The 100 Best Albums of 2022, Part 3
A ranking and review of the best Korean, Japanese, and Chinese albums released this year!
#50: MAX CHANGMIN, Devil
MAX CHANGMIN evokes the feeling of watching both movies and a live musical. One cinematic viewing option is the video for “Maniac,” a comedic and ironic presentation of MAX’s pleas for someone to leave him alone. Another option is “Devil,” a supernatural, spooky production set in the woods… The third viewing option: the compelling tale of “Fever,” a performance [that] started off 2022 on a literal high note. MAX CHANGMIN has a commanding presence with his voice alone, making all the dramatic visuals just a welcome bonus. Less dramatic delights are a part of this comeback too, like “Alien,” a cute song that compares falling in love to the mysteries surrounding an alien sighting. Devil is one showstopper of an album and is worthy of an eventual standing ovation (aka repackage!). Read more here!
#49: LOONA, Summer Special [Flip That]
This new chapter in the “LOONAverse” starts with a summer-ready instrumental, “The Journey.” LOONA then sing about this magical realm being malleable; the world is listeners’ oysters, so they can go ahead and “Flip That” however they please! On the smooth pop ballad “Need U,” LOONA explain how light is generated in the “LOONAverse”: togetherness. They say “You bring the light,” and if you hold their hands when they are “trapped in the dark night,” you can eventually watch the unveiling of a “whole universe [gushing] with sparkles”! Percussion and more attitude-laden verses come into the picture on “POSE,” in which they compare their circumstances to those of a movie star, making heads turn with their antics! They get deeper in “Pale Blue Dot,” which reflects on how small each human being really is in the grand scheme of the universe and how that smallness can feel belittling but does not have to (“A problem that only seemed big / If you look at it from afar, it’s smaller than a [grain of] sand”), and “Playback,” a sweet fan song that expresses LOONA’s wish for fans to continue to be a shining light on them. Summer Special [Flip That] is an adorable invitation to join the “LOONAverse,” a musical world where people can find comfort, connection, inspiration, and happy adventures! In short, the essence of LOONA is embodied perfectly through this album.
#48: CRAXY, Who Am I
“This wasn’t a dream. It was all real, and I’m standing right in the middle. Where should I go?... Who am I? I don’t know myself… I keep living in the dark. Tryna make myself bright… under the ground,” CRAXY say in the Who Am I intro. This inner monologue sets the scene well for the music video’s premise: CRAXY are “undercover goddesses,” suppressing who they have imagined they are to search for who they really are. In a dark, underground kingdom, they explore the dark and hidden recesses of their minds. However, their confident personas do not stay suppressed forever. They can’t help but declare themselves “queens of this jungle” on “LION,” for example. The danceable beats and explosive dance routines that accompany the songs on Who Am I solidify CRAXY’s fierce, unapologetic persona, but their desire to discover their true selves outside of that persona is a prevalent part of this comeback, too.
#47: P1Harmony, HARMONY : ZERO IN
The album is an engaging, versatile delight, with a blend of rock and folksier-sounding guitars in “Doom Du Doom,” fun chanting and intense rapping in “Black Hole,” a flute-driven bop in “Yes Man,” a jazzy vibe in “Swagger,” and the ultimate stunner: “Mirror Mirror,” which conveys a message of confidence and self-worth in the most vocally impressive way possible. The album ends with “Different Song For Me,” a guitar-based jam that ends things on a lighter note. Overall, HARMONY : ZERO IN has layers, each one worth appreciating and each one showing this group’s star power. Read more here!
#46: TRiDENT, D-X
This rock group’s latest gem is both sonically concise and far from dull. Although their lane remains more metal than pop-punk, they incorporate some details into their sound that are sure to please those who prefer the latter. Within the variety of rapid, high-intensity instrumentals are electronic twists in sprinkles, not spades. TRiDENT stay true to their in-your-face, headbang-worthy sound while staying exploratory. Standouts include “Signal” for its vocal variation and “DISCORD” for the guitars’ pivots and funky vocal filter. TRiDENT stay in the lane in which they excel the most while avoiding making carbon copies of their previous releases.
#45: FAKY, F
F is what girl group dreams are made of! There are brassy, celebratory tracks (“The Light,” “five+”), hard EDM beats (“NEW AGE,” “Futakoito”), classic “Girls’ Night Out” jams (“GIRLS GOTTA LIVE”), more subdued and emotional tracks (“half-moon,” “My Story”), pop songs with a Latin twist (“ANTIDOTE”), and unexpected pairings of these categories (“It’s a small world,” with its synth and string combination). F proves FAKY deserve an “A” in both catchiness and versatility.
#44: Xdinary Heroes, Hello, world!
