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Best Korean Albums of 2019

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

Our editors' picks for the ten best Korean albums of 2019!

AKMU - Sailing
Two years just passed in the blink of an eye. Though it's a pity that Su Hyun didn't release a solo album, fans must be relieved that Chan Hyuk is finally back from the army, and we got a full-length AKMU album! The brother-sister duo unexpectedly returns with the soft melancholic ballad "How Can I Love the Heartbreak, You're the One I Love." Unlike their usual upbeat tunes, the chart-topping title track delves into serious emotions and heartbreak. The melody is beautiful, but it's Su Hyun's clear and melodious voice that elevates the ballad to something beyond ordinary, especially in the last minute of the song. Beginning with the folkish "Chantey" and "Fish in the Water," Sailing slowly proceeds from calm music like the sweet and romantic "Moon" to band sounds in Freedom, "Should've Loved You More" and "Whale," and then closes the album with some soft music again. The harmonization in "Endless Dream, Good Night" and "Let's Take Time," as well as the acoustic guitar tune with Hareem's harmonica sounds in lullaby "Farewell," show how great their songs are even with simple instrumental arrangements. With ten masterpieces written by Chan Hyuk, AKMU's Sailing brings listeners on a journey of healing and relaxing.

Chung Ha - Flourishing
Chung Ha kicked off 2019 with her hit single "Gotta Go" and then developed her unique sound further in the fourth mini-album Flourishing. The soloist reaches new heights with this stylish album that includes the cool and addictive title single Snapping. Needless to say, Snapping is well-loved for its catchy melody, "snapping" hooks and, most importantly, Chung Ha's stage presence. The side tracks are also notable, including the Latin electronic pop hit Chica, the mid-tempo love tune Young In Love gifted by popular singer-songwriter Baek Ye Rin, and the self-composed English song Flourishing which shapes an even stronger and more independent image for Chung Ha. By participating more in the compositions of this album, Chung Ha totally shows that her talent knows no bounds, and that her creativity and artistry are yet to be completely discovered. If I.O.I was the first stage to making her name known, Flourishing is the phase to fully show her distinctive color, talents and possibilities as an all-rounded soloist.

Epik High - sleepless in __________
If you're dealing with insomnia, bless your sleepless nights with Epik High's captivating music in sleepless in __________. Carrying a total of seven tracks, the trio's urban hip-hop release brought them several year-end awards. True to the album title, sleepless in ___________ begins with a minute-long intro that resonates with questions like "Do you have trouble sleeping?" and "Do you feel down, depressed, hopeless?" as well as a dreamy melody that escorts listeners to another universe. Featuring the soulful vocals of Sunwoo Jung Ah, In Seoul further magnifies the desolate, lonely and isolated feelings of urbanites struggling to live in the big city. Lovedrunk (featuring Crush) sings woefully about being sleepless because of a broken heart, and it's depressing to the point that alcohol tastes sweeter than his life: "I try to erase you, like a fool, but everything's ruined… Maybe while I was erasing you, I have erased myself instead." There's also "Eternal Sunshine" (co-produced by BTS's Suga) about anxiety while chasing dreams, the English single No Different (featuring Yuna) about love, "Rain Again Tomorrow" about the irony of life, and Tablo's lovely and considerate Lullaby For A Cat. sleepless in __________ may not be an album that can brighten your day, but it's possibly the best album to resonate with your loneliest nights.

Jannabi - LEGEND
Indie band Jannabi successfully broke out this year with "For Lovers Who Hesitate" and several notable old hits like "Summer" and She. They channel 12 heartfelt stories about youth and life with their signature retro band music in Legend. The album includes their sleeper hit "For Lovers Who Hesitate" about letting go of a relationship, Together! about their gratitude to fans, joyful joyful about finding happiness in the simplest things, about a boy about family, Dolmaro about missing one's hometown, and the title single Legend about how important playing in a rock band is to the main vocalist. The band's compositions are never very complicated, but their music is always so lighthearted and peaceful that it helps relieve stress, especially with Choi Jung Hoon's husky voice singing along to the piano and guitar notes. Jannabi's Legend is sure to be one of their most legendary releases.

Kim Feel - yours, sincerely
Since his appearance on Superstar K6, Kim Feel has been well known for his unique tone, and his musical talent was recently brought to light again via Begin Again 3. The singer-producer and skilled guitarist is an ace at writing songs with rich layers of instruments, like the blend of violin, electronic guitar, drum and hi-hat sounds in the alternative rock number Still You. From the album's very first second, opening track Black elicits goosebumps with its dark ambience and immersive sound, as well as Kim Feel's calm vocals soulfully crooning about loneliness. His low and throaty voice carries a sorrowful vibe that naturally suits with blues and melancholic tunes like Dreamer, "Excuses," " Deprivation," Beautiful Scar and Pray. Though the song arrangements sound similar, every song in yours, sincerely feels like a movie scene, complete with all the ups and downs, climax and ending. Kim Feel's music hits you right in the feels.

