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 Joanna Dong, LEW, Blood Pact, brb., BOYINSPACE and KARAN, Killmeslow and Jenk$ Shelby Wang, JP, shy-c, Danzz, Rish Sharma, WUKONG, IN THE NOW, Feez., pretty havoc., MMXJ, Tides, and YRFN.
LEW – ‘Screaming’
Good art inspires emotional investment naturally. In Singaporean music, LEW is glorious proof of that truism.
Even if the listener is disconnected from the misty-eyed lovesickness that has become the leitmotif in LEW’s artistic world, his powers in drawing you into the emotional bloodletting that happens when a once-treasured love is ruptured, are formidable and irresistible. He’s been on a winning streak over the past year, unspooling releases that incrementally affirm his gift. But what’s different about ‘Screaming’ is that it introduces to the listener a newfound charm that LEW’s acquired: musical code-switching.
What starts off as a string-accented folk elegy evolves first into a groove-buoyed experience that later progresses into an arena-sized scream of howling electric guitars. It makes the already-visceral import of LEW “screaming for the love of [his] life” that much more literal and real.
Blood Pact – ‘Binding’
“The city’s on fire” – a powerful scene, an endlessly explorable trope but above all, a timely and timeless signifier that it’s all gone to hell.
On its newly minted self-titled debut EP, Blood Pact venture bravely into the belly of the beast that is existential dread, which is a monster with many heads. Because it examines what it means to feel utterly – read: spiritually – defeated by the hand you’ve been dealt, ‘Binding’ is the most unsparingly reflective of the lot. With a pummelling gravity, frontman Nicholas Wong’s baritone articulates his lament: “Blinded by my own desolation, caged up in pain and misery”. That dramatic heft is amplified by the ringing layers of guitar and bass, that though propulsive, echo as if moving in circular motion, all while the tight pounds from the drums drive the finality of the reckoning home.
This is one for the ages, to be played as cities burn and the dreams of their people disappear into the unforgiving sky in smoke.
Killmeslow and Jenk$ – ‘Dance on Me’
So much of contemporary rap is the art of flexing, which, when done well, pays off in pleasure-centre-gratifying, endorphin-spiking energy. On ‘Dance on Me’, off their recent EP National Treasure Killmeslow and Jenk$ turn in a swaggering boast that’s both endearing and enjoyable. They obey the rules: Good beat with bass that slaps with a megaton payload and punchlines with high quoteworthy value.
‘Dance on Me’ is for the club, which is both where it’s set in and where it aims to be played from. Its nocturnal thrills derive in large part from how the duo fleshes out its mythically swaggering narrative. In rap, materialism is the embodiment of transcendence. To this end, the duo’s approach is stirring and studied. Killmeslow and Jenk$ know their way around the modern vernacular of rap and ‘Dance on Me’ is where they proudly show it off – having a blast in the process.
brb. – ‘undone’
Splitting the difference between a ‘90s-era boyband and R&B lotharios who regard the bedroom as the sacred altar of love, brb. truly is a unique proposition in contemporary Singaporean pop.
The ingredients of the trio’s new one include “whisky and wine”, lush, swirling sepia-lit melodies that set the simmering, purple-hued mood, an encouraging thump of bass and frontman Clarence Liew’s gorgeous coo. Just like its overarching message, the thrust of all those disparate elements is joyously convergent, in service of one singularly ecstatic truth : “When we’re together, we’re alone”.
This is our ‘Versace on the Floor’, a Singaporean ode to love.
BOYINSPACE and KARAN – ‘BURBL’
If you didn’t know any better, you’d rightly assume that BOYINSPACE and KARAN are from Toronto, the temple from which this gospel of reverb-ed, supernaturally vibey sound is being beamed.
But they’re Singapore-based and amongst the best of the bubbling acts in the hip-hop and R&B brackets. They clearly have their heroes but they’re not concerned with merely imitating the masters. Why they’re such a compelling power is because they make their influences work for their art. ‘BURBL’ is a distinctly bass-heavy nocturnal banger; it comes alive most when you’ve had too much and you simultaneously can’t quite see clearly and see everything clearer than ever before.
It’a a celebration of the come-up – the hustle that gets you the diamonds, the lover of your dreams, the moving on from said lover once they’ve failed you and the drive to just live your best life on your own terms.
Joanna Dong – ‘A Good Goodbye’
“And what is time / And what is farewell / What are these tears / When we’ve loved so well” – Some goodbyes take the life out of you. But Joanna Dong, whose voice is a thing of beauty, has just made that turbocharged word a little easier to utter.
How does a song that ushers the irrevocable finality of an ending sound so welcoming? It’s all down to Joanna’s control over her luscious coo. She’s a centrepiece who doesn’t need to raise her voice to be heard and believed. Barely above a whisper, her vocals bless the instrumental with sweetness and warmth. There’s an awestruck quality about the music that suggests that each note is shocked by how much its counterpart, the human voice, complements it.
The universality of this song ensures that it can be called forth to be a salve for any situation that is a defining moment and a fork in the road. If you need its power, it’ll ably deliver.
WUKONG – ‘Bleed To The Dance’
WUKONG has put out a slew of hard-hitting releases since his debut earlier this year, but none have been as in-your-face as his latest offering: ‘Bleed To The Dance’. The track wastes no time at all, forsaking slow builds for an onslaught of thumping bass kicks from the get-go. As the track progresses, raw hardstyle kicks are thrown into the mix, giving the second half of the song a grittier feel. Throughout his discography, WUKONG has shown that he isn’t one to be trifled with in the local – and regional – dance music scene. ‘Bleed To The Dance’ just pushes that point further.
