Best of 2013: Yaya – Cruel Picture

Because some music deserves more than just a single line of text.

잔혹영화 (Cruel Picture) was an easy and automatic choice for me as one of my top albums of 2013, not just in Korean but with all the other languages taken into account. In truth, it is hard to say Cruel Picture is a Korean album when so few of the lyrics (when there are actually any) are in Korean. Mostly, Yaya sings in English, but her vocals rarely take center stage on any of the songs; instead, it is the dense and varied arrangements that really pack a punch and grab hold of the listener.

There isn’t really any accurate way to describe the kind of music Yaya makes…avant-garde maybe? Her Twitter profile says she makes GYPSY/WORLD MUSIC/JAZZ/CLASSIC/ROCK/TRIPHOP though. That might be good enough. Plus she uses a picture of Monkey D. Luffy as her header image – how cool is that?

In many ways Yaya reminds me of Shiina Ringo. A better description might be that Cruel Picture sounds like a reimagining of Muzai Moratorium through a Tokyo Jihen filter, simple melodies drawn out and expanded upon by layer upon layer of intricate instrumentation, all the while anchored by Yaya’s smoky and ethereal voice.

Like Shiina, Yaya’s songs are an acquired taste for unrefined ears used to the smooth, easy grooves of mainstream Kpop but rest assured, once you allow yourself to be immersed in Cruel Picture, you’ll be rewarded handsomely with some of the best music made in 2013. Check out the video above for a live rendition of one of the album’s highlights, Truth.

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Snapshots of 2013: These are a few of my favourite things

Since I broke the rules about not doing lists, I might as well let the floodgates open. Prepare for a wall of text!

20 Favourite English songs
I listened to a lot of mainstream radio this year, I blame the traffic jams. Conclusion: I now fucking hate Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Maroon 5.

1. Phoenix – Trying To Be Cool
2. The 1975 – Settle Down
3. Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go ‘Round
4. Say Lou Lou – Better In The Dark
5. Maria Mena – Fuck You
6. Lulu James – Sweetest Thing
7. Bibio – À tout à l’heure
8. Le Youth – C O O L
9. Caitlin Rose – Pink Champagne
10. Hot Natured feat. Roisin Murphy – Alternate State
11. Pharrell Williams – Happy
12. Mutya Keisha Siobhan – Flatline
13. Quadron – Hey Love
14. Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know?
15. Ciara – Overdose
16. Ariana Grande – Tattooed Heart
17. Smallpools – Dreaming
18. Drake feat. Majid Jordan – Hold On We’re Going Home
19. Naughty Boy feat. Sam Smith – La La La
20. Daft Punk feat. Julian Casablancas – Instant Crush

7 Favourite “English” Albums
I don’t even remember more than 10 albums I liked this year so…

1. Sigur Rós – Kveikur
2. Atoms for Peace – Amok
3. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
4. Yo La Tengo – Fade
5. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob
6. Phoenix – Bankrupt!
7. Ed Harcourt – Back Into the Woods

15 Favourite Kpop tracks
Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar Bar I wouldn’t dislike Crayon Pop so much if not for the fact that every time I ate out at a Korean place they would be playing the song ad nauseam…it makes my food taste a whole lot worse.

1. f(x) – Airplane
2. Seungri – 할말 있어요 (Gotta Talk to U)
3. Donghae & Eunhyuk – 아직도 난 (Still You)
4. Baechigi – 태양 아래서 (Feat. DC)
5. Jaurim – Anna
6. SHINee – Like A Fire
7. Yoo Seung Woo – 헬로
8. Lee Hyori – 미스코리아
9. Yoon Gun – 딱 한잔만
10. Huh Gak – 모노드라마 (with Yoo Seung Woo)
11. Shin Seung Hoon – Sorry
12. Philtre – 잊혀지겠지 (feat. Younha)
13. Ailee – No No No
14. Standing Egg – 시간이 달라서
15. Kim Jin Pyo – 너는 나를 (feat. Jo Hyun Ah from Urban Zakapa)

