. Even the creepy lo-fi video, complete with VHS distortion effects, add to the unsettling ambiance of the experience. Despite the depressing tone, The Walls is still remarkably catchy and fun to listen to and has stuck with me for months.

1. Blooming - Band-Maid

Band-Maid is the most consistent group to feature on my yearly Top 10s, appearing on every list for the past five years. I knew that one of their songs would eventually reach the top spot, and this year’s Blooming certainly earns its place at the apex of my list. As always, the instrumentation is top-notch in every way. There are multiple fantastic guitar riffs, from the smooth riff during the verses to the intense strumming during the chorus, and some impressive tap solos. The drummer bangs the hell out of her kit, providing an intense level of energy to the song via amazing fills and solid transitions. Even the relatively subtle bass adds nicely to the overall sound; it’s just a shame it doesn’t get to shine on its own. The vocals mesh flawlessly with the instrumentation, slickly rhythmic during the verses and relentlessly energetic during the chorus. There’s even a delightful quiet vocal section just after the solo that builds back into the finale of the song with a resounding bang. Blooming is yet another killer song from Band-Maid, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to grow and evolve in 2020.


My Top 10 Japanese Songs of 2018

2018 was not a bad year for Japanese music. There was a steady flow of consistently solid tracks for pretty much the entire year, and I added more songs this year to my giant repository of noteworthy music than any year before it. At the same time, however, fewer songs made a great impact on me in 2018. I had a hard time putting together this list, not because I had too many songs to choose from, but because it was difficult finding ten songs that really stood out to me as being special enough to be defined as one of my favorite of the year. I just don’t have the same passion for these songs that I had for songs on my lists in past years. Nevertheless, I still feel happy with the list I ended up with, as I think each of the ten songs is at least interesting or unique enough to be worth mentioning, with the top half being the ones I actually do feel very strongly towards. It’s a respectable group of songs, each of which I think is absolutely worth hearing at least once. I hope you enjoy my list and I encourage any criticisms, comments, or sharing of your own favorites!

10. Nakunaru watashi - Minna no Kodomo-chan

Minna no Kodomo-chan is an idol duo unlike any other. Their music utilizes a mix of pop, metal, and electronic styles and focuses on intense themes like death. Members Honoka and Cinnamon have a loli-goth aesthetic that nicely fits these themes. Their “gimmick” comes together most notably in Nakunaru watashi, a intensely discordant track with an equally eerie video. The production is harsh and dark and pairs perfectly with stark, haunting vocals from its two members. It also keeps you on your toes, shifting from softer verses to intense, crashing instrumental sections without any warning and remains entirely enthralling from beginning to end, taking you on an aurally mesmerizing journey. The video is the final piece of this uncomfortable creation, with a variety of strange yet colorful visual filters and many lingering shots on “dead” bodies. Nakunaru watashi, and its video, stuck with me this year in a way few songs did.

9. Let Me Know - Perfume

Perfume is a group that needs no introduction. I’ve been a fan of them ever since I first started getting into Japanese music, and they remain one of my favorite groups thanks to their killer production, fantastic aesthetic, and charismatic members. As such, I’m not surprised that another of their tracks, Let Me Know, landed on my Top 10 list for this year. I instantly fell in love with the main hook that opens the song, a unique rippling synth line paired with loud snaps: it’s one of producer Yasutaka Nakata’s best pieces of work in years and is easily my favorite part of the song. The vocals are as solid as ever, perfectly suiting the softer pace and tone of the song while still remaining distinctive to Perfume’s style. The video is also fantastic, if a bit simple, focusing on a small train set but still bringing the typical bright costuming and memorable choreography that are expected of the group. My only real complaint with the song is the somewhat repetitive “chorus,” which could have used a more memorable hook. Even with this shortcoming, Let Me Know is a solid entry in Perfume’s vast catalog.

ALSO: Future Pop

8. New Days - Rei

I first discovered Rei, an Japanese rocker who grew up in New York, last year and was immediately impressed with her guitar abilities and sense of swagger. I kept an ear on her this year and wasn’t surprised when she released multiple enjoyable tracks throughout the last twelve months. My favorite, however, ended up being her first release of 2018, New Days. As with last year’s Tumblin’, the instrumentation here is incredibly slick and tons of fun. It remains fresh throughout the song, with many little riffs thrown in here and there to keep things interesting. The best parts are the pure instrumental sections, such as the guitar solo which clearly reflects Rei’s affection for classic American blues with its retro sound. Rei’s vocals are also killer, bouncing between Japanese and English repeatedly and packed with funny little asides, such as her announcing the upcoming guitar solo. The chorus is where she truly shines, however, channeling the vocal style of Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. New Days is an absolute blast of a song and has become one of my go-tos whenever I need a jolt of energy to pep me up.

