As always, our End-of-Year panels come to an end with the best albums list. While this is typically one post about both minis and full length albums, this year proved to have to much for that to be an option. As such, Lo, Qian, and Abigail‘s discussion has been split into two parts, with mini-albums up first.

Lo                                              Qian                                                 Abigail

1          G-Dragon– Kwon Ji-yong              G-Dragon– Kwon Ji-yong                 G-Dragon– Kwon Ji-yong

2           Seohyun– Don’t Say No                      Zico– Television                           Seohyun– Don’t Say No

3            Brave Girls– Rollin’                         Rad Museum– Scene                        Subin– Circle’s Dream


Qian–  Why am I not surprised about who’s made the top of all our lists? G-Dragon has done it again, long hiatus be damned.

We don’t hear many concept albums in K-pop, so Kwon Ji-yong was a revelation. Exploring themes of self-identity, coming to terms with how fame has changed him, all done with his signature style, this album is G-Dragon at his most personal, and arguably at his best. I admire how he continues to develop this concept of having two identities on his world tour that followed: separated into 3 different parts– one for ‘G-Dragon’, one for ‘G-Dragon and Kwon Ji-yong’, and one for ‘Kwon Ji-yong’) , interspersed with imagery of the births of both personas, M.O.T.T.E. managed to elevate Kwon Ji-yong to a whole new level, and watching him perform live has been one of my biggest highlights of 2017.

Lo: Honestly, I feel like calling Kwon Ji-yong a concept album is a bit of an insult. A concept album is inherently false; a story or a guise that a band is taking for a spin. Kwon Ji-yong is a breakdown. It is a global superstar pulling down the image that he has spent 10 years embodying and examining the price paid for it all. Kwon Ji-yong,  the person underneath the persona, has few friends, no one he can trust, and every person he meets wants to use him. And while the idea of being lonely at the top is not new, Kwon Ji-yong has none of the glamorizing undercurrents of “I’m so alone in my mansion with my luxury cars and harem of girls”.

It lays bare the realty of being one of the most successful artists in the worlds, and having no one but your cats to share it with. Yet, you never wonder if it’s worth it. The lyrics are laden with doubt and misery, but the production– the bombast of “Middle Fingers Up”, the sarcastic swing of “Super Star”, and the sparse, heartbreaking “Divina Commedia– is beyond reproach. It screams of the touch of a true artist, someone who needs to create and cannot put anything less than his best work into the world.

Abigail: Whether people decide to classify or accept Kwon Ji-yong as a concept album or not is totally subjective to their own listening experience. However, I think we can all agree that this year has been the pinnacle era for G-Dragon. Not only as the leader of one of the most famous boybands in the world, Big Bang, but as a solo artist who continues to ignore boundaries that society constantly places upon him which he gladly and enjoyably breaks for the sake of his art.

Qian:  Zico’s Television has no shortage of “wow factor”, either. From the self-awareness he displays in his lyrics to the wide array of flows he adopts, Television is Zico firmly cementing his place in the Korean Hip-Hop scene — and this time he’s brought his crew, Fanxy Child, alongside him at the top. He’s hedonistic and carefree on “Artist”, off-kilter and obsessed on “Anti”, and indulgently braggadocious on “Fanxy Child”. If it weren’t for the sole hiccup that is “She’s a Baby” — a good single, thought it belongs nowhere near Television – I would have it tied along with Kwon Ji-yong, I enjoyed it that much.

Abigail: Unfortunately, both Zico and Taeyang failed to impress me with their releases for this year, which is a shame considering how in love I was with Zico’s debut work, Gallery and Taeyang’s last full album, Rise. However, this year was also filled with great female solo releases.

By far, the most surprising release on my list was Seohyun‘s debut EP, and not because it was an unexpected solo but because it completely exceeded all my expectations. Don’t Say No is a mix of pop and R&B perfection that opens with a poppy production in the title track “Don’t Say No” followed by the sweet and harmonious duet with Eric Nam in “Hello.” By the EP’s conclusion, we are back to the infectious R&B sound in “Moonlight,” which as a personal favorite, it doesn’t get nearly as much love as it should. The song is a definite ode to the 90’s that concludes Seohyun’s solo debut on such high note, I now cannot wait to hear more from Seohyun as a solo artist.
Lo: Abigail, you took the words right out of my mouth. Don’t Say No is a phenomenal EP that was slept on by everyone; including me. I didn’t listen to it until November, when I was reviewing the music of 2017 for this very roundtable. It’s an ode to 90’s R&B, and it runs the spectrum from the cleaner “Don’t Say No”, to the aforementioned “Moonlight”, which brings in some G-funk elements in the vein of “Freak Like Me” by Adina.
Still, I feel that where Seohyun truly shines is in “Lonely Love” and “Love and Affection”. She sounds so mature as she casts off a man who doesn’t deserve her, only to break down and start pleading for his love and affection, backed by dissonantly poppy instrumentals. This EP proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Seohyun is a woman, one who owns her love and pain in equal measures. Don’t Say No turned me into a Seohyun fangirl, pure and simple.
Abigail: On the completely opposite end, Dal Shabet’s Subin captivated me with Circle’s Dream in a time where I truly needed to be consoled. It’s an emotional album that shines with its acoustic and soothing instrumental that works to arise a melancholic atmosphere and succeeds despite the language barrier like in the opening track, “Swing.” The EP also uses the stripped back vibe to produce quirky and addicting songs, most notably in the title track “Circle’s Dream” and “Strawberry.” I truly have a great affection not only towards this album but also for Subin’s extraordinary singing voice that is the literal definition of honey.
Lo: Then opposite of that, there’s my number 3 pick: Rollin‘ by Brave Girls. Not gonna lie, I waffled so hard on this. It’s 3 songs, an intro, and a terrible remix of a previous single. But in the end, I couldn’t deny my love for spanking good house music. Where most K-pop utilizes tropical house or dancehall, Rollin’ pulls from deep house. Everything is lush and full, with intricate layering that sounds organic and Brave Girls’ emotive vocals.
Even “Don’t Hurry” the most stripped down track, isn’t bare bones, but full of a variety of elements, such as a rough, staccato drums, gang vocals, and a variety of synth lines that come in and fall out to avoid overwhelming the track. “Rollin'” and “No Rush” both perfectly capture the moment where the music is pounding around you, and all you can feel are the memories of old relationships, with “Rollin'” as the righteous fury while “No Rush” is more nostalgic. In the end thought, Rollin’ has great production, killer vocals, and while I don’t think it’s the best mini of the year– I mean, duh– it is my favorite, and the one I’ve gone back to over and over.
Qian:  Club Eskimo really came into the fold this year, with DEAN, SAAY (formerly Say of EvoL), offonoff, Rad Museum and 2xxx releasing singles, EPs, and full-length albums amongst themselves over the year. Quite a bit of it consisted of dreamy, muted beats saturated with reverb, and some of it bordered on monotony with unsatisfying choruses, but there are some real gems here and there.
Among those, Rad Museum’s Scene EP stood out for its’ comparative versatility and charm. It’s unafraid to switch it up in style, from the laid-back ambiance of “Cloud”, the Hyukoh-esque garage rock in “MadKid”, to the Latin-influenced “Tiny Little Boy”, but it’s the little things throughout Scene that elevates it amongst its peers, such as the birds in the atmospheric “Over The Fence” and the persistent rainfall in “Dancing in the Rain”.

That concludes our discussion on the best mini-albums of the year. For the best albums 2017 had to offer, stay tuned for part 2 — and don’t forget to leave your favorite mini albums in the comments below!
(Images via YG EntertainmentSM Entertainment