Groups are already pumping out the first albums of 2017, but 2016 was a busy year. Between dramas, debuts, and music videos, we’ve gotten to the point where we want to review our favorite albums from the past year. Camiele, Leesha, and Lo compiled their favorite albums of 2016 below with some surprising convergences and differences between them.

Best Album Camiele Leesha Lo
1 JambinaiA Hermitage BumkeyU-Turn JaejoongNo.X
2 SugaAgustD BAPNoir BTSWings
3 JaejoongNo.X Lee HiSeoulite JonghyunShe Is


Leesha: I’m not quite sure where to start besides, who is Jambinai?

Camiele: Jambinai is an indie band who combines traditional Korean music and instruments with heavy metal. Their latest album A Hermitage is truly one of the most sonically creative pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It tells a story so vividly, sounds working together to create a cohesive narrative. Without words they’re able to paint landscapes and scenes that are more brilliant in color and hue than anything most artists can do with their voices. I fell so in love with their music this year. And after having the chance to interview them, I gained a greater appreciation of the breadth of Korean traditional music and just how far it can be stretched and manipulated to become greater than the sum of its parts.

Meanwhile, all three of us have similarities between our lists. I have to ask, Lo, what about Jaejoong‘s album spoke to you? For me this is truly his most cohesive, mature piece of music. Every time he releases something, I’m stricken by just how brilliant an artist he actually is. He’s taken a genre that most “idols” have attempted to use to separate themselves from their idol image. But Jaejoong actually excels at using rock music and adding his own colors to it, fully immersing himself in the genre. As a result, his voice has become fuller, his songwriting sharper and more impactful. Especially with this album, we see a wider range of his storytelling and his vocal color. Tl;dr Just when I didn’t think Jaejoong had more to show us, No.X is his most powerful and comprehensive piece of music.

Lo: The appeal of No.X in a word: self-loathing! No, really. You are dead on the money, Camiele, about the musical strength of this album. The songwriting and composition is sharp and insightful, and Jaejoong’s voice . . .  god. Rough and bitter on “Good Luck” and “Good Morning Night”  before transforming into some ungodly cross of velvet and honey on tracks like “Breathing” and “Run Away”; this is a vocal masterpiece. And what really proves the strength of No.X is the immediate understanding it provides. The details might be fuzzy at first listen but the emotions of each song– disdain, anguish, frustration, anger, resentment– they are crystal clear from the first listen.

But back to the self-loathing. There is a subtle sense throughout this album, especially on the self-penned tracks, that Jaejoong does not particularly like himself. He blames himself for every instance of relationship failure across this album, pulls his self-worth entirely from others views of him, has fallen into self-indulgent, hedonistic tendencies, and even when wronged, has a hard time condemning those who have hurt him– the closet he comes  is “Good Luck”, where he still takes shots at himself. The  lyrics are raw and honest in a way that very few musicians allow themselves to be; as if Jaejoong carved out a piece of his soul for us to examine. And, as deeply personal art is wont to do, like has called to like.
LeeshaI listened to it, since it was on both your lists, but I just don’t feel the connection. The way you described it had me ready for this hard rock mixed with crooning and some really emotional vocals and…I didn’t get it. Lo’s description gave me expectations for a more edgy sound. Not saying that it isn’t good–it got me through some awful Christmas cleaning–but I wasn’t hit over the head with feelings like I thought I would be.

Camiele: That’s fair. For many people Jaejoong’s hit or miss, especially if your expectations are different than what he delivers.

Lo: Camiele covered Jambani, and Jaejoong was pretty well hashed out, but Leesha’s choices have gotten no time yet. Leesha, why did these three albums make your list?
Leesha: Well for Bumkey, the draw was the story. I’ve been a fan of his voice since 2012 when he featured on “Love” from Primary and the Messengers, and then continued to like him on various other songs of his and features. I was super excited when BNM introduced him and Kanto in the group Troy. But then when he got in that legal trouble I was sure I’d never get to hear his voice again. U-Turn represents his change from those bad times, and it just has a beautiful story. My favorite song is actually “Amazing Grace” because you can tell he really connects to the lyrics. He’s really sorry about what he’s done and he’s on the right path now. It’s a retrospective album full of real emotion.