Monsta X - FOLLOW: Find You
2019 was a big year for Monsta X that saw the group stand on various world stages and reach a bigger audience globally. The enormous love and fanfare they received did not slow them down, and instead made them more ambitious with their music. In October, Monsta X came back with seventh mini-album Follow: Find You, which features their signature powerful sounds while also broadening their musicality. Unlike their previous future pop hits Alligator and Shoot Out, the EDM title song Follow is distinctly different for its strong moombahton beats in the catchy chorus, I.M and Joohoney's addictive "tiki-taka" lines and Ki Hyun's effortless hitting of high notes – not to mention their attractive modern hanbok stage outfits. Of course, the members again took part in writing the side tracks, including the sexy urban R&B pop song Monsta Truck, soulful R&B trap U R, the groovy hip-hop number Disaster, the fiery Burn It Up, the dreamy and sentimental Mirror and the sad but beautiful See You Again. Music and concept wise, Follow: Find You is possibly the best of Monsta X's discography so far.

NCT Dream - We Boom
From joyfully singing bubblegum pop about first love to criticizing society with hip-hop plugs, NCT Dream has gone through quite a transformation in three years. If Go from NCT 2018 Empathy was a sneak peek of their maturity, then We Boom is officially the chapter where the boys turn into men, a change reflected both musically and stylistically. Boom is definitely one of the most stylish and unique songs ever released by the group. The melodious pre-chorus, where it goes "The kid who used to dance innocently / Now smiles and sets your heart on fire," wittily conveys the subunit's growth in the lyrics. We Boom begins with the strong and powerful beats of Boom and rhythmical hip-hop numbers Stronger and 119, and then proceeds to refreshing, emotional tunes like "Bye My First…", Best Friend and Dream Run. With Renjun, Jeno, Hae Chan and Jae Min graduating next year, NCT Dream is about to face another huge transformation, but the boys will do well no matter what units and positions they're in!

Red Velvet - 'The ReVe Festival' Finale
What's fun about stanning certain K-pop groups is the endless analysis of theories and concepts from comeback to comeback – and Red Velvet is one of those groups. Who would have thought that their jolly festival-themed album series would end in such a gloomy way? With the members dressed as brides in B&W pictorials? Beyond the debate around the theme of The ReVe Festival 'Finale', Red Velvet once again proves that they're still strong in the game with their refreshing music. Seul Gi and Wendy's falsettos, the whispers of "psycho," the catchy melody, the girls' vocals – there is nothing you can nitpick about Psycho! Along with their summer hit Zimzalabim, the underrated "Umpah Umpah" and notable side tracks like Sunny Side Up!, "Carpool," Love Is The Way, In & Out and La Rouge, the full-length album compiles 16 songs credited to familiar names like Kenzie, Caesar & Loui, Ryan Jhun, Andreas Öberg and Moonshine. From the fantasy-like festival in Day 1, to the splendid musical in Day 2, to the mysterious and creepy Finale, this album is a perfect wrap-up to their ambitious project that spanned over half a year and showcases both their "Red" and "Velvet" sides!

Twice - Feel Special
Cheerful, lovely, energetic are the words we usually use to describe Twice, but they are not the sweethearts who only sing about first crush anymore! Since Fancy, Twice has been going for a more mature style with their chic music and flashy stage outfits. The title track Feel Special specially shares their gratitude to fans. Composed by JYP, the "Miami house" number brings a retro music vibe, in addition to sparkly, tinkling sounds that remind you of the shimmery album cover. The album's lyrics also show the group's growth and efforts to make a positive influence – Na Yeon's Rainbow encourages all of us to keep our chin up and go our own way. Ji Hyo, Da Hyun and Momo also took part in penning three side tracks, and all nine members took charge of writing their fan song 21:29. Feel Special is a work that shows Twice's development not only as singers, but also as potential songwriters and leaders in K-pop.

Winner - CROSS
After years of exploring tropical house, trap and EDM, Winner unexpectedly came back with third mini-album Cross. Though reception for the somber and dark plug SOSO was just so-so, the album's side tracks are just too good to be overlooked. Winner brings listeners on an emotional rollercoaster ride in Cross. It goes into a serious breakdown after breakup in the hip-hop dance number SOSO, and then describes a supportive partner that resembles the existence of fans in OMG. The record proceeds with the upbeat and funky dance song Dress Up, Seung Hoon's swingy and addictive Latin hip-hop solo track Flamenco, Seung Yoon's rhythmical dance number "Wind," and Mino's groovy chill R&B "Don't Be Shy" that foreshadows the embracing of a new love. From splitting up to welcoming a brand new relationship, Cross delves into the process of romantic love through various types of hip-hop dance music.

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Published December 27, 2019

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