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Best Korean Albums of 2015

Written by YumCha! Editorial Team Tell a Friend

We've already counted down our favorite movies and TV dramas of the year. Now it's time for the music! Here are our picks for the top ten Korean albums of 2015.

After two very impressive releases last year, the Bangtan Boys upped their game in a big way with their third mini album, The Most Beautiful Moment in Life Pt. 1. Featuring, for the first time, contributions from every member in the production process, the album was a massive commercial success, selling more in Korea than both of the group's previous two mini-albums combined. More emotional and mature than their previous efforts, the album kicks off with a trio of songs (including mega-hit I Need U) that show off this new sensibility. In the second half of the album, though, the boys show they haven't fully embraced adulthood just yet, beckoning listeners back to the party with songs like "Dope" and "Fun Boys."

Many K-pop singers employ sexy concepts, but few actually explore sensuality and sexuality through music like the way Gain does. The Brown Eyed Girls member's fourth solo mini-album takes as its inspiration Hawwah (Eve), the first woman, and carries through the themes of temptation, free will and unabashed desire in all six tracks. Supported by BEG's usual producers Jo Young Chul and Lee Min Soo and lyricist Kim Eana, with contributions from Dok2, Jay Park, Mad Clown and Wheesung, the album's outstanding music production brings the compositions, lyrics and arrangements together perfectly with the overall theme. Each song carries its own vibe, from the jazzy coy of Apple to the alluring beats of "The First Temptation," and one would be hard-pressed to name another song as immediately sultry and impactful as "Paradise Lost."

Now four years into his career as a rapper, Just Music's Giriboy gained widespread attention in 2014 with his participation in Mnet's Show Me The Money 3. Soon after, he served as a mentor on Starship Entertainment's survival program No Mercy, which eventually launched Monsta X. Despite all of these commitments, the rapper still found the time to release his second full-length album in early 2015. Displaying a pop awareness that can only be described as masterful, Giriboy loads the album with gem after gem, from the intimate, sober and affecting "Take Care of You" to the dirty guitar licks of the swagger-tastic "How You Doin'."

It seems that every year Infinity Challenge manages to boost a lesser known artist up the charts, and this year's biggest beneficiary of the "Infinity Challenge effect" is Hyukoh. The public discovered the indie breakout band after their appearance on the popular variety program, and what a great discovery it is. Hyukoh's second EP is a mellow, melancholic record of evocative melodies laced with funky beats and ponderous lyrics about one's relationship with the world. From the uncannily uptempo Settled Down and "Comes and Goes" to the gently piercing Gondry and the positively haunting Hooka, 22 is a gem of an album, and frontman Oh Hyuk entrances with his distinctive vocals that dance between high-pitched and husky.

Since her start on Superstar K2, Jang Jane has consistently shown herself to be an above-average singer and songwriter, but with Liquid, she has achieved a new level of maturity, both in album production and in vocal performance. Her first release under Mystic Entertainment leaves behind all traces of the young, girlish sentimentality present in her previous albums and encompasses the listener with a moody sophistication through tracks like the emotive French folk number My Satellite and the daintily acoustic "Eat." Silky, stirring melodies blending acoustic, folk and jazz delivered in Jang's trademark voice basically make for the classiest-sounding coffee shop soundtrack you could ask for.

Last year, Lucid Fall left Seoul and moved to Jeju where he began a new life that included farming and reading to local elementary school students. Deeply influenced by the singer-songwriter's experiences over the past two years, Someone, Somewhere draws inspiration from fairy tales and nature, and multiple tracks on his seventh album are meant to serve as soundtrack for the children's book he wrote, Blue Lotus. While Lucid Fall's music has always tended towards acoustic and naturalistic, this album feels especially warm and wispy, with his signature gentle acoustic ballads accompanied by sprightly sprinklings of bossa nova, children's singing and whimsical storytelling.

SHINee's fun and frisky fourth album brings the group's artsy electronic-infused dance pop stylings to new groovy heights. The most musically rich, mature and consistent of SHINee's releases, the colorful album merrily blends genres and layers sounds and vocals to ear-catching yet harmonious effect. Odd's sensuous, shoulder-rolling deep house pop confection View and the repackage follow-up's funky, genre-mashing Married to the Music offer this year's best one-two punch of title songs. Quite a few of the side tracks, especially Odd Eye, Love Sick and Savior, could also easily rank amongst SHINee's best.

The consistently productive and creative Standing Egg released two eminently listenable mini-albums this year, Young in the spring and Inner in the winter. It's hard to choose between the two, but for the purposes of this list, we'll give the slight edge to the more introspective and emotional latter. From the wonderfully harmonized and oh-so-pluggable Nobody Knows and the pop bossa nova Sorry to the tender piano ballad Miss You and the uplifting guitar number Yell, the indie acoustic pop band's short and sweet EP is simply a comforting listen that both affects and delights from beginning to end.

Good things come to those who wait, and this year we finally got a solo album from Tae Yeon in the eighth year of her career. It's long been acknowledged that the Girls' Generation leader has one of the best voices in K-pop, and with this album, she shows with aplomb what she can do vocally and musically outside of an idol group context. The standout track of the album is title song I, an invigorating, empowering mid-tempo pop jam with a soaring chorus that ranks as one of the most memorable vocal performances of the year. She delivers reliably for the ballads, particularly the R&B number "Gemini," and the expressive, pop rock-flavored "Stress" is another musical style we'd love to hear more of from her.

Three years ago, Kim Jun Su made our top ten list on the force of Tarantallegra's pure epicness. This year, he outdoes himself with "Flower," a stunningly dramatic medium-tempo dance track with a grand, atmospheric arrangement that would be right at home as an RPG score. Tablo's lyrical rap offers the finishing touch for a track that represents pop theatricality at its best. Of course, Jun Su's flair for the dramatic works only because it's matched by his expressive vocal performance and musicality. Jun Su, who co-produced the album and penned many of its tracks, applies his impeccable vocals to songs as diverse as the urban electronic concoction Out of Control, the Broadway-style Musical in Life and soul-stirring ballads like "My Night" and "Breath of Love."

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Published December 29, 2015

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
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