Posts Tagged ‘ep’

Best of 2021: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

2021 may have thrown my Korean music listening habits all sorts of curve balls, but at the end of it all, this consistently maddening list was once again the hardest and most time-consuming one to construct. No matter how much musical content I skip, there is always a mountain of quality Korean album content to grace my ears; there are always tight calls to make in the ordering of those albums; always moods ready to take hold and change up how I respond to them at any given time. Those moods were quite often on the more negative end of the spectrum this year, and 2021 was a particularly strong year for ballad B-sides, so you may see that reflected in the rankings.

In any case, the list before you now is done now and I’m pretty confident it represents a strong line-up of audio quality. Headphone up.

A special mention this year has to go to LambC’s excellent full-length album treat I’ll see you when I see you, which would have ranked very highly on the list except it’s entirely in English – It didn’t quite feel fair giving it a proper ranking given what I’ve disqualified in the past. But please, go listen to it.

1-3 tracks = N/A

4-7 tracks = mini album

8+ tracks = full album

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS

5. I burn – (G)I-DLE

One of the coolest things to come out of (G)I-DLE’s fruitfully unexpected partnership with League of Legends is the fast-tracking of star member Soyeon to the role of group producer, and never before has the leader been given as much control over a multi-song project as she has with I burn. Conceived as a spiritual continuation of the HANN vibe that punctuated the group’s debut year back in 2018, I burn’s title track HWAA can’t help but feel a tad derivative as a result – at least when experienced alone. Listen to the entire EP, however, and you just might find the most sonically consistent mood piece in mainstream K-Pop this year.

Building out of seven sombre piano notes that spread out and become a melancholy intro with light – but not airy – vocals, the mini album finds an ethereal pocket and stays hovering there, doing somersaults for occasional flair but never threatening to break out into a sprint – or quite dipping into ballad territory. It’s all full-sounding, lower-register vocals mixed around one another at a mid-tempo pace on moody backing tracks. Even Where is love, the danciest track on the thing, uses all the trappings of a modern girl group B-side without actually raising the heart rate. The best tracks are the final two, LOST and DAHLIA; they work because the embers within the preceding songs have been fanned with such a steady, unbroken pace, and what’s left is a chance to really smoulder with style.

4. Stairs – Stella Jang

Stella Jang at last puts her trilingual songwriting prowess into album form with Stairs, the pocket follow-up to last year’s full-length easy listening triumph Stella I. Though 2021 was the most prolific year in Jang’s fringe-skimming career – she released singles with wistful thirty-something relatability, understated city-pop panache, and ragtime reimagination while cameoing on that aforementioned LambC album – another sustained studio session was always going to hold the greatest potential for another hit of that emotional resonance she managed in 2020.

In mid-October we finally received that hit: a piano instrumental backed with faint heartbeats and footsteps in stereo giving way to an English lead track packing plenty of Jang’s signature bitter whimsy. A pair of Korean tracks follow – an old-timey lounge-leaner and a mid-tempo acoustic jaunt – neither one losing that paradoxical tone. Then the finale: a full-on French flex with simple ambitions that ties together the European undercurrents of the whole EP and promises to open yet another avenue for a discography that is finally starting to gather some real steam.

3. Planet Nine: Alter Ego – ONEWE

The increasing acceptance of actual bands into the stables of K-Pop labels not ostensibly known for employing instruments isn’t just allowing for said labels to diversify their sounds; it’s starting to produce some delightfully confusing emotions for yours truly. Some of the songs on ONEWE’s Planet Nine: Alter Ego (yay for another needlessly complex album title) sound like they wouldn’t have been out of place on my CD rotation as an angsty teenager in the mid-2000s. Exhibit A: The wistful, bellowing chorus of the lovesick AuRoRa, which kicks off the tail of the EP following lead single Rain to Be, which I talked about last week.

But that’s not all this handy mini-album can do; the chorus of the similarly-themed Veronica brings in a decidedly bubblier J-Rock riff to encourage some different emotions (both name-themed tracks incidentally ascended to get their own music videos later down the track). LOGO scrubs up the processing to let a single electric guitar sing before hitting the ground running on a soaring anthemic chorus line, while A.I. brings out a relentless circular rhythm that carries the EP’s momentum through to its final stretch. You could do much worse in the growing Korean pop-rock sphere than this gem.

Click here to let the tunes roll on

Best of 2018: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

Here we are at the big three, and my most difficult list of the year. Seriously, I had more trouble ordering this one than I did any of the others (It’s always the biggest effort to format too). There are so many different moods that albums are capable of putting you in – or sustaining – so every time I came back to the draft I shifted, added or removed something. This is the most accurate representation of my favourites that I could come up with at this point in time. Turns out it’s the poppiest album list I’ve put together for several years. I usually like to highlight song collections and/or artists that didn’t make my singles list on this page, but this year there are quite a few albums containing singles that either made this year’s main Top 15 or the honorable mentions. Also, I may have just realised while typing this that literally half these albums are from SM Entertainment. Whoops.

For the purposes of this list, a mini album is between four and seven non-instrumental, non-remix tracks long. Eight or more of these makes a full album instead.

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VR BEST OF 2018 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s odd, but let’s have a beer. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Blooming Days – EXO-CBX

As always, I love a good attempt at a structural gimmick when it comes to albums, and Blooming Days has a doozy – seven tracks, one for each day of the week and its corresponding mood. Though title track Blooming Day – sitting in the Tuesday slot – is not one of the strongest products to come from the EXO family stable, the rest of the album does a reasonably good job of putting together an aural week that you can experience in less than half an hour. The strongest three tracks, neatly enough, are the opener, the exact midpoint and the closer. Monday Blues is just so good at nailing the bleary-eyed feeling of staring at a week of work ahead, Thursday evokes that knowingly premature daydream of a fruitful weekend and Lazy takes the album’s best backing track and uses it to transport the listener to a sun-soaked picnic. The first of several SM Entertainment albums on this page, I can recommend Blooming Days wholeheartedly to any listeners out there who like to count tracks in their head.

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K-Packaged

Yes, looks like another K-Pop post. But this time I’m not writing about the music. I’m even not writing about the people who perform the music. Today I’m writing about just how damn shinily those Koreans wrap up their products. Because it is, quite frankly, on another level, and it is, quite honestly, ridiculous.

At the end of last year I touched on just how important presentation can be to me in my Top Ten Game Cases of 2012 list. I’m the kind of person who genuinely got goosebumps at Apple’s colour-soaked iPod Nano ads from the latter part of the last decade. Good presentation is like a drug to me; it’s a weakness, God knows it really is.

Anyway, yesterday, this happened:

Kpopsplurge1

No really, I can explain.

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