ALSO: Lazy Loser

7. Camelia - Mili

Mili is a very strange, unique Japanese group. It’s hard to define exactly what they are because they use elements of pop, rock, and classical music to create their music. One word I can use to define them, however, is talented. They not only have multiple musicians who are extremely good at what they do, but their vocalist/lyricist momocashew writes and performs in three different languages: Japanese, English, and Chinese. One of the best examples of their abilities, and my favorite song of theirs from 2018, is Camelia. It pairs an absolutely breathtaking, classically-styled composition provided by both the core group and many equally-talented guest musicians and the incredibly evocative and gorgeously-sang English vocals from momocashew. I won’t deny that these vocals are a bit clunky in terms of their grammar, but they manage to be remarkably impactful nonetheless. There really isn’t anything quite like this in Japanese music, a track that somehow manages to feel like a pop song and a classical song all at once. I highly recommend checking out more of Mili’s work if you enjoy Camelia, as their catalog is packed with beautiful, thought-provoking songs like this one.

ALSO: Mirror Mirror

6. Zurui Hito - Tetora

Tetora is still a relative newcomer in the Japanese music scene, only forming into their current lineup this past summer. As such, I had zero expectations when I first heard this song, unsure of what they could do. To my surprise, Zurui Hito ended up being one of my favorite songs of 2018. The vocal performance is pretty much the entire reason this ended up on my list, as it’s one of the best I heard all year. Her voice is absolutely exquisite, throaty in a way that few Japanese singers can manage. It’s also packed to the brim with emotion and power; in fact, at times, she sings with so much feeling that her voice seems to crack from the strain. I was blown away by it the first time I heard it, and I’m still impressed by her skill every time I go back to this song. It’s so incredible that the rest of the song is somewhat inconsequential to me. However, I do think the instrumentation, which is light and simple, works perfectly in this case, allowing the focus to remain on the vocals. There really isn’t much else to say about Zurui Hito, as you need to hear its raw power for yourself to understand why I liked it so much.

5. Smoke (Retune) - Mondo Grosso

I first included Mondo Grosso on my list last year, a prolific composer/DJ who constantly puts out killer songs year after year. With this in mind, I wasn’t surprised to find another one of his songs on my list this year. Smoke (Retune) is a delightfully dirty track that I adored from the second I first hit play on it in April. It has a lazy, droning production that I love to just throw on and zone out to, nodding along to the rhythm with a dumb grin on my face. I’ll admit there’s really not a whole lot to it in terms of composition, but it just nails its soporific sound so perfectly that I can’t get enough. It’s worth noting that there are actually two versions of this song. This one, which I prefer, has English vocals from Rhyme, while the other has Japanese vocals from Aco. In my opinion, the softer voice and tighter delivery of Rhyme fit the song so much better. The video is also perfect, with a very ethereal feel and plenty of smoky and/or dark shots that tie into the feel of the song. Smoke (Retune) is a remarkably grungy electronic track that expertly evokes the aesthetic of its title in every way.

4. Kirameki Dancin’ - Bradio

Bradio, which hilariously stands for Break the Rule And Do Image On, is a relatively new Japanese funk/rock band. I had never heard of them before this year but was quickly infatuated with their intense productions and the memorable look of their members, particularly the main vocalist’s absurd afro. The first song of theirs I heard, Kirameki Dancin’, also quickly became my favorite and definitely deserves a spot on my Top 10 list for 2018. It features an incredibly groovy production that feels like a throwback to retro funk, including typical rock instruments and even horns and bongos. This is a super high energy track that never lets up, and it’s a ton of fun from start to finish. The instrumentation is killer across the board, especially the lengthy solo section which features my favorite guitar solo of the year. I also enjoy the main vocalist’s high-pitched voice, which perfectly suits the style of this song. Finally, the video is an absolute blast. It’s packed with tons of people who look like they’re having the time of their lives, and it gives an already vivacious experience even more energy. Without question, Kirameki Dancin’ is one of the most pleasant songs of the year.

