Words by MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
Long before “curation” even became a buzzword, MC and I have been writing about obscure homegrown releases for almost a decade in a defunct music blog. A decade into the fold, and we still adapt to its working mantra: give spotlight to the underrated finds that we believe in, and celebrate, however little, efforts that strike our curious ears with wonder.
Now on volume #31, New Music We Love continues to build on the passion of sifting through the landfill in hopes of finding gems that spark joy or excitement, or whichever emotional palette you subscribe to legitimately. We have widened our horizons to include releases from East and Southeast Asia, and artists whose heritage shares affinity beyond geography.
This week, we’ve set our sights to eclectic jams that veer away from categorization, some indie bops that could have been hits if marketed to broader segments of the culture, and homegrown favorites that reflect our personal tastes. Like prior entries to NMWL, we put great care to song selection simply because we want these anthems to resonate to as many people as possible, and hopefully ignite some positive changes within the music community—be it from the consumer or creator’s end. — Ian Urrutia
‘Minimum Love’ – Cephalosis (CN)
One of my new discoveries this week is Kunming electronic duo, Cephalosis, whose sophomore record, Spring Styx, is thankfully far from the innocuous implications of its harmless album cover. It’s sensual and ominous, often vivid it’s almost tangible.
Unlike most tracks on Spring Styx that fare better when experienced as parts of a whole, “Minimum Love” manages to stand rather well on its own. It combines the self-hatred squelches of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” with the intrigue of Dario Argento’s Suspiria in a way that it’s almost fatalist and yet also appealing. It’s neither explicit nor revelatory, but enough to reel you in.
‘White Noise’ – U-Pistol f/ 加奈子 (PH)
U-Pistol’s music seems to have cornered one of YouTube’s cottage industries for producers, one that feels a bit “obscure” for the casual listener who may think SoundCloud is too weird (“Where are the lyrics?!”) for them. Perhaps this exact presumptive obscurity is why electronic music in this country is still considered “under the radar.” But that’s a topic for another time.
U-Pistol’s latest, “White Noise,” is an endearingly introverted dance pop number and another example of demonstrating the earnestness of romance without the often sweeping, grand gestures of traditional ballads into a more intimate, shared experience. Just in time for Valentine’s Day.
‘Jayu’ – SE SO NEON (KR)
It’s especially rare to be in a collective standstill, to face the same encumbered dread at an exact moment in time—a pandemic kind of rare. What is unsurprising and less rare is its cosmic effect, the way it permeates. South Korean indie rock band and The Rest Is Noise (i.e. me) favorite SE SO NEON’s music has been responding to this phenomenon the best way they know how, albeit unwittingly.
In many ways, the trio’s music also feels like a reportage of sorts, at least from an outsider’s perspective. Their most recent album, Nonadaptation (2020), can be seen as a commentary on the increasing gentrification of their home city of Seoul as well as a pushback on societal norms. With their previous single, “Nan Chun,” hinting at change; their latest, “Jayu” ushers a “new era of freedom and growth,” according to a statement from the band. Unlike their past work, the latest releases accommodate experimentation on ambient sounds, vocoder effects, and more acoustic guitar arrangements (a stark contrast against the excellent Summer Plumage EP from 2017).
Vocalist and guitarist Hwang So-yoon shares that “Jayu” is centered on the desire for freedom and embracing courage. She says of the songwriting process, “While spending some time slowly thinking about what I can talk about after releasing Nonadaptation, I asked myself: How can I confront fear? What makes me whole at last? While searching for answers, I found the word ‘freedom’ and fear would disappear whenever I ruminate on it. It’s a very powerful word. I hope this work will function for some as a reminder of their long-forgotten freedom.”
‘Touch-Me-Not’ – Yu Su (CA/CN)
It feels contrite to describe Yu Su’s Yellow River Blue debut record as an antidote to the Everything fatigue of these times but how else would you characterize something that relieves and comforts you from damage that feels not only irreversible but molecular? “Touch-Me-Not,” in particular, transposes between stillness and motion with acute tenderness, like someone concerned with our well-being. It doesn’t call attention to itself but somehow reassuring of its company: present, but unimposing.
‘混亂的台北’ – Julia Wu (TW)
I’ve recently tweeted that my account now is basically just a series of declarations of how much I envy Taiwan, one of my favorite places on earth, for obvious reasons and mostly how I miss it deeply.
Julia Wu’s music video for “混亂的台北” shows the R&B singer getting around Taipei. “I wanna go back / Trying to find my way back,” she sings, not a stretch to say she’s referring to a romantic relationship. I, however, echo the sentiment differently. Sometimes the place where you feel close to home is a place, your November.
