[UPDATE, 26 April: this post was amended to correct an error in the release date of Subhas' forthcoming album, Not a Public Assembly. Hear65 regrets the error.]
If you're a newcomer to Singapore's music scene, 2018 is going to be a wonderful introduction. There's a crop of incredible musicians, both veterans and fresh faces, who are readying music releases this year. From rap, R&B, pop, rock, hardcore, electronic and more, there's going to be something for everyone. Here's what you should get excited for, and why.
Akeem Jahat’s album has been a long time coming. Ever since the sticky sweet hook of ‘Ribena’, the instant swagger of ‘$UA’ and even his pleasantly surprising turn on Disco Hue’s ‘Plastic Hearts’, the proud Woodlands rapper has left us wanting. “im taking my time on the album because i need to. Ya'll will get use to it,” he tweeted earlier this month. “My listeners deserve a million percent. i put ya'll in the same category as my family.” This year though, Akeem’s loyal and patient fans will be rewarded.
Charlie Lim’s inclusion on this list is a no-brainer. The singer-songwriter’s gorgeous, poignant TIME/SPACE was a landmark album of 2015, already itself a bumper year for local music. Much has changed for Charlie since then, one of the bigger developments being his signing to Universal Music Singapore in 2016.
A new project, made under Universal’s auspices, was expected last year, but as Charlie told Bandwagon, he was only recently given the green light to extend what was supposed to be a four-song EP into a short album, or an “albumette”, as he put it.
The evolutions of Charlie’s artistic journey so far – from the jazzy, neo-soul sound of his self-titled EP to the polished electronic pop of SPACE and his recent features on songs by Intriguant and Evanturetime – have been fascinating to watch, and it seems this project will be no exception.
“The record has gotten to a point where the songs are sounding pretty nasty in a good way, and that excites me,” he says. “I don’t know what people are expecting, but it’s not so much a continuation or extension of TIME/SPACE’s aesthetic as it is a counterpart to whatever I've done.”
Deon is no stranger to ambition – his 2015 effort Oceans was a kaleidoscopic and imaginative release that favoured a cinematic and assiduous approach, tying together songs with loose concepts that blossomed with Deon's meticulous songwriting. It was an assurance that any follow-up material would be just as, if not more, bold.
Almost three years have passed, and Deon is set to deliver. "The upcoming album is about fleeting youth, and a departure from misconceived ideals," he told Bandwagon. "Taking on the harsher realities of growth and struggling to stay hopeful about the future. It also talks about being trapped in a mental, spiritual and emotional prison but learning to deal with the circumstances dealt."
It may not sound like it'll reach the fanciful heights of Oceans, but thematically it sounds just as thoughtful as anything he's put out. "As a singer-songwriter you do your best to find new spaces to ruminate on, and if you look closer into life’s finer details, there will always be something to say."
With their sparkly, synth-heavy brand of retro pop, Disco Hue have established themselves as Singapore’s foremost millennial purveyors of nostalgia – and of inescapably catchy hooks (try on ‘I’ll Be Waiting’ on for size if you haven’t heard it). Neither will be on short supply on their forthcoming album, their debut full-length after the Arcade EP and loosie ‘Plastic Hearts’ with Akeem Jahat.
It’s Disco Hue’s goal this project to “produce a fresh, yet intimate sound that will spark tucked-away memories” in their listeners, vocalist Sherlyn Veronica told Bandwagon. Meanwhile, they’ve turned their songwriting towards “an array of personal and current concerns in their upcoming album, including unrequited affections, helplessness and vulnerability.” Sign us up for some of that sweet, synthesised heartbreak.
While incredibly active on the live music circuit over the past few years, Dru Chen has put out very little recorded material — that is, until now. In 2018, the R&B/funk artist will be putting out a full-length album four years in the making.
"I spent 2014 feeling very lost after a long break-up. 2015 was even worse as I weathered a completely unplanned move from Melbourne to Singapore and just about gave up on writing music," Dru tells us. "At one point I even managed to completely lose my singing voice for 3 months. So much for that falsetto."
During this difficult period, Dru kept up the songwriting process, and came up with a batch of songs that will make up Mirror Work. "Mirror Work means accepting yourself at your best and at your worse," he explains. "It is about redemption, about breaking down completely before you build yourself back up."
The music that makes up Mirror Work is steeped in rock and funk traditions, and the album's production was treated the same way — recorded and mixed entirely in analog, achieved by the meticulous work of Nashville studio Welcome To 1979. But Dru assures that the album isn't meant to explicitly appeal to old-school listeners. "It feels very relevant, like an old, worn-out blanket you keep going back to. I can't wait for you all to hear it."
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since the release of the cheeky, heartfelt album that was Forests' Sun Eat Moon Grave Party. What with the evocative samples of film dialogue, the confident, indelible hooks and strong, shouted sentiments (from ‘Biting Straws’, “what a terrible mess I’ve made of my life”; from ‘Cup of Tea’, “of all these empty faces, I miss yours the most”), it was no surprise that Forests’ impressive debut made our list of 2016’s best albums.
