20150426_seoulbeats_mfbty4It’s the mid-year mark, which means we must review how things are going in K-pop to this point. We’ve already discussed dances, comebacks, and MVs, so next up is — ALBUMS!

Some fans may base their decision to buy an album off the title song alone, which can result in overlooking diamonds hidden in coal. For the ones who do make the wise investment of their time and dime, it’s a worthwhile journey into the musical musings of their favorite artists. Like gemstones, each album takes time to be crafted into a precious jewel that dazzles all who behold it.

In this discussion, Camiele, Cjontai, and Lo shared which albums shined brightest among the ones released in 2015 so far. The categories were split between full albums and minis, and an exception was made to allow a mixtape this time, giving us the following results:

 Camiele  Cjontai  Lo
1 MFBTY – Wondaland Xia Junsu – Flower FT Island – I Will
2 Shinee – Odd Rap Monster – RM Shinee – Odd
3 Rap Monster – RM/Xia Junsu – Flower 2pmNo. 5 Rap Monster – RM
1 G.Soul – Coming Home Jonghyun – BASE Ga-in – Hawwah
2 Hyukoh – 22 BTS – The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1 4Minute – Crazy
3 Jonghyun – BASE Lim Kim – Simple Mind Jonghyun – BASE
Lo: Looks like we’ve got a pretty diverse list — only one album and mini shows up on all three lists: RM and BASE. What spoke to you about these two?

20150416_seoulbeats_rap monster 6Cjontai: What I appreciate most about any artist is the ability to cohesively put together an album. Even though both Rap Monster and Jonghyun differ in styles, they are alike in that they approached their work with a determination to showcase themselves as artists. As excited as I wanted to be for all of the solo albums that came out this year, a lot of them fell short of expectations. I don’t know if that had to do with company influence and lack of creative control, but because Rap Monster and Jonghyun were allowed to flourish as themselves, their work reflected that. Overall, I feel that’s what spoke out most to me because language barrier aside, I should be able to connect to the music on a spiritual level. I need to feel their souls, and if they don’t believe in their work, then you can’t expect the audience to believe it either.

Camiele: Like Cjontai, I too need to feel something of a spiritual connection to the music I listen to. If we’ve learned nothing from K-pop it’s that lack of knowledge of a certain language shouldn’t stop listeners from connecting to the music in some way. What makes both of these albums stand out from the others this year is just how much soul is put into them. Two artists who have mostly complete control over the work they produce decided to push themselves instead of be complacent in the roles they play in their respective groups, not settling for a sound that’s easily recognizable because of the groups they’re in. Both took chances with their sound, their writing, and their voices.

Rap Mon took on an industry that sort of makes a mockery of rap and produced music that was honest, heartfelt, and unapologetic. Jonghyun, being a rare breed in SM, took the opportunity he was given to create music that was mature, sensual, and gave fans and non-fans alike a glimpse into who he is as an artist. What we got from both were albums that were brash, nuanced, and filled with honest to goodness great music.

I have to say, though, I’m not surprised there are more solo artists than groups on this list.

20150327_seoulbeats_ft island_i will_profileLo: I’m with both of you on the ability of music to transcend language, and the need to connect with the music itself rather than just finding it catchy to land a place on this list. Jonghyun and Rap Mon made deeply personal works that drove them to painstakingly perfect the music rather than settling for good enough. That is reflected in the sheer quality of the work in my top choice, F.T. Island’s I Will as well. Hyuna, Sohyun and Jiyoon also contributed to lyrics on Crazy. It made all four of these works feel that much more genuine. Even if we didn’t know how involved the performers were, their passion was carried through their art.

Camiele: For me the most surprising album thus far this year was Shinee’s Odd. I honestly didn’t think any idol group, let along one of SM’s, had the ability to create the music we got on that album. Besides experimenting with genuine London House music, we got some bossa-house, R&B tunes that experimented with vocal arrangement, and a vast improvement in rap skill from both Key and Minho. All this while still maintaining the insane harmonization we’ve grown used to with Shinee. Lo and I both had it as our second favorite album the first half of the year. What about the album impressed you, Lo? And, Cjontai, what about it fell short for you?

Cjontai: I’m all for experimentation, but I’d like it to have some level of cohesion. That’s where Shinee’s Odd fell short for me. There were a couple of songs that are definite jams, but some other songs felt like they were trying things out for the sake of releasing a brain fart. It doesn’t mean I think the album is horrible, but when I listened to it again, I couldn’t lose myself in the music because the next track would pop up and change the entire mood in an instant. And before anyone asks, no, I wasn’t in shuffle mode. I played the tracks in order, so that may have been part of the issue as well. I’m hoping the repackaged album reveals those hidden gems that were missing from Odd.

