Top 20 Singaporean Releases of 2020

feature

Written by JX Soo & Isaac Yackem

Published on January 03, 2021

Top 20 Singaporean Releases of 2020

feature

Written by JX Soo & Isaac Yackem

Published on January 03, 2021

As we welcome a new year, we run down our personal ranking of the best Singaporean albums and EPs worth celebrating from 2020.

2020’s been a tough year, and it’s safe to say that the Singaporean music scene wasn’t spared as well. As the teeth of COVID-19 sunk in with the circuit breaker, our usual experiences with music saw the knife of disruption driven into them - tours were cancelled, campaigns were delayed, and artists lost out on opportunities to test and promote their new material on the live stage.

But it was also a year of solidarity and reinvention. As local institutions like Lithe House came to the brink of closure, the community quickly united to save it with a fundraiser. Other institutions found new life in secondary alternative ventures, from a club-turned speakeasy bar, to transformed livestream events from Uploading and Tonehouse Studios. We adopted that spirit here at Big Duck too - as we await our return to the live stage, we converted our Big Duck Energy into highlighting the richness of our music scenes here and beyond at our site, joining the ranks of fellow publications NME Asia, Singapore Community Radio, and Life In Arpeggio.

Of course, the driving force behind it was simple: the music stayed good. As artists hunkered down indoors with the pandemic, creativity became its saving grace, as artists in our scene found room to further refine and record with its accompanying lull. We saw fresh sounds emerge from a collective spirit of exploration. New voices in unprecedented genres emerged, while established names came back sharper. The result was a flourishing, diverse landscape of releases, one we’re proud to celebrate as we welcome a new year of musical exploration.

So to send off the disaster that was 2020, we’ll gradually be revealing our picks of last year's Singaporean albums/EPs we heard that stuck the most with us. For the sake of posterity, we’ve condensed it to 20 picks and 5 honourable mentions, but even with these rankings, all these works are equally worth celebrating. Our rankings are purely our own personal opinion: take them at most with a grain of salt. After all, there were many more wonderful works we wished we could mention – from carnatic footwork (iyer) and modular soundscapes, (Kin Leonn/Hiroshi Ebina), progressive suites (Fauxe) and emerging indie royalty (Shye and Kotoji), to introspective ambient pop (Lydia Ang) and wonderful documents of collective creativity (Syndicate's SEED). These don’t even include the endlessly memorable singles, which would've brought in an even more diverse cast – from adventures searching for food (Wovensound's Hunger Pangs) and reinventions in glitchwork (Anise), to noise-rock freakouts (sl_owtalk) and glittering hyperpop debuts (Cayenne).

Ultimately, they form a small slice of Singapore’s diverse musical offerings this year. These were some releases among many worth remembering - and in a year that felt like ten compressed into one, 2020 gave room for them all.

Honourable Mentions

Hauste - Patterns

Math Rock

Hauste - Patterns

-

Although admittedly not as emotionally cathartic as its predecessor, the math rock trio’s follow-up effort to 2018’s excellent Leavings still finds room for dynamic highlights. From neurotic bass theatrics in Bassball to breezy jams in Happy and Angels, they also find new diversity to their palette, courtesy of Bobbi Brown’s laid-back hip-hop bounce (Courduroy). Refining their formula of technicality towards more settled forms, hauste find themselves maturing with Patterns, and reaffirm themselves as one of the island’s premier math outfits.

Listen to Patterns here:

  • By JX Soo

-

Everything Us Alright - Not Really

Emo / Singer-songwriter

Everything Us Alright - Not Really

-

With a far starker palette than his band’s instrumental colour (recorded in fact, with just a single microphone and guitar), math rock geek and Woes bandleader Russell Seow somehow finds an even stronger emotional potency in his solo project’s Midwest-flavored emo folk. From gentle, finger-picked yearning (The Moon, I Wish I Could...) to the driving storminess of A Haunting, Not Really glimmers with self-reflective beauty – with gentle guitars and painfully honest vocals, a calm catharsis invites you to bleed its Owen-like heart out with him.

Listen to Not Really here:

  • By JX Soo

-

BGourd / Halal Sol - Veggie Wraps Vol.1

Hip House / Boom-bap

BGourd Halal Sol - Veggie Wraps Vol 1

-

Paired with co-conspirator Halal Sol’s hip-house grooves, BGourd’s first wraps kicked the year’s doors in with unabashed joy, setting the stage for the rapper’s grandly green persona. Balancing self-aware bragaddocio (6th Best Wrapper) with infectious hooks, Vol. 1 served as an absurdly fun introduction to Sean Lim’s lyrically dense boom-bap flows – with Danny Brown-esque delivery, he moves from shitting gloriously on fake hypebeasts (Waste) to celebrating his food family (kimchi jigae and his beansprout-gimmicked brother all included). With all his quirks well-armed, it was a winning opening salvo for the gourd – and luckily for RT (and even better for us), this was only the beginning.

