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.

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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.

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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

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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.

5. BBIBBI - IU

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

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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.

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A Sampling From Itch.io

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 Itch.io. Any developer can sell their product on Itch.io 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 Itch.io 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 Itch.io if you like, a fun trek through the more experimental side of game development.

Takume

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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.

LINK: https://craftinglegends.itch.io/takume

Sacramento

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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.

LINK: https://dziff.itch.io/sacramento

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.

LINK: https://turnfollow.itch.io/littleparty

North

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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.

LINK: https://outlands.itch.io/north

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.

LINK: https://saraismissing.itch.io/sim

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My Top 10 Japanese Songs of 2017

With this 2017 Top 10 list, I’ve now done these lists for five years in a row. Man, that is a long time. I’ve had a distant affection for JPOP for a long time, but I really started my deep dive into the genre in 2013. After being pulled into the world of KPOP via the thread here on Giant Bomb, I decided to finally go all in on JPOP as well. Ever since then, I’ve spent a stupid amount of time each year listening to what the genre has to offer and always like to end the year with a summation of what I liked best. I won’t say that 2017 was a bad year for Japanese music, but many of my favorite artists either didn’t put out new material or released songs that didn’t quite live up to their past releases. This year also marks the end of many great groups and artists, such as Reol’s new unit and Charisma.com. Despite these disappointments, there was still a lot to love about 2017’s JPOP offerings, and I found a number of new artists to obsess over as well. Here’s a look at my 10 favorite songs of the year. I hope you enjoy my list and I encourage any criticisms, comments, or sharing of your own favorites!

This year, for the first time, I’ve decided to add this honorable mentions section. These are the songs that were in consideration for the list but didn’t quite make the cut. As such, I wanted to give credit to: Brand New Emo by Towa Tei, Blissful Transistor by Shakalabbits, Return to Zero by Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, On the Line by Tomggg, and All Generations by Hi-Standard. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the main event!

10. Lemon - Inshow-ha

Inshow-ha, a duo of female office workers who first teamed up to make music in 2009, released their biggest album to date this year, ?. While I wouldn’t call Lemon the best Inshow-ha song, it’s a solid addition to their catalog that reminds me why I first came to like them. The vocal work is as superb as always, featuring their unique style that dances between an almost disaffected tone in the verses and a potent intensity during the chorus. Those vocals are supported by a strong, catchy guitar riff that repeats through almost the entire song. However, my favorite parts are the quieter moments where there’s only a subtle beat and the duo’s singing. The rest of the production is a bit harsh but suits the measured chaos of the song as a whole. As for the video, it’s just as weird as most of Inshow-ha’s videos. There’s some vivid use of yellow and plenty of oddly fascinating visuals. This song is an intense yet enjoyable ride.

9. Boys Seco Men - Chai

Anyone who’s followed my JPOP thread here on Giant Bomb might know that I have an affection for all-female bands. The most notable of these in 2017 for me was Chai, a fascinating new discovery dripping with their own singular style. They debuted last year but put out their first full album, PINK, in October of this year. The highlight of this album is easily Boys Seco Men, a pleasantly strange but inexplicably addictive track. It’s certainly a little abrasive at times, likely to a degree that many will find entirely off-putting. I personally love its chaotic style, though, like how the vocals shift wildly in intensity while remaining wholly confident and enjoyable. My favorite part is the chorus, a rambunctious yet supremely enticing hurrah. The instrumentation is delightfully grungy, a distorted punk-rock esque sound with an addictive flow at its core. The video is playfully bizarre as well, with tons of throwaway vignettes and an odd safety aesthetic for some reason(?). It’s made fun by the undeniable charisma of the group, fully enjoying themselves. I’m very excited to see what Chai comes up with next year.

I Also Recommend: N.E.O., Horechatta

8. Keep It One Love - Color-Code

I first heard Color-Code 3 years ago when they exploded onto the scene with I Like Dat, an in-your-face electronic song with flashy style and catchy lyrics. They returned this year in force, releasing several singles and three music videos. My favorite of the bunch was Keep It One Love, a much different song than I Like Dat but amazing nonetheless. The vocals are the strongest part of the song, particularly the punchy chorus featuring all three members at once. The verses are a little more subdued but manage to make up for it with solid delivery and plenty of ‘tude. The “main” vocalist in particular has a charismatic presence that really adds a lot to the song as a whole. There’s not much to say about the production because of its minimalist style, although it is perfectly serviceable. I do think the horn section laid under the track works strangely well, though. The video is sadly nowhere near as flashy as I Like Dat’s and includes a weird sponsorship/tie-in (?) to Lay’s for some reason. I do think it’s still an enjoyable video, mostly due to the lively performances of the girls just having fun. This track shows that Color-Code isn’t just a one-trick pony, and I’m curious to see what other styles they tackle.

