A non-Kpop guide to Korean music

Hi guys. Here are some cool sounds from South Korea. They’re no “Gangnam Style,” which I’m sick of anyway, but I like them and I hope you like them too.

Old sounds: Sanullim, Jaurim

I’ve been listening to Jaurim since high school, when all I knew about life was parental pressure and good grades. Typical Jaurim numbers are fun and satirical rock songs, like “Hahaha Song” (All You Need is Love, 2004), “Miss Korea” (Jaurim, the Wonderland, 2003), and the recent “Idol” (Conspiracy Theory, 2011), which points a finger at those pointing fingers at Korean teenagers’ K-pop “idol” obsession. Who can judge these boys and girls for dreaming of idols, of a glittery world outside the classroom? My personal favorite Jaurim songs have more jazz: “Cursing” (off their 1997 debut album, Purple Heart), and “Seoul Blues” (Ashes to Ashes, 2006), written and composed by Yuna Kim, the 38-year-old vocalist.

Jaurim (紫雨林), or “Purple rain falls in the forest.” Jinman Kim (bass), Yuna Kim (vocals), Sungyu Lee (guitar), Taehoon Gu (drums). 1997-present. Credit: Soundholic Entertainment

Jaurim’s Jinman Kim and Sungyu Lee are “manias” (Konglish for really big fans) of Sanullim. Sanullim, or “mountain echo,” is a rock trio of brothers, founded in 1977. Well, “founded” isn’t the right word, because the brothers have been jamming and composing together for years beforehand. Before big brother Changwan Kim’s college graduation and entry into “The Real World,” they decided to make an album, for the sake of their 150 existing songs. That 1977 album is 아니 벌써 (“What? Already?”—also the title song). In 1978, the Sanullim brothers returned with even better psychedelic trippiness, with 내 마음에 주단을 깔고 (“Spread the satin on my heart”). Until the two younger brothers gave up music in 1983, Sanullim kept making awesome sounds, which transcended “psychedelic rock.” Check out “My Heart (is a wasteland)” (Sanullim 3rd, 1978), where Changhoon Kim sings like a sexy toad, and “You are Already I” (Sanullim 3rd, 1979), which is 18 minutes and 38 seconds long. Here’s my favorite, “Story of a Faraway Place” (Sanullim 7th, 1981). These are the song’s only lyrics: “On a white paper, I wrote a story of a faraway place. I wrote the word ‘death.’ I stared at it for a long time and ripped the paper. The moon looked brighter outside.” Sanullim officially broke up when Changik Kim, the youngest brother, died in a car accident in 2008.

Sanullim album

Sanullim 3rd 1978

I love Sanullim’s album covers. At a time when most album covers showed the artist’s face, Sanullim’s covers are simple crayon pictures next to their signature font, which says their name: 산울림.

New sounds: Coreyah, Jambinai

Coreyah came to Berlin in July 2012 and played something like this at the Korean Kulturzentrum by Potsdamer Platz. They used all sorts of instruments—guitar, percussion, janggu (sideways drum), gayageum (long wooden string instrument), some phallic-shaped instrument with a washboard surface that makes frog sounds—and the Coreyah musicians were sweating and laughing and got a standing ovation at the end. Coreyah’s first album is coming out in 2013, but currently they’re traveling all over the place. Check out their cover of “Asa Branca” in Brazil, originally recorded by Luiz Gonzaga in 1947.

"Coreyah" (고래야) means "hey there whale." Photo credit: Esthers

Coreyah (고래야), or “Hey there whale.” Credit: Esthero

Coreyah’s music is typically classified as “fusion gukak” (basically fusing Classical Korea and The West), and while looking for others who mix it up, I ran into Jambinai. Their first album, Différance, was released in 2012, and defies precise classification. The name of their group is as ambiguous as their album name, in that it’s a visual (linguistic) representation of how they feel about their music, rather than being attached to a particular meaning, as explained by their blog. Okay, enough with words. JUST LISTEN: “Time of Extinction,” “Naburak” and “Conversation with Trees 2” are among the few Jambinai songs out there in the world that I won’t even bother explaining further. They are just that good.

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