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Best Chinese Albums of 2017

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the best Chinese albums of 2017!

When a song touches us, is it because we're listening to the song, or because we're listening to our own story? A-Mei Chang shares our stories of hurt and heartbreak in a deeply felt album of minimally adorned love songs. Written and composed by Eve Ai, the opening title song "Story Thief" sets the tone and theme for the album with a piano-accompanied ballad carried by the diva's strong and emotive voice. While "Story Thief" conveys an abstract sense of loss, other songs tell rawly relatable stories, like the Jay Chou-composed second plug "Full Name," with Ge Dai Wai's lyrics about not being able get over someone even after many years and other relationships have passed, and the Xiao Hei-penned acoustic guitar melody "Bad Good Person," which declares "I'm willing to wait a bit longer for a bad good person." A-Mei also leans to her rock and alternative side in the drowsy Showan-composed "Pretending to be Drunk" and her outspoken collaborations with rapper E-So ("Whatever") and singers Eve Ai and LaLa Hsu ("Proud").

Eschewing their socially relevant music style, C AllStar unexpectedly enters the realm of love ballads in the first release of their farewell project Loveaholic. Dealing with familiar topics like sweet romance, unrequited love, bromance and separation, the quartet revamps the hackneyed image of Cantopop love songs both musically and lyrically. The retro R&B song "Moment of Love" evokes an intensely romantic mood through the 90s-style guitar-accompanied melody and the nostalgic lyrical style. The group sings in Bee Gees-esque falsetto to exhibit their versatile vocal skills in the 70s R&B-inspired "Affectionate Voice," a funny song about a low-pitched man whose vocals turn into Pikachu's lovely voice after falling in love. Along with Wyman Wong's sophisticated lyrics, C AllStar beautifully portrays a warm yet ambiguous male friendship with their tender vocal harmony in the sentimental "Bromance."

Charmaine Fong developed her socially reflective genre through a series of resonant songs, such as Lady Copy about blind trend followers and "I Like You," which depicts the social phenomenon of people getting obsessed with the pleasure of getting likes on social media. In the EP My Spiritual Life, the singer-songwriter continues to inspire reflection on different social problems in Hong Kong. Charmaine calmly sings about annoying social circumstances through her carefree music. Backed by a cool electric guitar melody, the groovy rock jam Let's Say exposes the misery of those who sacrifice their happiness for a place to live. The singer also criticizes a distorted society filled with unreasonable Common Sense in the head-nodding guitar-driven R&B song. Creating a suffocating atmosphere, the eerie string tune in the mysterious UWILC conveys bitter frustrations with the city, which deters people from fulfilling their dreams.

The Chinese ("Right Brain") and English (Right Now) titles of Cosmos People's fourth album convey the theme of living and creating in the now using the intuition and emotions of the right brain. The Taiwan band's right brain is apparently moving them farther away from their original funk sound, and at the same time guiding them to try new things for this album, including rap and 80s synth and electronica. The album begins with the stirring and soul-searching "Let Me Go," whose moving music video deserves a special mention, and then jumps into a wonderfully varied range of relaxed bops and ballads. The band unleashes cheeky lyrics, funky basslines and irreverent energy for "Hello Princess," the laments of a disgruntled boyfriend who has had enough, and BonBonBonBon, the laments of students facing exam pressure. Meanwhile, medium-tempo love songs like "Summer Festival" and "That's the Way I Love" underline sweet melodies with light beats and pure sentiments, and "Brainstoning" encapsulates the band's fusion of funk and retro synth. "Our Bizarre Adventure" ends the album with a spirit-freeing anthem that feels like a reassuring and rousing response to the heavy-hearted opening song.

After the disbandment of indie rock band Iguband, vocalist Chen Huang (formerly known as Chen Hsiu Tse) and keyboardist Chao Miu returned as electronic duo FragileGirls in 2017. While keeping their unique vintage taste, the duo brings a strong futuristic flavor to their sensual cocktail of city pop, disco, nu-wave, R&B, house and trap styles. Singing in his androgynous and depressing vocals, Chen Huang guides people to confront their vulnerability to painful pasts and cruel reality through different woeful songs. Covering the topic of dream, Go! FragileGirls! provides a brighter sound compared to their previous releases. The album focuses on the confusion and uncertainty before finding a direction in life. "Dream Girls" takes a playful approach to the dispiriting story of a girl who struggles to find her dreams. Embellished with spiraling synth effects, the addictively dreamy tunes in "I Don't Like Your _ _" create a self-indulgent space for those who get lost in their dream-chasing journey. The album's lonely mood is shattered in the cool rock jam "Loneliness That Is Not Worth Mentioning," which explores the beauty and value of life.