7. Suga Sweet - FAKY

I’ve said this before, but I think FAKY is the most KPOP-feeling Japanese pop group out there right now. Their music constantly tries new things just like many Korean produced tracks, even using sounds not typically found in your average JPOP song. Suga Sweet is another noteworthy example of this, a relaxing song that feels to me like it fell directly out of a Korean summer lineup. The vocals are silky smooth, with each member giving a fantastic performance. The candy-themed lyrics are a tad silly, sure, but they are used sparingly and add a fair amount of catchiness to the song. Production-wise, the plain beat and synth don’t add much to the track. Together with the vocals, however, they create a comforting combination. Finally, the video is a straightforward but beautifully-shot outdoor video that again reminds me of KPOP in its style and choreography. It flawlessly suits the laid-back sound of the song. I recognize that there’s nothing truly special or unique here, but I find this song to be unbelievably charming, overcoming its simple nature through sheer charisma and style.

6. Tumblin’ - Rei

Rei was another new discovery of mine this year. She melds her lifelong love of American blues music with Japanese lyrics and creates something evocative of both cultures. Tumblin’ is her big release from 2017 and I love it. Her voice has an old-school sound to it, calling back to the swing era of music, and flows with excellent rhythm. She lightfully weaves her vocals into the song, effortlessly shifting between slower moments and the upbeat chorus. The swing style extends to the instrumentation, adding an undeniable groove to the entire track. Rei plays both an acoustic and an electric guitar at different parts in the song, each providing a different kind of sound. She even displays some impressive talent with amazing solos for each guitar. I also like the horn work, which adds a good deal of flair to the song. The video’s neat too, an enjoyable romp through a Japanese convenience store. It’s simple, even somewhat amateurish, but the lazy behavior of the girls nicely suits the song’s pleasant feel. If you’re a fan of skillful guitar play, Rei’s catalog is definitely worth a look.

5. Labyrinth - Mondo Grosso

Mondo Grosso, real name Shinichi Osawa, is an incredibly prolific Japanese producer and one of the most famous DJs in Japan. This year, he released an album titled Reborn Again and Always Starting New, featuring multiple guest vocalists on tracks he produced. Labyrinth was the first of these I heard, and it’s still my favorite. The production is absurdly good, with a killer beat from beginning to end. Oftentimes, the vocals stop and it’s just the beautiful electronic synth washing over you. Many of these quieter moments are actually the best parts of the song, especially when the gentle yet powerful piano notes are added. The vocals from guest Hikari Mitsushima aren’t always present but add the perfect amount of emotion to the song. I quite like the effect on them, creating an ethereal and echoey sound. It all goes superbly with the video, an absolutely gorgeous experience featuring Mitsushima dancing through a city. Everything is so well done: the long tracking shots, the visual depth in the more stationary shots, the almost overblown cinematography, the sublime choice of locations, and even Mitsushima’s cute outfit. It’s without a doubt the best JPOP video of the year, and a hell of a song to boot.

4. Endless Line - Reol

Last year marked the formation of Reol’s official group under a record label, comprised of herself and longtime collaborators Giga and Okiku. Unfortunately, the group broke up this past October, citing a desire to try new things on their own. We did get one final EP from the group, which includes a couple of noteworthy songs, chief among them Endless Line. Reol is on top of her game as always, demonstrating her elegant flow and fierce utaite style. It’s a robust performance that manages to even top itself at the end when it builds to a crescendo, a nearly overwhelming climax to the track. While I enjoyed last year’s Give Me A Break Stop Now enough to give it a spot on my Top 10 list, I’m glad to see her return to the style that suits her best, the one that made me like her in the first place. Giga’s production is equally excellent, utilizing tons of whimsical synth and a variety of effects that I continue to discover on every new listen. It’s rare to hear a backing track as well-produced as this, as it could easily stand on its own as an EDM track with minor changes. Sadly, there is no video for any of these newer tracks due to the group’s dissolution--although it would admittedly be hard to top last year’s absolute banger. I’m sad to see Reol’s group break up so fast, but I am eager to see what’s next for the talented artist.

I Also Recommend: New Type Tokyo

3. Audrey - Suiyoubi no Campanella

Suiyoubi no Campanella (or Wednesday Campanella, if you prefer) took the top spot of my list last year thanks to an utterly insane chain of top-tier tracks. This year, however, I personally didn’t connect as fully with many of their songs, due to their different style and focus. Audrey is the only one I felt strongly enough about to include on my list; thankfully, it’s now one of my favorite Suiyoubi tracks to date. KOM_I’s vocals are as stellar as ever, providing a irresistible hook for the entire song. Her voice slinks playfully amongst the various beats and synth lines, making it sound effortless despite her overwhelming skill. The intense rise near the end of the song is particularly amazing, an emotional climax that hits me every time. I really love the production on this track as well. It has an outstanding beat and some skillful, poppy synth work that gives it a lot of energy and catchiness. The breakdown somehow manages to bring it to another level still, delightfully popping in your ears. Regretfully, this is one of their songs that didn’t get a video this year, but there are still plenty of other Suiyoubi no Campanella videos from 2017 to check out if you’re so inclined. If you still haven’t given Suiyoubi a try, you’re really missing out on one the greatest current acts in JPOP, if not music as a whole.