Listen to Veggie Wraps Vol.1 here:

  • By JX Soo

-

BIND - STATE OF MIND

Hardcore

BIND - STATE OF MIND

-

Consisting of veterans across the hardcore scene, BIND’s EP STATE OF MIND taps into years of experience to form an impressively tight, impassioned, and heavy debut. Be it the searing refrain on Defy Your Hate (“I, I won't play your game! I, I defy your hate!) or the metallic riffing on Astray, STATE OF MIND possesses all the conviction needed to make an age old sound seem fresh.

Listen to STATE OF MIND here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

deførmed - LATE TO THE LOUDNESS WAR

Experimental Electronic

deformed - LATE TO THE LOUDNESS WAR

-

With a blistering blend of industrial dance grooves, hard-hitting drum and bass beats, and hardcore punk-esque vocals over a cathartically driving noise-rock aesthetic, up-and-coming Syndicate producer deformed masterfully warps colourful synths and demented samples in what sounds like a signature sound in the making.

Listen to LATE TO THE LOUDNESS WAR here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

TOP 20 SINGAPOREAN RELEASES OF 2020

20. Feston - Field Notes

Ambient

Feston - Field Notes

-

A quieter venture for Stopgap/Gouch guitar wizard Calvin Joseph Phua, the ambient music he makes as Feston makes its appeals through calm, microscopic studies. Dubbing his project as thematic music about the trauma of modernity, Field Notes takes on much more of a healing character, dissolving the tension of the drones that filled last year's frigid pēⁿ​-​ká. Here, aural scenes from Seoul to Kathmandu intertwine with carefully crafted textures, creating their own distinct transportive worlds via a comforting naturalistic palette.

Altogether, they form aural snapshots of locales yearned to be rediscovered. On HP, wandering guitar fragments colour distant reveries, as cavernous field recordings build an enveloping urban melancholia – on others (Riverwaves), the soundscapes embrace comforts of the natural world, as radiating shimmers amalgamate with the flowing of creeks and streams. Even at the collection’s most alive, like on Kamal Marga’s ritualistic processions, they are portals to contemplative liminal spaces – as chants and percussion dissolve into fuzzy, modulating drones, its mass forms a glow of mystifying psychedelia. There’s a warm spirit that imbues itself across Field Notes’ three sketches – and for a year that has reveled in chaos, its gentle, yet explorative serenity always feels welcome.

Listen to Field Notes here:

  • By JX Soo

-

19. Bongomann - Smiles EP

Deep house

Bongomann - Smiles

-

Bongomann’s Smiles EP is filled with the satisfying amalgamation of thumping kicks drums and bass grooves, upbeat open hi-hats, and chopped up vocal samples that would light up the dancefloor - a bubbling formula all perfectly packaged within a slick yet hazy atmosphere. Be it the cruising groove of collaborator Halal Sol’s “reluved” remix of Deeperluv (Get it) or the enticingly percussive CHIPS, there’s a little something for all fans of house music or anyone just looking for a good time at the club – or hopefully as the pandemic tides over, another gathering of fun at his Ice Cream Sundays.

Listen to Smiles EP here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

18. BAD DOD - Yikes!

Garage rock

Bad Dod - Yikes

-

BAD DOD’s Yikes! is unadulterated, pure rock goodness. The trio’s debut album is a tight, hard-hitting love letter to its garage rock and grunge influences (Nirvana, The Vines and Jay Reatard, to name a few); chock-full of contagious energy, inspired songwriting and a healthy dose of self-awareness underneath it’s no-fucks-given exterior. Opening track FIGHT is a masterclass in riff rock songwriting, setting the stage for the rest of the atomic fuzz-laden, mosh-inciting runtime – while Feel Nothing Yet and Outta My Brain highlight BAD DOD’s acute pop sensibilities, with their infectious hooks sacrificing none of its pummelling drive. Above all, Yikes!' well-crafted songwriting stays consistent throughout the album –and at just 24 minutes, it's an exhilarating listen that never overstays its welcome. Above all, it sounds like a band just having a whole lot of fun.

Listen to Yikes! here:

You can also read our full review of Yikes! here.

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

17. per[sona - These Algorithms Don’t Work Anymore

Alternative/Indie rock

persona - These Algorithms Don't Work Anymore

-

Birthed from a near-death experience, per[sona is a peek into the soul of musician and producer Joshua Aaron Goh. His debut EP These Algorithms Don’t Work Anymore is a triumphant indie rock effort – channeling Reznor to Radiohead as he paints an earnest chronicle of his internal struggles, as he paves his way to recovery from self-defeat.

