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YumCha! Picks: Best Asian Albums of 2010

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

It's a tough job, but someone had to do it. Out of the many, many music releases that came out in 2010, here are YumCha! Editorial Team's picks for the Best Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Albums of 2010!

BEST KOREAN ALBUMS


2AM - 2AM Mini Album
Just a few years ago, mid-tempo ballads ruled the K-pop charts. Times have shifted towards dance pop, but it's 2AM that owns the arguably biggest single of the year, "Can't Let You Go Even If I Die", a traditional ballad free of auto-tune and busy arrangements. At the same time, the album also successfully incorporates electronic and hip-hop into uptempo, urban ballads like "To Her" and follow-up single "I Was Wrong" without losing the group's original voice.



2NE1 - To Anyone
Individually, 2NE1's triple title songs might not be as memorable as some of the other girl group hits this year, but together they form a killer combo. With seven singles packed in, this album offers plenty of bang for your buck, and the side tracks are great too, particularly the smoky ballad Slow and the reggae mix of I Don't Care. Too many albums over rely on the title song, but To Anyone actually makes use of its full length to deliver a complete album. No fillers, just fierceness.



BEAST - Lights Go On Again
BEAST brought their A-game this year releasing three solid mini-albums, and their best is the most recent Lights Go On Again. Setting aside the dark concepts of Shock and Soom, the group is all youth and smiles for the wonderfully cheesy and cuddly Beautiful. It's not original but it is infectious, and so are I'm Sorry, Lightless, and "I Like You The Best", which are all strong enough to be lead singles. The album's light and laidback urban dance pop sound fits the group well, and goes very easy on the ears.



Bobby Kim - Heart & Soul
It's hard to get better when you're already at the top of your game, but the R&B master spruced up his signature sound by incorporating rock, folk, ska, rap, and even Latin music into his latest album. Sounds like it could be a recipe for disaster, but Heart & Soul strikes the right balance with the melody and arrangement, while keeping Bobby Kim's soulful voice center stage.



Ga In - step 2/4
Brown Eyed Girls' Ga In's solo debut mini-album is a truly pleasant surprise. While bandmate Narsha went ultra electronic for her solo, Ga In took things in a completely different direction: tango. Lively tango beats and the push and pull of bandoneon chords curl their way through the album, and Ga In makes everything sizzle with her slow and sultry delivery. From the dramatic title song "Irreversible" to the slinky tango number Esperanto, she pulls off a unique tango-meets-pop album that's different, daring, and sexy.



Hot Potato - Seesaw
The surprise popularity of "Confessions" gave indie band Hot Potato and their special album Seesaw a dose of much-deserved attention this year. Seesaw was conceived as a soundtrack for an imaginary movie, an "IST (Imaginary Soundtrack)" if you will. The idea is certainly interesting, and Hot Potato follows through with a score and themes for their imaginary protagonists, as well as some fabulous mid-tempo rock numbers. Somebody make a movie for this soundtrack!



JYJ - The Beginning
Many K-pop artists drag their feet on the English debut, but JYJ delivered as promised in record time, and created record fervor in the process. The collaborations with Rodney Jerkins and Kanye West are super catchy, and the members get extra points for tackling English and songwriting. The music video and wardrobe choices are suspect if they're really aiming for the American market, but for effort JYJ gets an Ayyy Girl. (Besides, we spent so much time living this album during the special edition preorder craze, we can't help but love it.)



Lee Juck - Vol. 4
No gimmick or concept needed for Lee Juck besides his husky voice and acoustic instruments. The singer-songwriter's fourth album is a brilliantly understated collection of earthy guitar rock and gentle piano ballads. Every song is worth a listen, but the rocking lead single "With You" is particularly buoyant.



One Way - Rainy Days
One Way's self-coined "One Way Sound" encompasses hip-hop, R&B, and dance that bridge Korean and Western pop sensibilities. It's no wonder then that the trio is particularly popular among international fans, and their latest album should definitely find them more believers. The crossover potential of their R&B single Rainy Days is high, and that's only the beginning of what the album has to offer.



Trax - 2nd Mini Album
Sticking bride Seo Hyun on the cover is a too obvious marketing move (not that we're complaining!), but Trax's second mini-album stands on its own with its playful pop rock sound. Oh! My Goddess is so fast, fresh, and fun that it's a wonder the song wasn't a bigger hit. Trax may have gotten too pop for their original fans and not pop enough for new fans, but with only two members left it makes sense for the band to change styles, and they've hit a stellar formula of rock ballads and nineties-vibe rock numbers with this album.





BEST JAPANESE ALBUMS


Boom Boom Satellites - To the Loveless
A near epic release from the electronic duo, To the Loveless clocks in at over an hour long, and it's worth every second. The album roller-coasters through synth-heavy spells of ethereal lethargy and hard rock energy, alternating between moody, lyrical pieces and intense tracks that explode in your ear. Boom Boom Satellites' first album in three years just may be their best.



Jero - Covers 3
The African-American enka singer traces back to his cultural roots once more in his third cover album. Jero's soulful delivery of his favorite "Japanese Blues" classics proves that he is destined to be the enka star that will bring young fans back to the art of enka.



Kato Miliyah - Heaven
Sticking to her R&B-dance roots, singer-songwriter Kato Miliyah produces an entertaining album with Heaven, her first chart topper. Her lyric work is straightforward (Last Love is practically fit to use as textbook material in a Japanese language class), and her compositions are equally simple and catchy. Add those with a cool, serious image all sexy R&B stars should have, and you've got a major pop star in the making.



LANDS - Olympos
Produced by Kobayashi Takashi for the film Bandage, Olympos may be the best fictional band album since Yen Town Band's Montage from the film Swallowtail, also produced by Kobayashi. Coincidence? We think not.



