This year is arguably geared towards albums, both their making and consumption. After all, people have the time and the headspace for it. The irony, though, lies in something Jeff Tweedy posits as something that’s beyond “some cute semantic trick.” In his new book How to Write One Song, the Wilco songwriter says, “No one writes ‘songs’ plural. They write one song, and then another.” 

That singularity in the endeavor translates to listenership, too. Longform is sexier, of course, but the single lends the artist an elevator-pitch opportunity. If a song (ideally) of their own choosing fails to connect or resonate, why would the hapless listener go on to the next? It’s a can-of-worms angle for sure, but one which warrants further examination. 

Barring instances where the host album is a mixed bag, singles are like deputies and ambassadors for the “projects” they’re housed in. And in keeping with The Rest Is Noise tradition, we’ve mixed it up in genre, region, and temperament. Would these songs, as Rob Fleming once asked, speak to each other at a party? We damn well hope so. — Aldus Santos

‘My Darling’ – .gif (SG)

In another time, decades back, “My Darling” would be a heart-rending torch tune. It would be Nina Simone or Billie Holiday at the mic, freestyling over her choice spirit. Instead it’s the Singaporean trip-hop duo of the hour, and in place of brass or upright bass, you have Din’s beats, serving not so much as accompaniment but defiant counterpoint to Weish’s affecting pipework. It’s such a trip: the snail-paced backbeat, the cautious crescendo, the sleuthing drones, the captive vocal. — Aldus Santos

 ‘Care’ – beabadoobee (UK/PH)

There’s something admirable about how Beatrice Laus, a.k.a. beabadoobee, immortalizes ‘90s nostalgia with unapologetic brashness. In the sneering, coming-of-age anthem “Care,” the British-Filipina artist minces no words in brushing aside other people’s opinion of her. Over a sweeping bed of infectious, alt-rock overdrive and grungy guitars, she bares her frustration without filter: “I don’t want your sympathy / stop saying you give a shit.” While her mantra strikes a chord with young listeners who refuse to conform to normative way of life and thinking, “Care” fits the lineage of empowered anthems that go way, way back: from Veruca Salt to Liz Phair, from Avril Lavigne to Snail Mail. — Ian Urrutia

‘P.S.’ – Bearwear (JP)

You know it’s good emo when it feels like running through deserted concrete streets until you’re out of breath. On “P.S.,” vocal harmonies rise above like gently breaking the surface of water while effervescent guitars cascade. Tokyo duo Bearwear melds emo and indie rock sensibilities to create an ode to unrequited love that, despite all its melancholy, feels surprisingly breezy. — Jam Pascual

‘Trauma Fawn’ – Beast Jesus x Calix (PH)

The philosophical underpinnings of F. Maria and Calix’s lyricism expertly capture why this year has felt like a slow motion car crash. But what makes “Trauma Fawn” so impressive, in my opinion, is how it absolutely demolishes the mold of what we imagine rap rock can be. Get those Fred Durst-ian histrionics the hell outwe’re here for vocal chop synth leads riding distorted shoegaze strums, and hard flows on top of reverb-drenched textures. — Jam Pascual

‘Lovesick Girls’ – BLACKPINK (KR)

Sheer explosive power is what characterizes BLACKPINK’s style, whether we’re talking about their fashion, their cultural impact, or their high-power arrangements. These attributes are evident in their previous hit singles, which sported hulking horn-heavy breakdowns, but on “Lovesick Girls,” the group trades EDM drops for a ridiculously anthemic chorus, precision-engineered to rile up a crowd. It’s an energetic number for a track that poses the existential quandary of why, if we were born to be alone, must live with the curse of feeling. — Jam Pascual

 ‘No More Cake’ – CHAI (JP)

“No More Cake” embraces the distinct sonic blueprint that CHAI introduced in 2019’s gloriously genre-bending album, Punk. The song stretches the boundaries of what pop music can achieve as an experiment in function and form, and explodes the minute it mutates into a stadium pep rally championing women empowerment. Think of “No More Cake” as a generous sampler, a sumptuous serving with a smattering of the familiar and the exotic. It’s food for the soul. — Ian Urrutia

‘Moment to Moment’ – crwn (PH)