IN THE NOW & Feez. – ‘Tight Till The Morning’’
IN THE NOW and Feez link up for another single, coming in the form of ‘Tight Till The Mornin’, which opens with a rework of arguably one of the most prominent lines in R&B history: ‘No Diggity’s “Shorty get down, good lord.”
From that point on, Feez takes the song and makes it entirely his own. While his voice is a lot more subdued in this track than its predecessor – Auto-Tune overpowers the true strength and beauty of his natural voice – it’s still a catchy melody-driver. IN THE NOW’s production is light and breezy – which is exactly what the track needs.
pretty havoc. – ‘cleopatra’
pretty havoc.’s streak of putting out great songs is very much alive and well. After strong releases such as ‘goddess’ and ‘come thru if ur lonely’, it wouldn’t be too surprising if the band put out a track that could live up to expectations. That’s just what’s going on here. ‘cleopatra’ fits in with the rest of the duo’s tracks comfortably. Once again, pretty havoc. proves to be immensely creative songwriters and musicians. At the rate things are going with the band, they’re on course to becoming a household name in Singaporean music.
MMXJ – ‘Always’ featuring James Ty
MMXJ is one of those artists that doesn’t get quite the credit he rightfully deserves. For well over four years, MMXJ has worked tirelessly, putting out one great track after another. ‘Always’ featuring James Ty follows in the same vein. While not as heavily influenced by EDM as his previous tracks, MMXJ, this time, turns his attention to the more subdued genre of electro-pop. MXXJ sets the scene with light percussion and keyboards, as the track slowly builds to include electric guitar chords in the chorus, set against James Ty’s calming voice. MMXJ hits yet another single out of the park, solidifying claims that he’s one of the best electronic artists in Singapore.
Tides – ‘Home Without You’
On ‘Home Without You’, Tides let you know exactly what you’re in for so you can best prepare yourself for the emotional wave that’s about to wash over you. Described by the band as "a song about loss from the perspective of a man finding the resolve to move forward and make sense of a world without his loved one who passed due to cancer”, the song deals with grief with so much conviction, that you can feel the character’s anguish in your bones. We’ve all dealt with loss in different forms – whether by death or not – but the pain we feel is very real. ‘Home Without You’ is one of those deeply personal and powerful songs that lets you know you’re not alone in your suffering, and will help you let the pain out.
YRFN – ‘Chasin’
YRFN has put out a lot of great music this year, but ‘Chasin’ may be his best. With low, rumbling bass and trap percussions in the background, YRFN’s autotuned vocals lead the track as he carries the melody seemingly effortlessly. 'Chasin' is direct and catchy and the perfect kind of track to do just about anything to, from car rides to background music while you’re working through one of the million confused states we encounter in the experience of modern life – the inner battle we face of whether chasing after someone’s affection is worth the hassle.
Shelby Wang - ‘落跑 Escape’
An up-and-coming star in the scene, Shelby Wang stretches the Mandopop mold of lovelorn ballads and injects something more and essential – modern sonic elements and her brand of youthful and dreamy romance. Lying across the intersections of pop, old-school jazz, and funk, she first defined her sound with her debut EP, Interconnecting Worlds, setting her apart from the flock.
Filled to the brim with longing, 'Escape' sounds like a whimsical dance performed by one but meant for two. With playful, jazzy piano melodies and shimmering synths, Wang builds a compelling soundscape based off unrequited love. “I will keep running / until I forget you / Don’t chase after me / But if you do, escape with me” hits especially hard as it fleshes out the tension between the desire for closeness and denying oneself precisely that.
JP - ‘Stepping Out’
JP is in the midst of making a name for himself as a hard-hitting rapper and proving that the beat he rides on is always ushers endless potential for him. Effortlessly, he spits out dense verses and every word seamlessly adds volume to the entire sonic experience.
A stark contrast to his intense debut single, ‘Dear Haters’, his second release, ‘Stepping Out’, is comparatively laid-back and introspective, but embodies a powerful message all the same. This track is a call for action, demanding one to step out and up regardless of one’s fears. Unpretentious and candid, JP does not place himself on a moral pedestal and instead, pays tribute to his own humanity and fallibility in this track.
shy-c - ‘Hollow’
Tender and cutting, all at once, is how one should experience shy-c’s music. His mellow voice paired with electronic beats combine to produce unexpectedly emotional, intense, and irresistible soundscapes.
‘Hollow’ sounds simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic. His falsetto soars lightly above the swelling future-bass synths and uptempo beats as he effortlessly spills his lyricism about his desire to remain tethered to what he holds dear even as time mercilessly shoves him forward.
“Though I’m lost for sure / I’d rather be lost with you / than to be hollow” is his final declaration before his voice is swept away by electric guitar riffs and imposing beats, echoing the unspoken reality that is our common powerlessness in the face of change.
Danzz - ‘Gone’
Danzz sings of love and heartache with an unabashed and lucid honesty in her debut single.
‘Gone’ embodies the universality of heartbreak. Interwoven richly with unceasing piano melodies, her vocal harmonies in the track lend layers to this profoundly emotional ballad. “I once found the spark between us / But now it’s all gone”, shifts in its nuance each time it is repeated, but most saliently, ends the track with a devastating resignation, her vibrato betraying an unsteadiness which belies the serenity of the track.
Rish Sharma - ‘All Your Love’
Coming from an electronic, R&B, and funk background, Rish Sharma is a versatile artist who comfortably morphs across genres. Inspired by the likes of Prince, D’Angelo, A$AP Rocky, Lenny Kravitz, and The Weeknd, he combines iconic features of each epoch-defining artist and spins them into something uniquely his.
In this spacey, atmospheric track, Rish Sharma croons about endless devotion on top of snappy 808s and an undercurrent of new wave electro synths. This track aptly ends with a fidelity to his passionate worldview: “Let’s fuel the flame”.