Miyavi - What's My Name?
Miyavi's "re-debut album" is another idiosyncratic mix of rock, rap, and shenanigans from the samurai guitarist. What's My Name? offers a tidy roundup of Miyavi's overall style, filled with the personal touches - the pluck and slap of MOON, the clinking change percussion of CHILLIN' CHILLIN' MONEY BLUE$ - that make fans swoon. He strips down the songs to mainly guitar and beats, making this his cleanest album since Dokuso.



moumoon - Spark
"Happy days/Summer days/Sunshine girl". These words are guaranteed to stick with you after listening to Sunshine Girl from the pop duo's breakthrough EP. A variation of Kahimi Karie with a stronger Japanese sensibility, Spark is a relaxing piece of music perfect for its summer release date. Vocalist Yuka has also made herself the leading candidate for a duet with Chara with her cover of Yen Town Band's Swallowtail Butterfly ~ Ai no Uta.



Mucc - Karma
Mucc has never been one to stick with a certain style, but their latest album is a real genre blender even for them. Karma goes all over the place with rock ballad, metal, power pop, jazz, funk, pop rock, and electronic, the most notable addition to the Mucc repertoire this time. Far from being a mess, however, the band brings the very different song and styles together rather seamlessly into a karmic music cycle that's got something for everyone.



Tokyo Jihen - Sports
The Shiina Ringo-led band leaves behind the retro rock style of Variety for a return to a style Shiina's fans will be familiar with. From the a cappella section of opening track Ikiru to mid-beat R&B ballad Sweet Spot, Sports rarely stops once it takes off, making Sports the band's most pleasant album yet.



Uemura Kana - Watashi no Kakeratachi
The highlight of the mini-album by the singer-songwriter is the 10-minute guitar waltz Toilet no Kamisama, whose autobiographical lyrics have brought tears to listeners all over Japan. However, it's the musical versatility in the rest of the album - including R&B ballad Mascara and the guitar-driven Watashi Hajime - that makes Uemura one of J-pop's hidden gem.



YUI - Holidays in the Sun
YUI's first album in over two years marks her glorious return to music after her hiatus. Holidays in the Sun features a more serious YUI, who offers more mature rock songs like It's All Too Much and Gloria. At the same time, the singer-songwriter makes the shift seem like a natural evolution that doesn't throw out any of the endearing qualities that earned her stardom in the first place.





BEST CHINESE ALBUMS


Age of Water & Wood - Start on a Journey
After dabbling in more rock-heavy releases for four years, Mainland Chinese group Age of Water & Wood goes full circle back to campus folk for their latest album, and it's like 2001 all over again. They might not be young anymore, but this is what they're best at and it's what we most want to hear after all: bittersweet folk rock about the days of youth gone by.



Amber Kuo - Sparklers
Sparklers offer a breath of fresh air with its unpretentious selection of feel-good pop numbers that are as down to earth and adorable as Amber Kuo is. Her at times childlike voice carries both the melancholic ballads and cutesy songs with equal charm. It's hard to not smile when you hear her "Cartoon Life" cover of Mika's Lollipop.



Da Mouth - One Two Three
Da Mouth is always a good bet for perfectly produced party tunes, and this album lives it up with club and karaoke-friendly dance, rap, and electronic pop fusions, plus some ballads thrown in to keep everyone happy. La Ji, their not-so-subtle dance hit about making out, gets stuck in the head fast, and Rock It is even better.



Eason Chan - Taste The Atmosphere
Time Flies is the more pop-friendly Eason EP of 2010, but Taste the Atmosphere reminds people why fans of all genres can be an Eason Chan fan. To cover all the genres between the funky He Says She Says and the hard power ballad Super Wrong is not easy, but Eason pulls it off with gusto.



Endy Chow - Implode
Singer-songwriter Endy Chow makes a long-awaited return to music with this spectacular EP. By leaving behind the pop ballads that established his initial popularity and returning to his preferred rock style, Endy is a better musician than ever. We hope that Endy doesn't wait another five years before releasing another solo album.



Fama - Miracle
Fama is apart together this time. Splitting the rap duo's latest album as two solo albums allows CKwan and 6Wing to reflect their own personalities. The result is one of the funniest Canto-pop albums of 2010 that still deliver both musically and thematically. Despite the constant presence of humor, the messages in the music still manage to shine through clearly, making Miracle a seriously impressive Canto-rap album.



Hebe - To Hebe
S.H.E. member Hebe Tien manages to shatter her girl pop group image with this mature and surprisingly melancholic debut. Showing a wide range of song choices from To Hebe to I Can't Face Myself, Hebe has proven herself to be a confident solo artist that can stand on her own.



Jacky Cheung - Private Corner
The undisputed King of Canto-pop does jazz in this pop experiment that wonderfully succeeds. Jacky Cheung's magnetic voice is perfect for the genre, and the impeccable production values make Private Corner the classiest Canto-pop album of the year.



Jun Kung - Jun K
2010 is apparently the year of comebacks for Hong Kong rockers. In addition to Endy Chow, singer-songwriter-master drummer Jun Kung also returns with his first full-length album since 2001's Nowhere Man. If that doesn't make you miss Jun's brand of rock-funk pop, listen to It's Over Now from Jun Kand you'll know why he's the musician's musician.



Swing - 2010 Album
You don't know what you're losing until you've lost it, unless Eric Kwok and Jerald Chan give you a chance by announcing that their pop duo will be disbanding once more in the near future. Their 2010 album brings together unabashedly syrupy sweet love songs with 80s style electronic music, and the result already makes us dread their future absence.






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Published December 24, 2010


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