“Moment to Moment” is an undemanding companion, just enough to make one know it’s there. It’s brisk and warm, lean and loose. Unlike many things—too many things—in this frazzled year, crwn managed to create something that feels grounded and purposeful. Operating within the context of longing, it makes the act of missing just a little bit exciting and less laborious. It preserves moments that are good, allows joy to linger, and somehow never overstays its welcome.  — MC Galang

Watch the Darlingkink-illustrated music video here

‘FALL INLOVE!’ – ena mori (PH)

I don’t know how, but while the rest of us were snoozing, irony died and a generous influx of tunesmiths all pure, head-held-high, and broken-triumphant came in. Somewhere in that storm-like gush is the amazing ena mori, whose “FALL INLOVE!” is sheer, unadulterated, buoyant joy. The beats will get you bobbing, and the sincerity will get you sobbing, and its greatest tragedy is it’s all over too soon. But that’s how happiness is, right? — Aldus Santos

‘Stop!’ – FEVER (TH)

Let’s celebrate the fact that, contrary to popular belief, South Korea actually doesn’t have a monopoly over the girl group genre, and that you can find amazing poppy ensembles everywhere. Try on for size Thai girl group FEVER, the act behind the funky single “Stop!” It’s a well-rounded piece of pop that ticks all the right boxessingalong-able melodies and harmonies, balanced productionand yet, unlike the highly synthetic vibe of your favorite K-pop bands’ songs, feels more organic, rough around the edges in the best way. — Jam Pascual


HAUTE COUTURE’s “XXX” is unapologetically defiant (it belongs to the same blistering orbit of gabber, industrial punk, hardcore techno, drone, and noise—all shamefully overlooked phenomenal records from this year and last—that includes Chinese Plastic Toys “אՇչɭςչןเợ,” HYPH11E’s Aperture, Lujiachi’s 0, Dis Fig’s Purge, Arexibo’s Counter!, and Pisitakun’s Absolute C​.​O​.​U​.​P., among others).

Every scratch, every bass wobble not only proclaims, but commands: “I do not merely exist. I fought for this space. I dare you to try and take it away from me.” It lays down the rules on the door, explicitly. It has no use for pedantic shenanigans; least of all, trodding the path of sap and gutless positivity that has been festering long before the pandemic. — MC Galang

‘Our Ballad’ – Hiperson (CN)

Pretty, long-winded, and slightly schizophrenic. Clocking in just a notch south of eight minutes, Hiperson’s “Our Ballad” is no disposable bop; it is a highly considered mood piece of sublime grace and intelligence. In essence it is a statement on humanity: our stark differences amid our stunning, inevitable similarities. “We each have our own apples, the band sings, but we bite into them the same way, plodding into the same abyss in much the same way its rhythm plods into its fulfilling finale. — Aldus Santos  

 ‘Gamam’ – Jirapah (ID)

Jakarta-based Jirapah’s “Gamam” is a sprawling track that centers on the dull and heavy cast of grief: its open-endedness and how it consumes and disrupts. Jirapah commiserate with the rest of us, biding their time. Its austerity is a recourse, not an obstruction. “Gamam” doesn’t attempt to sugarcoat, but hopes that in its vulnerability we can find some comfort. — MC Galang

‘Small Lanes’ – M1LDL1FE (SG)

Music as a coping strategy has proven to be effective in helping people overcome anxiety and stress especially in a very uncertain time like this. Singapore-based indie pop band M1LDL1FE knows this by heart. On the loose-limbed, psychedelic jam “Small Lanes,” they build a cathedral out of rubble for whatever purpose it may serve: a meditative space where people can dance the pandemic away and a house of worship for folks who need guidance in life. Coasting through technicolored synths, Afro-funk rhythms, and Talking Heads-injected riffs, frontman Paddy Ong preaches about how “moving is the only thing right” in order to rise above difficult crisis and stand in solidarity with the rest of the world. Sometimes all it takes is anthemic goodness to power you through darkness; “Small Lanes” does its job in bringing that rare source of comfort for the tired, weary soul. — Ian Urrutia

‘1:45AM’ – No Rome f/Bearface (PH)

