The Best New Music: October 2022
A ranking and review of the twenty best new K-pop, J-pop, and J-rock releases!
#20: meme tokyo., “Rivers End”
The “Rivers End” music video is dizzying in the best way! The camera swivels from scene to scene and immerses viewers in the action. As if the flashing lights, graffiti walls, and dance routine are not attention-grabbing enough, meme tokyo. rock an eccentric, preppy-meets-goth wardrobe. They leave a mark both literally, ending the video by smashing the camera lens, and symbolically, through this one-of-a-kind sonic confection. It is hard to compare “Rivers End” to other artists’ work, but the best attempt at doing so is as follows: it is an amalgamation of Dreamcather’s, EVERGLOW’s, Reol’s, and GARNiDELiA’s sounds! J-pop and K-pop enthusiasts alike will revel in this entertaining single.
#19: milet, “Final Call”
As discussed time after time, milet has a knack for knowing how to use her voice to make emotional songs reach their maximum potential. Her voice guides instruments into sounding closer or farther away, more or less intense, simpler or busier, depending on what best suits the moment. Each of her singles is a singular but full story that she tells effortlessly and grippingly, and “Final Call” is no exception. Distant vocals surround the listener before the rollicking guitars spring forward, and her voice joins them at the same moment as the piano does, as if on cue. She proceeds to take her voice in unexpected directions that do not detour too much from the tone needed to keep the song’s message intact. Actually, her vocal variation reinforces the song’s message, by proving she does not just say “I’ll show you what I’m capable of on my own” but actually shows it. Her vocal changes align well with the guitar riffs and then complement the quieter tempo of the pre-bridge percussion. After a brief period of whispering, her voice returns to the forefront, a commanding presence as the instruments come together for a climax. “Final Call” is a high-quality song regardless of who sings it, but the fact milet does helps it resonate even more powerfully.
#18: JO YURI, Op.22 Waltz : in Minor
“Loveable” proves to be an apt name for JO YURI’s new single! Its music video is hard not to smile while watching, as she covertly brightens up the lives of the townspeople. All of her pranks are ones with pure intentions, including secretly helping a little boy pop balloons to win a prize and filling the town’s fountain with bubble soap. The music video channels the album’s overall theme of self-love; she shows one does not need special gadgets or superpowers to brighten the days of those around them. All that is needed to make a positive difference is showing up as one’s authentic, caring self. JO YURI says the inspiration for this comeback stems from a phone conversation with a friend, when her friend said “a clumsy person is more lovable than a perfectionist”! Indeed, it is better to mess up but mean well than it is to pretend to be a perfect superhero. The “Loveable” video shows how not all the world’s heroes wear capes, and JO YURI’s self-love-themed B-sides emphasize how this message ought to inspire people to not make perfection an enemy of the good.
#17: TEN, “Birthday”
Although TEN’s solo discography remains small, his range continues to widen, and “Birthday” is a great example. Sensual, fluid choreography maintains the spotlight the entire time, while TEN stuns in a variety of outfits. What the video lacks in plot it more than makes up for in performance quality, and this quality extends to his vocals too. TEN reaches high notes and channels a certain swoon-worthy delivery that are welcome surprises. TEN proves he excels when given much creative freedom and when backed by a dark and dramatic instrumental.
#16: AB6IX, TAKE A CHANCE
This mood-boosting album is immense fun from start to finish! A sound-effects-filled opening leads into the peppy “Sugarcoat” and then more danceable tracks. There are some more substantive moments lyrically, like on, ironically, “Weightless,” but these detours still have AB6IX’s unique pep sprinkled on top of them. In other words, more serious moments are given playful elements in ways unique to AB6IX. Another example of a sonically distinct track that keeps AB6IX’s personality intact is “Crow”: it is slower than the other tracks, but it includes a synth harmony layer that can be found in their more upbeat songs too, and it is followed up by the super-cheerful “Chance.” AB6IX embrace their signature style as much as their signature sound: they rock double-denim outfits and dance in a pastel-colored candy shop in the “Sugarcoat” music video. TAKE A CHANCE is as sweet as can be and reinforces AB6IX’s distinct, likable image.
