BY MC GALANG AND IAN URRUTIA
This week on New Music We Love: we’ve explored new songs from Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, China, South Korea, Hong Kong, and the Philippines—the last of which have mobilized its artists to work, continues to unleash the anger and frustrations of its citizens through latest songs from Catpuke, Gnarrate, and Razorback with Raymund Marasigan.
Dispatch from Manila
“When the middle classes get passionate about politics, they’re arguing about their treats—their tax breaks and their investments. When the poor get passionate about politics, they’re fighting for their lives. Politics will always mean more to the poor. Always. That’s why we strike and march, and despair when our young say they won’t vote. That’s why the poor are seen as more vital, more animalistic. No classical music for us—no walking around National Trust properties or buying reclaimed flooring. We don’t have nostalgia. We don’t do yesterday. We can’t bear it. We don’t want to be reminded of our past, because it was awful: dying in means, and slums, without literacy, or the vote. Without dignity. It was all so desperate then. That’s why the present and the future is for the poor—that’s the place in time for us: surviving now, hoping for better later. We live now—for our instant, hot, fast treats, to pep us up: sugar, a cigarette, a new fast song on the radio. You must never, never forget when you talk to someone poor, that it takes ten times the effort to get anywhere from a bad post code. It’s a miracle when someone from a bad post code gets anywhere, son. A miracle they do anything at all.”
‘Terminal 着、即 Dance 発売’ – chelmico (JP)
Japanese rap duo chelmico’s latest single, “Terminal 着、即 Dance 発売,” picks up from 2019’s Fishing, a delightful pop-R&B album that draws influence from Japanese city pop, jazz pop, and radio-friendly hip-hop (the good stuff). Their music doesn’t fit neatly under the J-pop or hip-hop categories as we know it. Chelmico acknowledges that while their sound can be comfortably classified as hip-hop, they write songs plucked from a wide spectrum of styles: from ’90s boom bap to surf rock. It’s curious and adventurous, perennially youthful and blissfully optimistic.
Although “Terminal” is essentially musings on jet-setting woes, chelmico reframes being physically apart and instead deemed as a celebratory moment where they will be a flight away from being reunited with their loved ones again.
‘Ferris Wheel’ – SURL 설 (KR)
Seoul-based rock band SURL’s “Ferris Wheel” is unabashedly forged within the ’90s to early 2000s Britpop realm. It weaves diaristic melancholia, contemplating the thin line between dreaming and living. “The ferris wheel runs under the night sky / Alternate sky and earth, constantly returning,” vocalist 설호승 Hoseung Seol muses.
“Ferris Wheel” explores how transient—and fragile—our lives can be. Where we end up being is not always a result of some karmic force, or our set of choices and decisions, but fate, and more importantly, how we will wield it.
I find it quite strange that the world made figuratively smaller by technology now exists in a period where we are now literally confined in our own, tiny spaces on earth, liable to connect but stripped of contact.
This sense of daring in the midst of, or because of, sentimental isolation is the premise of The Relax’s debut single, “Hey I,” a song that relays unfettered desire through dance. One of my favorite writers, Zadie Smith, wrote in an essay, “Writing, like dancing, is one of the arts available to people who have nothing… The only absolutely necessary equipment in dance is your own body.” This has always given me comfort: in both writing and dancing I have parlayed from nothing and from loneliness.
When The Relax’s Andrew Panopio announced last month that he was releasing “Hey I” on April 4th, it was under drastically different circumstances, one where the song was, I suppose, meant to be experienced with company. But there is a tinge of aloneness to it that conveys the desire to fill one’s absence with far more than physical companionship.
When he sings, “I know how you are / And I know how you feel / Can I be where you are / Maybe feel what you feel,” does the distance truly matter? Aren’t we dancing under the same moon?