In the process, per[sona squeezes out what is easily some of the best recent work from renowned Singaporean producer Leonard Soosay. Even as lush electronic textures masterfully blend with live instrumentation and captivating vocal performances, its clean mix never lacks the urgency and edge required for when it gets going – like on rockier tracks such as Splinters or Version. The gorgeous soundscapes on Up/Away and Posthumous further build atmosphere upon the emotional quality of the tracks.

Despite the seemingly dreary and existential nature of the EP, hope remains its overarching message. In that respect, These Algorithms Don’t Work Anymore succeeds - being not just an exploration of the human condition, but also a strong testament to its spirit.

Listen to These Algorithms Don't Work Anymore here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

16. Houg - The Oscillation Scene

Chillwave

Houg - The Oscillation Scene

-

With nostalgic aesthetics and tasteful production choices heavily indebted to 80s-adjacent sonic palettes, the excellent songwriting on Houg’s sophomore trip-hop effort The Oscillation Scene is anything but derivative. In equal parts groovy and introspective, the EP's dense layers never loses focus.

With driving drum machine hits, bass thumps and claps, ICBM's powerful lyricism and refrains present an enticing duality, forming both commentaries on love's struggles and critiques on artistic integrity. On Wet Wants, a combination of tasty guitars, sax licks and understated keys set the stage for impassioned vocal performances, altogether leading to satisfyingly huge snares and infectious, grooving verses. On other notes, like on closing track Slippin’, Houg walks the line between his trip-hop and art rock influences, with the resulting track feeling soaring, cathartic, and profound.

Massive, yet melancholic and intimate, The Oscillation Scene presents an honest narrative, depicting Houg's own bouts wrestling with self-doubt and insecurity. Across its 6 tracks, the Oscillation scene feels fresh, provocative, and sensual- but most importantly, it feels honest.

Listen to The Oscillation Scene here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

15. Claude Glass - Isekai

Experimental Pop

Claude Glass - Isekai

-

In one of the year’s most left-field surprises, Isa Ong’s (of Pleasantry, Amateur Takes Control and sub:shaman) new solo moniker finds his lyrical songcraft morphed through the prism of astonishing, fractured glitchscapes. Taking after anime-inspired spirits of transportive fantasy, Isekai’s sonics find otherworldly parallels with his own dissociative experiences, through rabbit holes of complex beatwork and stuttering organic textures.

The album's world represents a self-described bundle of nerves – as the tracklist progresses, its anxious dramatics manifest themselves in an arc that grows in exhilarating intensity. Inward finds manic IDM-adjacent breaks giving way to suspenseful arpeggios, while his formative influences peek their head through the cracks on Corcovado (itself a reference in name to a Jobim bossa classic). Like its namesake, Isekai finds his base sensibilities in alternate dimensions, processed through their own demented maelstroms. “What disguise do I craft this time?,” his persona croons – and as his familiar guitars stutter on top of pounding bass and kicks, alien melodies write Isa’s warped character studies. Revealing a glitching interior, Isekai presents wonder through mutation.

As its five tracks navigate stories of decaying relationships, fragmenting identities, and distorted passions, its sonics mirror mania as they intensify. Dead knot’s neuroticism finds Isa riding sparse sub bass and shuffling percolations towards frantic, explosive breakcore, while the title track’s breakbeats bloom into sequences of engineered, tribalistic chaos. Eventually, with industrial textures and wandering bass, the journey fizzles to a sudden stop. Like its accidental nature, Isekai’s confusion closes itself not with premeditated resolutions, but by surreal fadeouts of shock.

Listen to Isekai here:

  • By JX Soo

-

14. Various Artists (Tired Records) - Pick of The Lot!

Compilation

Various Artists - Pick Of The Lot!

-

2020 really didn’t give us much to celebrate about, but Tired Records somehow found a bright spot by celebrating what we most sorely missed in person - community. Capturing a key slice of the indie rock scene prominent over the past three or four years, Pick of the Lot! transforms its key highlights into challenges, each song a template for for their peers to remake in their own styles – the result creating a colourful jigsaw displaying the scene’s wealth of sonic character.

Admittedly, some pieces fit better than others. Some tracks inherited the spirit of their originals, though with mixed results – while susurrus distilled Anchor Forever's sweaty refrains into calculated crescendos , their counterparts presented a straightforward, punkish rendition of Cosmic Child’s aching Warm, accidentally stripping it clean of its atmospheric wonders. On others, the originals became launchpads for entirely different takes, injecting their own distinctive palettes – from beatdown hardcore courtesy of Charm, to strangely tropical bars on a redubbed Super Shinada, to Forests’ familiar midwest noodling.

