By MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Header Art by MC Galang
This week, we’ve breached the grim 100-day mark of sheltering in place, going through at least three iterations of quarantine across the country: GCQ, ECQ, MGCQ, and MECQ. The latest version is supposed to end by the 30th and we still have no idea what’s going to happen next. On June 26, at least 20 peaceful protesters were arrested at the Pride March in Mendiola, Manila. They were protesting against the Anti-Terror Bill—which is set to lapse into law on July 9.
This week, we’ve published three feature stories: on the LGBTQ+ narrative on Filipino music, on the Filipino artist’s role during crisis, and Filipino protest band The Axel Pinpin Propaganda Machine’s music and activism.
We’re wrapping up this busy week with fresh releases from Asia.
‘Float Away’ – I Saw You Yesterday (JP)
“Float Away” is one of those songs that captures space—its vastness and weight—for posterity. Japanese band I Saw You Yesterday bears down on nostalgia without too much sap, more focused on reinforcing a specific mood and memory rather than aimless meandering. – MC
Sonically, “Float Away” falls into the dreamier and more melodic side of indie rock, one whose melancholy simmers with a thoroughly engaging sense of pace. Rather than wallow in all-consuming introspection, the Japanese band settles for a consistently cozy production that attracts cinematic color and supple yet subtle instrumentation. The song neither loses its brakes nor accelerates for a buildup at least for the first few minutes. But when it runs past the final lap, the chords swell and the guitars soar in defiance. Somehow, the homerun feels worth the wait. – Ian
‘mess.’ – dot.jaime (PH)
Filipino producer dot.jaime’s work often rests on the gentle side. That is to say, he builds moods and ambience that suggest peace and genial affection within and towards the self—often a rarity in environments where it’s easier to be cruel or spiteful.
This certain softness in ‘mess.’ is not willed through expected thick, space-y textures but rather a somewhat marked excitement about something entirely trivial: like the frenetic energy that goes with cooking or cleaning: small, satisfying routines that relish on self-harmony. As Hermann Hesse puts it, “True action, good and radiant action, my friends, does not spring from activity, from busy bustling, it does not spring from industrious hammering. It grows in the solitude of the mountains… It grows out of the suffering which you have not yet learned to suffer.”
‘HEROISM’ – WONK (JP)
“Heroism,” a track off Tokyo-based experimental soul group WONK, carries a lot of suave and charm—easily a favorite from their latest album EYES. A quintessential contemporary soul-funk number in the vein of Chromeo, Jungle, and a couple of distinguished Roche Music signees like Dabeull and Cherokee with a dash of ‘80s Japanese city pop, “Heroism” is a splash of disco fun—a welcome distraction in these dire times.
‘ArArMyMy’ – Pisitakun (TH)
Bureaucratic institutions, which very much include governments (even democratic), have the tendency to sweep problems under the rug, if not dispose of them entirely: whether by coercion, erasure, of other more nefarious means.
Thai producer Pisitakun attempts to bring history’s certain ugly, unwanted truths into the light with his latest album Absolute C.O.U.P., using “oblique playfulness to challenge the ruling powers in the face of censorship and prosecution.” The result was a cornucopia of hard techno, molam, military marching beats, Thai Pop, and traditional Thai instrumentation, “a maximalist tour through the Thai political and psychic landscape, never sacrificing its wicked sense of fun in its pursuit of political justice.”
On “ArArMyMy,” Pisitakun samples a Thai country music song, “Poor Soldier,” against a backdrop of military drums. This artistic choice carries a symbolic nature: the song is about the plight of underpaid foot soldiers in stark comparison to wealthy generals, which was demonstrated on Pisitakun’s sampling of the 2014 speech of General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who “implemented a number of anti-democracy and censorship laws, remains in power today.”
‘ZAZA’ – SUMIN (KR)
South Korean singer and producer SUMIN (whose guest vocals on JAEL‘s “Lonely (고독한)” was a delight) slyly tempts on “ZAZA,” the final track to her newest four-track XX EP, wielding desire into a weapon. “I’ll come back to your house like a flint / When it hits, it’s burning / Because it will burn… let’s make some love tonight,” she sings, full of intent.
