Words by MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
Time is tricky, the way it languishes and zips through just like that. It’s already February, in a year that feels overwhelmingly like an extension of 2020 but also ostensibly different from exactly a year ago—when I represented The Rest Is Noise at the Trans Asia Music Meeting in Southern Japan, hosted and produced by the same organizers behind Music Lane Okinawa music showcase festival, a few days before the borders closed and I made it back home just in time.
This time though, we’re 11 months into quarantine—one of the longest in the world—and it feels like we’ve already acclimated to the extremes of fatigue. It’s inevitable, but the reason why we continue to get the work done is it’s part of surviving, too.
And it wouldn’t be possible without music. Never.
Here are our favorite new and new-ish music. — MC Galang
‘Para Sayo’ – LONER (PH)
LONER has the pulse for a goddamn great UK garage track, that’s already been established, but one of his best tools in his producer box is a good riff off and more importantly, an ability to modulate and control. His latest, “Para Sayo,” is accentuated by tasteful pop elements that warrant repeated listens—a triumph in itself. It is chiefly UKG, and some ways a good pop track, too. But ultimately, it’s an endearing love song: one of those rarely explored, off-the-beaten-path things often lost in the avalanche of dry ballads and ASMR indie pop. More of this, please.
‘ANGH3LL’ – KUR1M4W f/ GVNDVLXCXXX$ (PH)
KURIM4W’s delivery on “ANGH3LL” transcends self-assurance. The way he repeats “Feeling ko anghel ako / Para bang may halo” is infectious, less than a drunken claim and more of a mantra he tells himself to gas himself up when sober. It’s teasing; mocking, almost. But you don’t disbelieve it and it’s arguably more potent than other rappers who bust out the gate with grand self-proclamations.
‘GHOST COMING’ (DJ set) – Arexibo (KR)
Not technically new, and not technically a song but this DJ set by South Korean producer Arexibo for the Ilmin Museum of Art has taken permanent residency in my brain since I first listened to it. Reminding me visually (with the dark room and melting type) of famed mangaka Kazuo Umezz’s first volume of The Drifting Classroom in its full, ominous form. Make of that what you will, but it’s simultaneously hypnotic and in-your-face. I especially enjoyed the second half, as it heads to a more melodic direction, but the manner and form it takes to get there is an exhilarating payoff (around the 36-minute mark). Masterful.
‘do what you want’ – Dajung (KR)
The music of South Korean singer-songwriter Jen Dajung Kim, who goes by her mononym Dajung, is centered on healing as much as it is on how she got her wounds and trauma in the first place. Much, if not all of it is about the fragility and harshness of youth that often gets dismissed as byproducts of privilege and convenience as opposed to, I guess, doing the harder, human thing of giving grace and showing empathy.
It’s somehow more destabilizing to hear desolate cries for help when it comes from young people because the way we often associate childhood with innocence: how much simple things are, how pure joy is; but also how more susceptible we were to damage as much as we were resilient.
On “do what you want,” one of the vignettes from Jay Knife, Dajung “mourns the fading of her younger self” and ruminates on her existence, her self-worth and frustrations on both. She wrote this when she was 15 years old, expressing her desire to stay alive. It’s unnerving to hear someone so young not only having to deal with these ideations but having the language to express it succinctly.
If you are in emotional crisis and in need of immediate assistance, you may call the HOPELINE by Natasha Goulbourn Foundation (02) 804-4673 and 0917-558-4673. GLOBE and TM subscribers in the Philippines may call 2919 toll-free. For mental health resources in Asia, visit this link for a comprehensive list.
‘普通人類’ – I Mean Us (TW)
It should come as no great shock that Taiwanese indie rock outfit I Mean Us has delivered another anthem of colossal proportions, capable of conveying endearing dreaminess in the most compelling way possible. “普通人類,” their latest single, is worth celebrating not for its sheer ambition, but for navigating an intriguing meditation on life and love with that sort of effortless mastery expressed in their previous releases. As expected, I Mean Us are still masters of their own craft, carving brilliance out of limitlessness in genre and form. “普通人類” is an amalgam of sonic influences blending the ethereal end of modern pop music with classical music, post-rock and electronic dance music, turning the familiar soundscape that they’re used to mining into a place of sonic drama and conviction.
‘Prey’ – Naomi G (SG)
Naomi G came to prominence with her explicit expressions of women empowerment, often demonstrating the importance of ownership, sexuality and freedom in a society that is predominantly patriarchal. “Prey” is no stranger to this rebellious pop journey: a musical statement that doubles as a straight-up battle cry for countless of women who have been wronged by the system based on their gender and appearance.
Over bass-heavy, maximalist beats and brooding ‘80s synths straight from the Drive soundtrack, the Singapore-based newcomer didn’t mince words in slamming the structural biases that hinder women from embracing their power within. She sings the line “I’m not your prey,” repeatedly in the chorus, as if sending a middle finger to the oppressive system that continues to perpetuate abuse and bias against women.
‘NAINAINAI’ – Atarashii Gakko (JP)
J-pop girl group Atarashii Gakko steps into the global spotlight with the release of “NAINAINAI”—their first single under Asian-focused record label, 88Rising. The unbelievably catchy song navigates the expectations that come with the four-piece outfit’s brand: shiny, fizzy pop jam delivered with pep rally giddiness and hip-hop confidence. With a lyrical theme centered on the teenage state of mind, “NAINAINAI” sees the fabulously fun quartet embracing their scrappy punk attitude while being enmeshed into the sensibilities of grrrl pop, balancing both ends of the spectrum to create something that you can dance and shout-along to at the top of your lungs when things feel like shit.
‘I Could Be Yours’ – Zooey Wonder (TW)
Zooey Wonder has always been an indispensable voice in Taiwanese alternative pop. Since 2017’s critically acclaimed full-length album, Wonderland, the eclectic singer-songwriter has been producing intimate and icy electronic pop songs that render a palette of emotions to brilliant effect. “I Could Be Yours,” her comeback single, stretches out the signature moodiness of her music and turns it into a romantic headrush. It has that crossover sound that wouldn’t feel completely out of place on indie drama soundtracks, but its appeal lies on its swoon-worthy production and Zooey’s weightless delivery—carefully mixed to coast through breezy sonic elements.
‘Silver Rain’ – She Her Her Hers (JP)
“Silver Rain” sounds like light seeping through a canopy of woodlands: it’s momentous but ephemeral, life-affirming but never aiming for something that lasts an entire generation. Ornate and lushly orchestrated, its production maintains a degree of intimacy and elegance, while emitting a natural feel to it. The strings take its time to flourish and build into a majestic finish, effortlessly meshing with programmed beats and organic arrangements. But the real highlight of this track is how She Her Her Hers managed to find a balance between substance and style, with every moment earned, and not sacrificing the vulnerable aspects of its songwriting.