BY MC GALANG AND IAN URRUTIA
The fourth installment of the New Music We Love series reflects our mostly agitated state, only further exacerbated by shockingly mindless late-night ramblings of a lunatic president.
However, we’re relieved to report that our sanity is still intact and grounded in reality—and music, as always, remains our anchor to some semblance of comfort, hope, and joie de vivre at this crucial point in history. We hope that these songs offer you the same.
Dispatch from Manila
I don’t know an awful lot about the loss of normalcy, but on the third week of enhanced community quarantine in the Philippines, I’m starting to feel anxious about the current state of affairs. We have an incompetent leader whose latest briefing on COVID-19 failed to address strategic plans and solutions to contain the spread of the virus. There’s no mention of how the promised funding will be allocated and aligned to specific programs, no attempt to heed the needs of the general public, especially the disadvantaged ones who need access to food and medical security. As expected, what we heard are platitudes lacking in sincerity and urgency—empty to a fault.
It’s a good thing that above the unnecessary noise sending multiple emotional and mental triggers, there’s music to appease the doomster in me. This incredible boredom made me research about new releases from the Asian region. And there’s a bunch of underrated gems out there, ready to comfort this tired, dreary soul even as the world gets smaller by the day. These songs reflect the uncertainty of the times that we live in; some revel in escape, others find shelter in disrupting the new normal. Life is changing fast, but our curated picks live to historicize moments and stories, no matter how mundane or specific, universal or personal. We’ll listen anyway, from the comforts (or discomforts) of our home.
Found new artists you like? During these times, we urge everyone to consider helping musicians whose means of living are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Stream and/or purchase their music, buy merchandise, commission them for work, or find other available ways you can help. Stay safe and always practice proper hand-washing and social distancing. If you’re feeling unwell and experiencing known symptoms, contact the COVID-19 emergency hotlines 02-894-COVID (02-894-26843) and 1555 (for PLDT/Smart/TNT). Be vigilant and let’s continue to look for each other safely and responsibly.
GUANO – Drago Katzov (PH)
Magnificent. What a way to artistically encapsulate what the Philippine government really is: a woozy reimagining of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” a song connected to a series of karaoke-related killings of at least 12 people in the country. Pateros-based artist Drago Katzov further warps the Sinatra classic on track one, “Sounds To Sharpen Your Knives To,” the famous baritone switched to unmodulated pitches; echoes haunting, chilling.
This is what we’ve been subjected to in the last four years, a commander-in-chief acting belligerent, his loyal followers equally drunk in power. Only in this scenario, the drunks are the ones committing and sanctioning murders, whether through the drug war or glaring incompetence resulting in deaths.
In the liner notes, Drago Katzov makes a sobering statement:
This is a reminder that in these uncertain times when the cracks are made even more visible, when the apathetic can no longer stand by, when we need to sleep with one eye open, let us make sure we get past this and we all be held accountable for our actions.
‘Family Portrait’ – Piman Sly (TH/ID)
Hard rock duo from Thailand and Indonesia Piman Ply released their new single, “Family Portrait,” taking on the realities of the LGBTQ+ youth: the fears, isolation, and sometimes, internalized hate they go through, especially in Asian societies, whose reception towards non-hetero gender identities ranges from tolerant to hostile.
Piman Sly wrote the song to shed light on what Asian LGBTQ+ youth are facing: “Some picture-perfect families are far from perfect in reality, and the children in those families may have to hide their true identities or having an opinion about how they want to live their lives.”
The music video features Pat Chanudom, a Thai gender-fluid performer, whom the duo chose to relay their message. Chanudom shares, “Humans should not have discrimination. We should be compassionate towards each other as we all are striving for something. Presenting each other with love is the best moral support; because in the end, the heart holds the highest power – over body and gender.”
‘Armor’ – Legarda (PH)
Post-hardcore band Legarda offers refuge during these hard times with “Armor,” heeding us to hold onto what matters to us. The band writes, “We are all fighting for something meaningful”—we’re all trying to thrive in this unusual situation, but for many of us, it’s a matter of survival.
Let’s honor the selfless work and sacrifice of many in the name of duty and compassion.
‘Show Time’ – Solitude Is Bliss (TH)
Hailing from Chiang Mai, Thailand, indie rock band Solitude Is Bliss soundtracks social awakening with jazz inflections—an invigorating addition to protest music. This rejects the narrow perception of protest songs “[conforming] to the standardized stereotype with respect to form,” which are considered “low” music, for merely falling under the “ostensibly objective criteria of structure, style, skills, and techniques,” according to a paper published on Oxford Research Encyclopedias.