ALSO: Boom! Boom! Heaven

3. Harbor - Koutei Camera Girl Drei

I actually included a prior version of this group, Koutei Camera Girl, on my list back in 2015 with their fantastic trance release, Swallow Maze Paraguay. It had seemed like the group vanished into the ether after that, but I was pleasantly surprised to see them return with a new name, Koutei Camera Girl Drei, this year. What’s more, I was ecstatic to learn that their new release, Harbor, was just as good, if not better, than their past release. The key reason I love this song so much, which incidentally was why I loved Swallow Maze Paraguay too, is the absurdly fantastic driving beat that dominates the entire song. This is paired with killer flow from each of the vocalists, hitting so perfectly on the beat that it makes me want to throw my hands in the air in excitement. I can’t put into words why I vibe so well with this song, but it just works so damn perfectly for me in a way that few electronic songs can manage. Everything about it feels so meticulously tuned to fit together that it feels almost like it came about naturally, which I find unbelievably impressive. Every time I listen to it, I get so lost in it that I forget what I was doing because I can’t help but put my full attention on it. If you haven’t listened to Harbor before, do it RIGHT NOW.

ALSO: Slowly World

2. Turn Me On - Band-Maid

Band-Maid has been one of my favorite and most consistent groups for the last several years. Since their explosion of popularity, and my discovery of them, in 2015, they have appeared on every one of my Top 10 lists. Time and time again, they put out fantastic albums packed with top-tier rock songs that I can’t get enough of. This year was no exception; in fact, World Domination might be my favorite album of theirs to date. And my favorite song off that album? Turn Me On. The instrumentation is excellent in every Band-Maid song, but I think Turn Me On is one of their absolute best. I love the little back and forth between the bass and guitar prior to the guitar solo. The solo itself is amazing, some of the guitarist’s best work yet, and just keeps building in awesomeness until it finally ends. Best of all, however, are the killer drum fills peppered throughout the song, my favorite being the one that ends the solo with a huge bang. The vocals are equally solid and include some nice harmonizing between the main and backup vocalists. Even after four years, I’m still not tired of Band-Maid because they just keep getting better. Turn Me On is a fantastic song, but I can’t wait to see what comes next from one of the best modern rock groups.

ALSO: Dice, Start Over

1. Tic - No Buses

I listen to TONS of music every year, but inevitably, songs will fall through the cracks. There’s just too much music and too many artists to listen to even a fraction of everything that comes out each year. As such, I probably tend to miss out on a lot of the smaller stuff. Fortunately for me, and you, No Buses actually got my attention this year. This is the most indie Japanese rock band I’ve ever seen, with a retro style that looks and sounds like it fell out of at least 40 years ago. There’s almost zero chance you have any idea who they are, but you should listen to them, especially their best track, Tic. It’s a pitch-perfect retro indie-rock song that I have been obsessed with for months. Every aspect of it is so delightful and charming. The instrumentation, despite being quite simple, has the catchiest hook I’ve heard all year and a remarkably solid solo. The vocals, despite being mostly incomprehensible, are wonderfully chill and pair up with the instrumentation so damn well. Best of all is the economy of the song, with no pointless filler and a tight 2:22 runtime. There’s even an adorably dorky, low-budget video that again fits perfectly with the tone of this song and the feel of the group. It all comes together into an experience that I find utterly intriguing and have listened to more than any other song this year. As such, I couldn’t give my top spot to any other song than Tic.

ALSO: Cut My Nails


My Top 10 Korean Songs of 2018

For whatever reason, 2018 felt like the flattest year in Korean music since I’ve started regularly listening to it back in 2013. With the dissolution of groups like 2NE1 and Sistar last year and the lack of new releases from favorites like f(x) and Brown Eyed Girls, combined with a very sluggish dripfeed of actual bangers throughout the year and my overall disinterest in a lot of the bigger releases, I wondered many times this year if I’d even have enough songs for a Top 10. It wasn’t until I finally sat down near the end of November and started putting this list together that I managed to scrape together a list of ten songs I felt strongly enough about. Even still, I don’t have nearly the same enthusiasm for these songs as I have for songs on my lists in past years. Regardless, I still ended up being pretty satisfied with the group of songs I chose for this year, especially the top 5. It’s a solid group of songs that represent a variety of genres and styles and each speak to some different aspect of my musical tastes. I hope you enjoy my list and I encourage any criticisms, comments, or sharing of your own favorites!