This album combines a vast array of rock influences with ease; it is a cohesive and skip-free release that delights and impresses in equal measures. One key trait that helps this album stand out is its smart continuity. Their unique voices effortlessly switch volumes, paces, and tones at whim. The fluidity in their delivery allows them to tie together varied instrumentals with ease. The continuity is compounded by each song’s trajectory: the verses, choruses, and bridges do not sound disjointed at all. One piece of the song transitions into the next one without a jarring pivot; places where they raise or lower their voices or make other changes are quick and smooth. In short, the party is never interrupted! Read more here!
#43: DUSTCELL, Hypnotize
At a dizzying speed, DUSTCELL alternate between singing and rapping over layered, electro-pop instrumentals. Electric guitar riffs and strings in “Missing” make it a standout, and “Honey Bee” is equally memorable for its guitars and frenetic piano-playing. The catchiest elements of other songs are harder to isolate, like on “ID,” which includes buildup after buildup, leaving listeners guessing as to when the final peak of the suspense will be reached. An industrial sound guides “SANDBAG,” but the focus returns to electro-pop for the last two tracks. “Vagabond” is a great choice to conclude the album, with its instrumental-only moments and fun vocal filter. In many different ways throughout the album, DUSTCELL’s strong suits are accentuated.
#42: ZICO, Grown A** Kid
ZICO’s exciting return does not disappoint, and he maintains his typical levels of braggadocio and wit. The songs are on the same page when it comes to instrumental business, but they stand apart when it comes to more specific sonic influences. “Trash Talk” is a funky trap song, “SEOUL DRIFT” is a synth-focused number, and “Nocturnal animals” is an alt-R&B track. His range applies to the album’s accompanying visuals as well: he throws a dance party mid-apocalypse in “Freak” and rides his bike through futuristic surroundings in “SEOUL DRIFT.” This is as stark of a contrast as can be: “Freak” shows the future looking dystopian, and “SEOUL DRIFT” portrays the future as full of cool technology. ZICO visually contemplates two possible futures and expresses an attitude of “Either way, I don’t care, and I’m just going to enjoy living in the moment”!
#41: BoA, Forgive Me
In her thrilling and long-awaited return, BoA channels her inner pop-punk princess and gives fans what they have been waiting for and then some! The title track is an addictive blend of dark synths, top-tier vocals, and suspense-building raps. The multifaceted nature of the track is matched by the B-sides, especially the sassy, funky-bassline-fueled “ZIP” and the unique mix of moody and higher-tempo elements on “Sketch.” BoA mellows out by the end, going down the R&B route for “After Midnight” and ending with the guitar-focused “Hope,” but these songs are anything but let-downs. BoA proves with Forgive Me that her releases cannot be cleanly categorized, which is why she deserves her career longevity.
#40: NAYEON, IM NAYEON
NAYEON proves a sugary-sweet pop sound can be anything but boring, and she gives cheerful pop bops the shine they deserve… IM NAYEON is not all sunshine and rainbows, however: she experiments with her style on B-sides like the dramatic “SUNSET” and the moody “ALL OR NOTHING.” The can’t-miss B-side, however, is her collaboration with Stray Kids’ Felix, “NO PROBLEM.” NAYEON’s youthful, high-pitched voice works surprisingly well alongside the depth of Felix’s bassy one. IM NAYEON excels at showing the world who NAYEON is as a solo star, what she is capable of, and why her global acclaim is so well-deserved! Read more here!
#39: MARiA, Moments
She sings J-pop gem after J-pop gem, with her now-classic soundscape of bubblegum beats mixed with electronic flourishes and dashes of anime rock… The most memorable and loop-worthy tracks: “Think Over,” which sounds a bit like “Blinding Lights” by The Weeknd, “Star Rock,” which veers into dance-pop territory, the eclectic “Pray,” and the exciting collaboration with fellow icon luz, “Cafe Latte no Uta.” Read more here!
#38: KIHYUN, VOYAGER
In the “VOYAGER” music video… KIHYUN rocks out to a tale of falling in love and feeling free as a bird. On “, (COMMA),” he uses grammar as a metaphor for his relationship, pleading for his relationship to be a small reprieve (a comma) instead of an ending (a period) or a question mark. He pivots from a higher register on “, (COMMA)” to a lower one on “RAIN,” singing as if dark clouds have suddenly replaced the sunny, bright blue skies in his story. With newfound angst, he likens the feeling of missing a loved one to getting stuck in a downpour. Overall, KIHYUN covers an impressive array of emotions and musical styles in just three tracks, making VOYAGER an exciting indication that this is just the tip of the iceberg for his solo capabilities. Read more here!