20150525_seoulbeats_shineeCamiele: And see, it was that diversity, that need to release something interesting, unique, and challenging even that made me fall in love with it. There wasn’t a moment where I felt like I was missing something. It was more than just jams or good tunes. To me there was a level of musicality here that I haven’t heard in K-pop music, particularly idol groups, in all my time listening to the genre. There were moments listening to the album I just had to laugh because the level of music and creativity on this album just shocked me. I suppose I was so immersed in the album that switches in mood or tone didn’t phase me. It was all part of the experience, and I relished in it.

Lo: It was the same with me. I Will really spoke to my darker places, the questions of life and doubt and hopelessness and struggle that tend to reappear in my mind, over and over, while Odd spoke to every part of me. It had a song for every mood, and they were all such good pieces of music. It felt like a loose diamond — Odd is different from every angle, but it all retains the same core quality.

Cjontai: That’s how I felt about Junsu‘s Flower, and Lim Kim‘s Simple Mind. Flower, in particular, had a deep, rawness to it. Junsu may not have the best vocals or range in K-pop, but he does know how to convey his emotions in his work. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was just something about listening to his album that moved my soul. Of course, you can’t overlook the production value either. It was masterfully done, and why it made the top of my list.

As for Lim Kim, I was sort of surprised by her direction, especially given that her previous releases leaned more to the bluesy jazz side. It was the first time she made an attempt to take on pop, and I think she did pretty well with the genre. Actually, I struggled a bit in putting her on this list because I also considered MFBTY, but I thought she took a bigger risk than they did.

Did anyone else have second thoughts on their lists?

20150307_seoulbeats_junsuCamiele: I, too, was in love with Junsu’s Flower. His voice I’ve found is rather polarizing. It’s definitely one of the most unique in K-pop (Korean music in general), as such it’s either so unique people don’t like it or people find it to be one of the best in the world (from his voice topping “Best of” lists of industry professionals for years). And he makes music that’s perfect for his voice, certainly for the raw emotion and passion he puts into it. I was actually pretty set on my lists.

However, the only sure #1 for me was MFBTY, Between two and three, I did go back and forth quite a bit. Honestly this is the first album of Junsu’s where I was supremely blown away (so much so, when I first saw the video for “Flower” my hands were shaking afterwards). His voice will always capture me, but his music isn’t always my cup of tea. Flower encapsulated everything I adored about Junsu and so much more. The same could be said about Rap Mon’s mixtape. I don’t think I can choose one or the other. Both of these albums had something that had a significant impact on me. But Odd hit spots in me musically that I hadn’t felt from any type of “pop” music for a long time. That being said, I always knew what my list was going to look like.

Lo: I have to say, as difficult as it was to set my album list, my mini list has been set in stone since, like, March. The instant I heard Crazy, Base, and Hawwah, I knew they were going to end up on my mid-year list. They’re all very diverse works — a girls night out, a collection of sex jams, and an introspective look at what the intersection of religion and sexuality — but all three are solid and cohesive works that never look at their main topic the same way twice.

20150616_seoulbeats_2pmCjontai: A couple of my picks surprised me because I wasn’t sure what to expect from 2pm and BTS this year. Some groups have a hit-or-miss pattern, which has always been my problem with 2pm. I loved Grown, so I have no idea where it fell apart in Go Crazy. I’m not saying 2pm can’t let loose and pump up the party jams, but if they “Go Crazy” again, they need to find something that suits their current level. Regardless, No. 5 brought me back that grown and sexy vibe that I enjoy from them. It’s an album that evokes images of sipping wine next to a fireplace in a cozy mountain cabin.

On the other hand, BTS is starting to scare me a bit with their progression. Originally, I wasn’t a huge fan of The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1 because it was so different from what I expected. Oddly enough, it was that difference that grew on me and made me enjoy it the more I listened to it. I feel they are slowly molding themselves into a specific sound that works for their group, and I love that all the members participated in the album this time. It felt more personal, which probably explains why they sounded so good on it. I’m anxious to hear The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 2 to confirm if their growth is a K-pop anomaly, or if they are the real deal.

20150508_seoulbeats_btsCamiele: When it comes to the albums that certain artists produce, I don’t actually put expectations on things because inevitably you’re going to be disappointed and end up potentially disliking something that’s actually really fantastic simply because things didn’t happen the way you wanted them to. On the other hand, you can also end up putting too much weight on an album because it exceeded your expectations (based on a group’s history, things you already don’t like about a group/artist, etc.). What I was interested in was just good music that impacted me, and that’s exactly what I got from these albums on the list.

I suppose that’s what I’ll say in closing. The albums I put on my lists had something in them that touched me, something that was more than just “these are good jams.” There was an emotional connection there that may not have had anything to do with anything technical, or maybe it was something so technically stellar in terms of song and/or album construction. Whatever the reason, all these albums just had good music and an emotional core that has stuck with me throughout the year.


Now that a few of our writers expressed their opinions, we want to know yours! What are your favorite albums of 2015 at this time?

(Images via SM, Big Hit, JYP, C-JeS, and FNC Entertainment)