12 Favourite K-drama OSTs
Love is not the moment.

1. Roy Kim – 서울 이곳은 (Reply 1994)
2. BoA – 천국과 지옥 사이 (Between Heaven And Hell) (Shark)
3. B2ST – Black Paradise (IRIS II)
4. Taeyeon – 그리고 하나 (That Winter, The Wind Blows)
5. Yesung – 먹지 (That Winter, The Wind Blows)
6. Akdong Musician – I Love You (All About My Romance)
7. Hyolyn – 미치게 만들어 (Master’s Sun)
8. eSNa – 아랫입술 물고 (Heirs)
9. Kim Bo Kyung – 청개구리 (School 2013)
10. SpinEL – 말하지 그랬어 (7th Grade Civil Servant)
11. Navi – 불치병 (Feat. Keebee of Eluphant) (Secret)
12. J.Rabbit – Talkin’ bout love (Flower Boy Next Door)

Master’s Sun and That Winter had the best soundtracks overall, too bad I couldn’t fit all the songs on the list.

11 Favourite Korean Albums
Where I am the only one in the world who doesn’t give two hoots about Nell.

1. Yaya – 잔혹영화 (Cruel Picture)
2. Sunwoo Jungah – It’s Okay, Dear
3. Han Hee Jung – 날마다 타인 (Strangers Everyday)
4. Glen Check – YOUTH!
5. Sungha Jung – Paint It Acoustic
6. Lee Jung – Synerge
7. Rose Motel – 장가가고 싶은 남자 시집가고 싶은 여자 (Marrying Man, Marrying Woman)
8. Oh Hee Jung – Everyone Here Wants You Back
9. Sweden Laundry – 잠들 때까지 (Until You Sleep)
10. K.Will – 3rd Album Pt.2 “Love Blossom”
11. Oh Ji Eun – 3rd

Oh so many Jungs.

8 Favourite Japanese songs
Jpop is dead.

1. 3daime J Soul Brothers – Fuyu Monogatari
2. AKB48 – Koisuru Fortune Cookie
3. Akira Kosemura feat. Lasah – Niji no Kanata
4. Fullkawa Honpo – Storywriter
5. Shojo Jidai – Lips
6. Towa Tei with Sheena Ringo – Apple
7. Haruka Nakamura with Shing02 – Luv (sic) Acoustica pt 2
8. Mitsu – Baumkuchen

8 Favourite Japanese albums
Where I am the only one in the world who doesn’t give two hoots about Nakata Yasutaka.

1. 44th Music – 44th Album
2. noanowa – Cry Like a Monster
3. downy – Mudai [5th]
4. [.que] – drama
5. Kinoko Teikoku – eureka
6. Hata Motohiro – Signed POP
7. bloodthirsty butchers – Youth (Seishun)
8. Sayonara Ponytail – Seishun Fantasia

Thanks for reading in 2013, though it seemed I hardly got anything done. Here’s hoping 2014 will be more productive!

VA – Mariya Takeuchi’s Songbook

Not to be confused with the Sincerely series where Western singers cover her songs in English, this recent double disc release picks out 30 of the best songs Takeuchi has written for other artists, in celebration of her 35th anniversary year in the business.

Takeuchi Mariya is one of the most revered Jpop songwriters alongside people like Matsutoya Yumi and Takeuchi’s own husband Yamashita Tatsuro, all of whom possess their own distinct style and nuances that are conveyed in their songs no matter who is at the mic. The artist roll on Songbook is impressive to say the least, reading like a who’s who of idols from the 80s through to the 00s – Nakamori Akina, Yakushimaru Hiroko, Matsuda Seiko, Matsuura Aya, Ashida Mana and so on, but the real appeal of getting hold of this album lies in the four bonus tracks spread across the 2 discs: self-covers (deemed ‘demos’) of four tracks including Maji de Koisuru 5-byo mae, a song she originally wrote for Hirosue Ryoko.

Check out the special site for the album.