For B.A.P… Everyone knows about B.A.P and TS so I won’t go into that but as much as I try to stay above fandom mess, that whole situation hit me very hard. While they had other releases between the resolution of that situation and Noir, this album meant a lot to me because they were finally back. This wasn’t a “concept” album, or a “let’s make music for the public album”. It was an album for all of us who stuck around during the hard times. It was pure B.A.P and so much work went into it. There’s range and depth, there’s experimentation. It’s not music for the sake of selling albums, but an album for the love of making music. Bang Yong-guk literally put so much of himself into that he couldn’t even enjoy the public’s reaction to it by being absent from promotions, but I hope he knows how much it is appreciated. I’ve never understood people that said “XXX saved me” or “This album changed my life” until this album.

Lee Hi‘s album was about growth. “1,2,3,4” and “It’s Over” were very cutesy, adorable songs. With Seoulite, I felt she matured. Her voice wasn’t quite so overpowering. Most of the songs were slower or mid-tempo, but the album benefited from great features like Dok2 and Tablo which kept it from being monotonous. I am not, by any means, a huge fan of girl groups or female artists in general, but the album just pulled me. It is very good writing music, as well, which has helped me get a few personal projects done.

I will say, Camiele, that I almost put Suga‘s mixtape on my list as well. Lo also has BTS, though she chose Wings from the full group. What about those albums drew you? Camiele, why the mixtape over the group album, or vice versa for you, Lo?

Camiele: Honestly what drew me to Suga’s mixtape was his voice. I first heard him on Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1 with his intro. He was rugged and raw and there was so much emotion in delivery and what he was saying. While Rap Mon was the rapper everyone knew, Suga was the one that made me go, “What a minute, now…” So when I found out about the mixtape, I jumped on it. Agust D not only showcased just how wide his musicality is, it showed how fearless he is when it comes to his delivery and subject matter.

A lot of people really didn’t like this album, or this side of Suga. They not only didn’t like the fact that he talked about his issues with depression (a fact many still find laughable because “Oh he’s just a kid complaining,” or “Oh look at this rich kid trying to be emo”); they also hated the fact that he grabbed his d*ck and gave the finger with a snarl in many of the tracks. I appreciated it over Wings simply because while there was a complete cohesion to the group album, there were tracks and music choices I just wasn’t feeling.

Even when I finally recognized BTS as a group that at least pushes for more artistically in terms of their videos and some of their songwriting, their albums are still up and down for me–and I still have a hard time reconciling their true appreciation of hip-hop and black culture with their use of it to paint themselves as these badass hip-hop heads (which… just… not really, no). There was a singular consciousness and an honesty in Agust D that I just appreciated from someone I honestly didn’t know much about. And anyone who can pull off referencing James Brown, E-40, and Wu-Tang in a way that not only makes sense but makes you look at kid like, “Now, whoooo gave him permission…?” with that old lady stank face gets bonus points from me.

Lo:Wings was an album that surprised me with how much I liked it. It’s messy, it’s chaotic, and it’s bloated. However, those flaws improve the albums standing in my eyes because they enhance the quality that won me over: honesty. The genre roulette of solos is overwhelming, the group songs after really show the albums length and start to get a bit draggy, but Wings is an album where you can tell that every track is here because it’s statement means something to the people behind it. This especially holds true with the solos, which are all over the place, from celebrations of the ones who supported you to self-doubt to the toxicity of fame. Yet, each member was allowed to put their own mark onto the album, rather than insisting everyone stick to the same topic. I feel that music is at it’s best when it’s personal, and Wings is proof of that.

That’s why it won out over the more cohesive and focused She Is. I like sex jams as much as the next person– or, honestly, more than them–, but it’s not as powerful as No.X and Wings, because it doesn’t dig as deep into Jonghyun the individual as it does his relationship. That’s not bad, of course, but it is easy, and I have to respect those who put such a piece of themselves on the line.

The album discussion was so intense, that the mini albums had to go into a second part. In the meantime, how did your favorite albums from last year compare to ours?

(Images via BigHit, C-JeS Ent., TS Ent.)