SB’s End-of-Year panels finally wraps up with the much anticipated album of the year list. In part one, we covered 2017’s best mini-albums which was a list full of variety with a selection of different genres and artists. Now in the final part of the series, Lo, Quian, and Abigail are back to discuss the best albums of 2017 that made the biggest impression in a year full of worthy and admirable releases.

Best Albums  Lo  Qian  Abigail
1 Epik High – We’ve Done Something Wonderful Epik High – We’ve Done Something Wonderful

BeWhy The Blind Star

IU Palette 
2 Taeyang White Night Day6 Moonrise  Hyukoh 23
3 Day6 Moonrise Red Velvet Perfect Velvet  Red Velvet Perfect Velvet 


Abigail: Looking at each list, I’m curious to know why you both decided to choose Day6‘s Moonrise as one of the top albums of the year? Honestly, Day6 have never brought anything exciting to the table to make me want to give each release they had this year a repeated listen. I think this problem mostly stems from the fact that Day6 tend to gravitate towards the pop-rock genre which can be a straight hit or miss for my taste.

However, a band that really had me floored this year was Hyukoh with their debut album, 23. It’s an album that I quickly devoured because of the beautiful versatility of the instrumentations and their melancholic yet relatable lyrics, most profoundly on tracks like “Die Alone” and their somber single, “Tomboy.” Yet, this album had more to offer than quiet and tender slow songs. Tracks like “Wali” and “Leather Jacket” prove that Hyukoh can take on much rougher and edge cutting sounds while still implementing their uniquely styled vibe that made them break out stars in 2015 with their hit “Comes and Goes”. If it hadn’t been for IU‘s gorgeous and extremely well-produced album, Palette, Hyukoh would have undoubtedly stolen the top spot on my list.

LoPalette is certainly a wonderful album– in fact, it was my number 3 pick until I heard Moonrise— but it was so delicate and precisely produced that it left me feeling a bit cold. Moonrise, on the other hand, immediately struck me as something I’d heard before; warm and familiar despite Day6 never really making much of an impact on me. It pulls you in and keeps you engaged as Day6 plays genre roulette, hopping from ballads to rock to funk, retaining cohesiveness due to the melancholy, bittersweet undertones that run through the entire thing. Yet Moonrise never hits sad. Instead, it comes off as closure; making peace with an ending so you can move forward.

Furthermore, Moonrise earns its length. I have always been of the opinion that the ideal album length is 40 minutes or 11 songs. Any longer, and the albums start to drag- lyrical themes get overused, the music shifts from cohesive to repetitive, and any production flaws become exponentially more annoying. Moonrise is one of many 50+ minute albums I heard this year, and one of only two that did not feel overlong and bloated. It never drove me to start checking the remaining length, and there were no songs that I heard and immediately thought “album filler”. From start to end, Moonrise is a solid, stirring album.
Qian23 is grand. The instrumentation throughout is simply gorgeous, the mixing throughout is very nicely done, and lead singer Oh Hyuk’s voice is for the most part otherworldly. But I agree with Lo that there’s something very charming and earnest in the simplicity behind Day6’s releases this year. Day6’s vocals keep getting better, and on Moonrise they take care to switch up their styles throughout, leading to an album that is at once familiar and exciting. The only nitpick I have is that the mixing is sometimes off, or that the vocals overshadow the instrumentation at times, but it’s an altogether small error in what is otherwise a stellar album.
On the other hand, I was surprised how enjoyable Red Velvet’s Perfect Velvet was, and how strangely familiar it felt. As their first fully mature ‘velvet’ album, Perfect Velvet delves into the experimental, unafraid to be lush and dreamy at one moment (“Perfect 10”), anthemic in another (“I Just”) and downright weird in the next (“My Second Date”). Despite varying in style, however, it manages to remain a cohesive and polished listen, each track held together with one another by Red Velvet’s quirky charm and vocal ability. If their following releases can continue meeting the standard Perfect Velvet has met, it would not be an overstatement to consider Red Velvet – musically speaking – the best girl group in K-pop right now.
Abigail: I agree with you Qian that Perfect Velvet was in a way strangely familiar, mostly because from my listening experience, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Red Velvet’s senior group, f(x). Perfect Velvet has many fantastic songs that give off the same experimental vibe as f(x)’s music, most notably in the track “Attaboy.” And although this resemblance is natural given that both groups reside in the same company, Red Velvet most certainly hold their own and were able to create an enticing but cohesive album with great replay value. “Kingdom Come” is no doubt a standout from the album as it showcases Red Velvet’s grand talent to harmonize as a group and it also works as a great reintroduction to the “velvet’ side that listeners haven’t heard since their equally great and sensual track “Automatic.”