But its most exciting moments were when these tracks struck a delicate balance, transcending their originals via reinvention. With whimsical tapping and buoyant harmonies, math quartet cues recrafted Peachy’s slow-burning melancholia into a hopeful statement of yearning – while on the other hand, Cosmic Child refracted Forests' emo through their signature gossamer haze, closing the compilation with prismatic beauty. Even on the cuts that fell slightly flat, Pick Of The Lot’s adaptations and mutations displayed these songs’ wondrous versatility – and above all, it reminded us of one thing always worth celebrating: the power of collective creativity.

Listen to Pick of The Lot! here:

  • By JX Soo

-

13. Sam Rui - In Between

Pop/R&B

Sam Rui - In Between

-

Rising above the myriad of her fellow Pop/R&B contemporaries with inspired songwriting, tasteful reverberated production, and a killer voice equal parts characteristic and charismatic with Korean flair, Sam Rui’s In Between is a remarkable EP that proves itself to be a firm winner. Standout track How It Ends features R&B singer Slodown for a memorable and heart wrenching duet detailing star-crossed love (“Not every story ends/ The way that they deserve to/ Maybe in another lifetime you and me could’ve last”), with both vocalists bringing some of their best performances yet.

Be it the shattering heartbreak of U Luv Me or the rousing camaraderie of Crew, In Between’s soulful and powerful production anchors its emotional journey. Hazy yet concisely crisp, the collection forms its own beautiful contradiction, just as the life of loneliness, companionship, love, lust, and friendship Rui sings of on its tracks.

Listen to In Between here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

12. Dog Eater - DOG EATER

Metalcore

Dog Eater - Self-titled

-

Is this the future of Lion City Hardcore? Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of 2020 was the blistering self-titled debut of brothers Trevor and Russell Wee’s metalcore project Dog Eater. Despite their absurd online presence chock-full of deceptive memelording, Dog Eater’s debut EP wastes no time in quickly establishing their sludgy, metallic riffage. A monster work that clocks in at just 10 minutes, impressive bangers like Undefined boast dissonant harmonics and guttural vocal performances - all nicely tied together with extraordinarily brutal and tight production work from Aaron Devoy of ARC (Aggressive Raisin Cat).

Listen to DOG EATER here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

11. Mary Sue - Grey Noise

Experimental Hip-Hop

Mary Sue - Grey Noise

-

Borne from a formative wandering, Grey Noise’s splintered beats present internal portraits of isolation through fractured obscura. With sensibilities informed by a legion of beatmakers working within sample-heavy strains of atmospheric, experimental hip-hop (think the likes of MIKE, Medhane and Some Rap Songs-era Earl Sweatshirt), Mary Sue's debut sees the emerging producer/rapper skewing fragmented microsamples and sequencing harsh, scattered beats into a bedrock of ghostly, amorphous soundscapes.

The result are minute-long vignettes that make their impact through a series of distinctively impressionistic, yet blindsiding jabs. On Dead Space, saxophone runs and manipulated strings thread themselves into a hauntingly descending veneer, while Play With My Heart’s stuttering sonics find glassy melodies snapping into place with hollowly abrasive snares and rumbling waves of sub bass. Riding this phantasmal hypnagogia, a cold, dejected delivery presents skeletal verses, telling stories of vulnerability, sin, and at times a yearning regret on past mistakes.

Yet even with rhymes painfully direct, he shrouds his subjects in perpetual ambiguity, turning his words into mystifying windows observing possible pasts and faded memories. As listeners explore these juxtapositions, Grey Noise’s sonic universe ensnares them into its haunting shadows – but before these figures emerge into focus, its sum evaporates into an enticing mist, leaving listeners reeling for more. Although the year later saw further world-building with a denser follow-up effort, Grey Noise stands as a clear showcase of a young producer with a creative vision ahead of many of his peers. Finding poignancy in abstraction, its frigid reveries serve as a mere introduction to an exciting darkness.

Listen to Grey Noise here:

  • By JX Soo

-

10. The Observatory / Keiji Haino - Authority is Alive

Free improv

The Observatory / Keiji Haino - Authority is Alive

-

Keiji Haino is an immovable presence. From collaborations with sludge metal titans SUMAC to works with legendary ensembles like Fushitsusha, the avant-garde icon's always manages to leave his own distinct imprint on the performances and settings he finds himself in. With his iconic vocal presence and animalistic guitar freakouts, his work channels shades of meditative catharsis via an intense totality – and having always been on the pulse of the fiercely explorational, The Observatory unsurprisingly come as perfect playmates for Haino.

