The best pure indie-pop record of 2018 (so far) is not from Brooklyn or Glasgow or Melbourne or Olympia but Busan, South Korea. The album, Where We Were Together from the band Say Sue Me, is a perfectly paced fusion of jangling guitars, bouncing bass and sighed melancholy. “I’m full of things I hate,” sings frontwoman Sumi Choi, “but I like you.”
That song is called “But I Like You,” and it starts out with a quick burst of guitar noise before settling into its cotton-candy groove. That noise burst is instructive; Say Sue Me won’t settle for the straightforward path. A similar blast begins the instrumental “About the Courage to Become Somebody’s Past,” but this time it stretches all the way through the track, like a backdrop of grimy chewing gum for a beautiful lullaby unfolding in the foreground. Rarely do you hear pretty and abrasive juxtaposed so plainly, and Say Sue Me pulls it off with playful grace.
The band mixes all kinds of sounds into its songs. “I Just Wanna Dance” runs on the rumbling rhythm of surf-rock. “B Lover” spasms like Man or Astroman?, as if someone plugged the guitars into an interstellar toaster. “After Falling Asleep” swoops and swirls like a low-key shoegaze song, sliced through by a set of icy cool ooh-ooh-oohs. And opening track “Let It Begin” takes a strand of its DNA from ‘60s doo wop and girl groups.
Around every corner, Sumi finds the soft spots in our daily trials and triumphs, and she captures them in her own slightly fractured way. “I like being at a noisy bar, a drunk dance to the big sound,” she sings as “Let It Begin” sways around her. “No worries on the faces. Nobody can hear us talk.” The mood is less carefree in “Funny And Cute,” a sparkling, whispery ballad that recalls the great indie-pop songwriter Rose Melberg. “I’m afraid of making new memories without you,” Sumi sings. “I had a variety of days, but can’t keep them in my mind. I’m so tired and can’t dry my eyes.”
Sumi is not a one-woman band, of course. Guitarist Kim Byungkyu wrote the music on Where We Were Together, and Jae Young’s efficient bass lines keep the band moving forward. Together they form the sturdy backbone of the album’s best track, “Old Town,” a cuddle-punk thriller about the push and pull of home. The song is sleek and slightly frazzled, lithe but potent, and ridiculously catchy—as much so as any pop-rock you’ll hear this year. It’s the peak on an album packed with high points from a band poised for a serious breakthrough.