We’re looking forward to throwing ourselves into this new one, which they say “crosses between themes of sentimentality, introspection and wild nights of crying yourself to sleep, recklessness, fun and debauchery. Don’t listen.”
.gif was one of the many Singaporean bands that put out incredible music in the bountiful year that was 2015 – the entrancing Soma, which we praised upon its release for its “immersive vocals, rococo lyricism and obsidian production.”
Since then, Weish and Din have been keeping busy, making music together and apart for an eclectic mix of clients and media, like the recent documentary Shirkers, the clothing store Uniqlo and the theatre production FRAGO – not to mention Weish’s vocal duties for sub:shaman, which released the complex, compelling Apnea last May. This year, though, we’ll finally get a new .gif project, Weish told Bandwagon. "We're at a crossroads right now, and have been accumulating varied material - some that resemble our old sound, and some that are fresher and more fun," she said. "We're still sifting through a lot of stuff, so our next release could go either way!"
Now studying in the United States, LEW's already hard at work on his follow-up to last year's Lullacry, an intimate and poignant release that will stand in contrast with his upcoming EP.
"This year, a challenge I set for myself was to write and release more ‘happier’ songs," LEW told us. "The former was much easier to release — because it’s easier to be sad. I think the next release coming soon will set the tone for it properly."
Even if LEW is set on shedding his former despondent self, the introspection that he's branded his music with remains, tinged with a newfound sense of optimism that makes this release one to check out once it's released.
Some time has passed since Linying’s whirlwind 2016 – the year she released the breathtaking Paris 12, got signed to both Universal Music Singapore and American label Nettwerk Music Group and played in Europe and Japan.
As she told Bandwagon in our cover story, the crux of Linying’s music lies in how she plumbs the emotional depths of the specific and personally felt: “I don’t necessarily need to feel every feeling there is to feel in this life and I don’t need to see everything there is to see.” This year, we’ll be lucky to have another opportunity to see through Linying’s eyes. Her new collection of songs, she told Bandwagon, “is about what comes after the great coming-of-age catastrophe of knowing loss, and the stifling monotony of the days that follow.”
While Nathan Hartono is no stranger to fans of English music in Singapore, Mandopop fans were introduced to him through the first season of Sing! China in 2016, where Hartono represented Jay Chou’s team in the finals and came in second place. After almost two years, Hartono is finally building on that success, and is expected to release a full Mandarin EP this year.
This is a step into new territory for Hartono, who said he's "nervous and excited". "No idea how the response is going to be, but I can't wait for it to be out there," he told Bandwagon. The EP will be a mix of Mandarin versions of existing songs, and originals that Hartono worked on with Chinese lyricists. Look out for the first single from this EP which will be released very soon.
Ng Meiting first caught our attention as one of the performers for the “We are Singer-songwriters!” segment of the Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts last year at the Esplanade, a platform which allows local singers to showcase their original works to music fans in Singapore.
Straying away from the typical love songs that Mandopop is often associated with, Ng chooses to write about the quirkier side of life, with songs about cats, aliens, and fish going on adventures. Ng has been busy working on her debut EP Don’t Worry, I’m Not a Bad Person (别担心！我不是坏人) which will be released this year.
The Sam Willows
2017 was a relatively quiet year for The Sam Willows, save the release of their singles ‘Keep Me Jealous’ and ‘Save Myself’, both tracks signifying their push towards a newer sound and away from their original folk-pop roots. “We’ve been trying new things for a while, and it’s not going to stop with the new record.
"The idea was to push ourselves to new and uncomfortable places without losing our general accessibility," the quartet told Bandwagon. "It’s been fun creating the visual language for each track too. We’re in some pretty weird sh*t. Can’t wait to let you guys in on it all <3”
This year, expect new material from Sezairi, his motown ambitions on full display. Just take a look at his 2017 single ‘70s'. “People say that with each passing year, one has less to say and knows better how to say it," Sezairi told Bandwagon. "While that holds some valid general significance, for me specifically, in 2018, I’ll have more to say than I ever did before, and I can’t wait to let you in on these stories that I’ve carefully crafted into my own forms of expression.”
He was coy on details, but we can probably look forward to a sweet ditty next month, as he teased: “Look out for some Valentine’s love coming your way soon with something personal I’ve been dying to release!”
This three-piece band were undoubtedly a breakout act of 2017, with their stunningly catchy EP Catflap, a release entrenched in pop hooks and dreamy production work.
Sobs are aiming for a May 2018 release for their upcoming full-length, but they're taking careful steps to make it work. "Right now we’re working on figuring out what songs go in the album, writing a tiny bit more and listening to a lot of music," guitarist Raphael Ong told Bandwagon. "Without spoiling too much of the surprise of what we have in store, the new album takes a step in a more intentional and mature direction — both thematically and sonically."
But, like many listeners they've enraptured, if you're impatient to wait till May, the band tells us they've begun to play new material during their live sets. Keep an eye out for them.