Hosts of now-established experimental mainstay Playfreely, Authority is Alive documents the art-rock-turned free-improv institution’s collision with Haino at last year’s event. The meeting makes the most of the trio’s exhilarating intersections, pushed to their limits matching the legend's unhinged ferocity – with Haino’s enigmatically expressive poetry cresting and raging in turbulent maelstroms, Cheryl Ong’s rhythms tempered his potent tension, alternating between steady pulses and tensely sparse percussion. As Haino brought to life explosively esctatic contemplations on power amidst tortured shrieks and whispers, Yuen Chee Wai and Dharma's guitar-based abstraction filled in the spaces – with its sheets of dissonance and malleted tone clusters building fluctuating oceans of sound, Authority is Alive's uniquely dark communion felt utterly one-of-a-kind, and sounded ominously cognisant of the year’s dystopian frenzy.

Listen to Authority is Alive here:

  • By JX Soo

-

9. Mediocre Haircut Crew - The MHC Mixtape

Hip-hop

Mediocre Haircut Crew - MHC Mixtape

-

“MHC coming back don’t care!”

A celebration of the Crew’s journey and a true testament to their legacy in shaping what Singaporean hip-hop is today, The MHC Mixtape is Mediocre Haircut Crew’s triumphant return. After a lengthy hiatus, the mixtape is a compilation of unreleased music – thus making it feel more like a rarities box set rather than a cohesive album. But with MHC’s slick wombo combo of unparalleled chemistry, infectious hooks, witty lyricism, and sleek production, these songs still elevate themselves well above their contemporaries.

Be it the house influences on standout banger Bali Boys, the ground shaking 808s of SMD, or the beautifully sampled keys on Wayu Chitomi and T M I, every track on the mixtape carries a distinct flavour to them. Yet even with this diversity, there’s a sense of continuity between them all – with omarKENOBI, daniKIDDO, and mickeyLEANO’s characteristic voices. Hard bangers like the trap-flavoured Juice or the old-school gangsta rap inspired Don’t Care are balanced out by the intimate soul searching of Comfort or heart-wrenching crooning on Nobody Knows. In between, the crew sprinkle just a good dose of playful humour – standout track TOM YUM is a masterclass in absurd storytelling, while faux-country number Runaway Child stays unapologetically ridiculous.

While perhaps The MHC Mixtape isn’t the most focused project (especially when compared to their legendary debut EP), it’s a release that perfectly encapsulates the joy and confusion of youth. An alternative Singaporean coming of age story, the mixtape feels like a swan song for this era of Mediocre Haircut Crew - after all their adventures, they’ve grown up.

Listen to THE MHC MIXTAPE here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

8. Woes - Wake Up Pls

Math rock / indie-pop

Woes - Wake Up Pls

-

Previously mired in meandering tendencies that obscured their great melodic potential (on singles like Lake and Goldilocks), Woes' latest EP finally brings them a magical balance. With the math-rock quintet now finding an anchor in new vocalist Raizel Gonzalez’s jazz-influenced proficiency, Wake Up Pls is brilliantly lucid – with these four songs, they now find themselves able to channel their radiant technicality through the lens with laser-sharp pop songcraft.

These four songs run by a playbook familiar to their Midwest-math friendly contemporaries – from Elephant Gym to TTNG – but with Raizel’s vocal gravity, these formative influences now find a comfortable yet distinct home. The songs no longer sound like pure showcases of technicality – but rather charm with a melodic cohesiveness that its opening one-two punch demonstrates in spades. On Tadpole, a tapped prelude effortlessly melts into driving indie-rock verses – while its successor is even stronger; with Monkey Tennis’ galloping drums and bass theatrics morphing into a graceful, key-flourished glow. Effortlessly switching tempos into a twinkling outro jam, the band delivers their best song by far, as its gentle yearning tale brings to their math-pop a distinct touch of infectious lightness.

Even when they indulge in more wandering or explicitly derivative tendencies, (Bikini Bottom’s CHON-like noodling or For Damien Carter’s gigantic crescendos) their evolution allows them to become songs that persuade with effortless charm. It’s a powerful invitation: more people should really wake up to Woes - at least certainly, their music has.

Listen to Wake Up Pls here:

  • By JX Soo

-

7. KoFlow - Metem

Progressive Electronic

KoFlow - Metem

-

From organising b-boying mainstay Radikal Forze Jam to winning worldwide competitions over a decade-long tenure, KoFlow's music has always been rooted in sweaty clubs and an embrace of dynamic motion. On Metem, he distills this vitality into a transfixing collection of high-octane bangers, morphing meticulous sound design into explorative journeys that traverse beatscapes all the way from cerebral strains of future bass and IDM, to hip hop and dubstep's rhythmic thump.