But, to quote Solitude Is Bliss, fuck it. I’d blast this over that John Lennon song any day. A protest is a galvanized effort expressed through a movement—nobody wakes up still.
Stream on Spotify
‘NO MORE CAKE’ – CHAI (JP)
Japanese alt-rock band CHAI refuse to conform within the traditional conventions of what it means to be “cute.” For instance, they are far from the polished, sleek, and sharply-choreographed J-Pop groups (case in point: their all-white dress ensemble reminds me of this, choreography-wise, more than any J-pop or K-pop group), and have been redefining womanhood, celebrating authenticity and inclusivity in a heartening effort against the all-too common fetishizing of Asian women.
In their latest single, “NO MORE CAKE,” CHAI posits the idea that using makeup as an empowering tool to transform ourselves should also be wielded to celebrate our own uniqueness. This is the core of CHAI’s music, retrofitting the ‘girl power’ slogan to diversified forms of expression. The band likens cosmetics to cake: visually indulging, yes. But what happens if we run out of it? “I can’t recognize you anymore,” the quartet sings, not because makeup misleads, but instead asks us to see beneath and beyond. Look at me. “Look at my face.”
Stream on Spotify
‘Acalanatha’ – Alex Zhang Hungtai, Tseng Kuo Hung (US/TW)
LA-based producer Alex Zhang Hungtai teams up with Sunset Rollercoaster vocalist and guitarist Tseng Kuo Hung for LONGONE (a far cry from the latter’s band’s synth-pop and jazz-funk leanings), a six-track experimental album delving into nihilism, bared fully in its susceptibility to despair. “Everything is long gone, within this floating world,” according to the liner notes. On its longest track, “Acalanatha,” the two construct a dehumanized plane of existence, succumbing to fear and violence. It is a jarring piece of work, metallic sounds clanging and trilling to a breaking point that never seems to come.
Whether it infers to mechanical destruction or a pointed exercise in extinguished hope, “Acalanatha” is unrelenting in its warning: we need not to get here. But if and when we do, God speed.
‘thecity. (where everyone knows everyone)’ – dot.jaime (PH)
Iloilo-based producer dot.jaime’s contribution to Noise and Beats from the Visayas (Volume 2), an excellent primer to beat artists in the Visayas music scene, creates a familiar space for the city’s outsiders (like myself) to breathe: lush, soft, and fluid. The city, while vast in size, shrinks instantaneously when you don’t feel like you fit in, like you don’t belong in it. This chain connection seems unbreakable and unattainable, but should one aspire to be in it? On “thecity,” dot.jaime steers away from the pressure and instead flourishes in singularity—asserting, as if saying, “I am my own tribe.”
‘Poem Op.2’ – TuTu (CN)
A truly intense cinematic track from start to finish, China’s TuTu showcases a knack for highly stylized textures (with sterling props to its baroque-influenced intro) to convey drama and tension, with a stirring payoff. No better way to experience but to listen for yourself.
‘Most of the Sun Shines’ – Morningwhim (JP)
When I think about “Most Of The Sun Shines,” the new single from Japanese quartet Morningwhim, the first thing that comes to mind is the sonic equivalent of pastel wallpapers: minimal, pretty to look at, and free from the pretense of grandiosity. The music comes in effortlessly melodic package, rendered with sugary oohs and aahs, occasional synths, and jangly guitars. Musically, its earnestness makes up for whatever it lacks in details. Its sophisticated simplicity reminds me of the best years of Sarah Records—a record label that considered writing “pure, perfect pop” as a form of defiance. According to their Soundcloud liner notes, the song will be released in 7” on April 18 under Fastcut Records.
Controversy – Roman Foot Soldiers (ID)
“Faith” is the best track from Roman Foot Soldier’s Controversy—a 7-track EP that rewrites pop music with euphoric dance-rock of early 2000s bands like The Rapture and Cut Copy and woozy ecstasy of ‘80s nostalgia. The Jakarta-based electronic outfit gives the familiar aesthetics a reinvigorated kind of life, but expertly concocts a sound that allows listeners to dance in a self-imposed quarantine, alone, enjoying the beauty of isolation in the claws of a flaring madness. Hope is what we can find in music this mercilessly catchy and effervescent, where escape is a new form of religion, and the joy it brings is a luxury worth having. Best played with your mind temporarily shut from the reality, at least for a few minutes.
‘遠方’ – 4 Pens (TW)
Taiwanese indie collective 4 Pens recently dropped their new single, “遠方” (Editor’s note: English translation, “Faraway”) on various streaming and download platforms worldwide. The song’s simmering introspection showcases the band’s more delicate musicality, and it rises above the noise with words that cut deep. What a great time to find comfort in solitude.