10. Siren - Sunmi

Sunmi first entered the Korean music scene as part of Wonder Girls. She debuted her solo career back in 2014 with the superb Full Moon, before rejoining the Wonder Girls reformation (and releasing two completely fantastic tracks). Now that they are disbanded for good, she has returned for more solo work. Most notable is Siren, the best track off her new EP Warning. It has a very atypical pace and sound that I can’t easily compare to anything else, but it somehow manages to remain quite enjoyable despite that fact, mostly due to a solid driving beat. The verses are fantastically slick, a good mix of sultry swagger and poppy fun that is reminiscent of Sunmi’s past solo releases despite using an entirely different style. The chorus is pretty memorable too, despite not really being catchy in the traditional sense. I wouldn’t call Siren a masterpiece by any means, but it’s a deceptively solid track that eschews some typical pop elements.

9. Starlight - Bolbbalgan4

I’ve adored Bolbbalgan4’s (often shortened to Bol4) style of music ever since they first debuted in 2016. Their typical mix of soft vocals and acoustic guitar is like a warm, aural blanket for me, and I enjoy almost every one of their songs. This year’s Starlight is no exception, a breathtakingly beautiful track that makes me smile every time I hear it. This time, the duo works in some piano and light drumming to the always-gorgeous guitar playing, resulting in an even gentler song than usual. As always, the vocals are absolutely stunning, especially during the uplifting “choruses” where the instrumentation swells to match her impactful voice. Finally, there’s the equally impressive video, filled with adorable shots of the duo and lovely sweeping pans of a beach at sunset. Starlight isn’t a huge song by any means, nor is it one you’ll find yourself humming under your breath randomly one day, but it’s a remarkably pleasant song that I absolutely adore.

ALSO: Travel

8. It’s Been A Long Time - Solar

Solar is best known as the leader and main vocalist of Mamamoo, but she’s actually done a fair amount of solo work too, mostly doing covers of famous Korean songs in her Solar Gamsung singles. It’s Been A Long Time is one such cover, originally sang by Korean group Love and Peace in 1978, and it’s a fantastic updated version of the song. Most notable is the increased tempo and more modernized production, retaining the core retro style while making it sound like something that could come out in 2018. That core sound is really catchy too, with a fun rhythm that never stops. Solar’s vocals are fantastic as well. She clearly had a lot of fun with this, as her performance is playful and energetic from start to finish. She even throws in a lot of little vocal flairs that are incredibly adorable. The video is just as lively, with everyone happily dancing and posing for the camera, and it has a killer retro-ish aesthetic that I really enjoy. All in all, It’s Been a Long Time is a faithful update of a classic Korean song that also makes it a bit more palatable to modern audiences.

7. Wish - KIRARA

As I said on my Top 10 list last year, KIRARA is one of the best electronic producers out there right now. Every year, she continues to put out fantastically creative songs that utilize a variety of sounds and styles. My favorite track of hers this year has to be Wish, an undeniably joy-filled track that brings me a great deal of happiness. I think this is one of her most playful songs to date, ditching the discordant effects found in many of her other tracks (something she’s done a lot more in the last few years) and instead focusing on an upbeat, blissful sound that just makes me want to smile and nod along with the beat. I think this is particularly evident in the live performance video I’ve embedded here, as she bops along to the beat and smiles while doing cute things like hitting a key with her elbow. As is the case with many of her tracks, this song rises and falls many times throughout its length, expertly building the energy and keeping you guessing. It’s just a fantastic ride from beginning to end. If you aren’t already listening to KIRARA, Wish is the perfect place to start.

ALSO: Earthquake

6. Egotistic - Mamamoo

Mamamoo is one of those KPOP groups I’ve always appreciated but mostly from afar, never liking any of their songs quite enough to include on one of these lists. This year, that finally changes--and on the year that lead vocalist Solar’s solo work also makes it on my list. What a coincidence. Egotistic is the group’s most traditional pop song to date, and that’s likely why I enjoy it so much. It utilizes a sultry Latino style for its production, which made this an excellent summer song. This is most evident in the swagger-filled chorus, which is a huge earworm and has been stuck in my head for months. The verses are no slouch either, trading arrogance for delightfully sensual seduction. I especially love the little vocal grunts that transition from one to the other, each unique but all remarkably sexy. Speaking of sexy, the video has some serious aesthetic, featuring killer outfits for each of the four members and visuals that drip with pure sexuality. It’s...really something. From top to bottom, Egotistic is an impressive track that lives up to its name both musically and visually.