From Love Birds swooping synths and gun-shot like rhythms to the title track's rumbling subbass and powerful physicality, its visceral sonics powerfully invoke the raw energy that rides on the steps of youthful dancecrews on sweaty, hard-earned floors world-wide. But most impressively, Metem's peaks come through impeccable sonic precision - whether it be Hear Me Coming riding epic strings to an earth-shakingly skeletal drop, or the vocal treatments from Dreamers' building verses to This Shite Hot's staccato, footwork like chops, Koflow's experience and awareness allows him to engineer beatscapes that perfectly mould themselves to powerfully impeccable timings. Even as Metem intensifies with intriguing sonic diversity - from Above The Horizon's emerging drum and bass flourishes, to closer Be Who You Really Are's massive, bitcrushed drops, its kicks and snares give perfect room that soundtrack sharp movements of imaginary choreographies. Metem is a document of beat music's uniquely expressive capabilities, but also a tribute to the power of ceaseless exploration - and sometimes, experience does help.

Listen to Metem here:

  • By JX Soo

-

6. Intriguant - Spirits

House / Techno

Intriguant - Spirits

-

After presenting a dusty, heartfelt ode to the dancefloor with last year's Kindred, 2020 saw Intriguant’s beloved spaces finding sudden rejection. But even as COVID-19 shuttered many of the spaces that celebrated the electronic community, its absence served not as a death knell, but a space for new imaginative possibilities to emerge. As he brought his own Uploading Nights onto online spaces, Intriguant’s third album, Spirits finds its beats guiding Kindred’s gates to an entirely new world – with well-placed collaborations and its breakbeats and hyper-lush textures, the producer welcomes luminous sonic possibilities in celebratory and kinetic fashion.

Although its cuts inherit its predecessor's percussive sensibilities (with Cosway’s drum machine hits and conga layers coming closest to its skeletal energy), Spirits’ four-on-the-floor familiarity does away with Kindred’s isolated cold – instead dissolving into an ephemeral, inviting mist. Here, his dancefloor-ready cuts come wrapped in warm, emotional saturation – from Hours trailing reveries and Stargaze’s lounge-like woodwinds, to the subtly reverberating melancholia that accompanies Desandan’s guitars and squelched grooves. It’s a versatile canvas that invites for various degrees of sonic alchemy with the community he has long celebrated: on Wind, HYU’s brand of simplicity finds her Korean juxtapositions not far from Park Hye Jin’s hypnotic deliveries, while fzpz’s technicality injects into the tracklist hyperactive beatscapes.

And at its most alive, Spirits finds itself enrapturing and enveloping with its radiance –embodied on centerpiece Our Love, as its haunting vocal samples find a home in skittering beats that endlessly charge forward. Ultimately, Spirits’ imaginary dancefloors become their most potent as evocative portals, as its emotional yearning converges with visions of future convocations. Holding the dancefloor’s joie de vivre in hand, Intriguant finds himself readying for its return with open arms, while facing its imaginary future with a dynamic, unwavering spirit.

Listen to Spirits here:

  • By JX Soo

-

5. George Chua - Smokescreen

Harsh Noise

George Chua - Smokescreen

-

Packed with brutal walls of sound and grids of harsh noise, multi-disciplinary artist George Chua’s return to music is a sonic mirror for an overstimulated zeitgeist. Comprising improvised exercises on deliberately crafted modular synth combinations, Smokescreen is thrillingly unpredictable. At once both viscerally powerful and mentally disorienting, Chua’s experiments form hyperdense music that morphs into metaphor for an overwhelming modern life.

“What lies behind the Smokescreen?” the album asks. An ephemeral, formless nature accompanies the album’s scenes, allowing themselves to mould themselves into the potential metaphors that their titles suggest. Chua’s titles provides some mild context on their inspirations: from jazz-funk elitism to metropolitan futures (from Guangzhou to Tokyo). Indeed, structure emerges in some of these pieces, mirroring urban life’s suffocating constructions – from Neo Punggol’s overflowing percolations, to the martial percussiveness of Desert Screen.

But it's the more obliterative cuts like Empathy’s cathartic sonic violence that signal a more plausible explanation. Closing the album with sheer abrasion, it reflects a tongue-in-cheek irreverence Chua balances with his adventurous sonic excursions. “No genre, no commercial potential, military use only,” he proclaims on his bandcamp page. Perhaps behind the smokescreen is an opaque future – an endless fight is against a formless, undefeatable enemy.

