The 100 Best Albums of 2022, Part 2
A ranking and review of the best Korean, Japanese, and Chinese albums released this year!
#75: Reol, COLORED DISC
The warp-speed “SCORPION” and “Parade of flocking emotion” are predictable electro-pop delights. “Parade of flocking emotion” ends the EP with a confounding but enjoyable parade of sounds that brings to mind an alien invasion! COLORED DISC proves that Reol’s still got it, “it” being both the rapid pop sound at which she excels and innumerable tricks still up her sleeves! Read more here!
#74: HyunA, Nabillera
From singing about being “fly like a butterfly” on “Nabillera” to being someone’s ultimate muse on “Picasso & Fernande Olivier,” HyunA remains a colorful character with confidence in spades. On the other hand, HyunA opens up about the fear of being alone on “Watch Me” and struggling to move on from someone on “Bad Dog.” However, she frees herself from her fears by reminding herself of her irreplaceability. She tells herself she deserves to live a carefree, spontaneous life in “whatever” and strikes many fierce poses while wearing attention-grabbing looks in the video for “Nabillera.” HyunA admits to having some vulnerabilities, but she challenges self-doubts head-on and makes her fierce, unapologetic persona feel more authentic by doing so. In other words, Nabillera allows HyunA to prove she is the confident icon fans know and love by showing how human and multifaceted she is. She shows how she is so much more than an archetype. She admits she sometimes gets insecure but refuses to let insecurities consume her, and the lyrics most emblematic of that are her references to her previous hit songs. For example, on the title track, she references “Red” and “Bubble Pop!”: “Left a message with my red lipstick / I see a bubble, then I pop it with my edge”!
#73: [Alexandros], But wait. Cats?
This house party soundtrack moves at a breakneck pace, breezing through diary-entry-esque lyrics without taking time to linger on them. Rather than psychoanalyze their sorrows, [Alexandros] opt to just see the bright side of the things that frustrate them! They prioritize fun over introspection, although the release is still substantive thanks to its visual companion. The “we are still kids & stray cats” lyric video features a man with a TV for a face, fearful cats, and lyrics that appear at times vertically and at other times horizontally across the screen. The viewing experience is discombobulating on purpose, leaving viewers feeling as confused as the cats look! A lot about this visual is up to interpretation: are viewers meant to see themselves represented by the cats, by the TV-headed person, or by both of them!? Why are stray cats and kids comparable?! What does the person with a TV in lieu of a face mean!? The ambiguous meaning of this release keeps it as engaging as it is high-speed. But wait. Cats? is a great J-rock album that uses silliness to get across its thought-provoking ideas.
#72: LiSA, LANDER
LiSA continues to deliver rapidly-paced anime rock, but this time with a new degree of lyrical depth. She reflects on her past decade both professionally and personally, reflecting on pain and confusion on slower songs and the good times on the faster ones (which make up the bulk of the album, on par with her image as an eternal optimist!). LANDER is not just a conversation with herself, though. She takes the advice she’s received over the years and makes it applicable to others’ experiences… Because LANDER compiles OSTs, pre-releases, and brand new material, it is not so much a diary as it is a scrapbook. It carries many personal moods and memories, but it also shines light on the stories and feelings of those LiSA has met on her journey. Whether people LiSA has met in real life or animated characters who have resonated with her, LiSA pays tribute to where she is coming from and who has helped her go from there. Overall, LANDER paints a satisfying full picture of the past, present, and future LiSA. Read more here!
#71: lLLBOI, Meantime
Meantime makes its meandering nature intriguing instead of messy. lLLBOI sings and raps at a variety of speeds and in a variety of tones while dabbling with an instrumental variety and letting what the next song will sound like stay anyone’s guess… [H]is somewhat-conceptual album defies categorization. Particularly creative moments that add to Meantime’s amusing, unpredictable nature include “Was It a Cat I Saw” and “Was It a Cat I Saw?,” the former played forwards and the latter played in reverse. lLLBOI’s work is at times indescribable and an acquired taste, but it is vastly entertaining and worth a listen!
#70: KIM WOO SEOK, 3RD DESIRE [Reve]
The album starts with “Ghostin’,” a bass-driven song with a Latin melody line and road-trip-worthy status. This is meant to be a continuation of a previous song, “Next.”... The title track, “Switch,” is meant to mimic the feel of “swimming in [a] dream,” which makes sense given the ways its speed changes. Like ocean waves that repeatedly rush forward and recede, a slow, dramatic showcase of KIM WOO SEOK’s vocals transitions into a bouncy, faster chorus, complete with some guitar riffs for extra memorableness… “What More Can I Do?”... is a sweet and sentimental song that makes for easy listening... “Shame” is a slow-tempo, R&B song… Its movie-ready quality is a testament to KIM WOO SEOK’s new level of vocal maturity and range. Next is a piano and string-led ballad, “When spring comes.”... Guitar sounds return for the final track, “Satisfied,” which is a summery song that is aptly titled for this greed-themed trilogy’s finale… Although this chapter might be over in KIM WOO SEOK’s musical journey, the next chapter will surely excite as much as this one. Read more here!