‘Busaw Zombies’ – Pele Durian Funk (PH)
Davao-based producer Pele Durian Funk’s “Beat Tape One” is littered with references to Filipino pop culture and mythology, constructing seemingly arbitrary sounds to denote each track title. For instance, my favorite cut, “Busaw Zombies” is named after a Filipino version of a ghoul, which steals and feasts on corpses. What does this have to do with a quiet storm beat? I’ve no idea. Does this have to do with the fact that a busaw, like many Filipino mythic creatures, is nocturnal—finding its meal through the “sounds of death in the evening?” I wouldn’t know, I am not an expert on busaws, I’ve never met one. But the track it’s named after is certainly preferred during the night, no dead bodies required.
‘女士優先 Lady First’ – 老莫 ILL MO X ?te 壞特 (TW)
Taiwanese rapper (and professor) ILL MO weighs in on chivalry and dating in the Tinder era with “Lady First,” featuring singer ?te. He unpacks gendered relationships—how expectations inform behavior (and vice versa), especially in women; how desire reveals and relates; how intimacy forges bonds beyond romance; and how to take the pressure off casual encounters to be meaningful.
Stream on Spotify
‘Forty4-Sixty8’ – Long Lost Apollo (PH)
Up-and-coming instrumental rock band Long Lost Apollo arrive at a time when it seems like the genre has exhausted itself from all possible interpretations, offering their own take of a sound that has already cultivated and sustained loyal following that but also saddled with the unduly pressure to not get lost in the mix.
Fortunately, Long Lost Apollo dove on. Taken from their newly released First Flight EP, “Forty4-Sixty8” has interesting melodies, unfussy transitions, and a strong enough narrative to warrant its almost six-minute length.
‘Smash The Shackles’ – Laughing Ears (CN)
China’s young electronic music scene continues to yield a crop of rousing experimental producers not predicated by trends and norms or operating within commercial demands, like Howie Lee, TuTu, and Voision Xi. Shanghai-based producer Laughing Ears follows this impressive streak with “Smash The Shackles,” a track off her latest EP, Blue Dust, which was released by Australian label Decisions.
‘Eat the Rich’ – Catpuke (PH)
Let the title speak for itself.
‘North Acton’ – Thud (HK)
It’s no surprise how a band like Thud is capable of captivating listeners with their version of a drowsy fantasia. Steeped in reverb-laden guitars and sweeping arrangements, their 2015 EP, Floret, is a lush rumination of feelings that were made for filmic montages. Their aesthetic approach fits the “dream pop” mold, but emphasizes more on the “pop” side as they welcome honeyed melodies over a bed of filtered noise. This penchant for bright spots makes their new single “North Acton” nothing short of luminous and exciting. As expected, Thud embraces the glacial atmospherics of its musical influences, but not afraid to bathe itself in shimmering synths, bubblegum hooks and sing-along choruses. Somewhere between Hatchie and Slowdive, Thud’s latest single makes a strong case for a compelling listen.
Stream Thud on Spotify
‘Soulless’ – Golden Mammoth (MY)
After the release of their critically acclaimed debut album, Metaphoric Quadraphonic, Malaysia’s Golden Mammoth returns with a stronger (and stranger) follow-up that shares many sonic traits with neo-psychedelic bands such as Yves Tumor, Super Furry Animals, and Primal Scream. Skyscraper Towards The Sun shows equal reverence for avant-leaning structures and nuanced songwriting, noncommittal in submitting itself to a particular direction, but very much knows its way home. “Soulless” is a personal favorite among the tracks, an attempt to deal with personal demons while allowing the voice of reason to hover near the surface and break free amidst the chaos that is pandemic anxiety and abandonment.
‘Wanna Wanna’ – Kayoco Yuzawa (JP)
“Wanna Wanna” presents a refreshingly minimal but modern take on city pop. Kayoco Yuzawa’s latest bop finds its groove on soft synthetic pulses, jazzy keyboards, and a bouncy chorus straight from the late ‘90s pop playbook. This commitment to incorporate a mélange of sonic influences, from Steely Dan to Jessie Ware, while maintaining a smoldering desire to break free from urban melancholia and boredom, is perhaps the song’s best asset. Paired with a characteristically edgy video that serves as allegory to what we’re currently experiencing in a time of city-wide lockdown and forced isolation, “Wanna Wanna” is a living proof of everything underrated and fantastic about modern Japanese pop music.
