WEEKLY PICKS: 22nd November 2020

feature

Written by JX Soo & Isaac Yackem

Published on November 22, 2020

WEEKLY PICKS: 22nd November 2020

feature

Written by JX Soo & Isaac Yackem

Published on November 22, 2020

Our top picks this week - featuring dreamy R'n'B from Leeray, anthemic shoegaze from culenasm, and cathartic indie pop from whirring.

Leeray

“Semicircle”

Semicircle

Semicircle - Leeray

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Dubbing his work “Dream R n’ B’, young upstart vocalist Leeray has been at it for a couple of singles, with a brand of downcast, soulful crooning. But although the 808-friendly stylings of his previous work helped him blend into the company of his R'n'B contemporaries, his success at conjuring the ‘dream’ part of gimmick has definitely been mixed – with much of his chosen stylings overpowering his vocal presence, while also watering down the distinctiveness of his pop music. With Semicircle, however, he finally finds himself in the ballpark of hypnagogic atmosphere, weaving a fever-dream-like ode commiserating unrealised potential and celebrating newfound strength.

Opening with an attention-arresting beat topped with whipping snares and conga layers, arpeggiating, harp-like synths introduce a reverberating, dreamy haze that serves as wonderful bedrock for his verses. With the cloudy sonic haze dripping with personality, he finds a winning formula by toning back, giving Semicircle a newfound effortlessness that delivers in spades. Simplicity is key when riding such tasteful production, and he largely understands this this time round. Delivering subdued, feathery verses that balance a self-effacing attitude with resigned realism, the result is a deliciously queer slow jam perfect for self-reflective nights alone – and easily way more evocative than any of his previous singles.

Unfortunately, the vocals are also placed a tad awkwardly too high in the mix – but it does also give it a charming home-made quality. “Eyes on the prizes/I been getting wiser/you say what you want with the cap on,” he proclaims in an affirming refrain – and on a parade of shuffling hats and snares, smeared with tastefully lush key harmonies, the result is a song close to a wonderfully intimate microportrait of his own growth towards self-belief. It’s still very much work in progress to a full moon – but as far as Leeray’s melodies on Semicircle goes, it’s a winner through simplicity. Or as he puts it, done wasting time on bullshit.

Listen to "Leeray" here:

  • - by JX Soo

culenasm

"Mabushikute"

Eyes On You

Culenasm - Eyes On You

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In a brief two years, Fukuoka quartet culenasm have established themselves as worthy successors to a brand of shoegaze-adjacent indie rock uniquely informed by J-pop sensibilities. It’s a vacuum that’s been left behind ever since the demise of by-now icons Kinoko Teikoku – and a large factor to culenasm’s potential successorship lies in the distinctively translucent vocal presence of vocalist moe. While not a gargantuan operatic presence like Kinoko’s Chiaki Sato, culenasm compensate with a refreshing, melodic sweetness, and on their debut album, rest of the dusk, they channeled their best Kinoko impressions to marvellous results – with tracks like White Memory and Ao wo Miru surging shoegaze-pop tendencies to post-rockian heights.

On the following effort, in your fragrance, they refined their sound in both extremes – channelling powerful oceanic walls of sound on singles like petal, while amplifying their festival-ready J-pop tendencies on others like Helshinki’s Dream, its barrelling basslines and chiming arpeggios paving the path to a massive pop-friendly chorus. Coming into their new album Eyes on you, it’s the latter that has taken hold. In a sharp turn over these six tracks, their J-pop inclinations no longer serves as undercurrent, but a glowing sign of their full-blown jump into the spotlight, as they try their best to get into the good books of Rockin’On Magazine.

Yet unlike Kinoko’s major-label turn into milder, city-flavored grooves, culenasm’s stylings stay laser focused on radiant choruses and anthemic rock energy. It’s no more obvious than on their singles – powerful backbeats color the yearning melancholy of Kimi no Inai Sekai (A World Without You), while they colored their lead single, Daggers in Yorushika-like guitar theatrics, breaking out as one of their biggest songs so far with a similarly animated, cerulean video. By all means, eyes on you does not fail on its merits as a pop album – its powerful hooks are undeniable and carry the album wonderfully.

But with their shift into the limelight, they also risk losing what made them magical in the first place – their unique melancholic synergy between J-pop sweetness and urgent walls of sound. Mabushikute (Blinding) is demonstrative of when this works best. On top of a driving backbeat, wandering guitar arpeggios and ambient textures set the stage for a confessional monologue by moe on a relationship reaching an explosive coda – “Let’s end this/Even though I’ve thought about it endlessly/But emotions interfere,” she croons. As she reflects in falsetto, the chorus explodes with a dramatic synth line bending skyward, resulting in a powerful yet fragile atmosphere many of their peers currently struggle to replicate (“Just a little more/Leave it undelivered… to be with you”)

As they take a much poppier approach in their music, their third effort demonstrates that they still very much haven’t lost sight of what makes them great as a band, balancing radiant walls of noise with yearning romanticism. If anything, Mabushikute’s light can serve as a guiding path as they continue forward – the light of pop stardom may be bright, but it doesn’t have to blind.

Listen to “Mabushikute" here:

- by JX Soo

whirring

“if you'd have me”

If You'd Have Me / Where Are The Fruits?

if you'd have me - whirring

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The debut single of indie pop duo whirring, if you’d have me threads familiar ground, treading the thin line between a heartfelt, minimalistic pop and elements that unfortunately align them with soon-to-be-dated chart-friendly sounds. At its best, it boasts a satisfyingly cathartic refrain that accompanies groovy arpeggiated synths – but at its worst, it largely sounds undercooked, with a lack of much-needed dynamics in its minimalism impeding its production from filling up its frequencies and delivering the song’s strengths in a satisfying manner. Both vocalists put on a solid performance throughout the track, with emotive yet controlled vocals that really sell the track’s lyrics, in particular it’s earnestly vulnerable chorus (“I can’t be spending all my time/ Lost in you but oh god why/ If the light hits your hair just right/ I might let my feelings show/ Can't tell how you feel but/ Plеase, if you'd have me I would gеt so close”).

Yet at the same time, the duo’s puzzling decision to sing in unison throughout the entire track without any melodic variation or harmonies is detrimental to the listening experience. Aqid Aiman’s vocals reside awkwardly on the lower mids of the track for the duration of the whole song making it feel unnecessarily tacked on. There’s a ton of enjoyment to be had in if you’d have me’s prechorus, with its gratifying arpeggiated synths leading up to a stripped down arrangement, that allows its swelling synths and punchy 808s to come dynamically crashing back in. However, even this section still lacked the overall dynamic impact that would’ve taken an already solid chorus to another level. The production on the chorus is serviceable but feels like a wasted opportunity, not fully leaning into the soaring nature of its composition.

There’s a good song in if you’d have me – but its overall underwhelming production and odd stylistic choices vocally leave much more to be desired. Given the duo’s keen musical sensibilities, there’s still tonnes of untapped potential within the project. With their overall sonic aesthetic, I’m sure it's just a matter of time before they find a more solid footing to cement their own identity within the Southeast Asian indie pop sphere.

You can listen to "What's This Feeling?” here:

  • - by Isaac Yackem

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