‘Tokyo Story’ – Miho Hatori (JP)
Plenty of other musicians might lose the drive to create something groundbreaking after decades of being in a band and mining creative possibilities, but not Miho Hatori. Outside of her stint as the charismatic lead singer of trip-hop outfit Cibo Matto and the occasional member of virtual band, The Gorillaz, the eccentric pop star continues to shatter expectations with her boundlessness and spontaneity.
Last month, Miho Hatori dropped her brand-new solo record, Between Isekai and Slice of Life, and it was particularly exciting in its insistence to find a middle ground between the cyborg maximalism of Grimes and the clubland doom of SOPHIE and Arca. My favorite among the 8-track release is the opener ‘Tokyo Story’—a technicolor jam that finds innovative ways to redefine pop music with chilly, otherworldly arrangements and post-industrial beats. Miho Hatori follows many of the same rules that propel a song into a hit, but being a connoisseur of the celestial and out of this world menace herself, the former Cibo Matto vocalist turns irresistible melodies and synthesized electronic production into disarming new shapes that wouldn’t feel out of place in obscure electronic records or buzzy hyper-pop releases. Sure, it’s chameleonic by form and function, but just like her prior releases, “Tokyo Story” never distances itself from the unabashed embrace of the trendy and immediately pleasurable; it stays within the lane with the markings of a true pop thespian.
‘I Don’t Wanna Dream Tonight’ – Midnight Fusic (MY)
Gleaming in retro pop sheen and dreamy riffage, ‘I Don’t Wanna Dream Tonight’ is easily the best song off Midnight Fusic’s self-titled full-length album released early this year. Its exploration of teenage infatuation is stripped of pretense, and its subdued approach in songwriting reaches the potent highs of young, unadulterated romance in all its carefree glory. What I like about the song is how it finds silver lining in the earnest simplicity of words and melodies, and how confident the band is in unearthing gold out of a refreshingly nuanced approach. There’s nothing about “I Don’t Wanna Dream Tonight” that reeks of desperation or vanity. It just happens to be a well-made song that certainly has the chops of a crossover hit.
‘You Do You Do’ – Sleep Kitchen (PH)
Sleep Kitchen wrote organically soothing tunes that evoke the timeless swagger of Erykah Badu and the homey infectiousness of Jill Scott, but in essence, you could hear Tao Aves sing as if she’s making love to the mic—spiritually possessed and carefree, but totally in control of her feelings. On “You Do You Do,” the folky and soulful four-piece chronicles the inevitability of falling back hard to a past lover’s old charms and realizing that the heart still belongs to that person.
The song is easily one of the indelible highlights of the debut self-titled album, a bluesy jam packed with unabashed intimacy and deeply moving instrumentation. Unlike her other songs though, Tao doesn’t need to put her hair down and belt the heck out of it. ‘You Do You Do’ is a nuanced affair backed by a subdued rhythm section, and it steers the momentum forward thanks to Tao’s effortlessly powerful delivery.
‘I Want To Lie On The Balcony With Smoking’ – Uami (JP)
Uami exploded into the internet consciousness with her fearless deconstruction of pop music. Her work is its own esoteric landscape: incomprehensible to a degree, but never removed from the emotive vastness that is her personality and depth. As expected, the Japanese art-pop musician’s new track, “I Want To Lie On The Balcony With Smoking,” pushes itself far enough into the unknown. Her vocal delivery is theatrical in its own performance art messiness, but her entire act stands out with a riveting showcase of avant-garde noise and indie rock smarts. Plagued by ambiguities, “I Want To Lie On The Balcony With Smoking” is, by some measure, an interesting statement piece that makes heavy use of idiosyncratic approach to words and sounds, while exploring delightfully bizarre textures from the haunted and the mundane.
‘Slumber Days’ – SoulFa (TW)
“Slumber Days” sounds like a leisurely paced song that brims with suburban ennui and joy. Its jangly guitars and lush sonic flourishes fill the space with tranquil beauty, while the saccharine melodies glisten above the coating. Outside of its shiny surface, SoulFa’s latest single weaves a tale of domestic romance being torn apart: its foundation now on the verge of a messy collapse, and its brokenness far from redeemable. Here, Panson sings his heart out over a glassy guitar lead that dissolves in a crystalline daydream, convincing himself that everything will revert back to normal despite the hopelessness of the situation.
‘Aurora’ – Seoul Magic Club (KR)
Seoul Magic Club makes homemade indie pop that injects the “less is more” maxim to its DNA. On “Aurora,” a lilting synth melody buoys SiAN’s cooing vocals as she rewrites her version of a paperback romance. The trio rises above the minimalist production with their keen display of melodic warmth. Every element is served with effortless glide, delivering pure pleasure and excitement even with the limitations of their aesthetic.