I Also Recommend: Ikkyu-san, Melos, Unico

2. Choose Me - Band-Maid

Band-Maid remains my favorite JROCK band. They just keep getting better every year, and I’m always excited for their newest release. The best song of theirs this year, Choose Me, is a another demonstration of their tight cohesion and superb sound. The vocals are maybe the strongest yet, demanding your attention from minute one. This is most evident in the forceful chorus, an electrifying battle cry that assaults your ears. The verses are equally incredible, however, with a smooth rhythm that perfectly suits the instrumentation. The best section is a quiet part near the end of the song: it’s very short but it has this terrific swagger that leads into the climax of the song with panache. Every other member of the band is equally on point. There are skillful sections from each of them: the always-present-but-never-unwelcome guitar solo, a slick bass line during that quiet vocal section, and tons of great drum work. I don’t think it’s the best showcasing of any of the individual members, but I do think it’s possibly the best amalgamation of their playing to date. The music video is really the only “disappointing” part, a fairly standard video that just shows them playing in a plain room, which they’ve already done before. Its one saving grace is that it does highlight each member’s performance pretty well. Band-Maid is on a hell of a run, and I never want it to stop.

I Also Recommend: Don’t You Tell Me

1. You Don’t Listen to Rock - Aimyon

I first fell in love with Aimyon last year thanks to her wonderful release She Lived, Didn’t She?, which took my number 3 spot. Those affections have only grown this year as I slowly came to appreciate just how good she is. You Don’t Listen to Rock was the pinnacle of this captivation, a triumphant song that is my favorite JPOP song of the year. Most of this is due to her voice, which is now one of my most loved in all of music. I just adore the way it sounds, comfortable and inviting yet breathtaking and emotional. The powerful moments in this song (and her others) send chills down my spine, and the chorus is entirely mind-blowing. It could make even a mediocre song great, and it makes an already great song like this one remarkable. I think the instrumentation is terrific too: a subtle and mellow production that adds nicely to the calming tone of the vocals in the verses and a vibrantly compelling anthem during the intense chorus. I especially like how her acoustic guitar pairs with the backing electric guitar, with each taking center stage during different parts of the song. The video is equally worth praising. It has an old-school music video feel to it, complete with a retro filter for effect. Aimyon’s calm yet sharp stares and movements also feel straight out of twenty years ago but somehow fit perfectly with the song too. Her music evokes feelings in me I haven’t felt since first discovering Yasuha Kominami in 2014, and it will likely continue to be part of my life for years to come.

I Also Recommend: I Want To Convey Love

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My Top 10 Korean Songs of 2017

2017 marks the fifth year in a row I’ve done these lists. Boy, how the time flies. I first got into KPOP in 2013 thanks to Giant Bomb’s own KPOP thread, which exposed me to tons of exciting new artists and opened up a whole new world of music for me. Ever since then, I’ve spent a stupid amount of time each year listening to what the genre has to offer and always like to end the year with a summation of what I liked best. This was a pretty good year in Korean music, with an insanely long period early on where hit after hit came every week. It did eventually slow down but never truly stopped, as KPOP can never be stopped. Sadly, this year also marked the end of some groups, such as 2NE1 and f(x) (f(x) hasn’t officially disbanded yet but it’s probably coming soon). Despite these lost artists, 2017 had a lot to offer and I want to share my favorite 10 songs with all of you. I hope you enjoy my list and I encourage any criticisms, comments, or sharing of your own favorites!

This year, for the first time, I’ve decided to add this honorable mentions section. These are the songs that were in consideration for the list but didn’t quite make the cut. As such, I wanted to give credit to: Excuse Me by AOA, Dinosaur by AKMU, Babe by HyunA, Why Don’t You Know by Chung Ha, and Likey by Twice. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the main event!

10. Kiss on the Lips - Melody Day

A constant trademark of my Top 10 lists is the inclusion of a summery song, fulfilled this year by Kiss on the Lips (despite its release in February). It’s reminiscent of last year’s Why So Lonely from Wonder Girls, which is probably why it first caught my ear. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s strong as that track, but it still manages to be a fun summery song. The verses lack energy and punch (aside from the slick rap verse), but the chorus is instantly memorable and catchy. It continues to pop into my head at times even 10 months later. Production-wise, it’s a tad simple but has some entertaining touches, such as the so-bad-it’s-good drink pouring sample complete with pantomime from the girls. The video may be where the song feels most imitative of Why So Lonely, using a similar color palette and lazy feel but lacking its style. Despite its shortcomings, it’s an entirely likeable song that I listened to quite a few times this year.

