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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top 10 Mini Albums of 2014

Before we move on to the best of the best early next week, I'm going to pause for my top mini albums (or EPs) of the year. Given that this format is used most widely in Asia, there's a lot of K-Pop on the list. Strangely, there's also only one female representing this year! I'll be looking for them to come strong in 2015! To be eligible for this chart, the albums must have at least four full tracks.

10. HyunA - A Talk

I became a HyunA fan this year, despite not being into too much of he stuff in the past. That's all to do with this sleek, dud-free collection of charismatic dance pop.

9. BTS - Skool Luv Affair

Nearly a full album, with eight tracks on the expanded version, I didn't like this quite as much as their other release this year, but you can't deny the pair of singles...totally different from one another but both awesome.

8. VIXX - Error

Glossy, meticulous production highlights this collection of dramatic, sci-fi flavored dance. The title track is epic, and the rest of the album surprisingly lives up to it.

7. Exo - Overdose 

EXO had a quieter year in 2014, with just this mini-album release. It's not their most in-your-face collection, but it's an incredibly interesting listen, sonically, and of course includes the fantastic title track.

6. Halo - Hello Halo 

One of the most promising new debuts of the year, I love that this group is pure POP and doesn't really try to be anything else. It's a short album, at only four tracks, but they're all bright and fun.

5. Austin Mahone - The Secret

It may not include his best song (What About Love), but the throwback sound to the late 90's Swedish pop boom is incredibly welcome and sets this collection of songs apart from everything else out there.

4. Gravitonas - Garden Of Men And Machines

My favorite release from them, simply because each and every song is flawless. It has a nice sonic variety as well, with aggressive dance sitting beside pensive balladry.

3. The Fooo Conspiracy - Conspiration

These guys released two excellent EPs this year, but this is my favorite. It's a masterclass in fun, youthful 2014 urban dance pop. Playful, energetic and ridiculously catchy.

2. Taemin - Ace 

I'm a massive Michael Jackson fan, which is part of the reason I love K-Pop so much, and Taemin delivered what sounds like a modern MJ release. His background as a dancer is evident in the way his vocals massage the beats.

1. B1A4 - Solo Day 

No single release this year sounded more like summer than this. Overall, it's more subdued and downtempo (even acoustic) than most of what I like, but song for song, I don't think this mini album could be beat in 2014. It just makes me happy.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Top 50 Singles of 2014: 15-11

15. Josef Johanssson - Hela Natten

I love a choir in a pop song, but this galvanizing anthem is more than just its choir. It was the best song in this year's Melodifetivalen, even though it didn't make it to the final.

14. HyunA - Red

A demented and fun nursery-rhyme gone mad. This was the party track of the summer, with a deliriously in-your-face, irresistible hook.

13. Taeyang - Eyes, Nose, Lips

One of the biggest tracks in Korea in 2014, this ballad has immense staying power. Honestly, I'd already consider it a classic-in-the-making. And I'm not even a ballad guy!

12. Wolf Gang - Black River 

Undeservedly, this modern rock masterpiece flew under the radar this year. It's all about those layered, Fleetwood Mac-esque vocals that pop in more and more as the song grows and becomes a total epic.

11. Henry - Fantastic 

Just like I love choirs, I adore classical instrumentation in a pop song. The violin that forms the spine of this song elevates it into something really special. Add to that the amazing dance beat, and you've got something impossible to resist.

Don't forget, if you'd like to listen to the Top 50 Singles Countdown in full, download the audio version!

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Top 20 Albums of 2014: 6-5

6. Ola - Carelessly Yours

This album has been around for awhile, released at the very beginning of the year. I had been waiting for it so long, and it doesn't disappoint. The singles do outshine almost everything else on the album, but there are many of them and they are sprinkled wisely throughout the running order. The only reason the album isn't ranked higher is that I just haven't returned to it as often this year as I'd expected to. I don't know why that is... perhaps because the newer songs aren't as strong and I'd already played the older ones so much last year?

