By MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
Here are our favorite new releases (great discoveries) from Asia this week.
‘Lava!’ – ØZI (TW)
Taiwanese-American hip-hop artist ØZI manages to eclipse the usual croon-heavy R&B top 40 material with a little more charm and laid-back fun on his latest, “LAVA!” (a sleek wordplay for both “lover” and its overall balminess), balancing self-assurance and the hiding any plausibility of denying his advances without trying too much, nor too aggresively. The accompanying visuals featured cameos from fellow Taiwanese artists and collaborators 9m88, Trout Fresh, Shi Shi, and Yellow’s Huang Hsuan (whom we caught at last year’s LUCfest) in a gorgeous matinee.
Stream on Spotify
‘Submarine’ – Hoody & Bronze (KR)
There’s an aching sweetness in Hoody’s “Submarine”—an unabashedly ‘80s-inspired city pop summer number that’s ostensibly meant to be enjoyed outdoors. “I wanna run away / Escaping everything,” she sings. Admirably though, Hoody managed to reframe the concept of isolation as something more adventurous, even a bit daring (“Just you and me / under the water and in the sea / We can make friends with the fishes / See us making love / But no one above / will ever know”), and absolutely no desire to abandon any moment of union.
‘Navigate Meditation Bassssss’ f/ DJ Wegun and ‘Boogie Palace’ – Pento 펜토 (KR)
Pento’s blistering album, 4, offers an unconventional approach to storytelling not quite the same with his contemporaries in South Korea’s growing hip-hop scene: grimier, less predictable, and yet fastidious in his production choices. The opener, “Navigate Meditation Bassssss” indulges in rich, luscious synth work, a formidable bass line, and ingratiating details (e.g. the scratch work towards the end) that set the tone for the album. “Boogie Palace” then follows, with its tasteful pomp and percussive-driven immediacy that belongs easily in an underground club. I’d like to RSVP to that.
‘Bao Giờ’ – Tuimi f/ Zuy, RICKY STAR (VN)
One of my favorite discoveries this week is Saigon-by-way-of-Berlin-based musician Tuimi, whose debut album softcore hardshell is a mix of dark, enchanting pop and alt-R&B in the vein of Banks, Zola Jesus, and Hikaru Utada. “Bao Giờ,” one of its outstanding nocturnal cuts, is a broody, come-hither number featuring a rap assist from RICKY STAR. It drips with sex; but more importantly, a mesmerizing pull knowing this is a person—a woman—who takes agency in her desires, if not taking pleasure in courting danger.
‘Cosmic Highway 001: Munting Ligaya Mix’ – Mikail (PH)
This hour-long remix from Filipino producer Mikail is a great launchpad for electronica from the country (especially towards the curious and the uninitiated), courtesy of Mixmag Asia. You cannot find anything like this on largely commercial streaming platforms, probably with the exception of Soundcloud and Bandcamp, the latter of which regularly publishes accompanying features to explore the creators and origins of the global independent music community. Just take a peek at those “curated” playlists on Spotify and Apple Music Philippines and you’ll see a staggering lack of imagination by their “editors” (who are these people?) and feel the wide gap between the audience and the artists who built these communities from the ground up.
This is why the “Munting Ligaya” mix is more than just a very well-curated run-through of electronic music that offers a vivid imagery of what the Filipino underground beat-making landscape looks like: a fertile playground of stories fantastically sequenced beyond trope-y mood-based patterns (e.g. “chillax”). Instead, Mikail turned each individual track into a continuum of characters, settings, conflicts, and a satisfying resolution. It refuses to fade into the background (even at its “tamest” and quieter moments), demanding the listener’s attention. And boy, when it goes there, the high-octane explosiveness of creative energy (our very own budots, for example) is just remarkably compelling. No marketing term (i.e. “indie OPM”) can even mildly capture that.
‘Juskopo’ – Narda (PH)
Fourteen years after the release of 2006’s Discotillion, Narda returns with another bile-fueled anthem that sparks rage in uncompromisingly in-your-face way. On “Juskopo,” the indie OGs express their frustrations with the prevailing social issues of the present time through a song that’s ready to destroy everything in sight.
Over a snarky, garage-punk stomper, vocalist Katwo Puertollano takes a swipe at the so-called incompetent leaders that put the entire nation in jeopardy. It makes perfect sense that she’s fuming mad: people are dying of hunger and pandemic, the economic movement has come to a standstill, and those in the position of power are using the healthcare crisis to protect and advance their political interests. “Juskopo” articulates the collective uproar of the people who have been wronged by the system and deliberately sidetracked in helpless situations, and we’re here for it.
‘Umami’ – Asch f/ Clara Benin (PH)
Asch projects confidence in integrating intricate details with minimalist, soulful production. “Umami,” his latest collaboration with Clara Benin, delivers on the promise of his early work, while walking away from the conventions that define current trends and youthful affectations. His latest release is a groovy but laid-back number that isn’t afraid to look back, as well as forward. Its greatest strength is touching on a variety of influences: from neo-soul to hip-hop, jazz to ‘90s R&B without overdoing it, or making it sound like a complicated jam that suffers from heavy-handed sonic excursions. It feels right with deceptively simple arrangement and subtle virtuosity.
‘The Chase’ – Alextbh (MY)
Normalizing queer messaging in the context of pop music is no longer new these days, but for someone who grew up in a country that remains deeply conservative and insensitive toward the plight of the LGBTQ+ community, Malaysian pop artist Alextbh seemed unafraid to confront outdated perceptions about his sexuality and feelings on his latest record, The Chase.
In fact, the self-titled track openly talks about taking risks despite insurmountable odds, a bold move that asserts his romantic and sexual desires even if people of his kind are experiencing institutionalized discrimination on a day to day basis. “The Chase” navigates the complicated, messy feelings of hookups and young love while acknowledging the thrill that comes with being a queer guy living one’s life to the fullest. “I’m wasting my youth on you, but nothing beats this high,” Alextbh sings and sashays his way from a place of void. He tries to find light in the mess that he’s in, regardless of its imperfect but vulnerable narrative. Sure, he has commitment issues, but there’s something about “The Chase” that ignites conversations about queer stories resonating with the times. It breaks down the walls of confinement and takes you to a journey of life, love, and sexuality.
‘Hello Bye Bye’ – 9m88 (TW)
Taiwanese-American star 9mm8 indulges listeners with a smooth number that brushes gently over delicately jazzy instrumentation and classic soul arrangement. “Hello Bye Bye” is imbued with sensual sheen that sounds intuitive and natural at the same time. But what makes it a cut above the rest is Joanne Baba’s slyly confident but excellent singing style: both a gift and instrument capable of tackling complicated turns of phrases, and balancing technique with restraint and range. Frankly speaking, we don’t deserve a voice like hers. She’s on a different level.