February 2021: Best Tracks
Welcome to the overdue Awful Track Record February playlist. As I play catch-up in trying to introduce all of you to memorable new music from Malaysia and beyond , I figured it's not worth leaving these tracks in the dumpster just because somebody can't meet a deadline (it's me, I'm the somebody). Compiled by Joseph and I, the February edition sees bands testing new, funkier directions, traditions filtered through the lens of electronic modernity, some adorable Stay-At-Home tunes, R&B ballads, hip-hop kapak and more! I hope you find something you like! Or hit us up with your own music/recommendations at our Instagram account (@awfultrackrecord) or email us via firstname.lastname@example.org
- Zim, Editor P/S: This also happens to be our writer, Joseph Lu's last published article on Awful Track Record. He's gone for greener pastures, employment-wise. We'll miss him. This article is collectively written by Joseph Lu & Zim Ahmadi
‘Disko Kilat’ - Joyberry
MAY CONTAIN: SYNTH POP / POP PUNK / INDIE ROCK
Joyberry has always been ahead of their own game, walking the fine line between innovation and familiarity. Usually the 'familiar' in that equation is pop punk, but holy shit they’ve been changing about what makes their track innovative over and over again. Most of the time to satisfactory results. Their next horizon looks like a gigantic discotheque in a space station. I mean, it’s in the title. But it’s also in the imagery within the lyrics, alluding to elements of intergalactic and interdimensional travel. In Joyberry’s new universe, the starlight make up the dance floors. Highlights in the composition include the scintillating synth passage in the bridge and the fact that every vocal performance in this track that sounds undeniably pop punk vibe. Which shouldn’t fit, but works like the hyper drive on a Millennium Falcon. This is not your run-of-the-mill dreamy illusion, this is 'Disko Kilat'.
'Sylph Fossil' – Iglooghost
MAY CONTAIN : DECONSTRUCTED CLUB / UK BASS / WONKY INDUSTRIAL HIP HOP / TRAP
In the genre of weird and glitchy things comes the weird and glitchy Sylph Fossil, combining a drumbeat that is only vaguely hip-hop in nature with some very unexpected violin passages, all of which serves as the base to some strange whisper rap – which we assume is just the natural evolution of mumble rap.
But even with all that going on, Iglooghost hasn’t strayed away from his signature sound - a healthy peppering of pitched-up vocals and a sample of Transformers making out throughout the entire track. And while there isn’t really a climax, (although there is a glittery breakdown somewhere down the line), it’s interesting to hear what is essentially the sonic equivalent of dipping your fries into a McFlurry.
'Nongga’ - MonoloQue, Aizat Amdan & Orkes Gamelan Pahang Di Raja
MAY CONTAIN: GAMELAN / EXPERIMENTAL NUSANTARA
The collaboration with Aizat Amdan shows that one of LoQue’s chops as an artist,who is no stranger, to experimentation are the subtle twists in his production. ‘Nongga’ is a great example of little changes and embellishments adding more volume to the track. No grand production gimmicks or unnecessarily unorthodox arrangements needed. The traditional Malay gamelan which makes the backbone of the song, and played beautifully by Orkes Gamelan Pahang Diraja, is the core of its beauty - only slightly tinged by a mist of digital and psychedelic tones. The lyrics stand out too as an empathic exploration of emotions.“Putuslah hati, pengarang jantung” (“The author of hearts, Now with a broken heart”). ‘Nongga’ is a part of MonoloQue’s recently released album ‘Lagu Perang (Bunyi Gamelan Melayu di Abad ke 21)’, or ‘War Song (Malay Gamelan Sounds in the 21st Century)’.
With the latest album, MonoloQue seeks to bring gamelan, which is often considered as haughty and stagnant court music back, to the common people - tradition education through the lens of modern experimentation. The music video is a biting commentary on all walks of Malay identity in the modern world and brings together many visual references to classic Malay stories (such as the story of Singapura Dilanggar Todak from the epic 'Sejarah Melayu', where Singapore was attacked by swordfishes and later saved by Hang Nadim). -Zim
Order 'Lagu Perang' now by clicking here.
