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'The Red' By Red Velvet Tops Our Editor's Picks For The 5 Best K-Pop Albums Of 2015

By Jesse Lent | December 30, 2015 09:10 PM EST

In his Dec. 16 article for Vice's music blog Noisey, writer Jakob Dorof called 2015 "the year K-pop nailed the full-length album." And though some observers may rightfully point out that EP and LP releases have always been a critical aspect of the South Korea's pop music scene, there did seem to be more good albums than ever in the past 12 months, far too many in fact, to mention in even a top 20 list. But, in the interest of keeping things short and sweet as you read yet another end-of-the-year roundup, here are the five releases that I found the most groundbreaking, powerful and fun this year.

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1. Red Velvet - The Red

There was nothing in 2015 quite like the near hallucinogenic high-energy pop of Red Velvet's "The Red." Like a great mystery novel or TV drama, just when you think you can predict where a song like "Dumb Dumb" or "Time Slip" is going to go, it becomes something different entirely. Drawing from the legacy of old school hip-hop, classic funk, disco, electro, country, West African rhythms and New Orleans Bounce, just to name a few, "The Red" is a moving target. And though the album is not a contender for the biggest in terms of sales or music video views, it is its widening of K-pop's already broad tent of musical influences, always vital to the scene's appeal for the international audience, that makes Red Velvet so important. They are the future of the genre, like a comet pulling in cosmic debris from throughout the universe. And just when you think that the group's jumping from Golden Era rap to '70s power pop to '90s techno at a near light speed, Red Velvet ends the album with the impossibly beautiful synthesizer-generated mirage of "Cool World," using the sample of Lyn Collins's 1972 track "Think (About It)," as sampled by Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock on 1988's "It Takes Two" as the catalyst for the most incredible pop writing of the year.

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2. EXO - Exodus

After mountains of media and fan speculation mounting as band members Kris and Luhan left the band in a flurry of reciprocal legal action with the group's record label SM Entertainment, EXO shut up the haters real quick with an iron-clad collection of both the gothic R&B that took them to the top of the pop charts and a new funkier material like "Call Me Baby" that took their sound to new electrifying places. "Exodus" sold over a million copies in the first two months, solidifying EXO as one of the most successful Hallyu boy bands in history. But it was scorching electro dance numbers like the album's title track or the soulful pocket of "Playboy" that made it clear these boys have no interest in sliding by on hype alone.

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3. f(x) - 4 Walls

f(x)'s first release as a four-piece after the departure of founding member Sulli in August is one of the band's most cohesive offerings yet. Always clearly drawing from the music and fashion of the dance music scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, on "4 Walls" the group dials up the synth elements while also keeping the songwriting fresh and inventive. The Prince influence is also satisfyingly palpable on songs like "Glitter" and "X." f(x) and their production team avoid the main temptation of recording in the digital age-- the urge to overstuff the mix with endless layers. The minimalist approach keeps the mix at maximum impact making it in the best moments, like "Traveler," some of 2015's most exciting music.

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4. Lim Kim - Simple Mind

The Togeworl vocalist's fourth release isn't as consistent as most of the other albums on this list. But considering that "Simple Mind" includes what are easily three of the hottest dance tracks of the year, the hip-hop centric "Awoo," the horn-laced funk of "No More" and the sublime '80s dream pop of "Upgrader," it would be crazy to not include this patchy yet inspired collection of songs on the list. The fact that Kim is able to be this upbeat and far out without ever losing her withdrawn persona is impressive to say the least and makes it easy to forgive her more sleepy musical indulgences.

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5. Psy - 7th Album

In a year of surprises, The King Of YouTube's "7th Album" proved to be one of the biggest. While he delivered the new viral video everyone expected with "DADDY," he also created some formidable dance singles with "Dance Jockey" and "Swag" and even showed a more introspective side on two of the album's best songs "The Day Will Come" and "Dream." In the process, Psy made it clear that he has his sights set on a career far beyond that of the portly Korean man doing a funny dance on phone and computer screens around the world. He's a rapper in search of a great beat with the talent to deliver something unique and the status to bring whoever he wants to the party, whether that be CL, will.i.am or Ed Sheeran, all of whom appear on the record.

Tagged :  Red Velvet, the red, EXO, EXO-K, Exodus, f(x), 4 walls, Lim Kim, Togeworl, simple mind, Psy's 7th Album, Gangnam Style, K-Pop, K-pop stars, kpop, review, Reviews

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