Saharial presents her choices of 2008’s finest albums
What a difference a year makes…
When I look back on my choice of 5 from last year, I can smile happily and know that wishes do come true when I listen to the third album ‘Live and Let Live’ from Shin Hyesung. Released at the end of August, not only explores the different styles I hoped it would, but without doubt pushes him forward in musical achievement. Vink, the composer of ‘Island’ from his second album has written and produced again for him this time and also features on the album. Vink, who worked with Shinhwa on their 9th album, is a superb composer who is gaining much deserved recognition. When I heard he was working on Hyesung’s 3rd album, I stopped worrying about the quality of what was being produced and began to look forward to the end result – I was not disappointed. Even though Hyesung will produce a part 2 of his album in November focuses on ballads, I hope he continues with this experimental drive and doesn’t allow himself to be irrevocably trapped in the ballad genre when, as this album shows, he is definitely capable of much more.
Epik High also produced a mini album this year called ‘Lovescream’ at the end of September. The mini-album is a superb introduction to Epik High if you have not heard them before. It is my first choice for album of the year simply because it is 100% quality, no excessive talk tracks, intro’s outro’s and skits that often pepper albums these days. I fell in love with the main track ‘one minute, one second’ when I first saw the MV on YouTube and once I got my hands on the whole album it was definitely the start of a beautiful musical relationship! Epik High is intelligent music, with well-written English and Korean rap, well written melodies, unpretentious and worth every penny you spend on them.
As always there is Sung SiKyung’s album in my list. Vol. 6 ‘Here in my Heart’ his last before enlistment earlier this year and is a beautiful album of ballads. Sikyung has the luxury of not really needing to improve his vocals like other artists and has worked hard instead on his sense of musicality, something that has paid off well. I would recommend the repack if you are going to buy this, simply because of the chance to hear live tracks and watch him perform on the DVD.
My next choice is symptomatic of the trend for mini albums – Tae-Yang of Big Bang’s first solo outing ‘Prayer’. I will admit I bought the album was because of the involvement of Teddy Park (1TYM), a lyricist and rapper whom I have great respect for. The title track ‘Pray’ co-arranged by Teddy and Kush is a well done adaptation of David Hallyday’s ‘High’. I think, if you compare the two, that you would be convinced how much talent it takes to change a flowery rock power ballad into an R&B track with a catchy beat. Tae-Yang’s vocals though were obscured a touch too much by electronic warping and effect. Teddy’s lyrics flow really nicely and it was good to hear him perform rap again in his distinctive voice, thought his style reminded me a lot of Timbaland rather than his usual 1TYM style.
The second song ‘Only Look at Me’ is better for actually hearing Taeyang’s vocals and, as an original song rather than a remake, is fast becoming a favourite of mine. Co-composed by Kush and Teddy it’s a mid tempo ballad with lyrics that talk about faithfulness between guys and gals. G-Dragon’s intro to the whole album fits in well with the order of songs, his other contribution being the lyrics on track 5 ‘Baby I’m sorry’. This track and ‘Sinners’ (track 4} grew on me a little slower, but the vocals are good and ‘Sinners’ is now a regular on my playlist. Overall, the mini-album is worth paying out for and its nice to see that the members of Big Bang can produce quality solo work that can entice listeners like myself into perhaps buying more.
Another appearance from Kim Dongwan with his album ‘The Secret Between Us’ ends my selection. Dongwan, as he works for smaller management company, has more artistic freedom and creative control and it shows with the production of consistently good albums. Different in feel to his first and less of a collaborative effort this time round, it is a real pleasure to listen to this album and Dongwan’s vocals that consistently improve all the time. A mix of styles from keeps it interesting and the final song is a duet with Jade Valerie – a catchy track in English.
I have a feeling my list next year will be very different from this. The class of ’79 are heading into the army one by one and, despite the return of some big names, the industry is getting crowded. Who knows what the entertainment landscape will look like when they return, but I am betting it will be very different. I hope that real talent will be able to make itself heard and I for one will be doing my best to seek it out.
Other selections for 2008