After two years, it’s clear to see what the pandemic has wrought – on countries, economies, people. But what’s less obvious, and more of a mindfuck to think about, are its invisible knock-on effects: what didn’t happen, and what will never transpire, as a result of COVID-19.
Those questions of wasted potential, alternative timelines, what-could-have-beens, led me to worry that we’d see less recorded music coming out of the region this year as the long-term impact of the pandemic finally made itself known. Who could blame musicians for stowing away the guitars and synths and trudging out into the workforce in a bid to survive?
But I’m happy to report that my fears were allayed while coordinating this list, which brings crystalline pop, lo-fi reverie, emotional hip-hop and seasoned alt-rock into its scope. Let us know what we missed…
Karen Gwee, Regional Editor (APAC)
‘Get In Losers, We’re Going To Eternal Damnation’
Forests are arguably the region’s premier exponents of that brand of emo best described by the ‘cry smile’ emoji. On one hand, you have soaring hooks, insouciant catchiness, and cheerfully noodly riffage: a grin-inducing mix executed to near-perfection.
- READ MORE: Forests – ‘Get In Losers, We’re Going To Eternal Damnation’ review: Singaporean emo trio at their most confident
The flipside is their signature barrage of bitterly ironic – “Did you miss me enough to drink? / Or did you drink enough to miss me?” – hurts-so-good lyricism, all laced with the humour familiar to anyone who’s stared into those lonely abysses of broken relationships and unrequited desires. Forests celebrate, mourn, and wallow all in one go without missing a beat.
Forests’ ‘Get In Losers, We’re Going To Eternal Damnation’ is out now via Sweetness Follows/Dogknights.
‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’
It’s easy for weepy confessionals to become trite and tiring. But there’s no fear of that happening with Linying’s spellbinding ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’.
The singer-songwriter’s long-overdue debut album enlists formidable collaborators, including producer duo MyRiot and Death Cab for Cutie’s Chris Walla. But it’s Linying’s wry self-awareness, emotional acuity, and delicately piercing voice that breathes attitude and personality into the wispy record. “There could be wreckage here”, she warns, but soon assures the listener she’s “happiest like this”. It seems Linying has gotten a handle on chaos, and for the length of this album, you can see firsthand how she did it.
Linying‘s ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’ is out now via Nettwerk Music Group/Sony Music Entertainment Singapore.
Lurkgurl’s EP ‘She-fi fantasy’ is an uncommon melange of sound and feeling. Khadijah Juswil’s lyrics are decidedly abstruse but also shot through with a demanding desire: “I got lots of oranges this season / Some were sweet some were sour some were seedless / I peeled them thinking of the peach of your skin,” she sings on opening track ‘she-fi’.
Lurkgurl’s instrumental palette is varied and entrancing (see the dynamic ‘she-fidelity’), her command of vocal manipulation effective and emotive (hear her harmonise with herself on ‘she-fiction’). As her moniker makes clear, Lurkgurl’s the unassuming type. But those who care to step into her lo-fi world will be richly rewarded.
Lurkgurl’s ‘She-fi fantasy’ is out now.
Welcome to Simp City, population: one. Yung Kai’s second EP ‘Dear Simp!’ is a bitter 14-minute kiss-off filled with early-’00s emo hooks and pop punk heartbreak. The Kuching creator doesn’t show, he tells: On trap-heavy opener ‘Ihateuwhenurhere’ he whines “I hate you when you’re here, but I miss you when you’re not”; on angsty emo-rap cut ‘I Can’t’ he yelps “I don’t ever wanna see your face again”.
‘Dear Simp!’ is best enjoyed as a polished sampler of the casual, underrated excellence of Malaysia’s ‘Cina music’, courtesy of Dato’ Maw’s Ban Huat Sdn. Bhd collective-label.
Ng Su Ann
Yung Kai’s ‘Dear Simp!’ is out now via Ban Huat Sdn. Bhd.
Jerald Mallari’s spry and stirring debut album ‘Mood Swing’ is both the culmination of a decade of trying to make it in hip-hop as JRLDM – and a fine-tuned introduction to the rapper’s singular sound.
