I celebrated the blog’s 13th birthday by going along to catch the latest visit to Glasgow by Say Sue Me, this time in the company of Rachel, Aldo, Mike G and his good mate Andy R. It was a lovely way to mark things and it was the third time in just under a year that I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the audience as quite possibly the finest band ever to emerge out of South Korea has been on stage.
Say Sue Me are an incredibly hard working lot. The Glasgow gig was the third-last of a European tour that had got underway some six weeks previously with festival performances in the UK and then took in shows in Germany, France, Sweden and Holland before finishing up with a zig-zag across the UK to visit Brighton, York, Newcastle, London, Glasgow, Liverpool and Cardiff. They had every right to feel tired and homesick but there was no sign of that as they delivered a tight and hugely-enjoyable hour-long set in which they mixed up old favourites with new material that has emerged these past few weeks through a couple of vinyl singles.
For those who aren’t familiar with the band, they are from Busan, South Korea, forming in 2012 since when they have recorded two full-lengths albums, along with four EPs, three stand-alone 7” singles, one digital single and one split 7” single. The band members are Sumi Choi (vocals), Byunggyu Kim (guitar) and Jaeyoung Ha (bass) with Changwon Kim contributing on drums having come on board in 2016 after Semin Kang, very sadly, had to be replaced after taking seriously ill, rupturing his skull, a situation that led to music fans from Busan raising almost £10,000 in a day to help pay for his medical bills.
This was a tough time for the band given that the three male members had been friends since childhood and collectively had offered the role of vocalist to Sumi Choi after meeting her in a local tea shop in their home city. The first release to feature the new line-up was for Record Store Day in 2017, a 7” piece of vinyl which was given the affectionate title of the Semin EP in recognition of their ill friend (it contained two songs on which Semin Kang had drummed and two brand new songs to which Changwon Kim had contributed).
By this point in time, the band had already been lauded at home for the debut album We’ve Sobered Up (2014) and the subsequent EP, Big Summer Night (2015), both of which enjoyed moderate chart success having been released on a Korean independent label, Electric Muse. Say Sue Me had earned a reputation for making music which blended elements of surf-rock with the sort of sounds associated with the mid-80s golden era of UK indie-pop and this led to leading to the London-based Damnably Records offering a deal under which the first release was a self-titled compilation that paired the two Korean releases together as an 18-track CD in 2017.
The unexpected illness of their drummer was a real blow, but having found a way forward, they were soon back in the studio, releasing the afore-mentioned Semin EP and around the same time making their first venture across to the UK as support to Otoboke Beaver, an all-female Japanese hardcore punk who were another act being nurtured by Damnably, with the label, in November 2017 releasing a split single featuring both bands.
It was 2018 when things really took off for Say Sue Me, thanks to the acclaim rightfully given to the release of their sophomore album, Where We Were Together, an incredibly polished and infectious work in which their indie-pop and indie-rock tendencies came to the fore as the earlier surf-rock sounds took a bit of a back seat, best exemplified by the song Old Town, which gathered a lot of radio play back home and also became a bit of a favourite among a number of DJs on BBC Radio 6.
The new album was followed soon after by the Record Store Day release for 2018, It’s Just a Short Walk!, which was an EP comprising covers of songs by Blondie, The Ramones, The Velvet Underground, and one made famous here in the UK by Cliff Richard and in the USA by The Beach Boys. A triumphant year was rounded off with two further releases – a stand-alone single of a track that hadn’t quite been finished in time for the album followed by an EP, Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie, and yes, it contained four tracks with a festive theme.
2019 got off to a tremendous start at home with nominations in five categories at the Korean Music Awards – Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Modern Rock Album of the Year, Best Modern Rock Song of the Year and Artist of the Year – something quite unprecedented for a band on a small label and from a city other than Seoul. They were winners in two categories – Best Modern Rock Album for Where We Were Together, while Old Town was named Best Modern Rock Song. Theses accolades were followed by a hugely successful return visit to SXSW in Austin, Texas at which they performed one of the best-received sets of the entire festival, and after a short time back home in Busan, they embarked on the European tour that I referred to at the top of this piece, along with recording and releasing two new 7” singles.
After all that, here’s a ten-track ICA that I’m very confident will go down well with most of you. Like most of the ICAs that I pull together, it isn’t their best ten or my ten personal favourites, but something that hangs well together. I’ve also not included any of the four newest songs that have just been issued on their two new 7” singles…..anyone wanting these should do the decent thing and go to this bandcamp page.
1. Let It Begin – from Where We Were Together (April 2018)
2. Say Sue Me – from We’ve Sobered Up (October 2014)
3. Dreaming – from It’s Just A Short Walk! (April 2018)
4. Old Town – remixed single from original version recorded for Where We Were Together (April 2018)
5. To Be Wise – from We’ve Sobered Up (October 2014)
1. I Just Wanna Dance – from Where We Were Together (April 2018) ; original version recorded for the Semin EP (April 2017)
2. My Problem – from the Big Summer Night EP (July 2015) and later included on the Semin EP (April 2017)
3. Good For Some Reason – from the 7” split single with Otoboke Beaver (November 2017)
4. B Lover – from Where We Were Together (April 2018)
5. Just Joking Around – single (August 2018)
I’ll sign off by stealing some words from a review over at Paste magazine:-
The best pure indie-pop record of 2018 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. The album’s best track, Old Town, 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 high praise, but it is entirely merited