#15: Luli lee, Fade Away Like A Dream
Fade Away Like A Dream is the kind of album that must be listened to in tracklist order. The introduction, “Don’t Fade Away, Baby,” sets up an intriguing scene and alerts listeners of the suspense to come, with its industrial/rock sound. The following tracks make for quite a variety pack, but all share an atmospheric quality, a dreamy haze filled with echoes, breathy vocals, and other dream-pop touches. Listeners come in and out of this haze thanks to industrial and rock pivots, but they are constantly lulled back into the dreamlike state. Concluding this sonic adventure is a light and danceable track, “Show Me Your Love.” Fade Away Like A Dream is a one-of-a-kind creation starring a singer whose vocals won’t soon be forgotten.
#14: 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.
#13: LE SSERAFIM, ANTIFRAGILE
ANTIFRAGILE is a sophomore release done right, building on the group identity established by LE SSERAFIM’s debut release. Much like in their music video for “FEARLESS,” the “ANTIFRAGILE” music video shows the many forms true “toughness” can take. LE SSERAFIM embrace an array of hobbies and excel at them all, and their confidence is made even clearer by the fact they are dancing through an impending meteor strike! Up until their last moments on Earth, LE SSERAFIM are determined to keep showing the world their multitudes. Variation remains the name of the game throughout ANTIFRAGILE, which embodies the theme of embracing one’s authenticity across genre-blending tracks. The pop-rock angle they take on songs like “No Celestial” proves to suit them particularly well.
#12: 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. The closest comparison to his alternative style might be Tyler, the Creator; his 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!
#11: KIHYUN, YOUTH
YOUTH does what VOYAGER, KIHYUN’s debut solo release, does well too: it displays vocal and lyrical range broad enough to stay interesting but thematically specific enough to come across as a distinct musical chapter. This comeback’s vague-yet-personal theme is youth. Through alt-rock songs, ballads, and more retro-flavored tunes, KIHYUN talks to both his current and his younger selves. He reflects on the naivete that comes with first love and the ways his view of romance has become more cynical with age. For example, “Where Is This Love” scrutinizes the hollowness of saying “I love you” when actions say otherwise. However, this is followed by “‘Cause of You,” about a state of euphoria that is all thanks to a lover. KIHYUN alternates between giving a voice to his present self and his inner child, and YOUTH is a coming-of-age story to which all audiences can relate. The “Youth” music video adds onto this album’s overall theme. Simple, straightforward symbolism is enough to get his point across effectively: KIHYUN stands in front of playground equipment while singing about the relatively carefree days of childhood and telling his inner child to hang in there. His “it’ll be okay”message to his younger self propels him through turbulent circumstances, ensuring this release has a lightness to it that keeps the listening experience inviting.
#10: SEULGI, 28 Reasons
By including classic SM Entertainment Cinematic Universe Easter eggs, both subtle and overt, SEULGI shows where her rightful throne lies within the story. Her gothic princess aesthetic, dance-pop sound, and sinister mood-setting prove her solo star power. She carves out her own niche within the “SMCU” while simultaneously crafting a musical persona that is a standalone storytelling vehicle. SEULGI addresses the multitudes within everyone and puts a new spin on the “devil and angel” concept. She embodies both angelic and devilish natures in the “28 Reasons” music video, which, long story short, ends without either role winning over the other. Good and evil both remain at the end, making it seem fitting that the B-side tracks continue to channel both extremes. Whether in a vengeful, feisty mood or a consoling, calm one, each track on 28 Reasons is SEULGI being SEULGI in her entirety.