This ownership of her own desire is fiercely empowering as SUMIN asserts, not shy away from, her wants, normalizing natural human impulses instead of vilifying them.
‘Apologetic Dancer’ – Lazy McGuire (PH)
“Apologetic Dancer” mines inspiration from ‘80s new wave and soul music, more pop- and funk-oriented than She’s Only Sixteen’s indie rock. Its frontman, Roberto Seña, deviates from his band’s more contemporary rock stylings, fleshing out his pop and soul leanings more pronounced this time with his Lazy McGuire persona.
Its ‘70s and ‘80s electronic pop arrangements, to me, are the most fetching and satisfying moments of all: its touch of Hall & Oates (particularly the Voices era) and Todd Rundgren power pop tendencies coupled with that percussive breakdown brings it home. As Lazy McGuire, Seña is able to ferment on his personal shortcomings with less ostensible grim and instead delivers something that promises a little more idyllic fun.
‘躺著的人’ – Our Shame x STACO (TW)
Our Shame’s charm rests not so much on the frothy sounds that send listeners to a dreamy state of mind. Sure, they offer more of the same material, but their brand of restraint has always invited a meditative and reflective response. It soothes the soul even without lifting a finger.
Their latest collaboration with Taiwanese rapper STACO floats just above the pleasure center. The song’s slightly jazzy appeal and ambient beats are sparingly mixed with entrancing sonic flourishes. Its distinct minimalism is put to exemplary use here, but redirects the energy to blend in the background or to complement the pensive mood of the times. There’s no way to escape this effortlessly stellar release that shines even when it hides among the wallpaper patterns. It’s that good.
‘Better’ – Yolanda Moon (PH)
It’s impossible not to be moved by Yolanda Moon’s tribute to bidding goodbye on “Better,” especially when it questions the consequences of burying old memories, but takes the leap anyway to overcome the fear of being stuck in a routine or rut. The lyrics inhabit uncertainty at the mercy of self-worth and happiness, but it also packs contemplation as it navigates on what truly matters at this point: the change of scenery or the person you’ll leave behind? “This club of friends remember them for us / when this world ends for the lonely hearts,” Cholo Hermosa sings over trip-hop beats and minimal synths, his words no longer hesitant, but the tone still filled with somber hues. “Better” revels in the beauty of not knowing what comes after a very important decision. There’s no turning back once you’ve picked sides.
‘Firefly’ – The Steve McQueens (SG)
The Steve McQueen’s “Firefly” finds a pocket somewhere in between the earthy sounds of nu-jazz and the free-form recklessness of future pop. It refuses categorization, and barely panders to a specific timeline. Despite its attempts to explore a more virtuosic path, the song remains grounded with warmth and soul, buoyed by Eugenia Yip’s expressive but delicate vocals, which override the intricate fills and sonic experiments with her message of glowing optimism amidst the “darkness that overcomes us.” It’s the track’s best asset: her voice that is truly a masterclass in control and interpretation, and its ability to extinguish the mess we’re in, the moment she seizes the spotlight.
‘Pills’ – Sepia Times (PH)
Without ever settling on a signature sound, Sepia Times stretch the palatable in pop music with compelling instances of artifice and drama on “Pills”—a song that seems to process the difficulty of “warding the demons in your mind” in a time of pandemic madness. Musically, it isn’t much of a pivot: an electronic-infused, midtempo cut that splices a variety of music subgenres to create the “textbook” radio-friendly jam: the kind that best serves their personal narratives, but done with a balance of creative license and accessibility in mind. But there’s something about “Pills” that shows how flexible the familiar can be, and how it spills over boundaries as it talks about difficult subjects like mental health. It wards off potential cynics simply because it’s not afraid to be honest and confrontational, and its greatest gift is allowing itself to surrender in fear and vulnerability, discussing the struggles of “complicated” people with such nuanced sensitivity and understanding.