Our top picks this week - featuring Sonic destruction from sl_owtalk, smooth indie rock from Islandeer, and folk pop from lewloh!
Featuring experimental electronic producers Isyraf and mamat, drum and synth duo sl_owtalk’s have quietly broadcasted their brand of frenzied, noise filled compositions over Bandcamp, with a series of singles since the beginning of the year. But the music is far from quiet - rather, "Distort everything” is their motto, and on berpecah, the duo takes their slogan to destructive effect.
Meaning “Split up” in Malay – berpecah is very much in the mold of what its namesake suggests, an earth-shattering six minutes that propels forward with relentless, muscular energy. With Lightning Bolt-like ferocity, the drumming is the engine that drives berpecah’s visceral core. With the drums anchoring the track with insistent, tom-filled breaks, mamat works his oscillators and Korg Monologue console to conjure whirlwinds of sound that combine to form thunderous walls of fury. At times, they sound like metallic screeches, harshly glitching as they contort amidst sheer rhythmic force - at other times, they include hints at melodies but are mangled beyond tangibility. Eventually, fragments of treble waves disintegrate amidst organ-like pulses, and the drumming breaks free of its rhythmic grids. Breaking into new grooves, Isyraf follows the sonic violence again, unleashing harsh waves of dissonance and noise - before it all comes to a sudden halt.
Altogether, the duo's chaotic synergy create an intimidating, imposing sonic mass - and in a sense, berpecah embodies the spirit of its cover. Although they may be masked by digital obscura, the duo are ready to throw down, braced with its sonic kicks and punches. A powerful entry from one of the intriguingly loud voices emerging in the Singaporean avant-garde.
Slowtalk will be performing new music at BlackKaji, which will be livestreamed on 21st October. Also, read our review of Monger, single from Isyraf, one half of slowtalk as part of our weekly reviews.
Listen to "berpecah" here:
- - by JX Soo
With a slew of singles last year, upstart duo Islandeer have begun establishing themselves wielding a buttery-smooth indie rock sound. Fashioned after the usual NME heroes – The Strokes and Bombay Bicycle Club for starters - they color their songs with an easy-going energy, informed by their love for light psychedelia, and their shows have largely been able to capture that, with the duo’s warm synergy largely creating pleasant, bopping affairs. However, yet despite being able to capture that spark live, their previous singles still sounded like works in progress, with them sometimes sounding too stilted or overproduced, hindering its wonderful melodic sensibilities.
With Daytona, however, Islandeer seems to have found the right gears. Lushly produced, the single is a life-affirming jolt in the arm, and proves to be their strongest release by far. A filtered chord invite the listeners into their world on a 4-count, and as the green lights flash, the song blossoms into crisp focus, filling up the frequencies with its shining vocal harmonies and riffs. The drums are crisp, and snap the guitars into place perfectly, as vocalist Michael Garcia’s vocals tell a story of imagined, unrealized romances trapped in mundanity ("So whatchu think about the baby crib?/We gotta get out now/Sir walk this way you’ll work in cubicle/ Get me out now").
Islandeer's sonic confectionery only helps to bolster their tale, with its guitar tone especially irresistible – striking the right balance between clarity and tasteful fuzz. Much like the sweet tale they try to tell, the wonderfully balanced mix helps the band glide through their verses effortlessly, making the song a breezy listen that uplifts in no time.
Despite the gorgeous harmonies, the vocals still remain a weakness at certain points. Garcia’s relaxed croons help bring across the ideal, imagined warmth that Daytona aims to radiate – at times, however, it still feels slightly devoid in attitude or character, which could help the band elevate their sound beyond their peers in an admittedly saturated genre. In particular, the backup vocals seem forced – feeling almost tacked-on at parts in the mix, it serves more as a distraction than an addition, occasionally disrupting the sincere energy that the track largely sustains into mildly tacky territory. Nevertheless, Daytona’s glistening production and effortless progressions create a convincingly bold slice of pastel indie pop for the duo, topped with the soul of gentle romantics – à la Kings of Convenience.
On the large part, Daytona sounds like Islandeer’s victory lap. If this is indicative of their upcoming album, Daytona will be the start line for a race worthy to watch for. Speaking of finishing lines, there’s one thing to be sure. The solos are delicious – bleed your fuzzy Valensi hearts out, Islandeer, because this race needs more of that. Daytona 500/500, here’s hoping.
Listen to “Daytona” here:
- - by JX Soo
Robots / Where Are The Fruits?
Robots is the latest single from singer-songwriter Lewis Loh, recently rechristened lewloh, and formerly known as LEW. With lewloh’s prior output ranking amongst the best works made by Singaporean singer-songwriters in recent memory (namely the gorgeous 2019’s Red Flags EP and his debut album, Lullacry), Robots unfortunately falls short of the lofty standards set by these previous releases. Sadly, it’s somewhat of a step back.
On Robots, lewloh tackles issues regarding upbringing and societal expectations through the lens of the traditional Asian family dynamic, with a stripped-down performance consisting of just his acoustic guitar and voice. The track excels in terms of its musicality. Its tastefully barebones production helps empower lewloh’s powerfully impassioned vocal performance, as the sparse, lush guitars that color the track help add to its emotional potency. On the sonic end, Robots uses its simplicity to its advantage, making for a comprehensively pleasant and satisfying listening experience.
When digging down to the track’s lyrics, however, a vast majority of its shortcomings and issues start to appear. Here, the minimal arrangements become a double-edged sword. While usually allowing songwriters to deliver devastatingly naked, emotional truths, lewloh’s words here don’t really shine light on any non-obvious truths whatsoever.
In fact, despite the earnestness and the raw emotional delivery of his lines, many of the lyrics come across as incredibly on the nose and self-indulgent. Although it can be argued that lewloh’s intention was to imbue the track with honesty and sincerity, Robots lacks the poetic allure (à la Charlie Lim) or any semblance of a compelling narrative (à la Sun Kil Moon) to help pull it off. The metaphor of having to “learn to be robots” is borderline cringey and has been done to death in the past – only getting worse with the track’s reference to having to be “lawyers and doctors/Businessmen with dollars”. It’s hackneyed Asian stereotype – without his usual emotional complexity or lush orchestrations, Robots largely falls short of its goal in being an enlightening inner portrait. With the light falling on the wrong details, it instead gives no further guidance forward nor astute observation – beyond pure navel-gazing.
Overall, Robots is a masterfully beautiful track in both its musicality and its production. Yet for one of Singapore's most promising young songwriters, Robot's cliched approach to storytelling regrettably weigh him down a fair bit this time. “We are actors with an Oscar”? Maybe try the Star Awards first.
Listen to "Robots" here:
- - by Isaac Yackem and JX Soo