‘Had Him At Ease’ – Alien Lipstick Fire (MY)
“The song is basically our take on what goes on in the mind of a hypochondriac and the conversations they have with themselves,” said Alien Lipstick Fire on what “Had Him At Ease” is all about. In a time of fear-inducing uncertainty, we are left scraping for the last bit of sanity that there is in humanity, and there’s no way to defeat the mental and emotional torment that it triggers, but to embrace the reality with an open mind. The Kuala Lumpur-based band pens a soundtrack to ease our isolation. It’s not exactly the peptalk we need now, but I’m glad there’s someone reaching out.
‘UMBALA’ – THE SHEEP (VN)
THE SHEEP’s “UMBALA” explores pop music with a level of catchiness that is engineered for maximum dance-floor pleasure. It doesn’t exactly reinvent the music wheel, because it seems comfortable from what is is: A frothy club anthem that wields power on moments that favor straightforward beauty over grandeur. Dance like there’s no one watching and play this banger past midnight for greater effect.
Stream on Spotify
‘《魅せられて (“愛的迷戀”日文版)》Love Is Calling Me (Japanese Version)’ – Joanna Wang (TW)
Taiwan’s very own Joanna Wang teams up with filmmaker Robert Youngblood on the music video of “Love Is Calling Me.” The plot for the retro-leaning sci-fi flick revolves around a bounty hunter who captures fugitives and criminals for a living, and this time, the target is someone that holds a special place in her heart—which is later on revealed as the music video progresses. It’s a remarkable way to end the five-part series of the campy dystopian narrative, which is a collaboration between the Taiwanese singer-songwriter and music video director.
Stream on Spotify
‘PIETY’ – TYNT (HK)
TYNT is slated to release their debut album, Symbol, this week on various digital and streaming platforms worldwide. “PIETY,” the new single of their upcoming release, expands their post-rock sounds with industrial and electronic music elements, amplifying ambient experiments to faraway longing without resorting to heavy-handedness. The latest single arrives with a music video directed by Jennifer Medina, perfectly capturing the pandemic’s pensive gloom that can be found in the lyrics: “The wise will fall apart but maybe I will find / The one who sees the way to change.”
‘Artificial Sleep’ – Identikit (PH)
Indie rock doesn’t get more provocative, unpredictable, and inviting than Identikit’s latest single “Artificial Sleep.” The five-piece alternative rock outfit rallies against conformity while exploring formlessness and infinite madness. The disarming intro which reminds me of early St. Vincent and PJ Harvey, soon builds into a synth-driven tune that unapologetically puts emphasis on both sonic curiosity and ‘80s pop fetishism. But it doesn’t stop there. More than halfway into the song, Identikit expands outward with its fuzzed-out guitars swirling deep into the noise. Their ravaged sweetness still lingers even as the rhythm intensifies and mutates into something barely recognizable.
‘Bugtong’ – Gnarrate (PH)
Gnarrate dedicates his latest single “Bugtong” to the politicians drunk in power, ruling based on deeply-entrenched misogyny, anti-women agenda, and authoritarian nationalism. Over smoky jazz inflections and minimalist beats, the Laguna-based rapper rediscovers his looseness with a track that criticizes incompetent and soulless leaders who have not shied away from using threats and expletives directed at the marginalized sectors of our society, particularly women in general. It’s a timely piece of work that captures the social unrest of the times, while also putting into perspective the importance of hip-hop as an art form that continues to challenge the status quo.
‘Bubog Sa Aspalto’ – Razorback f/ Raymund Marasigan (PH)
“Bubog Sa Aspalto” has classic Razorback anthem written all over it: galloping riffs and muscular guitar solos, chaotic grooves, and a ragged vocal performance courtesy of Raymund Marasigan. A well-crafted rock n’ roll song might never have seen the light of day without this unexpected collaboration featuring these ‘90s music greats. In its menacing glory and aggressive pace, “Bubog Sa Aspalto” goes way harder than anything Razorback has released in the last five years. There’s repeat value beyond fury, where every minute is defined by urgency and recklessness—the glorious kind.