Best & Worst 2018 - Asian Albums

SONGS OF THE BARDS.
SONGS OF THE BARDS.
WHEN I LEAVE TAIPEI.
WHEN I LEAVE TAIPEI.
FREYJA.
FREYJA.
A.I. LOVE.
A.I. LOVE.

BEST

SONGS OF THE BARDS

Kowen Ko

Taiwanese singer-songwriter Ko has a set of wonderfully raspy pipes: a little weathered, but also warm and gentle. And they are perfect for the peripatetic vibe here.

Three years in the making, his second album sounds richer when it comes to the arrangements and production. Take the opener, Man Without A Mission, which is propelled by guitars, drums and a stirring melody.

He has a ear for minor-key melodies and some of his songs would not be out of place on an album by, say, Irish troubadour Damien Rice, of whom he is apparently a fan.

WHEN I LEAVE TAIPEI

Leon Zheng Xing

The debut album from Chinese singer-songwriter Zheng is a tale of three cities. It traces a trajectory from Taiwan to Jiangsu province in China via tracks such as The Rain In Taipei, Hear It's Snowing In Beijing and Yangzhou Slow.

He has a voice that is without artifice or showiness, and perfect for these keenly observed folk-pop songs.

 

Touchingly, the album is also an aural keepsake, with sounds from nature and of the city, such as ambient noise at a metro station, finding their way here.

FREYJA

Valen Hsu

The Taiwanese singer's effortlessly lambent vocals continue to shine in her first album since 2014's Miracle. The production and arrangements feel of the moment without being slavishly faddish. The opening title track is a swoonsome slice of electro-pop, with her ethereal voice floating lightly over it.

Hsu, known for her love ballads, delivers a winner here with Springtime Allergies, a track about denial with memorable lyrics.


WORST
SINGLE A.I. LOVE

Wang Leehom

The Chinese-American singer-songwriter's synth-pop title track, about the impact of artificial intelligence on people's lives, seems to stem from concern for his children's well-being, as they grow up in uncertain technological times.

While it may be well-intentioned, the track is just too clunky and unwieldy - from the juxtaposition of A.I. with "ai", the Chinese word for love, to the awkward refrain of "Where should ethics be placed?"

Boon Chan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 23, 2018, with the headline 'Best & Worst 2018 - Asian Albums'. Print Edition | Subscribe