Our top picks this week - sinister industrial darkwave from Microchip Terror, a lush indie epic from Theron Lim, and soaring indie rock from Grrrl Gang!
Illegal Experiments 2
A worthy sequel to his excellent 2018 industrial darkwave debut album, Illegal Experiments 2 continues Microchip Terror’s deep dive into post-apocalyptic cyber horror, with arpeggiated synth freakouts, heavy blast beats, and even a tinge of existential introspection. Carrying forward its predecessor’s eerie atmosphere of dread, his undated sound fills the imagination with the terrors of a System Shock-esque world – with B-movie body horror and haunted Nintendo cartridges alike. Although Microchip Terror does toe the line at times with its unapologetically retro synths, Illegal Experiments 2 manages to find a balance of fun without landing into cheesy territory.
Circuitry of Doom, Terror Bites Again and Mechanical Gore are bangers that rev up the momentum. an accompaniment of unnatural gore and exasperated escape with its heavy synth riffing and driving double-pedal drum work and breakbeats. Standout track AL-245 brings groove-laden dance sensibilities alongside robotically vocoded vocals and guttural screams (“Help! Just let me go!”) - a juxtaposition mirroring the brutally synthetic world the album paints a picture of. Finally, tracks like Rusty Angels, on the other hand, leave listeners with some breathing space – as they bask in the little hope left in its depraved world, contemplating the album’s existential horrors.
The album’s final two tracks do feel a little out of place, breaking Illegal Experiments 2’s immersive listening experience. Nevertheless, they still stand strong as individual songs, best seen as bonus tracks rather than a continuation of the album’s narrative. Circuitry of Doom (Drumcorps Remix) is a thoroughly enjoyable remix with breakcore sensibilities, Myrtle Wyckoff (Love Spread Cover) is a touchingly faithful tribute to bitcode duo LOVE SPREAD - whose member Ryota passed away in 2018. Admittedly, Microchip Terror’s sound may still feel like an anomaly amongst the rest of Singapore’s electronic music scene – but with Illegal Experiments 2, he proves that this mad doctor still has plenty of twisted tricks up his sleeve.
Listen to "AL-245" here:
- by Isaac Yackem
"Underneath the Rocks"
The Boy Who Felt Forever Blue
If there is one thing that Theron Lim doesn’t lack, it’s sincerity. Brother to fellow indie rock upstart kotoji, the siblings share a foundation in conjuring magic through lo-fi glory – but while his sister’s songcraft basks in sentimental melodicism, Theron’s music takes on a decidedly widescreen path. Remaking his first album, The Boy Who Felt Forever Blue traverses tales of friendship, coming-of age and heart-on-sleeve confessionalism with ambitious, winding epics - with his suites running up to lengths of 20 minutes, he certainly can’t be faulted for a lack of trying.
Within these tracks, bold sonic references also colour Theron’s decisions – most notably stylistic homages to the overflowing and overwhelming sincerity championed by emo-experimentalists The Brave Little Abacus. Undoubtedly, their unapologetic nature makes for a good blueprint in mirroring coming-of-age in all of its messy glory – subject matter that his music shares. Yet unlike their epic masterpieces (see: Masked Dancers), Theron's ambition unfortunately becomes its fatal flaw, a crutch that holds back the great potential his music holds. Whereas his idols used their frenetic pacing and tension-building to convey a sense of adolescent awe, The Boy... comes across instead as giddily trying to fit too many ideas into single tracks – with a large chunk of these songs feeling like disparate parts, wandering off to new lands before solidifying themselves as ideas.
Often too much, Theron fails to recognise his songs’ strengths, hampering his decisions on when to hold back or double down. It's a trend that persists – an absolute shame, because within the rough hides several moments that rank amongst the most wondrous cuts Singaporean music has offered this year so far. The opening is a microcosm of this imperfection. After opening with stunning grooves and fuzzed textures that establishes its epic atmosphere, the tension soon fizzles out, as he tries his hand from funk touches, to Radiohead-like modalities, to extended verses. But none of these sections ever lock into focus until its final minutes – as poignant chords morph into an axis of building guitars, a patient build explodes into a joyous bliss, finding Microphones-like, noise rock perfection with powerfully crushed drums and triumphant horns. For a lack of a better word, these closing minutes are jaw-dropping.
Indeed, as a drummer himself, his music finds itself magical at its most energetic, whether it be when he uses his rhythms as conduits for building catharsis, or simply punctuating moments of sincere emotionalism. In Wandering Son, his epic tribute named after the coming-of-age manga Horou Musuko, that duality is apparent. While the first half struggles to find focus with low-key folk detours, it soon finds itself morphing into complete bliss at the halfway point, riding an endlessly accelerating groove charging towards the light. And without complicated structures distracting him, his melodic instincts find room to shine, as Underneath the Rocks' blissful simplicity allows it to bloom as the album’s strongest track. A resonant folk ode that glimmers with gorgeous Alex G-like warmth, jangly guitars serve as bedrock for his soaring vocal melodies, before his backbeat powerfully kicks in, punctuating his painfully melancholic refrains. As levitating synth flourishes and glockenspiel round off his reflections on summer, a undeniable glimmer of beauty reveals itself – a light that radiates obscured potential. For one willing to take such risks, one can only imagine what it’d be like if he found an editor...
Listen to Underneath the Rocks here:
- - by Isaac Yackem
Single / Kolibri Rekords
On their latest single, Yogyakarta-based indie rock trio Grrrl Gang trade the youthful immediacy typically associated with them for a sensitive sincerity. Delivering a more patient and mature sound that’s in equal parts dreamy and cathartic, Honey, Baby is a jangle anthem that soars.
Amalgamating jangly rhythm guitars, creamy overdriven leads, driving bass grooves, gorgeous harmonies the track’s production forms a lush backdrop for the crystal clear voice of vocalist/guitarist Angeeta Sentana. Wearing her heart on her sleeve, her intricate melodies manage to encapsulate the confusion and excitement that accompanies love ("You're the kind of guy that I've been dreamin' all my life/ You swept me off my feet/ And you crawl to me when you're neck-deep in madness/ I wear my dress and take you out”). With a genuinely catchy chorus (“You taste like honey, baby/ Everything that he isn’t/ You taste like honey, baby/ I would hate to see you go”), and sublimely gratifying key change at its end, the song’s elaborate songwriting manages to not hinder Grrrl Gang’s energy, and instead bring its way to a soaring conclusion.
If anything, it presents a step in the right direction towards a more exciting and mature sound for the band. Honey, Baby also has a tongue-in-cheek music video that documents a planned trip to Texas that never happened. Grrrl Gang were slated to play at SXSW 2020 just as the pandemic struck - effectively cancelling the trip and show. The music video presents an entertaining “what if” scenario – in the form of fake footage from the trip, actors stand in for the band, hilariously complete with “American” dive bars and “American” people all sourced and filmed in their home country of Indonesia. Even when robbed of the opportunity to play at SXSW, Grrrl Gang ignore their bummer in Honey, Baby’s fun, lively absurdity.
Listen to "Honey, Baby” here:
Check out the music video here:
- - by Isaac Yackem