No Rome deserves all the nods he’s been getting and much, much more. And with “1:45AM” it’s clear he’s tops not just in churning compelling four-on-the-floor beats but, more importantly, in weaving tales in sound. Bearface is a sweet-voiced revelation, and he takes the already-transcendent laidback bop to greater heights. Even the most stone-faced statue among us won’t be able to resist grooving and vibing to it. — Aldus Santos

‘Naubos Na’ – Oh, Flamingo! (PH)

“Naubos Na” is saddled not just with the distinction of having bassist Billie Dela Paz take lead-vocal duties, or of being the lone Filipino-language cut in the band’s discography; it also sees the band try on the “straightforward” hat, in a record that approaches psych-rock-meets-XTC weirdness (Volumes), nonetheless. There are no jagged corners, no obtuse references, just a sincere lament for (or, more to the point, against) the grind. Beautiful, beautiful work, and I hope it’s not the last time they explore similar territory: closer to shore, if you will, but never just wading joylessly. — Aldus Santos

‘Tide Away’ – Okino Shuntaro (JP)

A rich, dense, and meandering sliver of chill-wave goodness, Okino Shuntaro’s “Tide Away” is—first and foremost, and thankfully so—good pop first before it is a crowning moment for the genre. Reminiscent of Paracosm-era Washed Out and Into the Sun-era Sean Lennon, it doesn’t rest on mere sonics and studio sleights-of-hand. It takes you places and holds your hand; it doesn’t just let you smell the flowers, it tells you the genus and the species and allows you to take it all in. — Aldus Santos

‘Like This’ – Park Hye Jin (KR/US)

The collapse of dance music’s communal energy is inevitable in the work of Park Hye Jin. In the absence of clubs, she concocts beautifully restrained house jams that serve as a revealing artifact of a generation trapped in their homes, making the most out of the solitary confinement with effervescent bops on full blast and a mountain of plates to wash in the kitchen. “Like This” follows this retooled formula with a more insular turn: pulsing beats whose attention-to-detail intimacy is best served with headphones on, listening to repetitive, spoken-word verses delivered entirely in Korean, in a balmy, deep house groove that runs on meditative high. Rarely does a particular sound feel committed to the overall vibe of the pandemic, except maybe for a select few like Park Hye Jin’s “Like This”—a track that obliterates foggy memories of the past with a much-needed distraction from the everyday uncertainty. — Ian Urrutia

Purchase on Bandcamp

‘Wants You Not’ – Pikoy (PH)

Even before she was added to Nick Lazaro’s Eclectic Kiss roster, Pikoy was killing it in the gig circuit with her unique, inimitable brand of off-kilter pop. “Wants You Not” is a tight track from the criminally underrated artist, parading chiptunes, mutated synths, and face-melting guitar riffs the way a peacock fans its plumage. It picks up from where her 2016 full-length Acquired Taste left off and promises more craziness. In a year full of caution, it is enlivening to see an artist embracing risk. — Jam Pascual

‘XS’ – Rina Sawayama (UK/JP)

What do you get when you combine a salsa-fied R&B beat, rock accents in the form of punchy power chord slams, elegant vocal lines, and a satirical critique of late stage capitalism? You get “XS,” possibly the strongest track of Rina Sawayama’s 2020 full-length, a record that pays homage to and evokes Y2K pop’s idiosyncratic energies. Sawayama’s songcraft sense and Clarence Clarity’s impeccable production are to blame for a hit that would’ve absolutely rocked the charts in the days of early MTV, and sends shockwaves today. — Jam Pascual

‘Nan Chun’ – SE SO NEON (KR)

Spring is often tangled with rebirth, as the winter ground thaws and we see once again the first blush of life: trees greening and dotted with new blossoms. For some, it is a reminder of the impermanence of beauty, of life. With “Nan Chun,” South Korean indie rock band SE SO NEON illuminates the sacredness of memory that endures, of love that survives. It is joy and warmth superimposed over sorrow; it is a promise of transformation; a memorial to loving harder, to living fuller. — MC Galang

‘generativeChange​(​Null​:​Void​)​VillainCode​:​666’ – similarobjects (PH)