#69: KANGDANIEL, The Story : RETOLD
KANGDANIEL summarized this album perfectly in an interview, saying that his previous releases feature him as the main protagonist, and now he plays the narrator… He has transitioned out of the “main character” role and now has an omniscient one, telling listeners a series of short stories. This new-to-him approach to storytelling is intentional. KANGDANIEL feels like he has shared enough of his story with fans, and now it is time to listen… As KANGDANIEL’s “Color Trilogy,” progresses, the albums’ content grows darker and more mature. Post-Yellow, The Story’s relative lightness makes sense. Yellow contains the message that it is always the darkest before dawn, and The Story is that dawn… He has emerged from Yellow with a newfound confidence that he can take on the world and a sense of responsibility to hold listeners’ hands as they now try to follow in his footsteps. While KANGDANIEL does not sing about having everything figured out, he now sings about having the courage and trust in himself to try, and he uses lessons from his journey inwards to show how replicable his path is. Overall, The Story is aptly titled, encapsulating universally relatable themes in a way that is an interesting pivot from his past releases. Read more here!
#68: CHUNG HA, Bare&Rare, Pt. 1
CHUNG HA smartly opts to give listeners a little bit of everything in one release, as opposed to reserving just one specific type of song for part one. She pivots between dramatic, sultry vocals on songs like “XXXX” and “Crazy Like You” and dreamy synth-pop songs like “California Dream” and “Sparkling.” “Good Night My Princess” is another standout, both in terms of its stunning vocal performance and its personal nature, having been written by CHUNG HA as an ode to her mother. “Nuh-Uh” leaves the album on a mysterious note, giving Bare&Rare, Pt. 1 some cohesion by ending on a similar note to that of “XXXX.” Read more here!
#67: Red Velvet, ‘The ReVe Festival 2022 - Birthday’
On “Birthday,” they once again pair a classical music sample (George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”) with trap beats and other more modern elements. The B-sides contain unique mixtures of strings and synths, of boldness and sweetness, of sharp edges and warm embraces. Each new Red Velvet track is both sweet and sassy, making their dual roles in the “Birthday” music video fitting. Read more here!
#66: MAMAMOO, MIC ON
The group’s exciting reunion brings back their “Egotistic”-era sound, includes lyrical references day-one fans will appreciate, and is overall the triumphant comeback fans deserve! The title track, “ILLELLA,” refers to making a scene, and they certainly do! The layered, Reggaeton-influenced track is as fun as their eye-catching wardrobe is in its music video. MAMAMOO cheekily reference their group hiatus and their desire to make up for lost time, as they sing about wasting no more time playing coy before hanging out with someone under the “starry night” sky (a nod to a previous single’s title). MAMAMOO jump right back into their groove with this perfect-for-them title track, and the MAMAMOO-specific references in the B-sides reinforce the fact no other group could pull off this release as well!
#65: P1Harmony, HARMONY : SET IN
P1Harmony solidify their trademark mix of wholesomeness and attitude through HARMONY : SET IN. The album is centered around the theme of finding a sense of harmony through friendship, but the group proves this focus does not need to be mutually exclusive from a confident, headfirst approach to life. While singing about being better together, they also sing about a refusal to “Back Down,” a refusal to let fear win or let any force divide them. P1Harmony’s meaningful songs speak to the paradox of how becoming one’s own person can lead to a stronger collective. The group’s signature hip-hop-rooted sound fits well with this message, as does the “Back Down” music video, which takes place in their superhero music video world.
#64: eill, Palette
Palette is aptly titled, as it shows eill’s many musical colors. The album pairs a handful of pre-release singles with some brand new songs, and some of the first songs on the tracklist are the pre-release songs. This is a smart move; after listeners settle into a listening experience with comforting familiarity, they are introduced to the new material. The standout new track is “Tada no Gyaru,” a surprise for its hip-hop style. Elsewhere, eill alternates between songs with a doo-wop flair and rock-adjacent tunes.
