Last week, we celebrated the latest songs from the canon of Made In Singapore music to reach the ether. Now, we dig deeper into our national anthems with a critical eye. Read our review of the latest songs by Last week, we celebrated the latest songs from the canon of Made In Singapore music to reach the ether. Now, we dig deeper into our national anthems with a critical eye. Read our review of the latest songs by YUNG RAJA, Islandeer, brb., Causeway Youth, NANDINI, Kevlah and Royal Estate & Nigel Cheah.
YUNG RAJA – ‘Mad Blessings’
In the unknowable expanse of life, destiny is a guiding lodestar.
But when you’re celebrating your destiny, as YUNG RAJA is on ‘Mad Blessings’, it’s a supernova. His words and the heady, elastic, sublimely thrumming Flightsch beat are the means by which RAJA conveys his gratitude to the universe for leading him to this current point in his life. But the thanksgiving – “All glory to God / Every day is a movie” – is future-facing.
The ‘Mad Blessings’ he has received are a jump-off point into new possibilities – every inch of sound here pulses with the anticipation and excitement of what’s to come next. There is no pause and no doubt. Mama’s imperative to “shine on them all”, is an urging he will follow into futurity.
Rare is the song that makes you look beyond it in a flattering light. Rarer still is the song that does that while being the soundtrack of your very birth.
Islandeer – ‘Cliche’
“Chill” can be a such musical dirty word but not this time.
On their fifth single, Christian Jansen and Michael Garcia reprise their gift for making an easy-breezy mode resound with a surprisingly dramatic power. The song is a commentary of the anxiety that undergirds entering into new circumstances and contexts – and a hushed-but-frustrated scream at how cliched it is to feel anxious of the apparent “newness” of it all.
Earthy-but-spectral, the overall twanginess of the soundscape jives pleasantly with the groove that bookends it. There’s no way to reconcile the anguished outburst of “Why can’t you do it your own way?” with the finality of “But it’s so cliche!” – and that is so, so refreshing. It’s this open-endedness that makes it universally poignant.
AmPm and brb. – ‘Sorry That I Love You’
The disparate powers of Japanese electro dup AmPm and Singaporean R&B trio brb. converge on this masterclass of lusciousness. These days, pop is a producer-driven vehicle but this song affirms why we don’t have to be cynical about it. For one, brb.’s frontman Clarence’s voice is a pristine element, a kiss-off on any instrumental, a boon of sweetness, melody and charm. It pirouettes within the confines of the production, itself a considered weave of soulful sounds and accents, emanating with care, warmth and sincerity. All this makes the titular hook even more effective and irresistible.
If this collaboration is a match made in heaven, may it fuel many more to come – and not just musical ones.
NANDINI – ‘Gasp’
Make no mistake: “I’m stuck in my head”, is a plea for help. Its succinctness and economy do not dim its gravity. That’ why ‘gasp’ exists: The song is a coping mechanism, an outlet through which anxiety can be channeled. But it’s also presented as a pop song. On her debut showing, this 16-year-old chanteuse spilts the difference between letting the listener in on how scary it is when it feels like the walls are closing in on you and communicating it with nuance and art. The music is an idiom of that fact: Her producers Edric Hwang and Eugene Yip meld R&B, hip-hop and pop into a dashing tapestry, so that one person’s pain can be an anthem of hope for others.
Causeway Youth – ‘Places’
Songs like this prove that we’re all haunted by beauty – that we’ll never stop being aspiring to its aesthetic code. Though so much of the human experience is not beautiful, beauty is guiding hand in the depiction of that truth.
‘Places’ is a gorgeous ode to the emotional resonance of memories anchored to a time, but more importantly, place. But it doesn’t paint a rosy picture. With the lovely filigree of their guitar-led indie pop strokes and their feather-light voices, the two singers chronicle the devolution of paradise to nothingness: “We used to pen down places to see / But now there’s nothing left.”
The protagonists in this tale urge themselves to a state of independence – but that revelation is built on the hard truth that what once was is no more. What makes it less painful is the beauty in its articulation.
Royal Estate and Nigel Cheah – ‘Stranger Things’
When you’re down on your knees, everything around you comes to dust – except the one that brought you there in the first place.
Royal Estate and Nigel Cheah’s collaborative single is a beautiful and unnerving glimpse at what that kind of surrender entails. The flip side of love is a harrowing place but distilled through the lens of pop, it can either be ameliorative or circle back to its fundamental hopelessness even more emphatically. ‘Stranger Things’ proffers the latter experience. There is no redemption here. The existential lament, “I wish you could stay the night / All because it’s killing me to sleep alone”, is the song’s leitmotif, and though situated in the new wave of the ‘80s, is timelessly dramatic. There is escalation and guitar-shimmer but that door – the one that matters – is closed forever.
They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder – but knowing they’re never coming back can destroy it entirely.
Kevlah and Emilia Ali – ‘Special’
At this point, future bass is an overused cheat code when it comes to maximal EDM-adjacent songs with a high-impact emotional charge. What makes Kevlah’s ‘Special’ stand out from the SoundCloud-clog is the depth of its emotional essence and the sophistication of its expression within the parameters of the breakup it outlines.
Though hypermodern, this song works because it makes good on the simple pairing of the human voice and an instrumental accompaniment. In this case, the former is Emilia Ali’s lovely, bruised coo that serves as a metaphor for the blood spilled from the rupture of the heart, and the former, the megaton warhead of bass and synths that Kevlah unleashes. That it's exquisitely danceable is beyond debate but there’s also this: “On my neck and on my mind / Made your mark before you left this time”. And it’s this that the whole song hinges on – the emotional eye of the hurricane.