5. 2NE1 - Crush

Korea's coolest girl group finally made their comeback this year. After many single releases, which I've chosen to pepper throughout the running order of this new album, they finally released something more substantial. Even without those bonus tracks, the album stands as one of their most consistent. A bit ballad-heavy, maybe, but I certainly can't fault any of the tracks themselves. I also give them props for trying some different things with production and structure. It gives the album a varied feel.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Top 50 Singles of 2014: 20-16

20. Robin - Parasta Just Nyt (ft. Nikke Ankara)

A surprisingly aggressive comeback for Finland's reigning teen popstar. The unflinching beat and gargantuan chorus gives this track an almost operatic feel.

19. The Fooo Conspiracy - King Of The Radio

In a just world, this perfect pop song would've broken the band worldwide. I know I go on and on about hooks, but there's simply no denying the strength of that chorus, which comes in like a sledgehammer.

18. Taemin - Danger

Some people call Chris Brown the "new Michael Jackson," but they really need to look east to Taemin, who came back as a solo artist with this utterly MJ-inspired dance track.

17. Robin - Kesärenkaat 

Of all of Robin's amazing pop singles from 2014, this has to be the very best. It screams summer, and also feels like a welcome transition into more adult territory while still retaining an ebullient youthful energy.

16. Röyksopp and Robyn - Do It Again 

Another year passed without a proper return of Robyn, but at least we got this amazing collaboration. It just gets better as it morphs and grows throughout its five minutes, particularly that tearful refrain towards the end.

Don't forget, if you'd like to listen to the Top 50 Singles Countdown in full, download the audio version!

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Top 20 Albums of 2014: 8-7

8. B1A4 - Who Am I

Overall, this is probably the slowest of the albums on my list. There's one uptempo, and most everything else is either ballad or midtempo. Because of this, the album as a whole took me a while to warm up to, but what it has in spades is longevity. The guys' excellent musicianship is on full display, and the entire album evokes a very specific mood that serves it better as a whole than in parts.

7. One Direction - Four

Their remarkably consistent run continues, as the guys have churned out another solid pop/rock album. Of all their releases, it may end up having the least staying power for me, but song for song, it's incredibly solid and surprisingly mature. The addition of more harmonies and gently production works wonders, even if I still prefer the big, loud, 80's power rock pastiches they pull off so well. As with most of their albums, it could do with a generous reshuffling when it comes to track order.

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Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 50 Singles of 2014: 25-21

25. ToppDogg - Annie

K-Pop borrows from one of my absolute favorite genres, New Jack Swing, in this effervescent, beat-driven dance track. It's this group's best single by a mile. So far...

24. Orange Caramel - Catallena

So many have called this annoyingly wonderful, and it's true that the vocals and production will drive many people away. Honestly, though, it's inventive, fun, fizzy stuff with a mammoth hook.

23. BTS - War Of Hormone

This is the single (and music video) that broke this band for me. I'd liked them before, but for whatever reason I just fell in love with the hyped up, goofy bravado of this track.

22. 2NE1 - Happy 

A strummy, melodic summertime pop song that's much calmer and relaxed than most of the group's output. The vocals on this are so charming, as is the colorful video.

21. Ruth Lorenzo - Dancing In The Rain 

Eurovision's top act, in my mind, and a moment of retribution for the amazing ex-X-Factor contestant that finally got her due this year. The vocals? They'll give you chills.

Don't forget, if you'd like to listen to the Top 50 Singles Countdown in full, download the audio version!

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Top 20 Albums of 2014: 10-9

10. BTS - Dark And Wild

This was a band I got into later in the year... not the love at first sight type of music discovery, but instead a more gradual appreciation brought about by single after excellent single. I love the old school hip hop feel to the album, augmented with boisterous hooks and undeniable swagger. A bit too many ballads in the middle for my liking, but still an assured, enjoyable from start to finish, debut album for the guys.

9. Akdong Musician - Play

Most of the K-pop that I love is upbeat and produced to within an inch of its life (not a bad thing, by the way), but in that landscape this might have been the most refreshing release of the year. I was already familiar with AKMU from their time on K-pop Star, but I really didn't know if their actual music would be my thing. Turns out that their quirky brand of folk-pop, complimented by elements of hip-hop, became surprisingly addictive. It's definitely one of those "early spring" type records, full of light and innocence and joy.

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