LoPerfect Velvet was certainly solid, and I enjoyed the return of the velvet, but White Night by Taeyang blew me away. On paper, this is not an album I would like. It’s very sparse and stripped down, full of midtempo ballads, the production is split between R&B and trend-following EDM, and to top it off, White Night is only 7 tracks long, plus an intro. No lie, I heard EPs longer than White Night. And yet, it knocked my socks off. And my shirt. And possibly my pants.

So much of that is due to Taeyang himself. White Night is a vocal showcase for him; as the production is so minimal it might as well not be there, but he rises to the challenge. From the raw emotions in “Wake Me Up” to the playboy attitude of “Ride” to the desperate sexuality of “Naked”, you are feeling what Taeyang wants you to feel, no exceptions, The bare-bones production serves only to support Taeyang’s voice, outside of the occasional moment, like the drop of “Wake Me Up”. Yet, it never sounds cheap or lazy. It is the kind of minimalism that can only come from an ungodly length of time spent mixing and layering, and it kills. Every track feels like a sucker punch, only one that you want to receive.
Qian: Taeyang’s vocals have never been better, but it’s the very same bare-bones production you enjoyed that threw me off White Night, funnily enough. The tracks are fine – if a little bland – on their own, but for me, besides the introduction, White Night lacked the ‘wow’ factor displayed in Rise on songs like “Love You to Death”, “Body”, and “Ringa Linga”.
In comparison, BeWhy’s latest full-length album, The Blind Star, really deserves more attention. The production on this album – aided by longtime collaborator GRAY – is nothing short of amazing, pairing filthy basslines and icy synths with classic orchestral pomp, which besides making for an intriguing listen helps to further explore the album’s contrasting themes of faith and newfound material success. Throughout all of this, BeWhy’s flows are stellar, riding unorthodox beats with the same deceptive ease as his previous songs like “Waltz”. Finally, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, coming in at 39 minutes and precisely 11 tracks long, meeting Lo’s surprisingly specific requirements mentioned earlier. If you have to add one album to your music library, I cannot recommend this album enough.
Last but not least, Epik High. I dived into We’ve Done Something Wonderful expecting something akin to the feel-good, something-for-everybody Shoebox. Upon my first listen, however, I came out disappointed. Gone were the warm, vibrant instrumentals I loved, such as on “Rich” and “Life is Good”. In comparison, We’ve Done Something Wonderful felt unabashedly melancholic and lacking in comparison to its predecessor.

It wasn’t until a few repeated listens that I ditched the comparisons, and finally appreciated the album for what it was. Tablo as much as told us, on his verse in “People Scare Me”, that these songs were full of scars, scars received from personal hardships. Relatable stories of heartbreak, regret, loneliness, and nostalgia are skilfully weaved between glances back to Epik High’s entire career. Throughout all the bleakness, however, Epik High keeps on going, and that’s when you realize what they meant by titling it We’ve Done Something Wonderful: the wonderful thing we have done is to keep on living through all of these hardships, and to always try finding the silver lining in life.

Abigail: Epik High’s Shoebox is an album that has stuck with me ever since its marvelous release back in 2014 and even now as I go back to indulge myself in such a masterpiece of an album, I am able to feel the same waves of emotions as I did at first listen. But after the release of We’ve Done Something Wonderful, I shared the same sentiment as Qian in that I came out of Epik High’s new project feeling dissatisfied and disappointed. Although with repeated listens and careful analyzation of the lyrics I was able to appreciate and on some level enjoy the group’s message of life struggles and personal hardship, especially on deep cuts like “Bleed,” it was never enough to conjure the same personal and deeply emotional connection that I had with Shoebox. 

