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Best Korean Albums of 2016

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

We've already written about our favorite movies and dramas of 2016. Now here are our picks for the best Korean albums of the year!

The Barberettes bring smiles to faces in a way that few musical acts can. For their second album, the doo-wop trio has upgraded production and modernized their sound a bit without changing their irresistible signature of barbershop music-inspired retro pop. With harmonized clap-along confections like the wonderfully sweet Like I Do and the funky Love Shoes, slinky lounge numbers like piano ballad "If You Love Me" and the retro soul Gentleman, and warm pieces like the acoustic folk song "Sailor" and the encouraging I'll Be Your Friend, this winsome album is made of sugar and spice and all things nice.

Four years since his debut track Red Dress, R&B singer-songwriter Crush returns to a psychedelic vibe with Interlude.The title song Woo Ah is an example of the singer's efforts to combine mainstream R&B and the rather experimental future bass. He also expresses his complex feelings about his future music journey through the joyful intro track In the Air which invites listeners into a thrilling music adventure, the serious 9 to 5 about his strong determination to set forth on a challenging journey, and the hopeful Castaway featuring singer-songwriter Miso.

R&B artist Dean turns the K-pop scene upside down with his idiosyncratic debut 130 mood: TRBL. Blended with 90s R&B, hip-hop, EDM, garage and indie rock, the future R&B-based album may be too novel to be widely accepted but it is a pioneering release introducing a new music genre to the mainstream K-pop world. The album narrates a love story in flashback and vividly depicts the psychological changes of the protagonist through seven songs, including the eerie Bonnie & Clyde about a dangerous love that leads to self-destruction, the bittersweet What2Do featuring Crush and Jeff Bernat, and the falsetto-filled 21 which expresses the excitement of meeting a mystical, cold 21-year-old girl.

Rappers usually show their discontent through defiant lyrics and aggressive tunes. However, Unpretty Rapstar 2's Heize voices her exasperation in a rather soothing way. Despite her resentful lyrics about a past love and determination to continue her music career, Heize comforts hearts with her sweet vocals and healing melodies in the acoustic guitar-driven Underwater and No Way. The rapper also succeeds in widening her musical spectrum with the future R&B-style And July and Shut Up & Groove composed by Dean. Easily transitioning between singing and rapping, Heize impresses listeners with her unexpectedly good singing skill and unique comforting rap style.

NU'EST has struggled to maintain high popularity since their impressive debut with Face. However, they have found a new musical direction in Canvas that distinguishes them from the usual idol dance-pop style. The title track Love Paint conveys great aesthetic pleasure with its beautiful metaphors. Focusing on the theme of 24 hours, the album successfully creates the tranquility before dawn in the soul and R&B ballad Daybreak and visualizes an energetic morning in the funky neo-soul jam R.L.T.L.

Park Hyo Shin kept us waiting for a while, but he finally returned this year with his first album in six years. The singer-songwriter is best known for goosebump-inducing ballads that reach into the crevices of your soul, and those are certainly present and accounted for with the heartrending piano ballads "Breath" and Beautiful Tomorrow. I am a Dreamer's warm and versatile repertoire, however, goes beyond ballads to the reverberating chords and soaring vocals of alternative numbers Home and The Dreamer, the laidback rock vibe and vocal runs of Li La, and the funky melody and silky falsetto of Wonderland.

After the bold The Red and the classy The Velvet, Red Velvet finally combines their dual concepts in their third mini-album Russian Roulette. Exhibiting both the group's funky and velvety sides, the title number "Russian Roulette" is an exemplary track that best encapsulates the "Red Velvet" spirit. Though the album features various styles such as retro pop, dance, new jill swing, country, tropical house and R&B, the songs are well connected thanks to their consistently playful moods.

Sam Kim successfully turned classic songs into his own on K-pop Star 3 and eventually won second place in the competition. After two years of training under You Hee Yeol's Antenna Music, the young singer-songwriter exudes his musical charms again with his debut release I Am Sam, which shows his significantly improved singing skills. Despite his husky vocals, the singer can now effortlessly hit high notes and sing in angelic falsetto, which are especially remarkable in the sentimental Seattle about nostalgia for his hometown. Apart from the title jam "No Sense," the genre-inclusive singer also exhibits his R&B style in soothing tracks like Touch My Body and Mama Don't Worry, as well as the EDM number Dance.

SHINEE - 1 OF 1 / 1 AND 1
SHINee launches a new synth wave while evoking nostalgia in the innovative 1 of 1, which creates a unique retro style with a modernized twist. Featuring a contemporary smooth R&B tune, the funky, beautifully harmonized title dance jam 1 of 1 brings back the vibe of new jack swing, which was popular in the late 80s and the early 90s. The composers' awesome music arrangement skills are also demonstrated in Prism and U Need Me, both of which show smooth transitions between contrasting styles.

Serving as vocal trainers and demo singers before their debut, Mamamoo's brother group Vromance exceeds other newcomers with their professional singing skills. Hailed as the next 2AM and Noel, Vromance takes on a jazzy R&B style that makes them stand out from the crowd of ballad-style vocal groups. Despite the lack of a bass vocalist, the rookie group successfully establishes a distinctive harmonization style that creates various catchy hooks for songs like the groovy intro track Introduction, the swing-rhythm title number "She" and their mysterious rendition of Street Poets' 1999 classic "Bing."

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Published December 23, 2016

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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