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Best Chinese Albums of 2015

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

We end our year with our picks for the top ten Chinese albums of 2015!

Six years after the first Amit album, A-mei Chang returned to her alter ego this year, and she's even fiercer and more message-laden the second time around. Working with producer Adia and a strong team of songwriters, the Taiwan diva has crafted an explosive effort that draws you in with its dark tone, raw emotions and hard rock bent. Employing the full range of her powerful vocals, A-mei belts out anger and anguish as only she can in outspoken, impactful songs like the carnivalesque thrasher "Freak Show," the feminist outcry "Matriarchy," the combative metal fusion "What D'ya Want?" and the soul-baring piano ballad "High Maintenance." A few of the songs may borderline on bombastic, but this is undeniably the work of an artist who chooses to push beyond creative boundaries and explore new directions in her music.

As one of the very few bright lights amongst new-generation mainstream Cantopop artists, C Allstar stands out not only with their a cappella roots but also their propensity for grassroots stories and themes in their music, along with the obligatory love songs. Their 2015 album bears the tagline "Born here, raised here, lost here" – the Here being Hong Kong. The group waxes on the city they call home in songs like the self-reflective mid-tempo title track "Born Here," the pulsing electronic pop "City Anxiety, City Fear" and the silly yet so very on-point "Car Boarding Curse," which lampoons the average Hong Konger's tiring quest to own a car and apartment. Naturally, there are still touching ballads for karaoke crooners, including a duet with Gigi Leung and "Beyond Life and Death," the group's latest collaboration with "Love Stairs" lyricist Wendy Chung.

Chet Lam brings together two of his most frequent creative inspirations – travel and crossovers – for a superb collaboration album that features fellow Hong Kong indie luminaries like the pancakes, Subyub Lee and Supper Moment as well as more famous names in Ivana Wong, C AllStar and veteran Teresa Carpio. Besides varying his staple warm city folk compositions with arrangements that suit the guest artist, Chet playfully uses the duet format to write lyrics from the perspectives of the star-crossed Butterfly Lovers, Miss Chan Chan and her new student, chance friends on the road, and even "Sense" and "Sensibility." Also not to be missed is "Just Like a Girl," the solo he crafted for his sister Eman Lam, which challenges gender stereotypes placed upon women.

Ten years after Show You Colour, China's Godfather of Rock finally returns with a new album. Cui Jian is an essential listen for anyone interested in Chinese rock music, and his latest work shows that the 54-year-old legend still has much to offer. Notably, Frozen Light is less incisive, less frantic and much more approachable than his last two albums, which had taken his work in an increasingly experimental and esoteric direction. This album's growly amalgam of Chinese folk and rock feels closer to the sound of his earliest releases, but with better production. We hear a more mellow and measured but no less poignant Cui Jian in songs like "Won't Turn Back," "Rolling Ball" and "The Girl Outside," which layers echoing cries over guitar chords, sound distortions and traditional instrumentals.

After parting ways with his former bandmates in 2014, HUSH, who's worked with stars like A-mei, Lala Hsu and Stefanie Sun as a songwriter, broke out on his own as a singer-songwriter this year, releasing his solo debut EP and album in quick succession. His album, Monopoly, is a stunning work that beautifully demonstrates HUSH's prowess as a songwriter and a performer. Pulsing between indie rock and electronica, with surprising musical cues throughout, HUSH's songs touch on philosophy, human relationships, the cosmos and introspection, delivering a musical experience that is at once eye-openingly grand and deeply personal.

Chinese audiences discovered Li Jian anew this year thanks to his appearance on the competition program I Am A Singer 3, in which he demonstrated that singing well is not about bowling you over with a technical showcase but moving hearts with clear, emotive performances. Armed with a voice that melts in the ear, Li breathes new life to the songs he reinterprets – including The Crossing theme "If Love is Fated" for which he penned new lyrics – but he's the best when performing his own compositions. From the very first notes of opening track "Deep Sea Quest," the singer-songwriter's intimate sixth album wraps the listener into a soothing, soulful journey of warm folk numbers and lyrical ballads that harken back to simpler times.

It's taken over six years, but we've reached the end of Sodagreen's ambitious Vivaldi series that started back in 2009 with Daylight of Spring. Each installment draws inspiration from a different season and city, and this final winter chapter brought the Taiwan band to Berlin where they recorded live with the German Pops Orchestra. The orchestral arrangements elevate the band's characteristically grandiose pop rock ballads to a new level, with songs like "Violently Sad & Beautiful" and "Endless" soaring to the pinnacle of Sodagreen sound. Tsing Fong's trademark vocals and songwriting never fail to leave an impression, and the band's commitment to quality production is second to none.

It could be pouring rain outside, or snowing so much your entire town appears to have drowned in white, but to Won Fu, it's always summer. This year, the Taiwan band returned with their first album in two years, Papa I Want To Be A Star, right in the middle of the season of the sun. Playful as ever, Won Fu folds lullaby, surf rock, bossa nova, retro pop and more into their familiar power pop, creating what is essentially summer distilled into an album. Like the music, Won Fu's lyrics are delightfully jolly. From the album's namesake, written as a son's declaration to his father of his intention to become a singer, to a melodic lament of/ode to traffic jams, Won Fu takes the most ordinary happenings in life and turns them into exquisitely cheery tunes that let listeners experience a burst of summer, wherever they may be.

A good nine years passed between Taiwan singer-songwriter Summer Lei's last album and this one, and she has made the wait worthwhile. Just like the title says, the wispy, intricate sounds of this album are not easy to forget, and her experience scoring films is evident in the album's highly ambient quality. Lei's subtle blending of folk and electronic is masterful, as is her ability to tell stories through her calmingly gentle, feathery voice. Moving, reflective pieces like the piano- and strings-accompanied "Distant Drums" and "Rain Song" cleanse the soul, while the quietly epic "White Terror," which is inspired by her grandfather who was executed during the White Terror period before her mother was born, awakens stories untold.

Tanya Chua has always been particularly adept at conveying the suffocating feelings of anguish, loneliness and despondency that come with heartbreak and healing. She applies those same piercing emotions to broader themes and music styles in Aphasia, which probes the alienation between people. Working with an international production team, the singer-songwriter curls experimental electronica into earthy rock compositions to create standout tracks like the hauntingly psychedelic "Strange Species" and ethereal meditation "Best Way to Die." With Xiaohan penning lyrics for all ten tracks, the album resonates as a complete story and Chua especially adjusts her singing to a lower register to evoke the feeling of internal narration.

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Published December 31, 2015

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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