Noisey hailed K-Pop in 2015 as the year of the full length. This is totally true with masterpieces such as Wonder Girls’ Reboot, f(x)’s 4 Walls, SHINee’s Odd, Red Velvet’s The Red, and Brown Eyed Girls’ Basic which showed that overcoming the challenges surrounding an LP release can be hurdled over with the right combination of picking excellent material and a maintaining a strong commitment to the concept that it wants to achieve.
Take Reboot for example. The return of the Wonder Girls wouldn’t be as acclaimed as it was now if it didn’t stick to its retro stylings with much gusto. Reboot shined because of its effort to authenticity and the fact that this vision it transcended through the 12-track list made it a phenomenal success.
Fast forward to 2016 and we’re now seeing the full length taking a slight step backward in favor of another format that became more prominent this year – the single album.
One could say that the single album format (at least by K-Pop standards) is easier to accomplish given that there are fewer songs to include in the loop. It is the other way around though actually as there is literally no room for filler material so the expectation to make the whole thing solid is quite high.
This year though, a lot of releases have managed to overcome such challenge thus it is safe to say that 2016 is the year of the single albums. Here are some of them:
Zico – Break Up 2 Make Up (stream here)
Block B’s Zico sort of joined the trend of earlier releases this year which are usually subdued and perhaps “tamer” against their former releases (for a lack of a better term). However, the sonic shift in Zico’s Break Up 2 Make Up single proved to be a win for the rapper as it showcased his versatility whether he’s in front or behind the scenes.
Lead single “I Am You, You Are Me” is an excellent quiet storm track wherein Zico shows that he can still work the hell out of a genre that he isn’t usually associated with. The same proves true for the single’s accompanying ballad track “It Was Love” (featuring f(x)’s Luna) which highlighted his wide range as a producer, further breaking away from the stereotype associated with idols.
Ladies’ Code – Myst3ry (stream here)
The return of Ladies’ Code is pretty much similar to how f(x)’s did theirs last year – releases that also act as a declaration of the groups’ stability despite all the hurdles that they’ve gone through. Along with the now-trio’s return is a preview to a direction that they will be pursuing musically – a more refined and “matured” sound, as reflected in Myst3ry.
The three-track single album is delightful from start to finish which will often be misconstrued due to the lack of an “upbeat” track that most fans usually expect. “Galaxy” is a gorgeously ethereal pop track that Red Velvet wished they recorded and it currently sits as this blog’s best track of the year. The remaining tracks, the accordion-led “Chaccone” and the melodramatic “My Flower”, are reminiscent of some former Nega Network acts like Sunny Hill’s Pray and Brown Eyed Girls’ Cleansing Cream with its heartfelt melodrama.
Wonder Girls – Why So Lonely (stream here)
The Wonder Girls continues with their streak of winning comebacks by following up last year’s fantastic Reboot LP with the similarly delightful “Why So Lonely” single album. The undisputed queens of retro went for the 70s with this one and once again, they have nailed it in terms of commitment. The reggae flavor of lead track “Why So Lonely” actually traces back its roots to the late 60s down to the 70s so in that sense, it makes it a perfect track to accompany the concept. And people over SoKor eats up reggae pop any day, so as you can see, the girls have finally snagged a hit (although I Feel You should have received the same amount of love imo).
Personally though, it’s the disco flavored “Beautiful Boy” that has made this single album a success. It’s deliciously vintage and has a more direct correlation to the 70s than WSL. The third track, Sweet and Easy is a strong addition as well with its funky groove and lyrics that can rival the best food-as-sex-metaphor K-pop song “Recipe”.
G.Soul – Far, Far Away (stream here)
JYP is totally aboard the reggae train this year with G.Soul’s “Far, Far Away”. The only edge of G.Soul’s reggae offering against WG’s is how he incorporates those luscious vocals of his to that song but either way, both songs are individually awesome and deserve their own merit. The soulful singer returns to familiar territory though with “Where Do We Go From Here?” so if you’re a fan of G.Soul’s previous efforts, you’ll still have a taste of that here.
Bada – Flower (stream here)
Bada’s “Flower” is marketed as an EP because it has four songs in it but on a technical basis, I’d still consider it as a single album because the last track is just a remix which is a bonus song at most. Serving as the first installment of Bada’s 20th anniversary offering, Flower revolves around summer-y EDM groove as its base. The eponymous title track is an older sister of Song Ji Eun’s “Pretty Age 25” but with EDM splattered all over it. “Amazing” is reminiscent of Spinning Around-era Kylie Minogue while the third track “Make a Wish” is that basic David Guetta/Calvin Harris EDM track we all grew tired of eventually but it fits the theme of the whole work so I guess that’s okay.
I wanted to add Stellar’s recent comeback “Crying” here but for some reason I couldn’t. I’ve held up Stellar to a ridiculously high standard in terms of their music and Crying just doesn’t seem to surpass or at least even match their previous efforts. At most, it’s okay – the 2000s sound in “Crying” reminded me of good ol’ K-Pop although “Ringtone” is pretty amazing. But meta Stellar >>>> Brave Bros Stellar, so there. It’s not that I totally hate it, I mean Stellar needed this – think of Nine Muses releasing Hurt Locker and you might settle better with this release.