Although my dissatisfaction with Epik High’s release was unexpected, especially since I’ve always been a big fan, the album that did hit all my expectations was IU’s Palette. True to its name, Palette musically conveys an array of different moods and emotions that somehow parallels how polarizing this year has been. IU masterfully perfects the chic and contemporary in tracks like “Dlwlrma” and “Palette” while manifesting deep feelings of love and loss in “Through the Night.” The album’s production is coated with fresh melodies that are truly able to shine through IU’s vocals and the flawlessness of the album’s instrumentation. Palette rightfully deserved album of the year and it’s truly satisfying seeing IU get the recognition that she has long been overlooked for especially as one of South Korea’s most successful female solo artists.

Lo: Like you Qian, We’ve Done Something Wonderful was not what I was expecting. Unlike you, though, I fell in love at first note. Epik High has always had a bitter, melancholic undertone to even their brightest work, and it’s one of my favorite things about them. We’ve Done Something Wonderful lives in that undertone, in those times when pretending your world isn’t burning around you is no longer an option. It’s very tempered and deliberate, pulling back on the production and putting the vocals at the front of the mix, leaving the listener with no place to hide from what Epik High is saying.

There is a universality present on We’ve Done Something Wonderful that comes how it faces personal but common issues.”Love Story” and “The Benefit of Heartbreak” revolve around Epik High trying and failing to cope with a breakup, “Lost One” has Tablo grappling with his skills and influence as a parent, “Us Against The World” is about losing touch with the people who were your family, and “Here Comes The Regrets” –my personal favorite– is about the realization that partying, having meaningless sex to cope with heartbreak and drunk-dialing your ex are poor decisions. As much as this album is about Epik High’s personal struggles, most people will have to deal with the same things, and having something so raw that proves it’s possible to come out the other side is a balm. We’ve Done Something Wonderful is an implicit celebration of facing your problems, the strength it takes to do so, and the joy and relief when you make it through.
Qian: Lo, I completely agree. Sadness and bitterness that was once nuanced has become overt and at times heavy-handed. It took a while for me to see this was deliberate, though, and although I still think Shoebox is superior, We’ve Done Something Wonderful is nonetheless an outstanding album, one that I’ll be putting on heavy rotation in the months to come.
All in all, 2017 has been a year full of surprises for me. Some comebacks that I was eagerly anticipating blew me away, like G-Dragon’s Kwon Ji-yong and Hyukoh’s 23, whilst others fell short of high expectations, in particular, Block B’s Montage and Taeyang’s White Night. Other artists whom I’ve never had more than a passing interest in, like Day6 and Red Velvet, exceeded expectations with their releases this year. Going into 2018, besides the artists I’ve previously mentioned, I’m looking forward to hearing more music from the R&B and Hip-hop artists that really started coming into the scene this year, like DPR LiveSik-K and the rest of the Club Eskimo crew. Dean’s highly anticipated sophomore album, 130Mood: RVNG, is almost certainly still a work in progress, but if I can wait 3 years for an Epik High comeback, I don’t see why I can’t wait a little longer.
Abigail: This year in music successfully showcased many artists coming into their own as they released pieces of work that were musically captivating with mature and interesting concepts that differentiated themselves above the many K-pop releases of this year. Long-awaited projects like G-Dragon’s Kwon Ji-young and Epik High’s We’ve Done Something Wonderful proved successful despite the many year’s fans were forced to wait while Day6’s Moonrise and Red Velvet’s Perfect Velvet were the delightful Easter egg finds that came as enjoyable surprises. Artists that have perfected their musical talents like IU and Hyukoh did not disappoint as they came back better than ever to release impeccable full-length albums that truly show their natural talent as singers and writers. Overall, 2017 was musically satisfying and it will be a hard year to beat, but I cannot wait for what 2018 has waiting.
Lo: 2017 was a year best defined by payoff. Where established acts like Epik High, G-dragon and Taeyang raised the bar on a personal level as well as the K-pop music scene as a whole, while younger groups, like Day6 and Brave Girls, really hit their stride and proved to the world that their potential has transformed into concrete musical skills. Seohyun, despite being a 10-year veteran of the industry was finally able to showcase the skills she had been refining but never got the chance to display. Heading into 2018, I’m hoping for another year like this, one where K-pop makes it clear that pop music and good music can be interchangeable.
And with that, our best albums discussion comes to a satisfying close. Readers, what albums made your 2017 that didn’t make our list?
(Images via TheBlackLabel, SM Ent., Luminant Ent., Leon Ent.)