By MC Galang and Ian Urrutia
Header Art by MC Galang
Curating the weekly New Music We Love selections is perhaps the most normal thing in our daily routines right now. The bad news (and heat, which reaches up to 44℃ on a regular) is unabated—imagine the COVID-19 pandemic not being the top news in your country because your government chose to effectively muzzle independent press within a few hours. Talk about despotic priorities, huh?
Here are some of the tracks that kept us marginally sane this week. Hope you can find some comfort in these as much as we did.
‘ひとつ’ – KOHH (JP)
I think it is a shame to only know Japanese rapper KOHH from his verse in the wildly popular Keith Ape single, “It G Ma” from five years ago. His rawness as a hip-hop artist—both in emotion and energy—is poignant, whether in his high-octane, gritty raps or, as with the case of “ひとつ” (One), his impassioned singing, where his hook swells in emotional crescendo, one that’s painfully human.
The visuals (helmed by Havit Art Studio) capture KOHH’s anxieties as he wrestles with his own mortality, hoping his time on earth was spent as he wished: a life where kindness and empathy looms larger than suffering.
Stream on Spotify
‘Currently’ – She’s Only Sixteen (PH)
“Currently” arrives at a time largely defined by loss, suffering, and grief. It is consummate; sometimes, inescapable. She’s Only Sixteen have repeatedly addressed growing pains in their work, most recently and especially in Whatever That Was, where complex emotions are shaped not just by relationships but also of environments. I’d argue that the band was able to mold nihilistic undertones into melodic anthems. It was a concept album on self-criticism as a way to evaluate life’s highs and lows, particularly taking all the brunt of every fallout. It was regrettably relatable, because we are conditioned to respond better, sometimes even take pleasure, to a perceived grating honesty disguised as self-awareness, rather than taking kindly to warmth, to praise, to goodness. As writer Adam Phillips puts it, “We have to imagine a world in which celebration is less suspect than criticism.”
Maybe under normal circumstances, I would be less receptive to “Currently,” but it denies me that impulse to be critical not necessarily to the song and what it is about, but how I feel towards self-hatred and being suspicious of love, joy, or kindness. “Please be kind to yourself to survive,” vocalist and lyricist Roberto Seña sings with almost deceptive simplicity. The entire song was built on self-compassion: on knowing that even as you lay still in bed, you’d get up. You’ll be up.
‘in stardust (for kang kyung-ok)’ – Okkyung Lee (KR)
South Korean cellist and composer Okkyung Lee’s intricate “in stardust (for kang kyung-ok)” is both somber and jarring. The moody piano softly tinkers meanderingly, as something rickets in the background; slowly, then disconcertingly, displacing the already fragile rhythm that came before. Lee masters both noise and silence; her pacing rendering heft to even the most trivial spaces and moments.
Reissue: Summer Breeze – Piper (JP)
Originally released in 1984, this summertime city pop classic is wholesome pop in top shimmering form. Blending funk, soul, and fusion using new technologies at the time like Linn drums, Summer Breeze was also an early vaporwave hit.
It’s impossibly irresistible and almost notorious in its city-popness; from its unapologetically ‘80s tropical-oriented indulgence to the surfer wearing a crop top pictured on its album art, it’s summer tunes done right.
‘EVITA!’ – DeVita 드비타 (KR)
The latest from AOMG’s newest signee, DeVita, is stylishly fun: inheriting its swagger from Y2K R&B and Discovery–era Daft Punk electronica, from its power vocals to chord stabs to synthwave flourishes. “EVITA!” is a great addition to a growing list of quarantine dance tracks.
‘Sandouping 3’ – Laughing Ears (CN)
One of my favorite emerging Chinese electronic producers, Laughing Ears, is back with her contribution to Chinabot’s HKH Cryosphere compilation, “Sandouping 3.”
The collection delves into the climate crisis through the creative exploration of water and its relationship with a threatened ecosystem. On “Sandouping 3,” Laughing Ears wades into Orwellian recesses through deft sound design, depicting dark and grimy underground tunnels and suggestive of the horror that awaits above ground. The looped vocals anchor the human element to an otherwise desolate atmosphere that the Shanghai-based producer seemed intent to render. It’s chilling and effective, present and palpable.
‘爭奪’ – C MAR & 王郁文 (TW)
Hip-hop has a young history of providing a platform where musicians, particularly men, are increasingly encouraged to articulate their fears, frustrations, and loneliness as much as anger and pleasure: vulnerable emotions that the genre, like many forms of music and gendered societal norms in general, have failed to acknowledge, or worse, repressed.