'love me' – MKNK & Bil Musa
MAY CONTAIN: AMBIENT POP / ALTERNATIVE R&B / ART POP / NEO-SOUL
No Valentine would be complete without a moody song about wanting to smash. And that’s what Sabahan singer/producer MKNK and local R&B royalty Bil Musa delivers in this sullen duet. In contrast to MKNK’s more hard-hitting beats, love me puts on some lush dreamy production and expensive vocal treatment all of which are dripping in some Alice in wonderland-ass reverb. The triplet-y syncopated vocals melodies help distinguish the instrumentals, giving the chorus the lift it needs. Meanwhile, the tropical-flavoured bongos add just the right amount of energy without being intrusive. And while the lyrics won’t get you running to the ice cream and tissue papers, it’s heartfelt enough that your crush or Tinder date won’t ghost you after you casually slip this song into their DMs. -Joseph
‘Measure You’ - Crinkle Cut
MAY CONTAIN: SOUL / POP / R&B
Every one of Crinkle Cut’s singles is an audio sanctuary. Among the many rank-and-file soulful pop groups that inhabit the massive musical landscape, they’ve also managed to prove themselves with familiar simplicity, gorgeous harmonies and an impeccable sense of melody & rhythm. Well, there are also more tangible elements, of course, like Frances Tsen’s beautiful vocals, the inescapably groovy bassline, the piano fills, - the delicate embrace of spectacular musicianship married to an immeasurable amount of warmth in songwriting. Even the clearest of cliches are made to feel soft as if they’re written especially for every single listener looking for a place of comfort or to rekindle the slightly colder part of their souls. -Zim
'Big Bang' – Cherry Glazerr
MAY CONTAIN: INDIE ROCK / NEO-PSYCHEDELIA / NOISE POP / BEDROOM POP
Don’t be fooled by the acoustic guitars and skittish snares. The chorus is a full burst of Cherry Glazerr in your ears. But besides being just a damn good pop song, the synthesizers and ‘horns?’ seem to hint at a new sonic direction for the band, calling back to Cage the Elephant’s Melophobia era. And with the anticlimactic end, the band might be implying more than they lead on – maybe a new record with a new sound, or maybe they just like fucking with our feelings. Nevertheless, for cynical Karens out there, Big Bang is yet more proof that rock music is well and alive.
‘Sial’ - yon.dershore
MAY CONTAIN: INDIE ROCK / SLACKER / LO-FI / 80s INDIE POP
Yon.dershore’s lackadaisical and loose musicality suits the subject matter of 'Sial' - the often self-estranging and self-alienating feeling of depression. Although the wispy vocals are reminiscent of bands like the Breeders, it’s the little partial-dissonance in the sprinkling of keys and the singing playing a little catch-up with the instruments that makes ‘Sial’ an endearingly imperfect nod to that infectious sadness. The band yon.dershore comprises Atoq and Yo from the band Motherland, Yon from Shh...Diam! (and drummer from Tingtongketz & Memento Mori) while Jez also plays bass for Memento Mori. Check this out if you're a fan of the sonically immersive - where the ruggedness platforms the most prominent sincerity and vulnerability.
‘Juwita’ - Here Comes July
MAY CONTAIN: POP ROCK / ALTERNATIVE ROCK / NEO-ROMANTIKA / POP
Just when I thought I was over the new romantic indie rock wave that has been done to death in Malaysia since Noh Salleh released Angin Kencang; Juwita pulls me back like an ex-partner that never leaves your mind - with its waltz-like arrangement and soaring declarations of love. Fitting, since the song is from a soundtrack for a television romance-drama. But this is no shallow shill of a pop song. The song starts off breezy and then progresses into an enchanting layer of instrumentation, backing vocals and a stadium-rock sized guitar solo that won’t sound strange in an old jiwang rock kapak track. 'Here Comes July' hits the bullseye with this one on how to make a satisfying pop-rock serenade. -Zim
'Seru' - Zerophobia
MAY CONTAIN: ALTERNATIVE METAL / HARD ROCK / GROOVE METAL / THRASH METAL
Seru is the logical culmination of decades upon decades of Malaysian metal and rock. Yes, you can expect a remake of that A7X sound, particularly the spacey Synyster Gates leads and the campy symphonic diddles here and there. And of course, the production is on point for metal as technical as this, no doubt from hours and hours of editing on Pro Tools. But the definitive centrepiece is the rock jiwang passage that kicks in at the one-minute mark. It’s hard to believe we’ve come this long without metal jiwang being a thing. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Joseph has not dove deep enough into the rock kapak catalogue please forgive him)
‘Disease’ - Kareema
MAY CONTAIN: ALTERNATIVE ROCK / ROCK BALLAD / ACOUSTIC
A song with a line like “I may be faithless but in vengeance I believe” deserves the most ominous and epic musical landscape. ‘Disease’ is exactly that and more. Kareema’s powerful execution builds upon the orchestral proportions of this song which alternates between sounding like a battle film score and a sinister Western cowboy face-off. The nu-metal, gothy allusions to decrepitude and rotte is made poetically sharper with such a purposeful production and composition. A performance not to be messed with. If the lyrics “This girl you’ve destroyed have rockets deployed” don't convince you of that, nothing will.