- READ MORE: JRLDM – ‘Mood Swing’ review: masterfully ordered chaos from Filipino hip-hop’s distinctive new voice
This LP heaves with unpredictable feelings, made more absorbing by JRLDM’s Post Malone-esque ease in genre-melding and rap-singing, not to mention a vulnerability that brings to mind Kid Cudi. Some may have come for the album’s buzzy collaborators (Gloc-9, Loonie, Jikamarie) or name-droppable producer (Juss Rye). But they’ll have stayed for the way JRLDM takes stock of his demons, terror (‘Sayko’) and bliss (‘Para Sa Sarili’) sitting side by side.
JRLDM’s ‘Mood Swing’ is out now via Music Colony Records.
Road-testing material is part of the Sandwich record-making protocol, but the pandemic left them to rely on their own instincts as barometer. Going by their newest EP ‘No Goodbyes’, it’s clear the 24-year-old band still have their fingers on the pulse.
‘Buhol-Buhol’ is glorious in its mix of spoken word, fusion, and garage; the LCD Soundsystem stylings of ‘No Goodbyes’ prove rhythmically irresistible; and ‘Negatives’ has lots of room for gang screams. Over the years, Raymund Marasigan and company have made it their mission to write the soundtrack of some idealised road-trip movie. This time’s no different, and that’s more than OK.
Sandwich ‘No Goodbyes’ is out now via Polyeast Records.
Head-turning newcomer Jinan Laetitia goes for glamour without forsaking personality. That strategy has made her first studio album ‘One’ one of the year’s most compelling pop debuts so far.
A clear acolyte of Billie Eilish and Finneas, Laetitia loves a hermetic sound world. With co-producer Osvaldorio, she makes every note and ad lib as intimate as a whisper in the ear. She’s a confident vocalist willing to explore her range, penning lyrics about weighty topics such as the expectations of others (‘Mannequin’) and one’s inner child (‘Favorite’). This is thoughtful, meticulously crafted pop music.
Jinan Laetitia’s ‘One’ is out now via Warner Music Indonesia.
Rekah’s debut album ‘Kiamat’ is their catchiest and most concise work yet. The Jakarta-based five-piece fuse a lot of disparate genres (’90s alternative pop, indie-pop screamo, midwest emo, to name a few) but never lose sight of their strengths: dramatic soft-loud dynamics, theatrical wails, all blanketed by a glimmering sense of pop melodicism.
All this packages a blistering critique of capitalism and the rat race and how it chips away at the mind and soul. On ‘Kiamat’, Rekah show a clear ambition to reach a wider audience on their own terms. Marcel Thee
Rekah’s ‘Kiamat’ is out now via Hantu Records & Publishing.
‘Cap, Capo, Cigarettes & Beer’
The sobering continuation of their 2019 breakthrough debut, ‘Cap, Capo Cigarettes & Beer’ highlights Safeplanet’s knack for imbuing soft-focus indie pop with profound nostalgia and escapism.
But beneath the jangle guitars, vocal harmonies and the burning desire to be elsewhere, there’s an optimism that offers a nuanced outlook on love (‘The Secret’, ‘Prib Ta’, ‘Sunset’) and hope (‘The Mountain’, ‘Youth’). Though made in the thick of the pandemic, ‘Cap, Capo Cigarettes & Beer’ is a thoroughly uplifting album that attests to the band’s continued growth and maturity.
Safeplanet’s ‘Cap, Capo, Cigarettes & Beer’ is out now.
‘Making Me Sick!’
It’s only been a year since Thai-American pop upstart SAMMii burst onto the scene with ‘Tan Ta Wan’, a smoky acoustic showcase of her vocal and songwriting prowess (that landed her a nomination for New Artist of the Year at the TOTY Music Awards).
On her debut EP ‘Making Me Sick!’, the singer-songwriter blends indie-rock energy with elements of lo-fi bedroom pop. The result goes from effervescent (‘Why Say Why’), wistful (‘Plaster’) to downright cathartic (‘Prasaad Wang Won’). It may only be seven songs, but this project shows SAMMii is fully formed as an artist with a fresh point of view and effortless authenticity to match.
SAMMii’s ‘Making Me Sick!’ is out now via Universal Music Thailand.