#37: Red Velvet, ‘The ReVe Festival 2022 - Feel My Rhythm’
Red Velvet do not provide an equal, formulaic mix of comeback concepts. Rather, they merge concepts together in unpredictable, unconventional ways. “Feel My Rhythm” pairs a classical music sample with trap beats. “Rainbow Halo” centers angelic, high-pitched voices that are abruptly replaced with bold, dynamic deliveries on the track that follows it, “Beg For Me.” “Good, Bad, Ugly” mixes airy and deep layers. The ways in which Red Velvet prove they can switch things up on a dime throughout this album are endless. Read more here!
#36: HIM FAMILY, In the Name of the Moon
This compilation provides a worthy platform to a variety of talented artists. Beyond-impressive voices are combined with rich instrumental layers to create dramatic and detailed works of art. The songs start out unassuming, the go-to being a simple piano instrumental, but they build up to something much fuller and incorporate many more instruments than expected as they unfold. They take their time to reach their climaxes, making each song an unrushed, distinct story. Standouts include the rock ballad “The Rest of My Life” by GengSihan and “Winter Flashback” by Power Station, which showcases voices in very different registers in surprisingly pleasant ways.
#35: ONE OK ROCK, Luxury Disease
Luxury Disease is a typical ONE OK ROCK album in terms of its heavy guitar and drum emphases, but it stands out from previous releases for its personality. The band excels at channeling the highest highs and lowest lows of younger generations, as always, but they do so with a new degree of playfulness. Songs that ONE OK ROCK previously would have approached with more seriousness are now given a theatrical treatment. Standouts include “When They Turn the Lights On” and “Neon”… Overall, Luxury Disease is classically ONE OK ROCK, but with more moments of spontaneity than usual and a wider array of influences. Read more here!
#34: Solar, 容 : FACE
The Chinese character for Solar’s middle initial translates to “fresh face.” Although the inspiration for this album stems from something personal, Solar intentionally broadens the scope of her message. Rather than solely sing about self-love, she instead sings about the many shapes and forms in which beauty comes… Challenging restrictive beauty standards is a deep premise, but she keeps this album light and fun with her humorous lyrics and expressive voice… 容 : FACE is as vibrant of an album as the rainbow of colors she rocks in the “HONEY” music video, and Solar’s cheeky commentary keeps 容 : FACE from being too serious. Read more here!
#33: milet, Walkin’ In My Lane
As laid out in a previous essay, milet amazes with her vocal power. The rawness in her voice and the ways she makes it conform to a song’s message and mood is a chameleonic and astounding feat, and she shows off this talent yet again on these three tracks. In “Walkin’ In My Lane,” she pauses for a moment to allow for instruments to refind their places in the background, as if her silence is meant to remind them to file in line behind her. As if under her command, the piano stresses its presence when milet’s inflection beckons it to, such as when she says the “bye” in “goodbye.” The instruments act as team players with milet’s vocals, amplifying her literal voice in ways that also amplify her metaphorical one. “Love When I Cry” is another sonic journey, with bouncy synths and spaced-out snapping that slide away to let her voice ring more powerfully during the cavernous choruses. The heaviest feeling is saved for last, on “My Dreams Are Made of Hell,” but milet uses vocal commands to tuck moments of levity into its structure. She whispers “slower” to prompt the instruments to slow down, says “faster” to prompt them to speed up, ensures strings back up her vocals later on, and delivers some lines in a mischievous whisper, like “Christmas is coming.” Walkin’ In My Lane is a trifecta that proves milet’s dexterity at leaving a lasting impression and keeping listeners invested in her musical storytelling.
#32: 4s4ki, Killer in Neverland
Killer in Neverland is a hyperpop dream from start to finish. This eccentric artist, who brings to mind Grimes, electronifies her vocals and instrumentals in artful ways that create a futuristic atmosphere. There are some more down-the-middle J-pop songs, like “Bystander” and “BOUNCE DANCE,” but they are outnumbered by the songs with a vibe all her own. This vibe puts listeners at the center of the scenes. “SUCK MY LIFE3” leaves listeners feeling like they are listening to 4s4ki’s live performance from a room down the hall. “into the darkness” puts listeners in the middle of a haunting, ritualistic chant. “Sword of preemptive attack” leaves listeners fearing their phones are experiencing a major glitch! The unpredictable, untamable energy generated by 4s4ki’s music makes it worth remembering. Other standout songs include the punk-leaning “paranoia,” the BIBI-esque “ring ring, you kill me,” and the pre-released “LOG OUT,” a collaboration with the also-eclectic maeshima soshi.