Listen to Smokescreen here:

  • By JX Soo

-

4. Hanging Up The Moon - For The Time Being

City pop

Hanging Up The Moon - For The Time Being

-

Finding kindred spirits in gentle grooves and city pop-informed melancholia, For The Time Being reinvents Sean Lam’s Hanging Up The Moon’s folk-pop with a settled optimism. Following adventures in Taiwan with their compatriots at Big Romantic Records (home to Lin Yiloh of noiseniks Skip Skip Ben Ben), the EP’s songs reveal a rose-tinted, pastel interior – looking away from the downcast palettes of their Kitchen Label past, the quartet channel their trademark sentimentality in a fresh sonic playground.

A tapestry of lushly strummed acoustic guitars, sentimental verses, and upbeat arrangements, these four songs radiate a delicate, autumnal glow. Hold The Colours’ surging harmonies give way to verses that touch upon internal brooding – while on the title track, the band rides deliciously palm-muted riffs to a celebration of community, as Lam’s words contemplate loss and resignation with trademark wistfulness. “Maybe I’ll see you again,” he sings – looking back at memories conjured by faded photographs and journeys spent looking skyward, they find comfort through a yearning for future friends and brighter travels to come.

In a year that has felt relentlessly bleak, For The Time Being’s grounded warmth remains reassuring with its effortless charm – it’s music that celebrates beauty in the weary. After all, with a world caving in, pausing for fleeting memories isn’t such a bad thing.

Listen to For The Time Being here:

  • By JX Soo

-

3. Naedr - Past Is Prologue

Screamo

Naedr - Past Is Prologue

-

For Naedr, “past is prologue” is more than an apt statement. A collision course of more than a handful of Singaporean heavy music mainstays – from the shrieked intensities of Paris In The Making and Bethari to math rock trios in susurrus and hauste – the five-piece supergroup's experience delivers a screamo debut that shines with earth-shattering brilliance.

Blessed by outstandingly clear mixing, Past Is Prologue’s highs suffocate with obliterating intensity. The muscular The Prodigal Son pounds and punishes in a breathless, minute-long blitz, while on The Waltz of Fate, the band rides impeccably tight tremolo passages into white-hot blast beats. These songs are bludgeoning on impact – but underpinning these highlights are intricacies where their collective acumen shine. Melodic textures colour The Waltz of Fate’s blinding crescendos, as guitar leads reveal themselves rich with melancholic depth. Meanwhile, on The Sorrow, Naedr triple its climaxes with precision, taking its tale of gruesome dismemberment through a masterful exercise of tension and release.

And it’s these moments’ overwhelming sonic urgency that allow space for its heartbreaking lulls to shine. As crystalline tones bridge into the widescreen brilliance of Asunder and Disquiet, the album finds a window for brief pause, only for that breath to be robbed again by Gehenna’s punishing closing statement. Those underpinnings reveal their foundational influences – shades of brilliant company ranging from slowburn Japanese compatriots in Envy, to the melodic richness of European peers like Suis La Lune, La Quiete and Raein.

Past Is Prologue presents nothing particularly groundbreaking in regard to those bands, but held to the pantheon’s highlights, these songs more than stand their ground. As vocalist Timothy Wong’s abrasive shrieks pierce through the violent chaos, a literary ambition presents itself – balancing with references both biblical and philosophical, spanning English, Chinese, and Bahasa alike. With craftsmanship abundant in their songwriting, the band forms a collective statement that stands uniquely on its own.

Above all, it’s just absurdly well-crafted screamo. As Gehenna’s title suggests, its towering intensities form in their own way an extraordinary place of punishment. Extracting soul-ripping intensity from their lowest points, Naedr find stunning beauty through climactic maxima.

Listen to Past Is Prologue here:

  • By JX Soo

-

2. BGourd / Fauxe - Veggie Wraps, Vol. 2

Hip-hop/ Boom-bap

BGourd Fauxe - Veggie Wraps Vol 2

-

Now teamed up with veteran producer Fauxe, the green-skinned alter ego of one Sean Lim crafts a groundbreaking EP that defies all conventions of Singaporean rap thus far. Boasting a palette with influences from Denzel Curry to John Coltrane, they form a sound that’s truly their own – bravely experimental, unabashedly intimate, darkly humorous, and surprisingly catchy.

Departing from the house-tinged bangers of Veggie Wraps, Vol. 1 (which inception is equal parts indebted to previous co-conspirator Halol Sol), Vol. 2’s uncompromising and adventurous nature is immediately apparent –Stop Here If You Want To, he proclaims to his listeners on its eponymous opening track. Over its 14 minute runtime, Fauxe’s beat work crafts a densely organic concoction in which every distorted sample, kick or snare serves a purpose despite its seemingly chaotic noise and speckle. BGourd’s nasal conviction contextualises the chaos – his delivery weaving a narrative that explores identity, self, time, and death.