9. Fate - Jinsil (Mad Soul Child)

Somehow, these lists always end up with one “weird’ song on them, a little-known release that often feels like it only appeals to me--Fate is that song this year. Jinsil (of Mad Soul Child) gives one of the best voice performances of the year here, her uniquely throaty voice delivering an emotional experience that sends chills down my spine. There is an incredible amount of power and feeling in every last word, almost as if each line is being ripped from her throat. The production is actually decently somber during the quieter moments, but the more upbeat sections add in some hilariously “edgy” distortion guitar that feels entirely unnecessary. Thankfully, the song still sounds beautiful, despite that faux edge. The video is bizarre, as the song appears to be the theme (?) to a new Korean MMO that I’ve never heard of. The video features footage from the game intercut with shots of Jinsil singing alone, an odd amalgamation that would have been better suited going with one or the other. It’s entirely forgettable, but the song overcomes that and will live on in my head for years to come.

8. Goodbye - 2NE1

2NE1 was, at its peak, one of the biggest girl groups in Korean pop music. This made the announcement of their disbandment at the end of last year quite a disappointment. Surprisingly, we got one last song and music video from them in January of this year, Goodbye. It opens with a twangy, melancholy acoustic guitar riff that instantly establishes the sentimental tone of the track. This riff repeats constantly throughout the song, only stopping during the chorus to change to powerful chords that better suit the intensity of the vocals. This acoustic guitar is the only production for the entire song yet its simplicity remarkably suits the somber yet heartfelt vocal performances. It’s not catchy in the general sense, but I find it addictive nonetheless. The video is gorgeous, shot entirely in black and white, and showcases many video memories from 2NE1’s history. It ends on the word “Goodbye” in both Korean and English, a direct and sad end of an era.

7. Rollin’ - Brave Girls

Rollin’ was one of those mild obsessions for me this year. Ever since its release in March, I’ve found myself returning to it again and again. I wouldn’t call it a great KPOP song, yet something about it enthralled me and kept me coming back. The verses try for this sultry sound, with each of the members managing it to varying degrees of success, but it never feels fully on the level of those A-tier KPOP groups. However, the lazy flow of the verses is still quite riveting for me. The true hook for this song is the chorus, an emphatic chant that gets me every single time. There’s not a lot of substance to the production, but the smooth synth and beat under the chorus gives it extra punch. I also want to give props to the synth line that happens after the choruses, a playful little melody that provides a nice transition back into the verses. The video (rated 19+ in Korea for seemingly no reason) is pretty standard aside from some provocative yet nerve-wracking choreography where the girls dance on stools in high heels, which I’ll admit is a highlight of the video for me. I doubt anyone else will enjoy this song as much as I have, but it’s still one of my favorites for the year.

6. Drink I’m Sippin On - Yaeji

Yaeji was a new discovery of mine this year, a Korean-American New York resident who’s brought her stellar production and vocals to the genre. She put out several songs (and videos) this year, but Drink I’m Sippin On is my favorite. It’s a delightfully bassy track that takes you on a smooth ride from beginning to end. I love its lazy sound, a soporific delight that manages to be both soothing and energizing thanks to the stellar beats. Yaeji’s vocals adopt a lazy flow as well. Her voice is subdued and ethereal, taking on an almost disaffected tone. The chorus’s repetition has a hypnotic pull to it, her voice echoing in your ears. I have to mention the video’s aesthetic as well, a low-budget but beautifully shot romp through a nighttime city. It’s filled with gorgeous blends of nearly-overexposed neon and dark empty streets. Even the absurdly trying-much-too-hard-to-be-cool young adults filling the video somehow suit the song’s low-rent style and sound perfectly. I can’t wait to hear more from Yaeji, especially if she keeps blending her Korean and American roots.

I Also Recommend: Raingurl, Feel It Out

5. Colors - Stella Jang

Colors was one of the nicest surprises of the year. I was already a fan after It’s Raining a few years ago, but I wasn’t expecting a sub-two minute song filled with simple English lyrics to be my most listened-to song of the entire year. The vocals are repetitive and elementary but still manage to be remarkably catchy, likely due to Stella’s effortless flow. It’s performed with an overwhelmingly adorable enthusiasm that puts a smile on my face every time I hear this song. The production is equally plain, comprised entirely of cute sound samples like vocal “bums” and spray paint can rattles. It’s all done in a skillful a cappella style, neatly layered under the soft vocals in a way that makes it sound impressively more substantial than it actually is. In the video, Stella takes to the streets of Seoul (?) and finds scenery to match the colors she’s singing about. It’s a stunningly vibrant production that also features the singer’s adorably joyful journey in making the video. I can’t get enough of this song, no matter how saccharine it may be.

4. Adult - Choi Ye-guen Band

Choi Ye_guen Band is a new group headed by vocalist Choi Ye Guen, a talented singer who appeared on the second season of Korean reality show K-Pop Star. She placed 8th, which gave her enough cache to release a couple of singles on her own before starting this new group. Adult, their first release, is a fantastic song that makes me eager to hear more. Her impressive voice is my favorite part: fun and playful at times and powerfully soulful at others. This song in particular has an old-school sound to it, reminiscent of lounge singers of the 50s and 60s. It’s a unique style that stands out nicely in the current KPOP lineup. The band, oddly enough, doesn’t really do much. The instrumentation is exceedingly spartan, with some brief moments of flair, but it does provide the perfect backing track to the vocals. As for the video, there’s not much to say. It’s very straightforward and does nothing of note; it’s only the cute little shots of each of the members that make it remotely compelling. I don’t know what’s next for Choi Ye Guen but, I certainly want to find out.