#31: ATEEZ, THE WORLD EP.1 : MOVEMENT
There are many reasons to be impressed with ATEEZ’s newest album, but the biggest one is arguably the myriad of ways in which it circles back to previous releases. Sonically, they draw clear lines connecting “Outro : Long Journey'' to a new song, “Sector 1.” “Dear Diary: 2016.07.29” references July 29, which is the release date of their album… ATEEZ’s new album is both a tribute to their past work and a hint at their future chapters. It revisits some themes core to ATEEZ’s world - teamwork, youthfulness, adventurousness - in brand new ways, and that is a testament to their talent. Read more here!
#30: Dreamcatcher, [Apocalypse : Follow us]
Dreamcatcher continue to engage listeners with voices both high and low and moods both quiet and loud. The album features a techno/rock intro, the nu-metal “VISION,” the alt-rock “Fairytale,” and then a softer second half, with the emotional “Some Love” and the ballad “Rain Day.” The outro is gentle in contrast to the intro, effectively embodying their story’s evolution from sounding the alarm to finding relative peace with their situation. “VISION” and its music video convey the same warning as their last single, “MAISON,” about the dire state of the planet, but their message now comes across as less of a desperate plea and more of a determined declaration to change course. Read more here!
#29: Perfume, Plasma
“Plasma” sets up a one-of-a-kind mood, starting off the album with synths interrupted by dramatic drum beats and sinister whispers. Electric guitar riffs and high-pitched vocals carry “Time Warp (Version 1.1),” and the following tracks quicken the pace and add in more guitars. Things slow down relatively on “Flow” before entering full-on EDM territory with “Mugen Loop.” “Drive’n The Rain” brings a city-pop vibe into the picture, high-pitched vocals regain attention on “Hatenabito,” and “Android And” kicks the intensity of “Hatenabito” up a notch. Lastly, “Sayonara Plastic World” ends the album with a song fit for a movie’s ending credits. Listening to Plasma is a full-on experience, leaving pop music fans satisfied in every way. Read more here!
#28: PURPLE KISS, Geekyland
With mood-setting, layered instrumentals and haunting, compelling vocals, Geekyland sets the scene for storytelling on a dark and stormy night. Spooky and intriguing tales are bookended by a ghostly introduction and the sounds of a thunderstorm in the final song’s last moments. Beginning and concluding on somewhat-ominous notes suits the single’s prank-filled, magical music video. “Nerdy” is a mischievous delight, and the B-sides hold onto that quirky quality. PURPLE KISS ensure the audience remembers their raw talent too, by releasing the teaser medley for Geekyland a capella. Geekyland leaves a lasting impression both sonically and visually, solidifying this group’s worthiness of being called ones to watch. Read more here!
#27: RM, Indigo
Indigo is both a summary and an expansion of RM’s thoughts and feelings, an invitation to both gain clarity and learn something new about oneself. The reflection prompted by his deep songs comes from his equal prioritization of sharing his story and those of others. RM proves that sharing one’s story and passing the mic to others are not mutually exclusive; he speaks his truth and then gives listeners openings for applying those truths in their own ways. For example, “Wild Flower” is about RM’s desire to leave a fond and lasting legacy, rather than that of a firework, which burns brightly but only momentarily and leaves debris in its wake. This is an analogy for how RM feels about his fame, but it can apply to all kinds of people contemplating their impacts. Likewise, “No.2” is about RM’s determination to close this chapter of his life as he turns thirty, but the broader message about never looking back applies to all ages. Indigo is RM’s diary, but it leaves plenty of room for listeners to fill in the empty spaces. Indigo impresses on an instrumental level too. Old-school hip-hop songs that seem to repeatedly get quicker than the previous track are followed by a folk song with an intentionally-rough sound. This leads into a song with a quicker pace again, but this is followed by more drops in mood and speed. The last few songs stay at a lower tempo, focused on a city-pop sound, an acoustic guitar, and then a piano. Indigo narrates life’s inevitable ups and downs and takes listeners on that journey at a fittingly inconsistent rate. In sum, RM has created the perfect musical accompaniment for a life story.
#26: Novel Core, No Pressure
Time goes by in the blink of an eye while listening to this charismatic album with wide-ranging appeal. Addictive basslines are the foundation of earworms like “TROUBLE” and “BABEL.” Fans of WOODZ will love the guitar-based “No Pressure.” Synthesizer enthusiasts will revel in “JUST NOISE.” “HAPPY TEARS” is a road-trip-worthy, feel-good, piano-focused number. “Untitled” has the feel of a bonus track, separated from the rest of the release stylistically and format-wise by coming after a six-second skit. Each song is a loop-worthy gem for its own reasons, but the real crown jewel is “Imaginative Fantasista.” Backed by a jaunty guitar, Novel Core plays the role of a conductor in the music video, who instigates a flash mob of sorts in the middle of a stuffy dinner party. His ringleader role adds a dimension to the foot-tapping good time that “Imaginative Fantasista” already is on its own!
Read parts one and two below!
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