This is the season of celebration – of good times past and those to come. Below, we toast to the 16 best albums and EPs released this year.
Blood Pact – Blood Pact EP
I fell in love with Blood Pact when I listened to ‘Spiralling’ for the first time, which did what it was supposed to do as a lead single beyond effectively. The song is a sumptuous listen for two crucial reasons: It’s a herald of Factory Records-era indie and post-punk nostalgia but it’s not a mere artefact of taste-making revivalism.
'Spiralling''s large-format home deepens and further solidifies that impression. Months after its release, I’m still ensorcelled by how it animates a panorama of darkness with impressionistic strokes that testify to an authorial vision that embraces not just sentiment but style. A tragic existential beauty undergirds the layers that compose its sonic world; beneath the storm-tossed swoon is a howl that is inescapably familiar – because it’s ours.
Joshua Simon – Filthy
There hasn’t been anything like this in the canon of the Made In Singapore music, ever.
Joshua Simon conceived Filthy as a free fall into the night and across its 10-song sweep, more than lives up to the fertility of the idea. At the most palpable and neural level, the breadth and bravery of his intent is underscored by the teeming detail that inheres in this world. Its Technicolour veneer is peopled by a cast of characters that brings a spectrum-blasting array of stories, tales rendered allegory and back to their to their intoxicatingly crushing literal state by the alchemic transformation of intent into sound.
Sexy and harrowing, Simon recalls David Gahan, seething with art but also ravaged by it. By the time closing track ‘Tokyo’ enfolds the listener, he sounds dizzy and punch-drunk from the trip, panting after straining at the darkness till it gives way to sweet sunlight.
Forests – Spending Eternity in a Japanese Convenience Store
“We were reckless but our memories aren't so bad” – On the first day of 2019, Forests lifted the veil on their new album, surprised-dropped into the ether just like a sudden torrent of tears that punctuates an emotional climax. One might say that the move was too knowing since the trio has become cult heroes through its arcane modus of weaving disparate threads of sound into a colouristic and cathartic blast-off.
Spending Eternity is an unabashedly emo document. Its songs thrive in the grooves well-worn by the canon. The voices are familiar and the sounds beneath them, knowingly majestic. Indie rock, pop punk and math rock all have their affordances and when they're melted down into this cocktail we’ve had a year to listen to, with their best parts emphasised and refined to heightened potency, they make for a proposition that is even more irresistible. Beer-y and bleary, these songs jostle and tumble against your palpitating heart – careening into the hope you need to live, love and listen again.
Charm – Pleaser EP
There’s more fulfilment in Pleaser’s six-minute runtime than there is in many longer projects.
Make no mistake: This is not because the band is leaning on the reliable crutch of genre. For Charm, “Hardcore” isn’t a getaway car from creative responsibility but a license for self-actualisation and world-building. The beacons of punk, hardcore and metal lend their light, allowing these disciples the parchment on which to transcribe their visions. In particular, the songs heave with an empowered life, a questing resolve that borders on anger but never once detracts from the clarity of intent or vision.
I toast to these six minutes of pure uplift.
Adia Tay – Kintsugi EP
In and of itself, Kintsugi, the Japanese art of “golden repair” wherein broken pottery is restored with powdered gold is a poignant metaphor for music’s healing aspect. Adia Tay’s debut showing makes an emotional and academic point of that. But feeling and form are two separate mandates. One’s propensity for the former is never a guarantee of any corresponding richness of the latter but Tay accomplishes that oh-so-rare feat of equalising both to lovely, breath-taking effect.
Her Kintsugi is a giving work. It’s born of love and trembles with, reels from and radiates it all at once. She manages this because her voice is love, burrowing into the deepest-hidden and most impenetrable recesses of the listener’s psyche, kissing and confronting with its truth. ‘Ghost’ is one such encounter of whose tectonic reverberations I can still testify.
The singer-songwriter mold asks a lot, that’s why few are able to have hints of gold shine through their stories – Tay is one of them.
Perk Pietrek – Flowers EP
Dance music traffics in kinetic energy. But Perk Pietrek doesn’t harness its power as an end unto itself. He’s a producer-auteur whose palette prioritises probing imagination over tried-and-tested efficacy. That’s why Flowers wears a trap shell but is composed of much, much more within. There are the comfort-food-slaps of bass and drums, megaton synths that mulch the woofers and the club-destined polish that also works splendidly in your headphones, but these utilitarian elements aren’t typically employed. Every song is a world fully formed, seamlessly modern and bristling with infinite possibilities, tightly composed but vast in scale – meant to be explored over and over again.
Vandetta – I Want You
Click here to listen to and purchase the album.
‘Bille Jean’, ‘Back to Black’, ‘Right on for the Darkness’ – who else would you trust with these songs but Vanessa Fernandez?
I Want You is largely a covers album of early and recent soul and R&B staples (Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ notwithstanding) forged in Hollywood with a cast of musicians that include Tim Pierce, who has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Celine Dion and Roger Waters, former Michael Jackson bassist Alex Al and current Jimmy Kimmel Show Band keyboardist Jeff Babko, but Fernandez’s voice is the Godly ordering force around which all these talents fall into place.
Instruments like hers reward the critical endeavour. It transcends opinion. So even though Michael Jackson, Curtis Mayfield, Leon Ware and so on have already weighed in on this music, it finds new – glowingly new – life in her profoundly masterful, gorgeous, and mesmeric utterance.
This list is a celebration of Singaporean-made music – so give it up for its most Queenly mouthpiece.