Reel brings a confrontational critique of Singapore’s rap scene, dissing the scene’s prevalent mediocrity and unoriginality (“All you listen to is just sicko maybe some cole / but all you are is lukewarm with no flow”). Over a beat comprising of dry key samples and a moving bass synth that seems to have a mind of its own, BGourd owns the quirks that make him while Fauxe plays with its arrangement in an almost improvisational manner.

Fair Price is a standout track on the EP, with a signature Fauxe-ian hook that grants it a charm that’s equal parts weird and infectious, while BGourd comes to terms with the realities of life and his own self-worth - lyrically bundled up with odd veggies-at-the-market metaphors that just magically work. (“He see’s asparagus get picked up again”) It’s followed by Fresh Air, a much welcome breather to the heavy subject matter of the previous track, as its energetic, cheeky sax samples ride a lively percussive bounce that allows BGourd to feed off its energy and stay in his element. (“I’m just having fun man/ eating up the ramen”).

Alignment’s house-leaning tendencies harken back to Vol. 1 – yet still feel characteristically Vol. 2 with impassioned delivery from BGourd as he explores his place in the grand scheme of time and space. The beat switches up at the end into an experimental outro, in which warped sounds are built up into a gratifying bass hit before fizzling out into string samples - driving home the subject matter of the song and giving it a truly cosmic feel.

Finally, State ends it all on an intimate note, with faint vocal samples and simple drum patterns that sparsely populate its piano melodies. As the beat takes a backseat to BGourd’s observations and intricate lyricism, State is the EP’s great pay-off – as the song reaches its end, Fauxe’s beautiful backing vocals and subtle horns adorn it as BGourd’s last impassioned bars bring Veggie Wraps, Vol. 2 to a close with a sense of finality. (“I got the belt up on my neck see it real down low on my waist/ keep it calm no similes on my name/ all family to my name/ I'm in the mood/ in the mood”)

A massive step-up from an already solid debut, it's an exciting prospect to wonder how BGourd going to continue surprising and innovating when Veggie Wraps, Vol. 3 eventually drops. As BGourd himself would say, his music, like the bitter gourd, is an acquired taste. It might not be for everyone – but taking the effort to learn to enjoy it is truly rewarding.

Listen to Veggie Wraps, Vol. 2 here:

  • By Isaac Yackem

-

1. .gif - Hail Nothing

Synthpop

gif - Hail Nothing

-

In gif’s world, isolation is a familiar thing. From saudade to soma, a rainy-day sentimentality has always permeated through the electronic duo’s work – but on Hail Nothing, a title that displays them at their most seemingly nihilistic, .gif now find hope in bleakness. Embracing the faintest light emerging from the ends of their Sisyphean tunnels, Hail Nothing’s songs present powerful statements of affirmation, brought to life via exquisitely arcane night music. Easily Din and Weish’s boldest artistic statement so far, it is a triumph that stands as a landmark release in Singapore’s electronic scene.

Crafted painstakingly over a four-year long gestation period, Hail Nothing’s obsidian sonics are immediately arresting. Aided by tenured producer Jason Tan, its microscopic details find themselves becoming full-fledged highlights. Vacant Speck’s frigid arpeggios reverberate and dance amongst scattered polyrhythms; Let’s Go’ schipped synths and bass pulses balance in strange, joyous techno; Not My Place thrillingly alternates between rumbling bass and key stabs into a transcendent sweep.

It’s this clinical minimalist palette that provides Weish a perfect canvas for emotive contrast. Embedded in a pristine bedrock of darkly sparse synthpop, she tells tales of constriction, alienation, and failed pursuits – “I can’t feel anymore,” she croons on And While Alive. But as her vocals twist and turn, her trapped stories bring shades of hope. On lead single My Darling, these stories even turn autobiographical – turning writhing cries of pain and helpless suffocation into demented affirmation.

It’s a sentiment encapsulated from its very first notes. “Your sadness is yours, nobody can take it from you,” she croons on the spellbinding Only Yours, intertwining with the dulcet tones of B-Quartet luminary Bani Haykal. As their celebratory sonic journey ends, the statement becomes Hail Nothing’s manifesto. Unable to find true connection and belonging in an absurd world, there remains comfort in pure action – power in persisting in the self. Even without answers in the end, .gif prove that there is beauty in just being.

Listen to Hail Nothing here:

  • By JX Soo

-


Big Duck Pte Ltd © 2020 - All Rights Reserved