'M+M' – Ichu
MAY CONTAIN: CLOUD RAP / GLITCH HOP / EXPERIMENTAL HIP HOP
M+M is the palette cleanser we need from the factories of producers spitting out Trap Nation-styled beats every day. There’s no cicadas hats or obnoxiously loud 808s in this track, and especially no lyrics about how great the artist’s kampung was.
Rather the entire song is built upon some very glitchy synths, with samples chopped and screwed in a way that even Kanye would approve of. But throwing together a bunch of sounds is just the standard modus operandi for cloud rap (just ask Lil B). It also helps that the hook isn’t half bad and that the artist didn’t feel the need to rap just because it’s a rap beat – allowing every second of the mix to shine through.
And while the ending’s a bit underwhelming, you can also argue it’s the kind of outro you would find in a Good Kid, M.A.A.D City track, possibly alluding to a more ambitious release. We’re waiting for the album Ichu - please and thank you.
‘Soulless (Live Melodiya Recording) - Golden Mammoth
MAY CONTAIN: PSYCHEDELIC ROCK
The live version of Soulless continues to contradict the song’s title - there's nothing soulless about it. The live version injects more soul into an already riveting and pulsating psychedelic rock tune. Check out the rest of their live recording on Bandcamp, with ‘Soulless’ as a good place to start your journey. This live recording is a cool brief introduction to the band’s discography, and it’s also made me miss seeing Golden Mammoth on stage. You only get a tease of their antics video with keyboardist and backing vocalist, Ojay, occasionally punching the air, getting into the groove. Hey, it's better than nothing.
‘ROY’ - TTONTHEMOVE feat. Raq
MAY CONTAIN: HIP HOP / TRAP KAPAK / TRAP
Not only is a ‘ROY’ a super barai, sonically ambitious fusion of hip hop and rock kapak, it’s also one of those rare sincere nods to the ubiquitous motorcycle-riding subculture of “rempits” in Malaysia. The brand of music in the production doesn't lean heavy on a primal, booming bass. ‘ROY’'s heart is the slightly purposefully smudgey vocal mix, where the most based, carnal thing on the track are the *vroom vrooms* - as though conveying that your RXZ’s are a part of you, especially when the revving sounds sometimes come off as indistinguishable from the deep guttural vocals in the chorus. TTONTHEMOVE and Raq don’t just pack some interesting genre combinations, the song also manages to pack so much witticism that doesn’t cross into ivory tower pretension. Like a spoken word prophet of the subculture spitting lines like “tak ikut warna kulit, walau tukar set kaver” - reminding us all that we should stick together. Hip hop hasn’t sounded as working class Malaysian as ‘ROY’ in a long time. It flies the wave of innovation and urban rebellion as proudly as the eponymous character flies it in the 1986 classic. Harden your hearts, youth of the world, hati kau keras. Whether Roy is your hero or not, the song is the way to his soul.
‘Hollow’ - Katfëud
MAY CONTAIN: WITCH HOUSE / SYNTHWAVE / DARKWAVE / ELECTRONICA
Fresh out of Petaling Jaya, according to Unite Asia, the duo features members from skate punk group The Hiroshima Lovers. The duo; Qee and Riz, have swapped some fast-paced punk for something a lot more warped and electronic. But seeing that one of their influences include Crystal Castles, punk still finds it’s home within the electronic milieu by bringing it to harsher, freer realms. ‘Hollow’ is anything but empty. It sounds as frenetic as the strobe lighting in the music video - with production flourishes and a thumping sub-bass that heralds the arrival of extraterrestrials.The vocals are mixed in such a buried manner, in a way that adds to the sci-fi galore or like a Lynchian seraphim speaking through you from a vent. And then the song enters into bleep bloop, robot territory - an entire imagery projected to you through an undeniably scintillating synthwave anti-sensory room. You’re awake now. None of this is real. Their song ‘Hollow’ is a part of their upcoming EP ‘Citadel’. My excitement for it is genuine (as if my waxing a mini-screenplay out of one song isn’t enough to tell you I’m excited).
