Words by MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Illustration by MC Galang

A year into the world’s longest lockdown, we’re still struggling hard to control the spread of the pandemic. The country is experiencing another surge in new COVID-19 cases, with detection of new strains and variants adding up to the numbers. Once again, our leaders have failed to address the crisis that has taken its toll on public healthcare and the economy, returning to Jurassic ways of implementing rules or promises that should have taken effect a year ago—including subsidizing medical-grade masks for the common folk and prioritizing contact tracing efforts. While other countries have focused on having majority of the population vaccinated with a strategy planned ahead of time, here we are, navigating uncertainty in a time when we should have exerted our energies nurturing personal and emotional growth.

Thank goodness for new music, at least we’re temporarily transported from the tragedy of errors that is the Philippine government. The past two weeks were a haven for big Asian releases: SB19’s new single “What?,” which pushes pop music to exciting new places, Hikaru Utada’s contribution to the soundtrack of Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time, and ROSÉ’s debut solo single outside of Blackpink. And then, there are newly dropped gems that deserve repeated listens—from haute’s whimsical post-rock tune to Gym and Swim’s anthemic new track, Alien Lipstick Fire’s technicolored jam to Guapdad’s star-turning banger.

Here’s what we’ve been listening to these past two weeks. — Ian Urrutia

‘DDOKBOKKI (feat. Omega Sapien)’ – BAAUER (US/KR)

It makes perfect sense for this song to exist even solely on the merit of both these artists’ off-the-chain, balls-to-the-wall style. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it when it happens and more importantly: for it to be good and fun.

Baauer’s approach to grime and big-bass electronica post-“Harlem Shake” has been pretty consistent—but most especially his temerity to be bigger than an early 2010s meme, an incredibly vicious feat to conquer. Enter Balming Tiger’s Omega Sapien, whose stellar Garlic EP allowed him to explore and expand narratives before he gets unfairly subjugated to just being a goofy Korean rapper, who brings up the absurdist ante every single time. The result is worthy of the stir-fried rice cake it’s named after (one flavor happens to be onion butter, a favorite): explosively flavorful.

‘wataame’ – omni sight (JP)

Technically released last year, the self-titled EP from Kyoto-based electronic band omni sight splices and reconstructs textures—layering jazzy keys on top of abundant synths and glitch and somehow still feeling analog. Closing track “wataame” is devoid of conventional rhythm structures, more interested in weaving atmosphere than melodies. Hypnotic for most part, it’s like playing Pac-Man on ketamine.

‘One Last Kiss’ – Hikaru Utada (JP)

No one serves up J-pop quite like Hikaru Utada. On “One Last Kiss,” she reasserts her presence as one of the genre’s most compelling presence, throwing her heartfelt sentiments onto the dance floor, while finding a way to color everything differently with a voice that is both transcendent and lighthearted, it blends evenly with the laser-focused production.

Opening with a sunburst of crystalline synths and euphoric flourishes, “One Last Kiss” is a splendidly crafted eurodance affair that shimmers above the fog, but never quite settles for cinematic build or an explosive climax. In true Hikaru Utada fashion, the track stays within its lane uninterrupted but free-flowing, promising listeners with a deep cleanse or a meditative sonic journey that’s best served with surround speakers. It’s pretty much up there with “Beautiful World” in terms of delivering the sweetest comedowns this side of pop music, and masterfully balancing intricately subdued melodies with emotional connection that pulses beneath its glimmering surface.

‘Song4U’ – Gym and Swim (TH)

Gym and Swim has always been exceptionally good at making tropical-infused pop tunes awash in retro flair. “Song4U” may have held an extra cachet of familiarity that could be attributed to the Bangkok-based outfit’s signature sound, but its inanely upbeat chorus comes from a place of universality and confidence, exploding right in the middle of a lift with a sing-along that’s enough to drive the crowd wild. It’s easily one of their most anthemic songs on their catalog so far, charting a seamless line between eternal summer and romantic joy.

‘Mongol Fang’ – Alien Lipstick Fire (MY)

On their latest single “Mongol Fang,” Alient Lipstick Fire retains the psychedelic sheen that informed the band’s 2020 EP, The Late Hours. While they’re keen on hacking the bygone era with earnest warmth, the Kuala Lumpur-based quartet takes a sharper turn in furthering their bag of tricks. As expected, Alien Lipstick Fire have grown more confident than ever in incorporating groovy, technicolored sounds with their brand of melodic indie rock, experimenting shamelessly with outsider ideas while hitting a fragile, ethereal note in terms of delivery.

‘Angels’ – hauste (SG)

Hauste’s latest track “Angels” sounds like a confident leap into the whimsical unknown. Returning with a renewed focus on melodic resonance and soft guitar tones, the Singapore-based post-rock act turn their gaze toward the state of dreaminess in terms of scale and style.

On “Angels,” they tinker with musical narratives that evoke surreal incandescence, and still find a way to create something that resonates in a compelling way—whether it’s a background choir stretching harmonies to incredible places, or a jazzy breakdown that unfolds with dramatic effect. For a band whose music so often reaches introspective heights, hauste is still capable of delivering big swells of emotions without sounding heavy-handed and overbearing.

‘She Wanna’ x ‘How Many’ – Guapdad 4000 x !llmind (US/PH)

After rolling an elaborate promotional stunt by sending Jollibee meals to his star-studded colleagues and collaborators—from Denzel Curry to Rich Brian, Thundercat to Apl De Ap, acclaimed Fil-Am rapper Guapdad 4000 is currently preparing for the launch of his new album, 1176—out now via PARADISE RISING. Ahead of the record’s highly anticipated release, Guapdad 4000 has teamed up with fellow Fil-Am producer !LLMIND on a pair of iridescent jams showcasing his range and consistency as an artist.

“She Wanna,” an understated banger that features rapper/producer P-Lo, delivers on the promise of another blockbuster smoothie that has all the ingredients of a future hit: snapping percussions, inescapable hooks, and a weird, minimal beat. Achieving so much with lesser sonic elements and clutter, !LLMIND makes use of unorthodox approach in production, giving Guapdad 4000 the opportunity to spit gold out of the casual play of words. The other track “How Many” builds on the sample of Alice Deejay’s ubiquitous club hit, “Better Off Alone,” galloping off its leash to a more introspective direction music-wise.

‘What’ – SB19 (PH)

There’s too much happening on “What” that makes it quite difficult to keep up: behemoth production that fuses Max Martin’s late ‘90s stadium pop sheen with modern hip-hop and electronic music, an aggressive rap-sung performance delivered like it’s a life-or-death situation, and a contagiously euphoric sound that taps into maximalism. Despite basking in glorious excess, SB19 somehow make it work by balancing skillful execution with remarkable feat of songwriting. At the peak of their creative powers, the award-winning five-piece boyband cover an incredible amount of stylistic boundlessness that connects with audiences on a mass scale. “What” may have been a radical departure from SB19’s more pop-oriented bangers and emotional ballads, but it’s equally arresting and charismatic as their radio-friendly releases. It rewrites the rules of what it means to be an idol group in the digital age.