Ivana Wong is a poetic musician, while Hins Cheung is an expressive storyteller. The two singer-songwriters bring their musical colors to each other's songs in their first collaborative EP The Whimsical Voyage. Ivana retells the story of Hins's autobiographical My Way in her soothing bossa nova cover, which comforts those struggling with unknown futures through the calm piano and compelling bluesy guitar tune. On the other hand, the songstress shows a mysterious and dark side in her moody remake of Hins's massive hit "Ardently Love." Hins doesn't make many changes to Ivana's songs, but he exudes infectious storytelling charm in his evocative reinterpretations. The singer brings out the hidden sentiments of the regretful love tale in "Love You Next Time" and the bittersweet "Good Timing" about re-embarking on a new love journey.

In recent years, both Hong Kong listeners and musicians have turned away from Cantopop in favor of more popular music from Taiwan and mainland China. To discard the dull image of ballad-driven Hong Kong music, Jan Lamb injects elements of rock and jazz into his music in the album Size 9, which sends messages of hope and encouragement to those striving to cope with the city's stressful lifestyle. The yearning "Cantopop" recalls Cantopop's heyday with different references to Jenny Tseng's 1978 classic "Fight," which marks the peak of Cantopop music. The singer-songwriter also pays tribute to renowned local bands in the stirring rock ballad "Today I," which reminds people of their initial dreams of pursuing freedom. The album's rock tone turns jazzy in the relaxing bicycle song "Y.F. Express" and "Size 9," which tell listeners to enjoy life and cherish their loved ones.

Mainstream music is safe because most people love it. However, when singers fail to bring something new to the table, fans will get bored and gradually lose interest in their music. Janice Vidal is well aware of this dilemma. During her ten years under Leon Lai's label A Music, her well-liked pop ballad style brought her to stardom but it also deterred her from achieving greater success. Now under Warner Music, the singer unlocks her vocal potential and further expands her music landscape in the thematically rich comeback album Love and Other Stories, which includes not just love tales but also her innermost thoughts. "Butterfly" uses attractive guitar-driven soft rock and R&B sounds to show Janice's strong determination to make a change. The melancholic "Wounded," the cool R&B-inspired "Enemy" and the carefree neo soul-style "Frames" together form an accurate view of a woman's psychological journey from sorrow and disdain to contentment.

In May, Li Ronghao surprised Mandopop fans with the titular first single off his fourth album, En, a throwback rock anthem to youth rebellion that diverges from the ballads he is known for. The catchy song leads the way for his expanded repertoire of plugs that apply different styles to his characteristic compositions. The singer-songwriter fuses traditional Chinese music and electronic in Peking Opera homage Qun Zi and game theme song Hou Yi, the latter of which sounds especially different from anything else he has released. He opts for a softer folksy sound for the wistful "Teenager," which uses a cappella vocals for the opening and backing, and for "Ballad," which recalls bittersweet memories of leaving home and the melodies of childhood songs that bring you back home. While still consisting primarily of ballads, En sees Li Ronghao moving away from karaoke-friendly beats and arrangements as he changes up his sound without losing his original tone.

Xiao Yu's first album in five years is his best yet. Fusing R&B, alternative, electronic and pop, the underrated Taiwan singer-songwriter shows an increased maturity and evolved style in his album production, themes and sound, particularly the song and vocal arrangements. While the album still has the spry love songs that would suit idol drama themes, overall With You is anguished, ambient and meditative, as evident in the moody melody and layered sounds of the title song "With You" and the self-reflective musings of "Ideal World," "Original You" and the epicly arranged "What About Me?" The album's arrangements often reverse expectations, like "Habitual Love" which transitions from a gentle piano ballad to a beat-laced melody, and Xiao Yu has refined his vocal performance, toning down the runs and vibrato to suit the different styles. Besides composing all the songs and planning the arrangements, Xiao Yu co-wrote the lyrics for the album's most impactful song "It Ain't Easy," a piercing response to the random murder of a young child in 2016 that shocked Taiwan.

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Published December 28, 2017

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