#63: Yerin, ARIA
Following a piano introduction fit for a Pixar film (“Intro : Bloom”), ARIA tells stories of self-love and becoming the main character of one’s own life story. Former GFRIEND member Yerin tells sweet, endearing stories about her newfound confidence… [S]he sings about finding her own true colors and letting them shine in “ARIA.” “Believer” cutely describes turning nerves into excitement about taking a risk and no longer hiding any side of oneself. “Lalala” is about falling in love and likens the sensation to flowers blooming. Lastly, on the ballad, “Time,” she sifts through memories of a past relationship and puzzles over which ones to discard and which ones to remember fondly. Although self-love is the focus of ARIA, it also addresses loving others. Regardless of who is being loved, the songs relate to one another by always conveying a sense of wonder and joy at feeling love in the first place. An embrace of love and life is at the core of ARIA. ARIA, both visually and metaphorically, illustrates how bright and full life can feel if one is not afraid to show one’s true colors to the world and to fall in love without fear. Read more here!
#62: Nana Ouyang, Live Today
Live Today is a primarily acoustic, dream-pop mood that stands out for its narrative choices. Although pre-release singles are a part of the album, new listeners would not even know it; the singles fit seamlessly into the tracklist, like final puzzle pieces. The tracks are meant to be listened to in order, starting with an alarm clock (in “Ringtone”) and ending with a “Bedtime Story” and a similarly-themed outro, “Nocturne.” Live Today, naturally, walks listeners through a day’s worth of thoughts and feelings. It is a commendable auditory walk-through for not just its seamless transitions, but for the subtler details. Birds chirping, bed sheets rustling… listeners get to hear the story of Live Today in the most realistic way possible. The release of concept albums is not as frequent as it used to be, and Nana Ouyang makes the case for why that trend ought to be reversed!
#61: JO YURI, Op.22 Y-Waltz : in Major
Dashes of sass and seriousness keep this album from being oversaturated with sugary sweetness! The title track, “Love Shhh!,” is meant to mean both “Shhh!” and the similar-sounding expletive. JO YURI sings about not wanting to talk about a romance, and this hesitancy to kiss and tell can be interpreted in two different ways. She might not want to open up because the relationship was full of “Shhh!” On the other hand, it might be such a special memory that she wants to keep the details private, just between the two of them. This album is able to resonate with different listeners in different ways, depending on what circumstances they relate to more. Lucky-in-love listeners can happily dance along to “Love Shhh!,” feeling on top of the world. They can similarly feel jovial listening to the whistle-filled “Rolla Skates.” On the other hand, listeners looking for solace through music post-breakup can appreciate wallowing in their emotions when listening to songs like “This Time” and trying to find comfort in the “waltz” about which JO YURI sings. JO YURI is “waltzing” into a new stage of life that is lighter and happier post-relationship, and listeners who can relate can take comfort in this album’s proof that post-breakup pain is more temporary than it feels.
#60: The Rose, HEAL
With HEAL, The Rose prove that a triumphant return can take many forms. Instead of metaphorical bells and whistles, they let their guards down and opt for a soft-rock pivot. HEAL is more vulnerable and raw than any of their previous releases, and the sense they have been relieved of previous creative restrictions is clear. They admit to their sense of loneliness and insecurities in “Definition of ugly is,” the parts of their relationships in need of repair in “Cure,” and the fact the road to healing is a long one in “Time.” Elsewhere on the album, they advise themselves to not let dark aspects of their past cloud their memories of the good times, confess to listeners that the need for consolation in their relationships is reciprocal, and pledge to chart a new path forward. They take control of their futures by looking at the past and learning from it, and this album’s title perfectly matches the therapeutic nature of doing so. The Rose have proven their strength and endurance as a band by, ironically, opening up about their weaknesses. HEAL is their most human, lyrically in-depth work to date, and the perfect finishing touch is their decision to make “Sour” a single. “Sour” reuses a candy metaphor that kicks off their 2018 release, Void (“Candy (so good)”). By drawing attention to “Sour” more than other songs on the album, The Rose tell fans that their evolution does not equate to erasure of their past. In other words, they reclaim their group identity instead of discarding it.
#59: TWICE, BETWEEN 1&2
BETWEEN 1&2 represents both the humble TWICE of the past and the newly-confident TWICE, who are more hands-on than ever before in writing and composing their music. TWICE weave together nostalgic details and newly-personalized touches, ensuring ONCE know they can always count on TWICE to deliver interesting and sweet surprises, both visually and sonically. Read more here!
#58: Eric Nam, There And Back Again
Presumably, Eric Nam has three main goals for this album: show the world what kind of artist he truly is, have the album be positively received, and distinguish this body of work from his previous releases. There And Back Again checks off all these boxes. First of all, the album does show the world who Eric Nam is: a honey-voiced artist who distills a myriad of complex, messy emotions into conversational, simplified, broadly relatable stories. His songs carry the weight of an intense relationship while sounding light as a feather. Eric’s mix of light and breezy sounds with emotional lyrics ensures he can check off the second box: this album is resonating and being praised around the world. Lastly, There And Back Again succeeds at showing something new. Eric Nam’s style is the same style fans know and love, but it has certainly matured and expanded. Most impressively, Eric has given this independently-released music an intimate feel, recording it all from a living room instead of the typical professional studio, without sacrificing its quality. There And Back Again contains specificity in its sources of inspiration but universality in its messages; it balances out specific, personal feelings with broader themes to show the world who Eric Nam is today, how his musicianship has grown, and how well his stories can connect to one’s own experiences.