3. ct16031 - KIRARA

KIRARA is one of the best electronic producers out there right now. It’s nice to see her popularity growing with each year, thanks to a group of dedicated fans singing her praises. I guess that’s what I’m doing now by sharing ct16031 with you. It features the same progressive build, and subsequent fall, that is used in many of my favorite songs of hers. The difference is that this is a much more “listenable” song, lacking many of the harsher effects that she typically uses in favor of more whimsical samples. While I really enjoy those weirder tracks, it makes this song much more approachable for newbies. The best part is when it builds to its peak a few minutes in, riding smoothly into an incredibly catchy beat that has me nodding my head EVERY SINGLE TIME. That’s not to say the slower parts aftewards aren’t equally fantastic, packed with lively sound effects and a delightfully thrumming synth line. The video I’ve embedded is a live performance of hers (preceded by the also excellent ct16041) complete with a neat graphical display to go along with the song. It’s superbly done and adds something extra to an already superb track. ct16031 is yet another in KIRARA’s now long line of top-tier releases, and I hope she continues to see the success she deserves.

2. Circle’s Dream - Subin

Circle’s Dream was an immediately striking song for me. From the first listen, I was captivated by its unique sound. The remarkable voice performance from Subin, an ex-Dalshabet member, has an undeniable allure. For the entire song, she has this effortless air to her vocals, evoking feelings from me at a much greater magnitude than the intensity of her words. It’s mildly infuriating but I can’t deny just how affecting her performance is. Even the somewhat repetitive and simple chorus is a marvel, managing to be my favorite part of the song despite its straightforward sound. The production matches her lack of intensity, playing light and bubbly underneath the vocals. Its only real attempts at energy come from the effect-laden voice samples from Subin that harshly punctuate the song from time to time--brief but effective. The video takes on a dreamlike quality due to its slightly fuzzy look and layered shots featuring multiple Subins. It’s the ideal video for a song as ethereal as this, complete with the piercing stares from the singer. I doubt another song just like this will ever come along, which makes Circle’s Dream something truly special.

I Also Recommend: Strawberry

1. Last Night’s Story - IU

I’ve been in love with IU’s songs for a long time now. She’s had a long-running, incredible career and keeps putting out hits. This year, she chose to focus (again) on covers of famous songs. Most notable of these is Last Night’s Story, a 1988 release from early idol group SoBangCha (which was already covered in well-known Korean show Reply 1988). While I don’t generally like covers of older songs, this is such a perfect remake that I had to include it here. IU gives the vocals a depressed sound, nailing the tone of the song’s lyrics while still managing to sound enjoyable. As the song continues, she just sounds more and more downtrodden, an impressive subtlety that speaks to her enormous talent. The production has been smartly modernized while retaining the core melody that made it popular; it skillfully evokes the 80s original while sounding comfortably in line with today’s hits. Finally, we have the video. Holy. Shit. It’s one of the best music videos I’ve ever seen and certainly takes the top slot for 2017. It’s packed to the brim with an astounding level of detail and craft. The intense devotion to the orange palette. Countless memorable little moments from IU, like her little shoulder shrugs. The subtle shifts between 4:3 and 16:9. Unforgettably adorable choreography. The way IU becomes more unraveled as her character sinks into depression. It’s a marvel of a video and one of the best covers I’ve ever seen. No other song deserves my number one spot more.

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My Top 10 Japanese Songs of 2016

It’s that time again: time for my top 10 Japanese songs of the year! 2016 was a sluggish year for JPOP, with multiple stretches of thin releases. For awhile, I was worried I wouldn’t even be able to put together 10 songs worth talking about at the end of the year. The new releases did pick up, thankfully, and some of my favorite artists also put out some great new material this year. I think this is a pretty solid list overall, looking back at it now. If you enjoy it, maybe try checking out my JPOP thread here on Giant Bomb (sorry for the shameless plug). Also, please comment if you agree/disagree with my choices. Or, if you have some favorites from 2016 I didn’t mention, feel free to post them--I’d love to hear them!

10. Party People Alien - Up Up Girls

Party People Alien is stupid fun. The production, while simple, is remarkably efficient at what it sets out to do: hook me from beginning to end. This is most evident in the relentless “chorus”: its repetitive vocals, tight party beat, and ethereal synth line has been stuck in my head all year long. The verses are hypnotizing for some reason, with a cadence that fits neatly in sync with the beat. I love the video too: the bizarre lyrics and dance choreography is so painfully Japanese that it almost feels like parody instead of the real thing. This song is just an enjoyable time, which is why I can’t get enough of it.