‘Virtual Candy’ - Brandon Liew ft. Lyrit
MAY CONTAIN: FUTURE FUNK / KAWAII POP / EDM / HYPERPOP
‘Virtual Candy’ feels like real candy; like you’re being injected with a syringe of sugar and funk in sonic form. Brandon Liew holds nothing back - whether it’s the groove of the synth and bass, or the glitchy explosion in the bridge. Lyrit singing about the escapism of video games and falling in love with an avatar is makes up the virtual sprinkles on top of an already colourful ice cream. (Okay, enough sweet puns, go dance to ‘Virtual Candy, it’s one of the songs from Brandon Liew’s latest EP of the same name. Listen to it here.) Read full review here.
‘The Missing Piece’ - Gabe Derealton
MAY CONTAIN: DREAM POP / INDIE ROCK / SOFT SYNTH
The solar eclipse phenomenon in ‘The Missing Piece’’s music video blankets the already elegiac song with more poignancy. Armed with Ariel Pink baritones, generous amounts of reverb and the displacing, dreamy feeling of standing in the middle of an empty beach while thinking about the many different parts of you that makes up who you are - these are the ingredients for Gabe Derealton’s emotional & synth-y experience. With the pandemic at hand, Gabe has been spending more time exercising his writing chops with plans to release more singles in the coming months with a 6 track EP shortly after. His latest song ‘Sunset Horizon’ is out now.
Read full review here.
‘Duduk Rumah’ - Mad & Rissa
MAY CONTAIN: POWER POP / INDIE ROCK
A strong candidate for the cutest quarantine song this year, Mad & Rissa’s pop-nuanced indie is such a cosy experience. Listening to it comfort your COVID-19 claustrophobic frustrations while offering friendly reminders to stay at home. I love that the lyrics just sound like a shopping list of all the things that could be befuddling you in these trying times. The music video makes ‘Duduk Rumah’ two times as adorable too.
‘Lonely’ - Airliftz
MAY CONTAIN: HIP HOP / CHILL RAP
To me, Airlifitz is at his best when he’s at his most wholesome and Mac Miller-esque - when he wears influences like KYLE on his sleeves. It’s that undeniable laidback, cafe-adjacent, adolescent romance with cute pastel vibes that emanates a subtle positivity - regardless whether the actual subject matter reflects it. Although Airliftz’s influences are varied, evident through his different production styles, it’s songs like ‘Appreciate’ where his flow feels the most candid and smooth - where his switching from rapping to singing feels the most precise. ‘Lonely’ inherits this with shining merit - but instead of going for the triumphant like in ‘Appreciate’, ‘Lonely’ is a warm hug from a friend reaching out to you in your solitude. Produced by GC, the track has a great hook, some great keys to amp up the soul and just generally beautiful vocal deliveries by the rapper. And yes, it's "ruining your make-up", not "ruining Jamaica".
‘Lepas’ - yon.dershore
MAY CONTAIN: LO-FI / INDIE ROCK / INDIE POP
Nothing like an encouraging, dreamy piece of lo-fi pop goodness to remind us to be comfortable with our own feelings. This self-acceptance is reflected in the making it track too, since it was produce on Garageband as Yon's first attempt at recording and releasing a song solo, later mixed and mastered by Eff Hakim of Pastel Lite. 'Lepas' is all loosey-goosey and hypnotic, with jazz chords to keep you snuggled up, nudging you to let all your anxieties go.
‘Song for Loner’ - Lovethee
MAY CONTAIN: SLACKER ROCK / GARAGE ROCK / INDIE ROCK / SHOEGAZE
The ultimate shoegazing slacker anthem for introverts, ‘Song for Loner’ is the first single from the one-man-band’s recently released album ‘Sepuh Rasa’ (you can order it here). LOVETHEE is led by Nadzri Shaharuddin aka Aie and if the first single is any indicator, the project is filled with fuzzy, yet surprisingly melodic sentiments. ‘Song for Loner’ blends together like your standard shoegaze track but it’s the vulnerability and the little pop nuances that stick out like a flower among thorns. Read full review here.