IU remains one of my absolute favorite Korean artists, appearing on my Top 10s multiple times and being the only artist to win two of my top spots. I’m absolutely in love with every aspect of her performances, from her impressive vocal range to her unbelievable cute visuals during each of her videos. Unsurprisingly, she’s made it onto yet another one of my lists with the quirky BBIBBI. This song took a long time to grow on me, as it has a very atypical style and rhythm for a pop song. The verses in particular have a somewhat droning, paced rhythm to them that I hated at first. Now, I appreciate their unique style and the way they nicely build into the more fun chorus. That chorus is ridiculously catchy and I catch myself humming/singing it almost every day. As I noted above, I’m infatuated with IU’s voice, and that’s still the case here. Her voice just sounds so pleasing to my ears, no matter what she’s singing. I won’t deny that she doesn’t really stress her impressive vocal range here, but I do enjoy her delivery on all the little transitory English phrases, such as “jealous jealous.” She’s also always fun to watch in her videos, equally sexy and cute and just hard to take my eyes off of. I wouldn’t call BBIBBI my favorite IU song by any means, but it’s a playful and unconventional track that I certainly appreciate.

4. Papercut - OOHYO

OOHYO is another one of those indie Korean electronic artists who is slowly growing in popularity. Her soft, somewhat husky vocals and skillful productions have been some of my favorites ever since first discovering her via one of @aurahack's Top 10 lists years ago. While I generally find myself preferring OOHYO's poppier releases, I absolutely love the hypnotic electronic sound of Papercut. This is an utterly soothing track, thanks both the the mellow production and the warm vocals from OOHYO herself. At the same time, it manages to be quite catchy, somehow being both upbeat and downbeat at once. I particularly love the breakdown sections the follow the “choruses,” where the production picks up for a little bit with some vivacious synth. And, of course, OOHYO’s voice is still a favorite of mine. She has a style that is perfect for songs like this, almost as if she were meant to shift to a more electronic sound for her music. I also want to praise the video’s depiction of a real-time performance of this track using her real hands and a CG mixer--it’s a delightfully cute idea that fits the song well. If you enjoy Papercut, I suggest visiting more of OOHYO’s past work: it’s all fantastic.

3. See Sea - Hyolyn

Originally the leader and main vocalist of Sistar, Hyolyn has worked in the music industry for nearly a decade. After the disbandment of Sistar in 2017, she formed her own music label, Bridʒ, and began a full-time solo music career. Not content to only have the best summer song of 2015 with Sistar’s Shake It, she released the best summer song of this year as well, See Sea. This is mostly due to the lazy, slow-paced beat the persists throughout the whole song. It’s not what you might expect from a summer track, and it’s deceptively catchy despite its measured pace, especially the chorus and its refrain of “down down down down.” The sultry verses are no slouch either, with Hyolyn’s alluring voice deftly bouncing along with the beat. I also need to mention that the video has a LOOK. It’s packed with incredibly vibrant colors, a blown-out visual filter that works way better than you’d expect, and some very attractive Asian ladies in very tight swimsuits. It’s...pretty great. I found myself going back to See Sea more and more frequently over time, as it wormed its way deeper and deeper into my head. Even during the course of writing this list, it kept making its way higher and higher as I continued to revisit it. It’s a fantastically memorable song and one of the best summer songs in years.

2. One More - Yaeji

Ever since her explosion onto the music scene last year, I’ve done my best to tell everyone I can about the superb talents of Yaeji. An American-born Korean producer who skillfully utilizes both English and Korean lyrics along with her delightfully lazy production style, she is one of the most exciting and promising talents on the scene. One More is another great example of her abilities. The best way to describe her music is hypnotic, utilizing a minimalist production and her ethereal vocals to lull you into a state of soporific splendor. I can’t say enough good things about her vocals in particular. Her flow is impeccable and her voice fits this style of music so well that it’s like she was born to make it. It’s also important to note how incredibly perfect this video is as well, with lots of dim neon lighting and dreamlike visuals and effects. The aesthetic is almost grimy, reminiscent of crappy house parties, but it’s incredibly seductive nonetheless. Nothing about One More seems complex or difficult, but it all somehow comes together into something incredibly evocative and instantly memorable. That, I think, is the true genius of Yaeji.

1. Bboom Bboom - Momoland

Momoland is still a relative newcomer to KPOP, only debuting a few years ago. I hadn’t paid much attention to them prior to now, as their early tracks didn’t do much for me. This year, they finally caught my ear by putting out Bboom Bboom, which was not only my favorite KPOP song of the year but both the first KPOP song I heard this year, as it released on January 3rd, and the first song to go onto this list. From the beginning, I suspected it might end up on the top and here we finally are twelve months later. It features all the things I’m looking for in a top song of the year. Exciting and fun production that keeps me nodding along? Check. Consistently excellent vocals in both the verses and chorus? Check. Absurdly catchy chorus that I sing to myself long after hearing it? Check. It’s got it all. In fact, it has even more than that. The whole song is almost as catchy as the chorus, and I find myself singing along to practically the entire thing at this point. There’s a rap verse that’s actually not completely terrible; in fact, I kinda like it. The video is also quite enjoyable; despite its clearly low budget, the girls put a lot into it and the choreography is a lot of fun, particularly during the chorus. Bboom Bboom is yet another one of those KPOP songs that doesn’t really do anything unique or exciting, but it’s so damn catchy that I don’t really care. I’ve listened to it far more times than any other song this year, so it’s only fitting that it tops my list for 2018.