‘幸せにはならない – YeYe (JP)
YeYe makes the kind of pop of music that sticks to comfortingly familiar feelings, but sweeps you off your feet the moment you give it a chance. Not many music acts can give off an impression of ambition and inventiveness, but still remain humbly human to the core. YeYe unexpectedly gives us that distinct character without falling into a stylistic niche. On her new single, the Japanese singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist takes chamber pop to fascinating new directions, complete with deceptively simple arrangements and tasteful sonic tapestry. You’d think music fans and journalists have found a way to pigeonhole her work, but every time she releases new stuff, it’s always indescribable magic.
Stream on Spotify
‘Kinsella said, stay home’ – She Never Sings Our Songs (CN)
For folks living in countries that have been placed under a state-sanctioned lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, here’s a beautifully assembled piece to accompany your endless nights of self-isolation, boredom, and anxiety. Beijing-based math-rock outfit She Never Sings Our Songs sets its focus on creating mood-sculpting gems that progress in dream-like sequence. “Kinsella said, stay home,” the standout track in their latest record, LINE pays tribute to the American Football song from the self-titled debut album. Unintentionally served as a proper soundtrack to the challenges that we experience trying to survive an outbreak of global proportions, the song pumps a canvass filled with bleak and melancholic imagery. And while it won’t ultimately change the way we define our future, there’s generous amount of hope embedded in the track’s DNA: Its drowned-out atmosphere and dreamy harmonies blend well with an intricate guitar work that moves where the dust seeks light, an act of boldness even in the face of a grim present.
‘Motion Sickness’ – We Are Imaginary (PH)
Yes, it shares the same title of a beloved Phoebe Bridgers classic, and to some extent—the aching betrayal that comes at the peak of a romantic dissolution. But We Are Imaginary is also known for writing songs that render sappy and gloomy visions more vividly, casting the everyday grief not in the form of a curse or spell, but as part of the process to cope up with one’s journey. In this case, the indie rock quartet releases a new song that echoes the melancholia of their past, while turning the noise past twelve. It’s weirdly exciting what heartbreak does to a person.
‘Your Brains Or Your Balls’ – Grrrl Gang (ID)
Indonesia’s Kolibri Records has recently dropped the second installment of City Rockdown EP—a compilation of home recordings written and produced “amidst the 2020 novel coronavirus pandemic lockdown to keep you and the city rocking.” The four-track release features some promising standouts to keep you sane for the rest of the week, from Raoul Dikka’s gothic trap-pop “Just Tell Me” to Tiny Studio’s ethereal ballad “NYC Car.” My favorite though is Grrrl Gang’s “Your Brains Or Your Balls,” a witty, fun, and intensely wicked anthem drafted from the modern feminist playbook.
สิ่งที่เธอฝากไว้ (The Maze) – Safeplanet (TH)
In less than five years, Safeplanet has quickly established itself as a compelling presence in Thai indie, blending retro-pop sensibilities with accessible experiments and striking melodies. Their latest single “สิ่งที่เธอฝากไว้” shows a band that has grown more confident with time. Instead of provoking listeners or pushing sonic boundaries, Safeplanet sticks to what they do best: writing some of the stickiest pop tunes in their catalog without losing the subtle artistic statements that set the material apart from the hits flourishing currently on major streaming playlists and top 40 radio. It sure leaves you wondering how Safeplanet was able to build and piece together such laser-cut beauty. With unexpected turns and precision, สิ่งที่เธอฝากไว้ puts a fresh spin to the band’s musical approach while maintaining a signature sound that is distinctly theirs.
‘I Was An Alcoholic’ – Nick Lazaro (PH)
Like David Longstreth or Noah Lennox, Nick Lazaro doesn’t mind debunking structures with his distinct production style. He pushes the musical form forward, sometimes going off the rails to create beautiful chaos or stretching the experiment to undefined places. On occasions that require discipline and collaboration, he also turns to modern pop music as inspiration. “I Was An Alcoholic,” his first official single using his real name, straddles between the complex and the accessible. Its sonic progression is unpredictable at best, refusing to be categorized or follow a specific set of rules. But for music nerds who want a taste of weird, this is everything that you asked for: a holiday tune, a prog-pop epic, a fiesta extravaganza, a blastbeats finisher. Genres be damned.
Not an April Fool’s joke: We’d love to hear music from Asian artists from anywhere in the world. Send us your new and/or upcoming release here—we listen to almost anything, but we’re partial to weird (the good kind).