This is a chimeric beast of a track, disparate parts genetically spliced together in a supervillain’s laboratory. Swelling orchestral strings and bass set the stage for the frenzy about to ensue: sci-fi blasters seemingly run through a flanger, followed by what sounds like discordant waterphone resonances, peaking into a crazy breakcore beat. Discontent to settle in its velocity, the track pushes you underwater with what sounds like a “My Own Summer” drum sample, an eerie dirge, before re-accelerating into a percussive onslaught. Man alive. It is a marvel that similarobjects is known for a career that has been consistently experimental—an oxymoron that manages to make sense when you’re describing him—and is still finding new ways to surprise and confound. — Jam Pascual

‘悪戯’ – Tricot (JP)

Tricot has always displayed a proficient sense of adventurism. Whether they’re pivoting towards a more saccharine strain of math-rock or weaving polyrhythmic arrangements with their distinct musical palette, the eccentric four-piece knows when to push the envelope to a surprising degree every single release. “悪戯” is no stranger to this virtuosic endeavor: a melodically complex number that isn’t afraid to blur the line between excitement and understated grace, the conventionally pop and the innovatively outlier. In less capable hands, this song wouldn’t feel as thrilling or as fascinating, but with Tricot on board, “悪戯” parades its unrelenting complexity with confidence that radiates rather than intimidates. — Ian Urrutia

‘I Can’t Stop Me’ – TWICE  (KR)

While their K-pop peers are crushing the game with bombastic anthems informed by titanic drops, trap-rap bursts, and slightly dated EDM sounds to create a cohesive whole, TWICE steers clear of the predictable direction as they revisit retro-leaning, disco pop with style and competence displayed on full swing. The pinnacle of this creative otherness is “I Can’t Stop Me,” an unstoppable force of a party that distills ‘80s revival with colorful, thrilling arrangements and perfectly synchronized choreography. TWICE affirms their presence with what seems like the last remaining semblance of pre-pandemic normality. The emotive largesse of the chorus, paired with a vocal performance that reflects the reign and impact of disco divas from Donna Summer to Dua Lipa, is enough for you to blast this banger on repeat, while you dance nonstop to its effervescent beat. — Ian Urrutia

Water Me Down (Pamcy Remix – PH) – Vagabon

“This sounds like Pamcy,” Jorge Wieneke (similarobjects), I think it was who made this remark when the track came on during our second TUMULTUM mix for Manila Community Radio. And he was right. By now, our ears are trained to pick up the young producer’s style: softer, gentler, fluid, and soulful—Chicago house’s more sensuous sister. Pamcy managed to individualize house and music’s expansive nomenclature into a version of deep house that’s distinctively hers. Her remix of Vagabon’s “Water Me Down” is whittled to its bare form, allowing Lætitia Tamko’s buttery vocals taking center stage. It’s gorgeous, even a slice of perfect. — MC Galang

‘White October’ – The Wellington (ID)

You can’t help but buckle up for a riveting sonic ride when “White October” pops out of nowhere and steals your attention. The opening track to The Wellington’s underrated post-punk revival album floods your consciousness with delicious guitar riffs straight from the Modern English playbook and starry synths that somehow serve a higher power other than function as a merely decorative element. Every corner of the song contains melodic charm, and its effortlessness paints a picture of eternal summer in an alternate dimension. There’s no murk here, not even an attempt to distill the brooding tendencies that informed most of the deep cuts in the album. “White October” simply lightens up the mood with its straight-up, pleasure-center qualities. There’s no way to ignore it. — Ian Urrutia

‘Habulan’ – ZILD (PH)

Without resorting to avant-garde experiments or cheap tricks, ZILD reinvents himself as Gen Z’s version of Galactik Fiestamatik-era Rico Blanco. His subtle but masterful approach to pop music isn’t exactly engineered for chart dominance, albeit brimming with a hyper-glossy style reminiscent of A.G. Cook’s production. Take “Habulan” as a fine example of the former Spades frontman’s affinity for infinitely hummable choruses and sharp hooks. In less than four minutes, ZILD delivers chiptune madness with a stab at pop crossover. While certainly no outlier, the song’s understated weirdness beams at a pleasurable maximum, turning its bruised emotional center into anthemic gold. — Ian Urrutia