Words by MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang
This week’s installment of New Music We Love is one of my favorites (and frankly, one of the best) yet. From mainstay favorites such as Balming Tiger, I Mean Us, Pamcy, to new discoveries such as Benjamin Varney to Ultramodernista, feast your ears on this latest selection.
P.S. This time last year, we attended the Trans Asia Music Meeting in Okinawa, Japan. As fate would have it, the rescheduled maiden edition of Music Lane Okinawa was held over the weekend, which was also organized and produced by TAMM. We’d like to thank them once again for choosing us as their country partner; and to our featured artists: She’s Only Sixteen, KRNA, and syd hartha for their performances. We hope to celebrate the second edition in person again next year! — MC Galang
‘Thai Tea’ – Benjamin Varney – f/ Mintra A (TH)
Benjamin Varney’s “Thai Tea” is the kind of laid-back R&B that fits effortlessly into the pre-streaming-era nighttime radio format: sticky bass lines, intimate themes, and vocals thick with swagger you can smell the pomade. But hey, when it sticks, it sticks.
And while I’m normally not into food-based romantic songs and body fluid allusions, “Thai Tea” escapes today’s unimaginative but smartly packaged “alternative—or indie—R&B” entirely because of its accompanying out there visuals, something out of a Safdie Brothers’ cut. Somewhat.
‘Maybe Chocolate Chips’ – CHAI f/ Ric Wilson (JP)
CHAI’s music has always felt like it’s rooted from pure, simple instinct: far from calculating, not terribly difficult to unpack, and just a supercharged ball of energy to be delightfully around with. The kawaii oddball quality is hard to manufacture, often manifesting in a pop-punk, indie rock hybrid that reframes what J-pop means within a hyper-polished, highly stylized pop music industry. Just take “No More Cake” for example, which serves as an indictment of societal expectations on women’s bodies.
Which brings me to “Maybe Chocolate Chips,” the third single off the highly anticipated and already wildly exciting WINK (out on May 21 via Sub Pop), the latest of a string of releases that sees CHAI consistently broaching the concept of food and appetite with their consistently tasteful PG-13 flair and appealing mantra of happiness and embracing your own self, warts (or moles) and all.
‘Fish Sauce’ – Pamcy (PH)
Speaking of consistency, trust Pamcy to deliver the goods with, by now, her signature pop-R&B derivative of house music that often combines ordinary culinary references one would least likely associate dance music to. In this case, “Fish Sauce,” everyone’s favorite high-sodium condiment, almost mimics the frenetic ambiance of food preparation: sizzling fire from a gas stove, frying oil, a salt shaker—bon appetit.
‘普通人類’ – I Mean Us (TW)
I Mean Us foments the kind of indie music that Taiwanese musicians have been nourishing and showcasing, rather remarkably, in the last few years: structurally similar to much of Western music but just almost always leaning towards the unpredictable. Ironically, “普通人類” which translates to “Ordinary Human,” feels almost extraterrestrial: wrapped in mystique, entrancing. “普通人類” meshes dream pop textures with experimental rock that voyage into the kind of music one seems to make when they’re unbound by circumstantial restrictions and pressure. It’s what ordinary should be.
‘LOOP?’ – Balming Tiger (KR)
“LOOP?,” the second half of Balming Tiger’s double-A single release, is at its core, propulsive because it has to be. It’s jarring, tough shell is necessary to protect its vulnerabilities. It also characteristically combines the powerhouse qualities of its members: rap raconteur Omega Sapien, punk rap whiz Mudd the Student, and rapper-slash-R&B-singer sogumm into what feels like a weirdly long acid trip: a benign narrative in Balming Tiger’s dystopia.
The visuals, however, is emblematic of the kind of sometimes abrasive, but completely disarming form of storytelling Balming Tiger has been sharing for years. It follows an inexplicably grotesque chain of misfortunes, seemingly without opportunities to call for aid that you’ve no choice but to resign to your fate. It’s the worst kind of feeling, let alone a substance-induced trip: one where you’re helplessly trapped—in your own head or quite literally.
‘Interdependence Day (Part I)’ – For Tracy Hyde (JP)
For Tracy Hyde have always upped their game on the creative front, be it an album that pushes songwriting convention to incredible new places or a live performance worthy of an encore. Their latest single, “Interdependence Day (Part I),” has the hallmarks of what makes the Japanese indie pop band a force to reckon with. It rings dreamily throughout the journey, from the twee vocals that run the risk of floating away to the honeyed guitar jangle that ripples out to eternity. The appeal somehow brings to mind a visual equivalent of gazing out a car window during long drives in the countryside; its exploration of widescreen spaces through music rendered just with the right amount of discipline and nuance.
‘Honey Baby’ – Grrrl Gang (ID)
Grrrl Gang dials ‘90s nostalgia on their latest single, “Honey, Baby”—a fuzzy anthem that strikes the sweet spot between Liz Phair’s confessional honesty and Veruca Salt’s reckless angst. While it sounds like a blast from the past, the Yogyakarta-based pop/rock trio punches up the script with occasionally inane but romantically sweeping lyrics that don’t come around all that often. To listeners who weaned on Grrrl Gang’s knack for sugary power chords, “Honey Baby” will surely win you over. Angeeta Sentana’s incisive songwriting, paired with melodic guitar work and unassuming scrappiness, results into one of the finest indie rock moments this side of the globe. Not only does Grrrl Gang capture the essence of adolescent romance with a bracingly mature sound on “Honey Baby,” they also find a way to elevate the potential of this no-frills rocker with captivating crossover potential.
‘Always’ – I Saw You Yesterday (JP)
“Always” makes you feel everything again: the inconsolable mess of a heartbreak that one chooses to remember, the specificity of regrettable drunk nights, and the lingering scent of someone whose presence you refuse to acknowledge. It’s the kind of song that resonates closely with that particular period in your life when everything is starting to fall apart and not go in the direction that you want it to be.
Musically speaking, you could say there’s something endemically 2000s indie rock about “Always”—the melancholic sentiments attached to its infinitely hummable melodies and guitar lines, the perplexingly irresistible arrangements that give way to an effortless glide, and the road-trip-ready vibe that worms its way to your heart. Largely resisting trends while sticking to what they do best, which is to write emotionally compelling pop songs that conjure a palpable sense of the familiar, I Saw You Yesterday hits with remarkable force.
‘FNIO’ – Ultramodernista f/ uju (KR)
Ultramodernista pushes their retro-futurist motif to sleeker and subtler direction on “FNIO”—their first collab track with singer-songwriter uju. Pulling a neat trick across the board, the South Korean collective’s attempt to recreate a bona fide banger somewhere between the timeline of late ‘70s disco and early ‘80s city pop, is as smooth as it gets: not overtly pandering to the music’s potential commercial boom, but mirroring instead the sound of luxurious fantasias and sprawling cities in technicolored lens. Funky, carefree, and confident, ”FNIO” evokes the ecstasy of losing yourself in the moment, with incandescent urban nights as backdrop.