Words by MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
We launched New Music We Love in early 2020 simply to keep track of the latest new music from Asia and at the same time function as a review capsule and not just a PR chute of new songs from Asian artists. We wanted to outline their merits, the qualities that stood out the most for us. “Curation” has become a husk of a word these days (same with “editorial,” but that’s just me) because the act itself is more or less devoid of active discovery. But that’s what we’ve set ourselves to do: wade through an ocean of music from Asian artists from all over and share which ones we love. I mean, we don’t always overthink stuff even if we want to. Enjoy. — MC Galang
‘Just Fun’ – Balming Tiger (KR)
It’s a testament to the best alternative K-pop band in the world (which I’m not prepared to redact–ever) that one of their unreleased songs has already made this list. Balming Tiger performed “Just Fun” at their The Tiny Tour: Online Concert in November last year, a minimalist hip-hop posse cut that utilizes each member—wnjn, Omega Sapien, and sogumm—to the fullest extent. The group’s gift consistently remains to be their songwriting and unflappable charisma, coating a sheen of dewy R&B production and falsetto work reminiscent of late 2010s Tyler, The Creator and James Blake over the punchy contribution from resident rabble-rouser Omega Sapien. It’s an absolute J-O-Y to watch Balming Tiger because the best kind of fun is always one that comes from the heck of just having it.
‘B1’ – deca joins (TW)
I wish Taiwanese artists knew how much of a rarity they are. Having the privilege of knowing and working with them in just the last three years, there is much to learn from when it comes to how they manifest business-savvy in a completely aspirational manner. There are clearly structures and institutions in place to support the cultural arts beyond the commodifying aspect of entertainment. This live performance of deca joins’ “B1,” off their 2020 album Bird and Reflections, is exhibit number 1—and a case of “better than the studio version” to boot.
To a non-native speaker, there’s already a lot to extrapolate from the record alone. And then, they manage to transform what would otherwise be a decent alternative rock track to a motley of soul, blues, and rock: simultaneously tender and self-assured. It’s a performance worth the price of (online) admission alone. And while I’m already here admittedly envious, the Taiwanese people don’t have to be subjected to watching shows from home at all.
‘Years 2 Keep’ – ATSEA f/ Nina Joon (ID)
Released in November 2020, Jakarta-based ATSEA’s “Years 2 Keep” captures the kind of forced—but not toxic—optimism necessary to survive these days, “one day at a time” and all that. It’s a benign but reassuring presence unmistakably written for dire times, from insulated relationship conflicts to global health crises.
‘here comes the night’ – lui. (PH)
Mood is prized in lui.’s “here comes the night,” his contribution to Phoenicia, the 16-track compilation album released by BuwanBuwan Collective. It rests on a very specific moment: a frantic scene filled with jostling movement when the city lights up, when people start pouring out to the streets to hurry home. It lends a sense of purposeful mobility, one where the destination matters more than the journey.
‘Echo’ – TAATI (KR/UK)
London-based Korean indie artist TAATI makes electronic music that is steeped in film-noir minimalism. Her latest single “Echo” reworks the ‘90s trip-hop template with a modern touch, eschewing panoramic soundscapes for something that is both delicate but sensual in form. Think of it as Dummy-era Portishead minus the lush orchestration, or Billie Eilish finally discovering Massive Attack’s Protection for the first time. It’s a riveting nostalgic trip that burns bright but not quite fast—thanks to TAATI’s insistence to maneuver the direction on her own terms.
‘Spiral’ – Subsonic Eye (SG)
While the melodies sparkle and the guitars chime with endearing possibilities, Summer Noise 2019 alum Subsonic Eye’s “Spiral” strays away from default prettiness. It’s designed like an oddball one-off: insistent in chasing dissonant sounds out of a pop-informed framework, but never letting the spillage spiral out of control. There’s a newfound sense of craftmanship here that goes beyond aesthetic shift, an effort to balance the unbreakable tightness of 2018’s Dive Into with a sense of confidence and ambition. “Spiral,” with its distinctively jangly sound and dense arrangement, is an absolute thrill to listen to, providing a way to sustain your interest for repeated listens.
‘If You Say So’ – Cowboy Country Club (PH)
“If You Say So” finds Cowboy Country Club funneling ‘60s pop in its unassuming glory. But instead of catering to old-fashioned schmaltz to satisfy their nostalgist tendencies, the Filipino indie rock trio draws from a more baroque pop motif in the vein of Jens Lekman or Belle & Sebastian, deftly blending piñata-spiked harmonies with bombastic instrumentation. What I like about “If You Say So” the most is its thrilling moments of adventurousness, where its end goal isn’t confined into striving toward something grand, but also executing it to a maddening risk. The result, as expected, is incandescently vital—one that brims with a tuneful bundle of joy after a long day of holding your breath.
‘Someday Somewhere’ – Groovebox Story (ID)
“Someday Somewhere” is irresistible in the context of a pop song tackling one’s desire to hold on to love no matter what. It’s a hopeful plea, a romantic declaration that’s both overwhelming and depressing, best served when it’s pushed even further into the emotional center and sung epically over illuminating synths and maddeningly insistent melodies. Groovebox Story turns this sad little anthem into retro gold, with every sonic element swooning its way to a frothy finish, packed as it is with indelible hooks straight from the ’80s time machine.