#57: KANTO, CELEBRATION
CELEBRATION is aptly titled, because the listening experience is akin to unwrapping a present with many layers, each one unveiling wrapping paper with a different color and print. The CELEBRATION kicks off with helium voices paired with a super-deep one on “TRIP.” Then there are “AFFORMATIONS” and other high-energy tracks that tell detail-rich stories (the laughter in “SUN IS DOWN” is a particularly nice touch). Old-school hip-hop vibes thrive on songs like “BLUFFING and “VETERAN,” but quieter, jazzier touches make songs like “RAP DESIGNER” shine. The choir-backed “CELEBRATION INTERLUDE” lets listeners know that the party is still just getting started, but perhaps it goes on too long, because the album ends with the dark-bass-fueled, angst-ridden “BLOOD”! CELEBRATION is an auditory journey through the best and worst moments of a party, letting listeners be flies on the wall as partygoers recap interesting stories, mellow out after time on the dance floor, and then suddenly become unleashed in a horror-movie-style way!
#56: LEE CHANHYUK, ERROR
This concept album far exceeds expectations. The album begins with two songs that are the soundtrack for “Old CHANHYUK”’s final days. After death, during “Panorama,” “New CHANHYUK” is born… The rest of ERROR after this single considers what to do with one’s time on Earth and what one has done so far that is worth remembering. The album concludes with “Funeral hope,” which is as full-circle as an ending can get! Again, the death of one CHANHYUK gives birth to a new one, at least in spirit, and this ending makes ERROR a cyclical narrative. LEE CHANHYUK finds both catchy and insightful ways to cover a topic as mysterious yet taken-for-granted as the circle of life. Read more here!
#55: WOODZ, COLORFUL TRAUMA
COLORFUL TRAUMA is both an emo breakup album and so much more. WOODZ is a true rockstar on each track, his voice feeling right at home when backed by punk-pop instrumentals. “I hate you” is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unapologetic statements. Standouts include “HIJACK,” which is about taking risks and embracing spontaneity, and “Dirt on my leather,” which kicks off the album promising a listening session full of rock and roll. Read more here!
#54: YOSHIKI EZAKI, I Love Me
I Love Me is an adrenaline jolt in album form. It is a fun and fast-paced fusion of rap, hip-hop, electronic, and pop sounds. One song transitions into the next one seamlessly and at a rapid pace. Pounding beats, unexpected starts and stops, a deep bass, and electronified vocals make for a compelling, dizzying, exhilarating listening experience.
#53: HAN SEUNG YUN, Lovender
This underrated release contains stellar vocals and a road-trip-worthy, pop and rock soundtrack. The album intro is a short but powerful rock ballad of sorts, leading into the title track that is in the same vein. There is a slight synth pivot in “Moon Driver,” but it also remains mainly guitar-driven, a smooth synth-acoustic blend. “Problem,” which will delight fans of “Love Cut” by CNBLUE, is the perfect transition piece between “Moon Driver” and the stripped-back tracks that conclude the album, “Whatever You Want” and “How Nice Would It Be.” Overall, the album is a brief but thoroughly enjoyable and cohesive release.
#52: YOUHA, love you more,
This underrated artist is at her personal best on love you more,. Her alluring vocals and varied instrumentals keep listeners guessing. The EP begins with dark, crashing synths and a distorting vocal filter. The intrigue remains on “Last Dance,” a dreamy song with a sultry music video. “Flower Rain” speeds things up, as YOUHA sings in a rap-like way and changes up her register. “We” resumes a slower tempo, a fitting falling action before the conclusion: “NUMB,” a rock-influenced sound that makes sure love you more, ends as compellingly as it begins. YOUHA is a promising artist with a voice and personality that are worthy of career longevity.
#51: TAEYEON, INVU
TAEYEON has clearly taken her time on this release; the lyrics represent a process of deep introspection and internal growth. She alternates between a desire to push others away and a deep-rooted need to hold them close; between a need for revenge and an apologeticness for impulsive behavior; between a cynicism towards growing up and opting for radical acceptance of it. INVU is, to put it simply, a very human story. As clever (it’s pronounced “I envy you”) and catchy as the title track is, there is so much beneath the surface of this album worth immersing oneself in too. Read more here!
Read part one below!
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