Our top picks this week - featuring a melancholic anthem from Kotoji, hard-hitting footwork from iyer, and sweet indie pop from Much!
The solo project of songwriter Anjila Lim, Kotoji’s sonics are exercises in confessional indie rock. With her first single, Roulette in My Head, she presented melodic sensibilities rooted in Japanese tradition, reminiscent of the pleasant jangle of Spitz and Love Psychedelico. Unfortunately, unlike other indie rock projects indulging in lo-fi glory, Kotoji’s first effort sorely lacked any intensity needed to sell it. Rather than adding to its emotional potency, the mix’s harsh nature, characterised by awkwardly mixed vocals, overly thinned out frequencies, and robotic drums obfuscated its potential, which showed glimpses of melodic inventiveness and potential. With Japanese influences often overlooked in the Singaporean music landscape, it largely felt like a lost opportunity – without an outwardly brash attitude nor sonic experimentation of her supposed peers (e.g. Weatherday, for example), Roulette… merely sounded like an unpolished demo.
On Everything, however, Lim manages to overcome Roulette's weaknesses, by finding a way to now wield her production’s lo-fi haze to her sonic advantage. Introducing the song with a tasteful, reverb-drenched riff, Lim creates a strong impression right out of the gate, signalling and ushering in the six minutes of seductive, slowburn guitar-pop to follow. With the mix now substantially fuller than its predecessor’s treble-heavy production, Everything’s newfound palatability allows for Lim’s vocal presence to shine. Here, cavernous reverb washes over the track, smearing her booming drums and jangly rhythm guitars with a smoky haze, while also cloaking her Bush-like vocal delivery in enticing shadows.
The result lands not far from recent Pitchfork-favored contemporaries, somewhere between Mitski-like melancholia and Alvvays' dreamy jangle, coloured with a slight gothic tinge. At times, the production does still become a double edged sword, unintentionally obscuring her voice and muddying the mix. But more often than not - the reverb-drenched mix manages to give a flattering quality to her vocal affectations. As she pushes her voice towards the highs, she sounds as if emerging from darkness, trying to shine light on nakedly personal truths and struggles. The second verse shines brightest - as Lim pushes her voice towards her falsettos, it soars over the instrumentation, solidifying a powerful emotional potency that was close to unreachable on her first outing. The chorus doesn't exactly deliver on the building tension, but the accumulated sense of atmosphere and lyrical message more than makes up for it. “Everything we never did,” she ponders upon longingly, and the result is a moody image of regretful yearning.
Compared to its predecessor, the track ultimately wins through its newfound sense of confidence, with its sonic decisions reflective of well-thought out artistic choices, rather than simplistic lo-fi put-togethers. With its enticing atmosphere, it manages to establish a convincing voice for Kotoji’s future work. A marked improvement, Everything is a promising new entry for Kotoji - a songwriter slowly grasping the keys to classic indie-rock melancholia.
Listen to "Everything" here:
- - by JX Soo
From Japan to Peru, footwork’s dynamic and structural fluidity has allowed the sound to transcend beyond its Chicago roots – for producer Nikhil Ramakrishnan as iyer, its frameworks are a conduit for him to pay homage to his Carnatic heritage, refracting nuggets of Tamil and Indian culture at large via the lenses of chopped samples and experimental club. On Singapore soil, Nikhil is somewhat of a foundational figure. Behind the electronic label Phyla Digital, his work as iyer has helped foster a burgeoning electronic landscape – most notably Fauxe, who has become one of Singapore’s foremost purveyors in synergising cultural reverence and refreshing beatwork. Now based in San Francisco, Farewell continues his synthesis of Indian sounds and juke, collisions he showcased on albums like 2019’s Third Culture Tamilian. Here, his sonic variety broadens - but a Carnatic undercurrent always underpins them.
At times, these are explicit, like Tere Bina, and the hypnotic Shah Rukh Shelldown, ostensibly named after the legendary actor Shah Rukh Khan. Packed full of bouncing bass and frenetic rhythms, they serve as bedrock for an infectious dance sequence, led by his commanding vocal snippets. But the truly delighting tracks are when these fusions are more implicit - like Skywalker, where tabla-like rhythms give way to frantic juke pulses, which all provide the bedrock for furious grime-flavoured verses. Here, the MC rides rhythms conjured by Nikhil's arpeggiator-driven grids, with glowing pad synths and sax interjections coloring the spaces in between. A student of legendary producers the likes of DJ Rashad, there's a similar melodic richness that colours iyer’s jukes. But with his sensibilities coloured by his own cultural heritage rather than locked to direct tributes - whether it be from his sample to his rhythmic choices – it's indicative of what lies at the core of footwork's increasing global appeal - leaving room as an adaptive sonic space for exciting melting pots, ready for new possibilities.
Listen to “Skywalker” here:
- - by JX Soo
“Skin By Skin”
Skin By Skin/ Haum Entertainment
Previously making music in the mold of emo-leaning pop-punk, Malang, Indonesia outfit Much’s calling card was their balancing act between feather-light female vocals and easy-going indie rock energy - demonstrated to effect with their upbeat previous singles like Uneven. On Skin By Skin, much of their signature punch completely evaporates, moving their sound firmly towards twee pop territory – although with mixed results.
The track is undeniably a pleasant listen. Without the spunk of their previous stylings, the song relies on simplicity, anchoring its appeal almost entirely on the saccharine innocence of of its female vocals. As palm-muted acoustic guitars alternate with sparse waves of single-coil chords, verses on innocent yearning follow a rudimentary backbeat. The song is a simple ode to falling out of love and romantic pain (If I could do anything/Baby, I’ll do it/Till your little heart compromise/To our sinking hearts) – yet despite these rather melodramatic lines, the song works it to great effect. The key is probably the whispery vocal delivery – allowing for these lines to glide over the feather-light instrumentation without overt feelings of cliche. With its nature checking out with stylings reminiscent of indie pop darlings like Camera Obscura, Skin By Skin’s is sincere and earnest, ebbing and flowing gently as the song progresses through mild verses and swelling choruses.
But as sonic dessert goes, the aftertaste is a little too light, and doesn't leave enough of a lasting impression. Unlike other twee bands, Skin By Skin’s sense of polish actually takes away from any sense of genuine attitude, something Much benefited from through their previous sound's sense of punch. As a single, Skin by Skin establishes a comforting tone for the duo, but nothing surprising happens, with most of the track's ideas feeling rather predictable – instead of the refreshing citrus its cover suggests, the track feels more akin to skimmed milk with honey. In the end, the Indonesian outfit’s latest effort is a pleasant slice of indie pop that serves as a wonderfully gentle soundtrack to lazy afternoons inside. Much (no pun intended) like the sugar that it seems to portray, Skin By Skin dissolves upon closer examination, but still gets the job done with its comforting sweetness.
Listen to "Skin By Skin" here:
- - by JX Soo