LEW – Red Flags EP
Empathy is what legitimises the singer-songwriter mode. The listener has to want to take that outstretched hand into the narrative being sung and strummed. I mostly resist garden variety invitations because I just can’t buy into those stories, those same old tear-streaked missives of heartbreak. But LEW is different – when he says “I”, it resonates as “you”. His expression makes his intent confounding. By the time this five-tracker entered the cosmos, I was long won over.
Red Flags gifts the listener with a broader sweep of sound, with a heightened sophistication and maturity that remarkably appends the relatability of his themes but most of all, with an outstretched hand that caresses and reassures that “I” now means “we”.
MYRNE – In Search of Solitude
Electronic music and the spiritual exist most naturally in corresponding spheres. In Search of Solitude is MYRNE’s first long form solo project and his groundbreaking attempt at bridging the innate exuberance of sound and the stillness that comes with the immensity of emotional depth.
Throughout the record, the unabashed sensitivity that simmers beneath sparkling melodies and glossy, splintering beats is a cheeky, defiant affirmation of dance music's pulsing soul. Not only does MYRNE transform each track into vulnerable, earnest revelations, he continually attests to his prowess as an effective storyteller, weaving complex soundscapes of love, political turmoil and galactic distance that are simultaneously convincing and exhilarating.
Shelby Wang – 在你的世界存在 Interconnecting Worlds EP
Shelby Wang takes us by the hand and unveils a portal to her whimsical, lovelorn universe. The other side brims with a beckoning, youthful charm and melancholy disguised with ebullience, and it’s easy to simply close our eyes and sink into this scintillating soundscape. With a defining and eclectic sound of her own that blends jazz, funk and pop, this EP is resplendently marked by jazzy piano melodies and shimmering synths as her charming, alto voice whirls effortlessly amidst all that. Here, she offers a confessional, heart-on-sleeve page out of her metaphorical diary, effortlessly moving with an irresistible sincerity and relatability.
Ffion – Bad Habits II EP
If Bad Habits treads the precarious line between devastation and salvation, Bad Habits II steps into the glorious halo of enlightenment.
When love crosses the threshold of self-indulgence into self-erasure, it transforms into a tool for sabotage when one is convinced that effacement is the epitome of devotion. Yet, when one comes to believe in the sanctity of the self, one immediately ascends to salvation, and that is what Ffion’s latest offering attempts to teach us. Utterly intimate and confessional, this three-tracker mesmerises with an innate, pulsating energy woven into electronic beats and splintering melodies, juxtaposed with her wispy coos which infuse the EP with an air of vulnerability and humility.
thecolorfractal – in metanoia EP
in metanoia moves with an unassuming profundity that lies partially in its simplicity in sound and its quiet determination to trace the vast expanse of life. thecolorfractal gracefully, humbly sketches his autobiography, a work-in-progress that unfurls in parallel with the paths he has traversed in life and those he will embark on in time.
Marked with a dignified serenity in both sound and message, this EP simultaneously speaks of tension and resolves it, conveys the convoluted tangles and hardships of existence and goes on to transcend that. He balances his lyrical insight with the mellowness that underlies his tunes, lulling vocals floating above warbling keys and gentle, groovy beats. Although deeply personal, it also embodies an undeniable universality that soothes with its underlying sense of solidarity.
susurrus – Ultra Orange EP
Music lies beyond the confines of time for math rock screamo band susurrus and the result is a hyper-exuberance that overflows. A part of this excess is instantly captured in the title of the band’s debut EP, and the rest of it in its sound and genre.
Juxtaposed with the jazzier, lighter leanings of math rock, the band’s inclination towards an aggressive manifestation of metal comes as a great-but-welcome sonic surprise. Tipping the scales away from an innate playfulness, susurrus sucks listeners from the golden, lucid pool of rhythmic play into the black hole of hardcore when frontman Ahmad’s guttural screams arrive in slabs, every word hard-hitting, in contrast to the blooming, cascading guitar and frenzied\ drumming.
Disco Hue – The Yearbook
Disco Hue’s debut album is a Technicolour explosion of retro-influenced synth pop music that sweeps a spirited urge to groove through the very core of its listeners. Filled with neon-tinted splendour, The Yearbook charms with its zestful synths and uptempo, room-shaking rhythm, injecting a vibrancy and starry-eyed enthusiasm that only resides in the magnificence of youth. The record opens with a distorted, warbling soundtrack that makes us feel like we hopped on a time machine to arrive at a universe distinctly theirs. Subsequently, it unravels with familiar topics of love and empowering messages of self-love, driven by an amalgamation of tinkling, vintage sounds and modern elements, threaded together by the powerful, distinctive vocals of frontwoman Sherlyn Leo.
Amterible – Analbum EP
Alternative rock band Amterible is not afraid to get downright gritty and play.
With aggressive guitar riffs, thick bass lines and spunky drum beats, the band generously lays the foundation for fun with a maximality in sound. Unapologetically bouncing from three-chord punk to metal within a single song, the trio showcases its fluid dexterity and embodies the alternative in alt-rock.
Valiantes – Valiantes
A singer-songwriter’s greatest strength lies in the heart. Attesting to that highest order, Valiantes delivers layered experiences with this wholly calming and immensely personal collection that manifests in a stripped-back and affecting soundscape.
While his mellow, steady croons serving as one of the most poignant driving forces, this album also relies on dulcet instrumentation that spotlight the narratives he gently takes us through, softening the pointed edges of longing and highlighting the uplifting, heartwarming quality of love. In an ultimate act of trust, he bares his soul in the most tender way possible and offers us a glimpse into the depths of his very being.