Also from Up Up Girls: Tears of Youth

9. Karate - Babymetal

I like Karate because I feel that it best realizes the metal and JPOP pairing of Babymetal. The instrumentation is more subdued while still being appropriately rocking, and the vocals pull back on the cute factor by using less of the high-pitched background vocals. The result is a more restrained song that feels like each of these elements at its best, instead of at their most cliched. My favorite part of this song is the chorus, a punchy chant that sounds fun and intense without the need to overwhelm. The karate choreography, while predictable, is actually executed quite well, fitting the instrumentation intelligently. While I enjoyed the crazy intensity of Babymetal’s first album, this track represents my ideal direction for this group: a more natural melding of metal and JPOP.

Also from Babymetal: From Dusk Till Dawn

8. Neon Twilight - FEMM

I’m still in love with FEMM’s odd vocal style, a mashup of rap, pop, and electronic singing. It’s unlike anything else in the genre, especially since it’s always entirely in English. The chorus here is maybe the tightest yet for the duo, a unyielding mix of catchy lyrics and impeccably matching beats. Speaking of beats, the trotting beat this track uses gives it this fabulous momentum. The rest of the production, particularly the plopping synth, adds a playful feel that I really like. The only real problem is the video, a plain showing from a group that’s done extraordinary video work in the past. While I wouldn’t call this my favorite FEMM song, there’s a solid core here that keeps me coming back.

Also from FEMM: PoW!, L.C.S., Countdown

7. Give Me A Break Stop Now - Reol

Reol has been releasing her own music for years, but 2016 marks her debut under a major record label. Her whole album, Sigma, is fantastically intense, but Give Me a Break Stop Now shows a unique and powerful new style for the former utaite. Reol’s voice is as sharp as ever here, demonstrating her superb flow and impressive vocal range. She delivers some biting vocals that drip with attitude in a wonderfully vitriolic way. The production (done by longtime Reol partner, Giga) is smartly tuned as well, using this droning synth that easily matches the annoyance found in the vocals. I was a bit turned off by this song at first, actually, because of how atonal it sounds. It’s one that grew on me, though, and I eventually came to appreciate its harsh tone. I can’t say enough good things about the video too: it oozes flair in every shot and makes smart use of distortion effects. This song hints at an interesting new potential direction for future Reol releases.

Also from Reol: ChiruChiru, RE:

6. Flash - Perfume

Perfume remains my favorite JPOP group thanks to their immense catalog of hits and a reliably great electronic sound that is entirely their own. Flash stands out among the other songs released this year simply because of that consistent refinement that is typical of nearly every Perfume track. They have a level of craft and polish that few songs manage to match, and I can even appreciate the songs I don’t like from them for this reason. This track, however, features a driving electropop production that I enjoy hearing pound in my ears relentlessly. The vocal work is as top-notch as ever from the trio, strong and beautiful. The video is stylish and filled with graceful choreography and stellar use of lighting, especially the final minute of the song. Nothing about this track is new or surprising, but it doesn’t really have to be; it's yet another great Perfume song, which instantly elevates it among most other entries in the genre.

Also from Perfume: Miracle Worker

5. This Is How We Riot - The Winking Owl

This Is How We Riot is a supremely satisfying song for me. I adore the singer’s voice--warm, deep and undeniably pleasant. She puts a tremendous amount of feeling into her performance, both vocally and in the video, that I can’t help but admire. The instrumentation is pure pop-punk, with a style that reminds me fondly of Western groups like Paramore. The drummer kills it with his elation, his pounding drum fills propelling the intensity to another level. There’s also a guitar solo that feels so perfectly pop-punk that it hurts--I love it to death. The video clearly reflects the enthusiasm of the track, particularly during the chorus where everyone fully gives themselves over to the uplifting excitement of the music they are creating. This is a song that I find to be emphatically charming, always able to bring me out of a bad mood and brighten up my day.

Also from The Winking Owl: Bloom

4. I Don’t Really Care - Country Girls

I Don’t Really Care is an incredible homage to rockabilly music; in particular, it sounds like a modernized cover of Jailhouse Rock. Instead of being a simple copy of that song, however, it amps up the earnestness in the way only Japanese pop can. There’s a delightful energy to everything that tickles me every time I hear it. The absurdly resonant vocals are the catchiest of the year, especially the forceful yell of the chorus. The thrum of the bass and pounding beat never let up. The girls put on a heartfelt performance while dressed in adorable pastel-colored retro polka-dot dresses. It’s an entirely overwhelming song and video, an experience that I enjoy losing myself in time and time again.

Also from Country Girls: Request of Tears

3. She Lived, Didn’t She? - Aimyon

I find She Lived, Didn’t She? completely mesmerizing. The vocals resonate powerfully with me in a way that left me speechless the first time I heard them. In the verses, she flips between a free-verse style and typical singing, stylishly repeating the same line twice to transition from one to the other. It always manages to make me smile. The chorus is pure and forceful with an earworm-y refrain that I can’t get out of my head for days after hearing it. This is a remarkable ballad track, filled with emotion and delivered with a fierce strength. It slowly climbed its way into my top 3 from the bottom of the list, getting more and more under my skin as I kept returning to it. I can’t really nail how this song makes me feel in words, but I know I find it to be incredibly affecting and personal in a way that makes it one of my favorite songs of the year.