ALSO: Baam


Remembering Remember Me (warning: LOTS of images)

While many people know Dontnod today because of the widely-loved Life is Strange, few recall the company’s first game, Remember Me. Releasing almost 5 years ago to the day, June 3rd of 2013, Remember Me was an admittedly flawed action game that received mostly average reviews due to the flat characters and predictable story and was promptly forgotten by the overall gaming consciousness. However, those who enjoyed the game when it originally released, such as myself, remember it more for its breathtaking art design, striking soundtrack, and futuristic world where memories have become a commodity and a curse.

I chose to replay Remember Me recently, out of nothing other than boredom and curiosity. I hadn’t played the game since its original release but had thought about going back to it many times, wanting to see if the game was in fact worth remembering. After playing it again, I found myself thinking even more highly of its art, music, and world. During my playthrough, I also took over 200 screenshots, wanting a photo history of all the sights that dazzled and inspired me. As I neared the end for the second time, however, I realized I wasn’t quite ready to move on: I wanted to share my fascination for Neo-Paris with others.

With the game’s anniversary, and today’s release of Dontnod’s newest game Vampyr, I figured there was no better time to remind everyone about Remember Me. Instead of describing the game in text, which I’ve done before in my original review for the game back in 2013, I decided to try something a little different--sharing the sights and sounds of Remember Me through links to the soundtrack and embedding (some of) my screenshots. After all, the true strength of Remember Me is not in its gameplay or storytelling but in its grand score and gorgeous art design--what better way to show it off? Hopefully, I can evoke some of the same emotions the game made me feel in some of you and bring some interest to an oft-overlooked curiosity from the last generation.

First, let’s talk about the soundtrack. It was composed by Olivier Deriviere and features the Philharmonia Orchestra out of London. Deriviere took the original orchestral recordings and then added electronic sounds and distortion effects to create the uniquely glitched-out style that perfectly suits the themes and visuals of the game. One of his coolest tricks is with the main combat theme, Fragments, which dynamically rises and falls with the action of a fight. It makes an already cool-sounding track even better, ebbing and flowing as you nail combos and dodge attacks: hearing it an actual fight is how it was meant to be experienced. Still Human is a much more subdued track that demonstrates the strength of the orchestration and is still the one I remember most fondly due to its memorable opening. These tracks are just a taste of the fantastic soundtrack and I urge you to give the entire thing a listen.

I would consider art design to be one of Dontnod’s greatest strengths. Neither Remember Me nor Life is Strange have impressive graphical fidelity but they more than make up for it with the thoughtful care put into the looks of their characters and settings, immersively drawing you into the world of the game. The mix of Parisian architecture and cyberpunk elements in Remember Me was unexpected, but the studio melds them together in a way that looks both natural and awe-inspiring. It’s hard to do it justice through words alone, which is why I curated a collection of 35 images that I think show off the game’s look and style best. While I made sure to avoid posting any overt spoilers to the game’s story, I am obviously spoiling some of the more impressive visual moments.

Additionally, I want to note that the game looks even more impressive in motion. There are some fantastic effects which are impossible to show in full detail via still images, such as overloading your enemy’s memories and seeing them burst from their head in a shotgun blast of holograms. Nonetheless, I think these images paint a clear picture of Remember Me’s unique visual flair. I hope you enjoy!