Despite their young ages, Stella Seah and Vee have both have established careers in the scene. Stella was able to introduce herself to a wider audience after participating in the second season of Sing! China last year, while Vee has been active in various TV roles and even as a host.
The two are part of the duo StellaVee, which formed last year, and have since attracted attention from even Taiwanese audiences for their covers. They will release their debut album of original songs in the second half of 2018. Before then, fans can look out for StellaVee at this year’s Huayi – Chinese Festival of Arts.
Hip-hop has, since its inception, been a vehicle of expression for the disenfranchised and oppressed. Singaporean hip-hop – which, compared to the rich progenitive scenes of the United States, is still immature – is not known for leaning into this aspect of the genre’s legacy, but newcomer Subhas is doing just that on his new album out in May, Not a Public Assembly, just two months after the braggadocious January mixtape Man on a Mission.
Produced by Fauxe and partly funded by The Substation under the Concerned Citizens Programme, the album will address a range of sociopolitical issues, some of which he has personally experienced, and others to which the rapper has lent his storytelling voice, Subhas explained to Bandwagon. “I want this album to be something people can go to for hope, for perspective, but most importantly, as a conversation starter.”
The new project by former Caracal frontman KC Meals, Sun Eater looks set to be on a very promising path, with a powerful debut single 'Hindsight' emerging last November.
As for their upcoming debut EP, KC has little to offer in terms of information, other than there will be "5-6 songs" on the record, many of them "solid jams that you can rock out to.”
Singapore Idol viewers may remember Tabitha Nauser from the 2009 season. The singer returned to music proper last year with the sizzling singles 'Bulletproof' and 'Body Language', but she's far from done.
“I couldn’t be happier with 2017 – reconnecting with music, taking leaps of faith and getting the opportunity to do what I love has been a dream come true," she told Bandwagon. "This year I’ll continue pushing boundaries with a whole bunch of things lined up in the early half of the year, with some new tunes and a full EP release. I don’t want to give away too much, but all I can say is that I’m ready for 2018, and I hope all of you are too!” We're excited for Nauser to become a fully fledged pop star Singapore can call its own.
This explosive four-piece were a highlight of 2017, their bold and muscular debut Volume 1 released alongside a successful spot at Laneway Festival.
T-REX are keeping mum over their plans for the year, but they're certainly still revving up for more activity. "Our upcoming stuff will be even more varied," says bassist Axel Serik, "and expect every show we play to be different."
Local audiences may not yet be familiar with Xiao Min, but the 22-year-old singer-songwriter is definitely one to watch. She had the opportunity to write lyrics for and perform the theme song for Hong Kong movie To Love or Not To Love last year, and has since performed two original shows in Singapore.
Her debut EP Interconnecting Worlds (在你的世界存在) is expected to drop in June, and will contain five of her original songs. Xiao Min shares that while her lyrics may be simple, she hopes that listeners will be able to relate to them, and that her songs can help to “add a bit of blue to their grey skies, and help their days feel a little better”.
2014 marked the full-length debut of Yeule, whose fractured and synthesized musings were well-documented on her self-titled album. Last year's EP Coma was a glorious follow-up with sharpened songwriting and dreamy, immersive production work.
With a series of singles released prior to Coma, Yeule is keeping up the momentum of activity into the new year, and she's inviting in some disparate and fresh influences.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of minimal techno and progressive electronic music," she revealed. "I like to listen to hard techno to cancel out unnecessary emotions, sometimes I feel I'm too sensitive to the outside world or social situations and I just need to listen to something very industrial/harsh to forget."
She's also taking the upcoming release as a point of important progression in her music: it's "gonna be hard, but also integrating that typical dreaminess, though kind of like a transition between old and new Yeule." Already working on a new music video with a London-based photographer, along with other collaborative projects in the works, there's a lot to expect from the young artist this year. "I think my new stuff is gonna be detached to my old self but penetrating to the ‘new world’ I crafted for myself in my head.”
After releasing the hypnotic Exodus in 2016, producing fellow musicians like Jasmine Sokko and Bohan Phoenix, and playing alongside his Do Hits labelmates and Son Lux drummer Ian Chang, YLLIS will drop a new EP this year. The Sinogrime sound the Singapore-born, New York City-based producer has been meticulously cultivating is transportive, deeply invested in questions of culture and identity, and as a result, utterly singular.
The new material is, YLLIS says, “the best music I’ve written and produced to date – I’ve been doing a lot of learning and research and reflecting and it's all coming together into this. It's going to be a very spiritual record — in that way, it's the most meaningful and important thing I've ever made.”
Ysa Yaneza only has one single out so far, the starry-eyed, gauzy ‘Tea’, but after a stint in Chicago performing and honing her craft, the Singaporean-Filipino singer and producer will be dropping new material this year. Expect more sugary electronic pop that Yaneza compared to “putting candy in your mouth, particularly a Gobstopper: as you suck on each layer, you'll experience a different colour, different flavour.”