Also from Aimyon - She Lived, Didn’t She? (acoustic version)

2. The Non-Fiction Days - Band-Maid

The Non-Fiction Days opens with a resounding instrumental section that immediately demonstrates why I love this track so damn much. The ripping guitar riff, delightfully thrumming bass, and energetically thumping drums come together in a way that I find astounding. It repeats throughout the song multiple times before capping the track at the end with even more intensity and flair. I really don’t need to say anything else about this song. Despite having solid vocals and a fun guitar solo, it is solely this instrumental section that ranks this song so highly on my list. I simply cannot put into words just how fantastic it makes me feel when I hear it: it’s an utterly perfect piece of rock music.

Also from Band-Maid: Alone, YOLO

1. Suiyoubi no Campanella

For my #1 pick of 2016, I knew it would be one of Suiyoubi no Campanella’s songs. This group released SEVERAL amazing tracks throughout the year, with each just as good if not better than the last. When it came time to actually pick one, however, I couldn’t do it. Each song from this year is incredible in its own way, from the the future house breakdowns in Chupacabra to the exceptional flow from KOM_I in Colorholic. No matter what I picked, I would feel like I made a mistake; depending on the day, I’d want a different song. So I didn’t bother: Suiyoubi no Campanella itself takes the top spot. I chose to use the video for Aladdin here simply because I feel it perfectly shows KOM_I doing what she does best: performing in her charming, carefree way that no else can emulate. She shakes and slides her way through this video with an aloof confidence that I wholly adore. Suiyoubi no Campanella continues to grow and evolve, somehow becoming better each year. Knowing this, and with a year as solid as 2016 from them, I can’t even imagine what they do next year--but I know I can’t wait to hear it.

Also from Suiyoubi no Campanella: Chupacabra, Colorholic, Tsuchinoko, Kamehameha the Great

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My Top 10 Korean Songs of 2016

2016 is over, so what better time to talk about my top 10 Korean songs of the year? KPOP in 2016 was notably consistent, with a inexorable string of above-average releases that came for months on end. As a result, I listened to SO MUCH KPOP this year. This made it all too easy to pick 10 songs for my end-of year list. Putting them in order was shockingly simple too, everything nicely sliding into a slot on my list in a neat progression of increasing quality and impact. This is a hell of a list, maybe one of my favorite overall lists since I started doing this in 2013. If you agree, or disagree, please leave me a comment. Or if you have a favorite that I didn’t mention, feel free to post it here--I’d love to hear it!

10. Shut Up & Groove - Heize ft. Dean

Shut Up & Groove, as you might expect from the name, is a stellar groove. The production’s thumping beat and bassy tones make for a nice, gentle ride. Vocally, both Heize and Dean nail it in their own way. Heize’s low voice is pleasing to the ear, with superb flow through her verses. I also really enjoy the hypnotic rhythm she gives to the chorus. Dean’s smooth vocals are the real highlight of the track, though; his sultry voice fits this song perfectly. They compliment each other especially well, making for a playfully ethereal trip that I listened to frequently through the summer, not to mention the rest of the year.

Also from Heize: And July

9. High Heels - CLC

High Heels is the perfect example of a track that I recognize as being not great but still enjoy anyway. The production is a bit plain, but the trebely synth is surprisingly effective. Similarly, the vocals aren’t spectacular, yet there are a few truly solid moments, such as the sleek bridge and the gentle “oooh” that ends the track. What really kept me listening, however, is the deceptively catchy refrain: I had “So whatcha wanna do?” stuck in my head for MONTHS after this song came out. The video is super adorable as well, with fun outfits and a radiant use of color. This isn’t some fantastic classic, sure, but I still appreciate its upbeat energy and charm.

Also from CLC: No Oh Oh

8. Trick or Treat - Grace

I absolutely love how raw and filthy the production on Trick or Treat sounds. It manages to tread just on that edge of being annoying or unpleasant. Grace adds some splendid vocals here, mixing her pretty singing voice with tightly rapped lyrics. She transitions flawlessly between the two all while spitting attitude-laden lines like “shit or sugar.” The chorus, despite being simple and repetitive, is strangely catchy, especially with the nasty beat underneath it. I also really admire her look in this video, which showcases her stylish blue hair, flashy outfits, and confident swagger. This is a deliciously grimy track from start to finish.

7. Free Somebody - Luna

Free Somebody is a terrific showcase of Luna’s main strength: her voice. Even though it’s an electronic track, there are plenty of opportunities for her to show off her talents, especially during the gorgeous vocal runs. The production is no slouch either, using a sharp house composition with delightfully bubbly synth. The video is incredible, with some dazzling usage of color and well-framed shots. There’s even some interesting animation in the video that stylishly transitions back into reality. Luna is the best part, though, showcasing her beauty in snazzy outfits. I admit that the structure is a bit typical for the electronic pop genre, but Luna’s talents are what make it seem anything but.

