By MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
We’re delivering to you last week’s new music we love a day late.
Note: My brain is unusually drained in the past few days. Will be back next week for more in-depth reviews of my favorite new music from Asia. Take care, everyone.
‘Don’t Say No’ – SURL f/ Jay Park (KR)
“Don’t Say No,” the latest from South Korean indie rock band SURL, tackles mixed signals and the fragility of relationships founded on uncertainties—that which keeps both parties together. “Please hold my hand before it’s broken / If that’s hard for you please lean on me and cry,” vocalist Seol Ho-seung reassures. Though facing the possibility of things not working out on his end, Korean-American rapper Jay Park pleads one last time to take another shot.
Stream on Spotify
‘Expect’ – Jess Connelly (PH)
Despite maintaining a low-key presence in the past few months, Jess Connelly has quite built a sterling catalog of R&B jams that are worth revisiting. Her songwriting has grown bolder and more confident, and she rarely misses the mark when it comes to picking the right collaborators: from hooking up with top caliber producers such as crwn and LUSTBASS, to working with Paco Raterta on generation-defining music videos—a proof that she knows how to balance creative endeavor with impressive work ethic.
Her new single “Expect” claims the spotlight with propulsive sheen and a less-is-more approach. The production swells even more with just repetitive beats, a spare sonic backdrop, and a few vocal effects. Thanks to Jess, who seems to have mastered the art of balancing subtlety with boundless charisma, the silky new bop makes the smallest details feel seismic.
As usual, Jess writes songs that tap vulnerable moments of being young and in love, but this time, her frustration sounds more pronounced, no longer just beating around the bush or skirting with limits: “I don’t know what to do / baby, I don’t know you anymore,” she delivers with both finality and longing, her singing resigned and panting, as if she’s suffocating from the setup and needs to take a breather for now. With “Expect,” the soulful singer-songwriter doesn’t need to sugarcoat her messaging; this time, she’s taking control of her narrative: no BS, no filter, just pure real talk.
‘Nangangamba’ – Zack Tabudlo (PH)
This week has been stellar for pop/R&B releases that spin nuanced beauty out of thin air: from Zild dropping one of the best albums of the year to Jess Connelly returning to her roots with an irresistible bop. And then there’s Zack Tabudlo’s “Nangangamba,” whose eclectic foray into pop escapism comes with richer details and a simpler, but more incisive storytelling approach.
The latter is everything that I need to hear in a Top 40 jam: an anthemic but soulful ditty that isn’t afraid to navigate a world that blatantly disregards fears and hesitations when it comes to expressing romantic love. This isn’t your recycled fluff with predictable gist. In fact, on “Nangangamba,” Zack embraces the conventions of pop music in the algorithm-backed, streaming era, but masterfully channels youthful fervor and intricacy in every aspect of music-making. His production style is a little bit polished, but carefully washed out in retro-future filter.
More than the embellishments and tight arrangements that envelope the song, the young singer-songwriter and producer writes with clarity and conciseness. The chorus is captivating without indulging in over-the-top premises, and the verses build and soar with the right blend of schmaltz and earnestness. Unlike his contemporaries, Zack acknowledges the strengths and limitations of the genre, while employing real signs of maturity in the process.
‘Habulan’ – Zild (PH)
Admit it or not, Zild succeeds in challenging outdated perceptions on pop music with character and excitement. His work is firmly planted into the sparkly confections of trends and industry expectations, but he is also not afraid to push boundaries with innovation and cutting-edge ambition, reflecting his eagerness to find something imaginative out of the mundane, and maintaining an exquisite but carefree sense of creativity.
His latest song “Habulan” cuts loose over 8-bit production and bouncy, electro-pop beats, while exploring the thrills of romantic affection in less than four minutes. It establishes the IV of Spades charmer into both a solo star capable of delivering bold, creative statements and a young pop auteur who isn’t afraid to revel in high drama or blend into the background with chameleonic tendencies. Here, Zild owns up to a mold that is uniquely his, taking comfort in making the kind of music that celebrates individuality and the most compelling aspects of his musical vision.