#9: JIN, “The Astronaut”
“The Astronaut” is a touching song regardless of fandom status, but it packs an even more powerful punch for the BTS ARMY. First of all, fans will recognize parallels between JIN’s backstory and his music video character’s: JIN set out to become an actor, not a singer, but he was recruited unexpectedly and discovered a passion for music after joining BTS. In “The Astronaut,” JIN’s character lands on Earth by accident, and he makes a new home there. In both cases, someone who feels like they do not belong makes the most of a surprising turn of events and ends up realizing he wouldn’t have had it any other way. Second of all, returning to the theme of outer space is special for bringing to mind JIN’s previous solo “Moon” and BTS’s Coldplay collaboration “My Universe.” Third of all, “The Astronaut” is a message for ARMY to hold onto as JIN prepares to start his mandatory military service. In the music video, JIN teaches a little girl how to ride a bike without training wheels and then feels comfortable letting her ride without his supervision. JIN wants ARMY to know that they will be okay; he will miss them, but he will be back and find them doing well on their own. Lastly, what makes “The Astronaut” so meaningful is how the story behind BTS and Coldplay’s first team-up (Coldplay teamed up with JIN again to make this song) is in the same vein: a series of “Let’s just see how it goes with an open mind” moments has led to a long-running musical partnership. “The Astronaut” is both the perfect sendoff for JIN specifically and a great way to reflect on the happy accidents that make people believe in fate.
#8: 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 “Panorama” music video visualizes the heaviness of contemplating one’s mortality: CHANHYUK appears paralyzed with fear as he frets over how fast time flies. He personifies the mental gymnastics and fear associated with death. 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.
#7: 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.
#6: MAMAMOO, MIC ON
After a slate of impressive solo releases, MAMAMOO have reunited as a four-person group as if no time has passed! 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!
#5: 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.
#4: Dreamcatcher, [Apocalypse : Follow us]
While [Apocalypse : Follow us] does turn the page in Dreamcatcher’s discography, it is still certainly from the same book. 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. They take the task of saving the world into their own hands, confidently delivering a televised PSA and using magical powers to the Earth’s benefit (or at least to delay its doom). Their warning succeeds at holding viewers’ attention, since their dance formations, superhuman characteristics, and mix of pastel and punk looks keep the music video visually stunning.
#3: SAAY, S:INEMA
S:INEMA, as intended, plays like one long movie. Although it is lengthy, it doesn’t overextend its welcome, and one of its strengths lies in the myriad of visualizations one conjures up while listening to it. It is a sonic adventure that can create different mental pictures for every listener and, similar to a good movie, prompt the audience to pick up on details they had not noticed before with every replay. The album begins with an array of sounds, including an old newsreel, an approaching storm, and a rocket launch countdown. Dramatic strings and piano lead into “Interstellar,” which sounds distant, as if it is being performed in the room next-door to the listener. A muffled commotion remains in the background as SAAY sings over a deep bass and jazzy piano. “Interstellar” ends with the “Talk 2 Me Nice” intro, and that song quickly proves it deserves its status as a single. A stranger’s quiet voice repeats SAAY’s lines, as she entrances a loved one with sultry whispering. After a few more songs spent in this sonic realm, part two kicks off with “INTERLUDE : world gone crazy.” Collaborations and hip-hop beats abound, and SAAY takes on a new demeanor that is more forthright and full of attitude. The program goes through another interlude in “life is a beauty,” when the sound of crackling static hints at more surprising twists to come. The “movie” goes on to tell a romantic story, and “Summer In Love” sets up that scene with a phone call between lovers. The album ends with the sound of a tape being stopped, footsteps walking down a hallway, and a door shutting. It is a challenging feat to evoke cinematic scenes in listeners’ minds with sound alone, but SAAY manages to do so, thanks to her narrative skill and vocal prowess.
#2: Stray Kids, MAXIDENT
MAXIDENT is Stray Kids’ strangest album yet, which is a massive compliment! The raps are tighter than ever, the merging of percussion with guitar sounds and EDM beats is more impressive than ever, and their use of ad-libs is as abundant as ever. Each song is a bustling mix of quotable lines and catchy instrumental layers. The music videos are just as chock-full, with detailed, original storytelling that incorporates plenty of Easter eggs to satisfy long-time fans. Fans have been spoiled with so many track videos to accompany this release, but the best of them is for MAXIDENT’s primary single, “CASE 143.” Stray Kids introduce adorable, fuzzy, heart-shaped creatures into their music video world and go to extreme lengths to catch these uncontainable, physical manifestations of their lovestruck feelings! A comeback concept as cliche as crushing on someone is taken in unexpected and quirky directions, thanks to Stray Kids’ dependable originality.
#1: (G)I-DLE, I love
Read my essay about this release below!