Also from Luna: Breathe, Galaxy

6. Fight Day - Bolbbalgan4

I enjoy acoustic guitar in nearly any form, but I utterly adore it in Fight Song. It’s an incredibly pleasant composition that now ranks among my favorite acoustic tracks. There’s a superb flow to it, a driving throughline that gives the song its addictively steady pacing. I’m also smitten with the singer’s vocals. Her voice is unbelievably lovely: high and sweet and refreshing. She also has impressive range and uses it well throughout the song. Either of these performances would be astounding; the two of them together make up the most delightfully charming track of the year that never fails to make me smile like a moron. It’s a very simple song overall, sure, but the execution in both the vocals and instrumentation are so enchanting that I couldn’t help but fall in love with it.

Also from Bolbbalgan4: Let My Universe, Tell Me You Like Me, Hard to Love

5. Why So Lonely - Wonder Girls

From the group that brought you the wonderfully 80s-inspired I Feel You last year, we now have Why So Lonely, a remarkably chill reggae-inspired track. The whole production has this great lazy feel to it, making me just want to lounge around and do nothing. This song defined my summer this year and was on constant repeat The breathy and disinterested vocals just add to the lethargy, aside from the groovy rap verse which bites with glee. For the chorus, the song takes on a more Caribbean feel with croaky lyrics and funky instrumentation. The video is really well done as well, using a sublime color palette that nicely reflects the reggae sound. Oh, and it’s entirely crazy. No other song this year was so enticingly soporific.

4. Don’t Believe - Berry Good

Don’t Believe is an instantly striking song. The production uses a tropical-house sound, which is very distinctive for KPOP. The unique style caught my attention from the first time I heard it, especially the breakdown sections and their elegant usage of backing vocalization. The lyrics are mesmerizingly delivered, with many powerful moments of beauty and emotion. I really like the “mercy” section in particular, which I think perfectly highlights both the production and the lyrical strength of this track. The video is very dreamlike, with many moments of odd beauty and strange logic; it’s got a great oversaturated look as well. This song has a feel to it that is unlike anything else I heard this year, a strange blend of poignancy and euphoria that I find endlessly fascinating.

Also from Berry Good: Angel

3. Exquisite! - CocoSori

Exquisite! is pure saccharine energy in musical form. It feels like a mix between an upbeat JPOP song and the style of Orange Caramel, an addictive combination for a fan of both like myself. There’s a splendid driving beat that never lets up, which makes the song a relentlessly exhausting trip. As you might expect, the lyrics are sweet and catchy. The repetition is particularly effective, making for a track that is hard to forget once you’ve heard it. Tying it all together is an absurdly adorable video that makes absolutely no sense but is still a lot of fun to watch, especially the heartfelt performances from the duo. It’s one of those stupidly fun songs, and it fills me with joy every time I hear it.

Also from CocoSori: Dark Circle

2. Need to Feel Needed - Amber

f(x)’s Amber is, without a doubt, my favorite KPOP artist. Not only is she extraordinarily talented and incredibly beautiful, my time watching interviews with her have shown that she’s a great person too: truly, she is a gift to KPOP and I love her to death. Need to Feel Needed is maybe not her most creative or personal solo release, but it’s a warm track that I find entirely pleasurable. There’s a soothing sound to both the vocals and the production that is relaxing and endearing. Amber kills it vocally as she always does, delivering a sublimely emotional performance that is still upbeat enough to remain fun. The video is excellent, with a simple concept: Amber filming herself and her friends being silly and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a video that feels remarkably human and feels all too perfect for this song. Need to Feel Needed is one of those songs that I hate finishing, simply because I don’t want to leave the content place it brings me to.

Also from Amber: Borders

1. All Mine - f(x)

f(x) has been on an unreal streak for the past few years, with three incredible albums in three years. Despite their past success, they managed to top themselves yet again in 2016 with stellar solo releases from both Amber and Luna and the breathtakingly amazing All Mine. The production is delightful, sounding happy and fun and stunning all at the same time. It only gets better during the breakdown sections, climbing in intensity and adding in a strikingly cheery synth line. The vocals are astounding as well. Each member nails it during their verses, and the group comes together gracefully for the chorus. I particularly enjoy Amber’s tight “rap” verse, which leads into the final powerful minute of the song--complete with even more energy and an impressive key change. The video was conceived and directed by Amber. Each member went off individually to film her part, giving each section its own feel and style. They all give adorable performances, looking utterly captivating and clearly having a lot of fun. It may be clearly faked for everyone but Amber, but the tight camera angles still give the video a more intimate feeling that I adore, especially Amber’s backstage shenanigans as she bumps into fellow KPOP artists like Henry. All Mine is an utter marvel in every facet of its creation. It’s also completely and utterly my favorite KPOP song of 2016.

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