2014 saw a slew of amazing albums, so deciding on the best of the year has been no easy task. That's why we've waited so long to decide. We get it. You're not going to agree with our picks. It's inevitable that you've come up with your own conclusions. We'd like to read them in our comments. But why not read what we think first? Let's get started!
'L' 's Pick: Rain, Rain Effect
Kpop albums are often hard to listen to as a complete package. Usually there's one or two great songs, or bangers, and some lackluster filler ballads. For me, this year's selection was much better than previous. Superstar groups released some monster albums with amazing singles, such as B.A.P and Infinite. After a lengthy hiatus, my first Kpop bias, Rain, returned from military service with his sixth album, Rain Effect. This is my album of the year. Unfortunately, it was overlooked by many Kpop media outlets due to Rain's light promotion. But Rain Effect boasts some impressive singles like "LA Song" and "30 Sexy", the latter of which is an ode to Rain bypassing and crushing the age at which most idols retire.
Instead of fading away, Rain is back again with a mature but original sound that is just distinctively "Rain." He is once again able to prove why, despite his age, he deserves to educate younger idols on what Kpop is about. Rain Effect is clean and crisp with virtually no filler. It features a collaboration with HyunA on "Oppa" that doesn't sound forced or overbearing, either. I would have loved to see more promotion across the board with Rain Effect, but Rain certainly showcases once again why he will always be the King of Kpop to me.
Too much expectation is often the killer of all joy. Taeyang’s Rise, however, is the rare album that can sustain any amount of hype you throw at it. I’ll do my best to prove it to you right now by telling you why this is the best album of 2014. Song for song, I don’t think I’ve heard an album this good in years, Kpop or otherwise. The June release was much anticipated by fans, so much so that its perpetually speculated-upon release date had become a joke. It was the album that everyone wanted, and the album they never expected would come. But to everyone’s surprise, when Rise finally did drop, it was well worth the wait.
The lead single, “Eyes, Nose, Lips,” became the most-covered song in Kpop. It was every bit as big as that song from Frozen which I’m too sick of to refer to by name. But the album contains much more than one oft-covered single. There are headbangers like “Ringa Linga,” pop sensations like “1AM” and “Body,” and soulful ballads like “Stay With Me” and “Love You to Death.” Taeyang’s status in Kpop allowed him the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in production, such as Choice37, Teddy Park, The Fliptones, JHart, and Peejay, not to mention G-Dragon and CL. But I don’t need to name-drop to get you to love this album. All I need to do is convince you to press play. And really, why wouldn’t you? Don’t listen to Tim and 'L'. Whatever they're telling you is a pack of lies. Taeyang’s Rise is the album of the year for 2014.
Tim's Pick: 2ne1, Crush
Now, this, this was a difficult choice. Puer Kim's Purifier wowed me, Akdong Musician's Play made me rethink what a debut album could be, and Super Junior's Mamacita felt like a much needed throwback. It was a close call, but 2ne1's Crush edges the field just enough, for me, to be called the best album of 2014. What sets Crush apart is the singular experience that it creates for the listener. The album holds incredible power as a cohesive whole.
Crush begins with the blustering, cathartic "Crush," which CL just kills (everyone has their moment to shine in this album). You all already know the powerful, pleading, "Come Back Home," which leads directly to the mournful "Gotta Be You" (both promotional singles). But maybe you don't know "If I Were You," a song that will just break your heart. You don't even have to understand Korean to hear the sorrow, as each member conveys it so well (especially Bom and Minzy), though here's some of the lyrics, translated just for you: "I wish I could love you. I wish you would love me. I wish we could be together just for a day. So I can let you go without regrets."
Listening to Crush you soon realize that the album is a catalog of heartbreak. But while Kpop's history of love songs are sketchy at best, often relying on nostalgia, melodrama, or naivete, or a combination of all three, 2ne1 touches on something far more raw and complicated. "Good to You" continues the album's downward arc (and Dara's amazing here), and while CL's "MTBD" seems more upbeat, a closer look at the lyrics reveals a vengeful former lover. Even "Happy" - the song is called Happy for goodness sake, is, upon closer inspection, one of the saddest songs you'll hear all year. "Without you I’m not happy, but I hope you're happy. I’ll watch over you from afar. Without you I’m not happy, but I hope you're happy. After putting all memories behind." And have you heard "Scream?" Listen to "Scream." It sounds perfect for the club, right?
Love this song. You will love it too (guess what, it's also about heartbreak, about a former lover trying to squeeze back into a relationship - here the "Scream" of these doomed love affairs is apt). "Baby I Miss You" rounds out the album perfectly, but you also have the unplugged version of "Come Back Home" to reiterate the album's central theme: Heartbreak. Heartbreak, in itself, is not new or Earth-shattering. The very first song may have been a song about heartbreak. But Crush gives that heartbreak blistering dimension, not just facing the sadness, but also the anger, the longing, the bluster, the paranoia, the regret, even the catharsis, that makes the human heart so complex. I've written too much here. Listen to this album.