On “爭奪” (loosely translates to “The Fight”), emcees C MAR and 王郁文 sound off on complex issues such as class divide, survival, financial insecurity, and depression—anxieties that our generation have to contend with, seemingly and suddenly all at once. Its proximity has gone from abstract to individualized complications that erode our optimism and even our health.
Smack in the middle of crunchy, snappy boom bap, the hook switches to an icy, dimensional synth. Resigned and despondent, C MAR raps, “I’m sorry I took everything you had / There’s nothing else to ask / I’m just trying to live.”
‘Stop!’ – FEVER (TH)
Thai bubblegum pop and funk hybrid at its finest.
‘Baby’ – Daynim (TH)
A delightful pop-R&B track with a delicious lollipop-with-a-chewy-center kind of twist.
‘Star Island’ – Tarsius f/ Evee Simon (PH)
“Star Island” begs you to slow down after a long, draining day. It brings back memories of laid-back sunny afternoons listening to ‘90s trip-hop and chillout. But instead of confining the experience to an intimate space where Tarsius’s music usually thrives, the inescapable track takes you to the beach, at least for a good five minutes. While the song sustains a languid mood all throughout its running time, Evee Simon’s wistful vocals emit a heavy dose of sunshine against a nocturnal sonic backdrop. This unlikely chemistry blends well through the process, capturing the sound of understated groove to help you get through the sour times.
‘Pig Rig’ – Snitch (PH)
Neil Pagulayan has been involved in several music projects as guitarist/vocalist for shoegaze outfit, The Rave Tapes and vocalist/synth player for industrial rock band, Cat Valium. This year, the multi-instrumentalist has released his first solo EP, Mnemonic— “a collection of songs that fancy a landscape of distant dystopian future where human society’s way of life is already taken over by rampant corruption of artificial intelligence.” The tracks wrestle with familiar themes of pandemic hopelessness and apocalyptic despair, going in for the kill as it spares no one from its bleak narrative. “Kleptoid,” a favorite of mine, blasts with propulsive industrial beats, militant synthesizers, and art-rock bombast. It reminds me of his early work with Cat Valium, but probably less sinister and more open to spartan, hook-laden grooves. While it conjures the visceral fury of today’s socio-political climate, it punctuates terror and confusion with a sensual touch. It’s as if the robots have finally experienced how it feels to make love and be human.
‘Thoughts’ – Zrina (SG)
“Thoughts” is made from the same minimalist sonic fabric that has informed Zrina’s debut single and covers: a gloomy pop song that evokes life in its profound messiness. There’s a chance that you’ll compare her music to the likes of Billie Eilish and Halsey, but deep down, at least for this track, hers is more inspired by late ‘90s trip-hop, particularly Massive Attack and Portishead. And you can hear the influence in the cinematic but subdued production, the torch singing that offers moments of levity and soul, and the palpable embrace of emptiness in slow, drowsy beats.
‘Dan Bila’ – Mondo Gascaro & Pablo Cikaso (ID)
Before this version, Mondo Gascaro’s “Dan Bila” was already a showcase of pop masterclass, whose lushly styled vintage qualities and orchestral restraint would eventually resonate to the Indonesian listening public. But there’s something about Pablo Cikaso’s ‘80s city pop retelling of the classic hit. There’s incomparable magic in the way he filters “Dan Bila” through the lens of ‘80s night life, where nostalgia serves as the sound of both fleeting memory and boundless imagination. Beneath its retro-modern sheen is a newly revitalized song that celebrates ‘80s pop excess with dreamy images of neon billboards and shimmering skyscrapers, skewed in its textured grandiosity to appeal with the Internet generation.
‘Wandering’ – Morningwhim (JP)
As expected, “Wandering” amplifies what we already know about Morningwhim: A Japanese indie quartet capable of infusing quiet vulnerability with delightful melodies and jangle pop sensibilities. Outside of its bright disposition, the song is actually a bittersweet tune about walking aimlessly with no clear destination in sight—a lullaby for the turbulent times, if you need a suitable catchphrase. It feels perfectly fine finally being able to wake up from a bad dream and step out of the bedroom for the first time in weeks with this track on repeat.
‘Journey’ – Marquee Beach Club (JP)
Marquee Beach Club has recently released an impeccably crafted earworm that sticks for days. Everything about “Journey” evokes a slice of infinite summer. The understated synths beam, the guitar arrangements build into pure sheer bliss, and the boy-girl harmonies capture the electric first moments of one’s romantic narrative. It opens up to broader sonic horizons while being confined to the concept of a near perfect pop song: a limitation that is delightfully executed and revisited, and whose pleasure instincts invite room for swooning.