Words by MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
Our New Music We Love series took a two-week break to make way for our preparations for the first edition of ASEAN Music Showcase Festival (and our first virtual music festival during the quarantine period in the Philippines) last September 19 to 21. Our unending thanks to everyone who tuned in and supported the artists who performed and all our delegates who participated. You can check out our playlist of the 20 Asian artists here.
In another first, we’ve also debuted our first episode of our TUMULTUM broadcast for Manila Community Radio. TUMULTUM is our monthly mix for the decentralized Manila-based radio that will exclusively feature tracks from Asian musicians anywhere in the world. Our second episode will premiere on October 17 and we’ll share more details on our social media accounts soon.
But for now, let’s dive into the new releases we love from Asia.
‘Serenade for Mrs. Jeon’ – Omega Sapien (KR)
What makes Balming Tiger a spectacularly defiant unit is how much their music and visual narrative not just pokes holes at, but tears down the aspirational promise burdened on young people by a society that expects them to get good grades in school so they get a high-paying job and be successful.
This reality is splashed all over Omega Sapien’s “Serenade for Mrs. Jeon” (his first single off his newly released solo album, Garlic), only that it’s defined by pressure and disillusionment, compounded by gnawing guilt and home issues (“I’m pressed up, I’m depressed / I can hear my mama cry, in my bed / Bitch I’m pressed up, try my best”)—especially as a child in a working-class family where your duty is to raise your status as way of wish fulfillment. Omega Sapien shows the destabilizing nature of this, as he ultimately unspirals.
Stream the audio
‘Nothing Orgy’ – Tation天聲樂隊 (CN)
Instrumental rock band Tation天聲樂隊 hails from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, with a sound that best manifests their home’s sprawling mass and higher altitude. Their latest album, Coordinate Plan 2018, is a live soundscape that merges installation, poetry, earth art, and performance across four distinct coordinates on the plateau: an urban business district, bank of the Yellow River, factory workshop and Qingsha mountain, and a branch of the Kunlun mountains. As a result, the album deliberately explores and captures the unique acoustics of each space, not hinging on “internalized experience […] both of them are an attitude of renunciation of the environment, but also the exile of the self.” Album opener “Nothing Orgy” scales the expectations of a plowing post-rock track with an addition of saxophone, but not to soothe, no; instead, as a satisfying, non sequitur chaos that confronts our perception of space and what we do with it.
‘Keep Yourself Away’ – Low Pink (ID)
Low Pink describes their music as “cold-and-soft-psychedelic,” which is the sort of spur-of-the-moment thing one thinks of when filling out a Facebook band page, I suppose. One who may have overlooked this description can conveniently categorize them as one of those hybrid lo-fi indie rock acts that exploded in the last three years, thanks to YouTube’s recommended section.
But there’s a thing about hearing a song in a certain context, some fateful timing, if you will. The way this one opens with, “Keep yourself away from me”—more as a caustic warning than a helpless plea. Certainly during these times, the former applies as a de facto courtesy, a health precaution. The opener to the band’s latest Dominance album encapsulates the brooding, reverb-heavy “cold and soft” atmosphere the band could be pertaining to, how it reprimands the way we were conditioned to behave socially this whole time, its high expectations of connections and how we’ve come to resent or embrace it, depending on how adept or inept you are. And now suddenly, we’re amongst ourselves, isolated—and not by choice. It’s agonizing, and Low Pink offers the seemingly most basic assurance: “You’re not alone,” and that, during these times, is something better than silence, better than nothing.
‘Garden Meditation’ – lui. (PH)
On “Garden Meditation,” Manila-based producer .lui marks his debut under transit records under the most disparate circumstances. “What was supposed to be the celebration of his breakaway from school and the ‘last summer before real life’ became months of virtual exploration,” according to the liner notes of his new [The Sun In My Window] EP. Adapting to these changes made .lui (also known as Papa Jawnz) come to terms with a new, strange kind of loss, one that is both specific and broad, formless yet palpable. “Garden Meditation” is an exercise on reflection, where sounds break into the quiet instead of escape from it, designed in a way that captures a garden space succinctly without not much aid of imagining.
Album: Muling Kagat – Various Artists (PH)
Growing up with Manila Sound played in perpetual periphery inadvertently shaped my lifelong preference for funk- and groove-oriented music more than any other era in Philippine music. The thing is, it remained mostly a nameless, faceless entity, which I attribute to the lack of institutional effort to actively preserve Filipino culture.