Your character, Nilin, just after escaping prison at the beginning of the game.
Your character, Nilin, just after escaping prison at the beginning of the game.
The Leaking Brain bar, run by an old friend.
The Leaking Brain bar, run by an old friend.
I really love Nilin's look.
I really love Nilin's look.
It's always fascinating seeing the old Parisian architecture mixed with futuristic elements.
It's always fascinating seeing the old Parisian architecture mixed with futuristic elements.
A taste of future fashion in Neo-Paris.
A taste of future fashion in Neo-Paris.
Many of the game's shops have these cool holographic displays for menus and notifications.
Many of the game's shops have these cool holographic displays for menus and notifications.
This is one of my favorite shots in the game and is actually part of my desktop background rotation.
This is one of my favorite shots in the game and is actually part of my desktop background rotation.
I can almost hear the jingle now...
I can almost hear the jingle now...
I love the little holographic touches like these notes.
I love the little holographic touches like these notes.
The game's first boss fight against Kid Xmas, a memory hunter turned tool of the state.
The game's first boss fight against Kid Xmas, a memory hunter turned tool of the state.
Finishing off an enemy has Nilin overloading their memories in a stylish flash of light that needs to be seen in motion.
Finishing off an enemy has Nilin overloading their memories in a stylish flash of light that needs to be seen in motion.
A more downtrodden part of the city.
A more downtrodden part of the city.
The robot red-light district of Neo-Paris.
The robot red-light district of Neo-Paris.
There are some fantastic pullback shots like this throughout the game.
There are some fantastic pullback shots like this throughout the game.
Robots don't seem to be liked much in this world, although it's never a factor of the story.
Robots don't seem to be liked much in this world, although it's never a factor of the story.
Can't have a future game without future beverages!
Can't have a future game without future beverages!
I love the look of this room, particularly how realistically detailed it looks.
I love the look of this room, particularly how realistically detailed it looks.
Rain leads to some of the prettiest sections of the game.
Rain leads to some of the prettiest sections of the game.
The more clinical look of La Bastille, a memory prison.
The more clinical look of La Bastille, a memory prison.
There are a few more abstract sections of the game like this.
There are a few more abstract sections of the game like this.
Lots of great store names like this.
Lots of great store names like this.
Another example of how the game melds traditional styles and futuristic elements.
Another example of how the game melds traditional styles and futuristic elements.
This area was flooded due to actions Nilin took earlier in the game.
This area was flooded due to actions Nilin took earlier in the game.
The monolithic Memorize building next to the neon-lit Eiffel Tower.
The monolithic Memorize building next to the neon-lit Eiffel Tower.
An action shot from a chase scene that looks great in motion.
An action shot from a chase scene that looks great in motion.
What appears to be a robot brothel.
What appears to be a robot brothel.
The lobby of the Memorize building.
The lobby of the Memorize building.
A prisoner of La Bastille, where memories are stolen and prisoners are reformed.
A prisoner of La Bastille, where memories are stolen and prisoners are reformed.
I love how many little holographic touches pop up around the game's locations.
I love how many little holographic touches pop up around the game's locations.
There's some truly breathtaking lighting throughout the game.
There's some truly breathtaking lighting throughout the game.
One of my favorite shots, taken of a dimly-lit bar.
One of my favorite shots, taken of a dimly-lit bar.
Some of the great advertising scattered around the game.
Some of the great advertising scattered around the game.
A neat visual effect from a guard whose memory has been scrambled.
A neat visual effect from a guard whose memory has been scrambled.
This last area is one of the most striking.
This last area is one of the most striking.
The shift point from the more colorful outer area to the stark, sterile whites and grays of the inner area.
The shift point from the more colorful outer area to the stark, sterile whites and grays of the inner area.


A Sampling From

At this point, most of us are familiar with online storefronts like Steam or Humble Bundle. I’m willing to bet that far fewer are familiar with Any developer can sell their product on and choose what portion of their profits they wish to pay to the site, even zero if they like. They also have very few rules and allow pretty much anything to be sold on the site. It’s a great platform for those smaller developers who don’t have the clout or money to be featured on a “curated” service like Steam. As such, you can find lots of lovingly-crafted projects that try something new, even if it doesn’t quite work.

I’ve had a backlog of games on I’ve been meaning to check out for quite some time. Since I finally got around to it, I wanted to share some of the games/experiences I enjoyed. All of them can be downloaded for free, but I recommend throwing the developer a few bucks if you enjoy them--creativity and devotion should be rewarded, not taken advantage of. There’s also countless other projects you can explore on if you like, a fun trek through the more experimental side of game development.


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Takume is a short little experience that most resembles an old-school adventure game, albeit much simpler in scope and execution. You play as Takume, a mysterious girl seeking her twin sister, Raroia. You spot her immediately upon starting and spend your brief time chasing her down. The narrative is interesting but sparse and could be taken literally, but it’s easy to also interpret the events in a more metaphorical way as well; as with most creative media, it’s up to the individual. The puzzles, if you can even call them that, are straightforward and more about the acts you perform than actually challenging you as a player. They are given importance via their relation to your journey, a neat little reflection that reminded me of one particular section in Planescape: Torment.

