Our top picks this week - experimental ambient pop from Lydia Ang, pop rock from RENE, and an instrumental banger from Imp Act.
From intriguing shakuhachi studies to gentle indie folk, Lydia Ang has been quietly releasing a steady cross-genre repertoire of tracks since 2012, blending singer-songwriter sensibilities with a penchant for the sonically experimental. Here, the calm, granular blue that tinges Amid’s graduated cover serves as apt metaphor for the music it contains – with a downcast, melancholic outlook, she delivers her most consistent work so far, tinging sombre pop songwriting with sound design in stylings familiar to readers of The Wire.
Here, it’s the attention to detail that helps its tracks stand out. The steady 4/4 pulse of Ghostly Grains gives way to xx-style guitar lines and Chromatics-like deliveries that form a hypnotic synth-pop monotone, while bubbling metallic textures fill the instrumental palette of Moth and Mayfly. It’s when she envelops her music in this mist where the tracks become most appealing – and accordingly, Asylum is the album’s highlight. With pounding sub-bass frequencies moving pulsating, glacial textures, she weaves together an enchanting slow-burner uniting reverberating pianos, sparse guitar lines and droning waves of glass-like synths.
Amid’s veil of sonic obscura raises her melodies beyond singer-songwriter purgatory, one that often ensnared the vocal-heavy stylings of her past work. But it remains its weakness – even as these songs serve interest with their microscopic details, they unfortunately feel a little too meandering at times. There is a lack of gravitas and impact when it comes to the hooks and melodic sensibilities throughout, which leads to an album that feels like it takes itself a little too seriously at times. It isn't entirely self-indulgent, but the later half of the album in particular suffers when it reverts to comparatively straightforward production, as its skeletal and weak songwriting gets brought to light.
Amid is a solid album in its own right, and a sure testament to Ang’s commitment to sonic exploration and continually pushing her artistic boundaries. Even with songwriting that might not seem to hit the mark at times, Ang’s densely layered, atmospheric production alongside keen attention to detail create a worthwhile exploration of heartbreak and existential dread.
Listen to "Asylum" here:
- - by JX Soo & Isaac Yackem
"Off My Mind"
Off My Mind / Where Are The Fruits?
With light innocent touches to indie-pop formulas, RENE has slowly established herself with an energetic, guitar-friendly persona over the past couple of years, emerging in events like The Great Singapore Replay and SCAPE's Music Day Out. “RENE is a pop-rock musician. Pop Punk? Punk rock? Alternative…?” her Spotify bio tells us. To “rock” kids on the block, her singles present an undoubtedly appealing sound perfectly on trend – with her pleasant melodies and upbeat vocal deliveries allowing a buoyancy that finds kinship with other teen-friendly pop attempts on the island (see tragically: Royal Estate). Unfortunately, with her first single, she finds herself with a case of mistaken identity. The answer definitely lies within these realms – sadly, her answer is most definitely not punk.
It’s marketable! But as the video finds RENE fronting the guerilla stage of DIY bastion Lithe House, there’s a misplaced energy that’s hard to ignore. With production so polished and neutered, the song is scrubbed devoid of any sense of rock-star energy sonically or attitude, and certainly nothing close to the indie rock guise she's trying to put on.
It’s an absolute shame, especially when considering the potential song that it's burying. Here, RENE’s vocals are more than competent, and she shows glimpses of strength in moments like its delightful chorus. Yet completely unlike the pomp of her heroes or what she could very well try to be (Hayley Williams, beabadoobee for a modern equivalent) the track’s lifelessly clean production almost completely obstructs her – in what can only be described as neutered attempts at new 1975-esque jangle.
Rather than allowing her voice to shine through playful abrasion, the mix plays things safe, with drums lacking any sort of distinctive dynamics, and glass-like guitars simply gliding along without character. Her voice almost mirrors these choices, all too often too restrained for its own good – and it drains the spotlight away from what's meant to be a powerful refrain. The supposed youthful energy is thus completely missing, leading to a result that absolutely betrays the genre pools she aspires to be. “Punk rock” and “Alternative” leaning this is not – unless alternative means a Boyce Avenue-like pop takeover for the next National Day Parade theme song. Singapore would probably like that – but even so, Electrico has already done it better.
Make no mistake – there is a great song hidden within Off My Mind, itself dripping with nice melodies and bright guitar licks. “I can’t get seem to get you off my mind,” she yearns with classic pop harmonies, and with her pleasantly sweet delivery, the song does its earnest best to be a breezy, feel-good pop song dedicated to die-hard past loves – unfortunately, its sonic attitude is utterly unconvincing.
With the song finishing with a mild aftertaste, RENE’s still many doses of grit away from touching punk labels. By doubling down on production choices that complement her stylistic preferences, her vocal presence will have more room to shine – and after all, embracing pop wholesale is not a bad thing.
For now, it’s an ambiguity that struggles to linger the right way. Pop Punk? Punk rock? Alternative…? Toned down NDP.
Watch the music video to "Off My Mind" here.
Listen to “Off My Mind” here:
- - by JX Soo & Isaac Yackem
“The Island of Alsocanla”
The Island of Alsocanla
Although a ways from their first release, local instrumental rock band Imp Act follows up with another single that would make many 65daysofstatic fans bang their heads. Formed in 2019, the band consists of local veteran rockers such as Jay, who was a Berklee student, Willie from No Duff and Benjamin formerly of Rockweller.
Me being a huge fan of 65daysofstatic, The Island of Alsocanla is an instant hit for me. Firstly though, I wanna talk about the name of the song which I didn’t realize the meaning of until I was writing this review and I had to type it out. Kudos to them for the subliminal singlish messaging, although I might have ruined it!
From the beginning, the song traverses a few different time signatures before arriving at the bridge. I personally like how they don’t utilize the palm-muted triplet on the guitar for every single phrase in the measure, to keep it interesting as the song goes on.
The djent-infused tones the guitar uses is an interesting addition to their take on the instrumental rock genre but I’m not sure if I like it very much. I also think that the drums could be a little more in-your-face in the and the bass is kind of lost within the mix.
However, what really sold it for me is the section when the piano comes in as it is my favorite instrument. It is a very serene lull in the action and it is fitting for what lies ahead.
One main thing I want to shine a spotlight on is that the song does not follow a typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus outro structure, and that is what made it stand out to me. Imp Act either wants to tell a story with the song, or break away from the mold. They also have a visual artist, Qush, in the band. I hope 2021 is a good year for Singapore as I would like to watch them perform live to see what they have planned for us.
You can listen to "The Island of Alsocanla” here:
- - by Chester