Regardless, coming across this new tribute album for Manila Sound pioneers Hotdog, specifically honors its late bassist Dennis Garcia’s contributions and rare recordings which reintroduces me, as I’m sure to many others as well, to the band’s peerless discography through the careful handiwork of his son, Paolo Garcia, or best known as the prolific producer Pasta Groove (who spearheaded 2013’s masterful D’wata album). The title alludes to the band’s first album and its 2020 iteration for the younger generation, an enduring taste of a golden era.
‘Broken Glass’ – She’s Only Sixteen (PH)
The most immediate, most obvious change about “Broken Glass,” the new single from Manila’s She’s Only Sixteen—aside from its sashay to serious shimmy territory—is its own character rebuke of the attitudes and behaviors that shaped 2017’s Whatever That Was. It’s something new, sure, but it’s not a leap either. Whether it’s a way of therapizing or ridding himself of his own complications, the way Roberto Seňa writes (since Whatever That Was, anyway) has often felt like he’s drawing from experiences he’s witnessed, if not directly a party to.
That hasn’t changed (not really) with “Broken Glass,” a song no longer buried solely under self-deprecation. Instead, it brokers compassion and channels introspection into movement—literally (also mixed beautifully by JP Del Mundo of 60nice, which is something I don’t usually pick up on but the way it occupies the room bounces with the energy as I hoped it intended). The former’s been true for their previous single, “Currently,” but it’s only at “Broken Glass” that She’s Only Sixteen embraces adaptation completely, harnessing their separate, individual inclinations into their work as a band and allowing it to flow naturally.
Stream on Bandcamp
‘Parleying the Odds’ – Space Cubs (ID)
In less capable hands, “Parleying the Odds” might sound like a middling revisit to the heydays of The Smiths and Aztec Camera, a lazy rewrite that lacks soul and enthusiasm. But thank goodness for Space Cubs’ buoyant and joyous take on the familiar, we’re introduced to a song that evokes the same kind of blissful intimacy.
In its best moments, the Indonesian act’s latest track explicitly outlines a melodic jangle pop sound informed by crisp, nuanced production and understated shimmer. Beyond these small signs, it’s a song that settles gracefully from start to finish with not much deviation in pace. Its strength lies on the pop songcraft and expressive lyricism, the inherent ability to capture a fully realized aesthetic in an instant, and the unmistakable nods to the ‘80s pop greats that laid the foundation for today’s indie rock blueprint. Space Cubs take delight in crystallizing the best parts of nostalgia and trying to escape from it—a gift that seeps under your skin.
‘The First Time’ – The Geeks (PH)
The Geeks arrives seemingly out of nowhere with another slacker indie-pop anthem that provides an instant sense of home for every miserablist out there, whose hearts were left to rot in the bins and whose sanity needed a little bit of sunshine. “The First Time” isn’t much of a return to form, but rather a lilting update of the band’s incredible brand of sad bastard music. There’s the inevitable tendency to compare their latest single to the underrated gems on their debut EP, Monsters Under Your Bed, given that lyrically and melodically, it shares the same DNA, the casual grace that inhabits the very space it occupies, and the whole heap of self-deprecating moments that come from a place of non-ironic sincerity.
Jam Lorenzo shares in a statement that “The First Time” is partly inspired by the “portrayal of young romance in Filipino period films,” an attempt to use the trope as a vantage point to write music that is familiarly escapist, but full of cracks. It’s a great comeback from a cult indie act with a both a broad base of musical ideas and a tenacity for the standard. It works because The Geeks have always perfected the art of making songs that soar with melodic hooks, and know when to inject quirk to set it apart from the usual.
‘Friday Night’ – VANNA (IL)
“Friday Night” lays a delicate tapestry of brooding electronic pop and singer-songwriter lament.
With its soundscapes resembling both grim eulogies and half-awake daydreaming, the song casually invites listeners to the world of VANNA’s growing pains and mental health struggles, in her attempt to escape the wounded process—slowly, assertively, even if it takes a lifetime to get over the feeling. It also helps that the Israeli singer-songwriter is an expert interpreter that knows how to embrace brokenness with unsettling precision, and when to make use of her gifts to complement producer Roy Avital’s moody hymnals.