I think Takume is far too short, taking maybe 5 minutes to complete, but I was still surprised by the overall package. It has a great pixel art look with some nice attention to detail, especially in the design of the characters. The music is nicely haunting and the few uses of sound effects are meaningful. I can’t help but wish there was something more here, but I still recommend taking the journey, no matter how brief it may be.



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In Sacramento, you are deposited into a small area and can explore your surroundings, most resembling something like Proteus. It uses a gorgeous watercolor aesthetic that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen used in a game. While its beauty is evident from screenshots, seeing it in motion is absolutely a must. Trees sway in the wind. Fireflies dart back and forth. The sun slowly sets, painting the world in a light red hue. These objects are all clearly flat 2D images but that just feels like part of the charm, like a painting being brought briefly to life. The experience is supported by a pleasant (yet repetitive) music track and occasional sound effects, such as the humming of a girl or the rush of falling water.

Sadly, Sacramento is over far too soon. There’s a decent amount of exploration to do, which is fun, but it doesn’t take long to exhaust the world of all its wonders. I won’t deny the serene pleasure I had while it lasted though. Standing on the hill and watching the watercolor sunset was a simple joy but one I’ll likely remember for quite some time.


Little Party

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Little Party is about, as you may have guessed, a little party. Your daughter Suzanne throws an art party in your house, inviting her friends to come over and create something new by the end of the evening. You, as Suzanne’s mom, wander about the house much as a parent likely would, trying to be friendly while staying out of the way as much as possible. You can talk to everyone as much or as little as you like, receiving small snippets of believable dialogue with just the right amount of awkwardness. Time jumps forward naturally as you go about your own business, with distant music often being the guide that leads you through the house to the next scene.

Visually, there aren’t many games like Little Party. It uses a striking mix of 3D environments and 2D sprites that looks slightly odd in motion but has an undeniable charm that perfectly suits the overall aesthetic. The vibrant color palette is also delightful, bringing the world to life despite many objects using only one color. Similarly, the low-key indie music that fills the night adds a lot to the overall feel. This is most clear in the ending, a gentle yet powerful mix of music and visuals that left me smiling wistfully—it’s the perfect end to the ethereal experience.



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North opens with a letter setting up the premise: you are a person who escaped life of persecution and traveled to an unsettling alien city that you barely understand. This city is filled with bizarre creatures performing tasks that serve some purpose you can never really fully grasp. Wandering around this city and trying to glean some amount of understanding is one of the highlights of the experience. Another is in the small little puzzles you must solve to “finish” the game. These puzzles have solutions just as peculiar as the city they inhabit, which can make it a bit hard to intuit what is actually necessary to progress. Your hints come in the form of letters you can read before mailing home; sadly, the game never really explains what these letters are or how to view them and they often come only after you’ve already failed a task.

I wouldn’t call North a great looking game, as many of the assets are plain and the geometry uses lots of simple right angles, but it still thoroughly succeeds at feeling like an alien place. This is mostly due to the eerie tone that permeates every inch of the world, complete with haunting synth-laden music and sound effects that lend the experience an unsettling mood. You can just feel that something is wrong, long before you learn the truth. This isn’t a perfect experience, but it’s one that will stick with me nonetheless thanks to its impactful atmosphere and themes.


Sara is Missing

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Sara is Missing starts with you unlocking a phone that is clearly not yours. Immediately, you realize something strange is going on and are tasked with figuring out what happened to its owner, Sara. Using a phone interface (which seems to be an iPhone?), you poke into Sara’s messages, pictures, and more to track down her last location. There are even a handful of audio files and videos with real people, in an attempt to add to the believability of the experience. New parts of the phone unlock as you learn new information. leading you along until the story plays out and you learn the truth about Sara and her final hours with her phone. The ending sadly jumps a bit off the rails, leaving you with far more questions than answers, but I can admit I enjoyed the experience as a whole.

This isn’t an entirely original idea, but Sara is Missing does it pretty well, especially if you play it on a phone (which I recommend, as the PC version appears to have no resolution options). The whole thing is a bit low-budget and cheesy, especially some of the “spooky” live-action videos and audio files. Nonetheless, I had a good time with it, mostly due to the well-executed phone interface and the fun I had poking through Sara’s secrets while piecing things together. Even the cheesiness was fun in a B-movie way, so ridiculous I found it somewhat charming. This concept has been executed better elsewhere--such as in Replica, a game that actually inspired this--but I still think it’s worth the 30 minutes or so it takes to finish.


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