Our featured picks this week - earnest dreampop from Cherry Syrup, thrilling electronic soundscapes from Planeswalker, and soul-baring indie rock from Kanina!
Aptly described in their own words as “music for people to listen to while waiting for their pizza to be microwaved”, bedroom pop quartet Cherry Syrup’s 5-track debut EP features lush instrumentals that charmingly fill out the frequency spectrum. But with the release painfully held back at certain moments by sub-par songwriting and mixing, their metaphorical pizza feels lukewarm at best.
Although resonating an inclination for mellower sounds, the group seemingly neglect their strengths in orchestrating lusciously dense atmospheres. Instead, they start their debut with two pop-ier songs. Perhaps intended to be standout tracks from the EP, the arduously bromidic ceramic head and dreaming about instead shelves the release into mediocrity. In an awkward one-two punch, uninspired lyrics on topics from wistful musings on adolescent simplicities (“What kinda feeling did you miss / Running around, feels like no one gives a shit”), to the bitterness of soured love (“...This causes empty conversations it’s true / It’s a funny story, but you won't hear two”) hastily push listeners away from an increasingly generic sound. Delivered with forgettable riffs and compounded by stiff vocals that frequently struggle to find their place in the mix, any interest quickly wanes prior to reaching the EP’s halfway point.
This opening is a shame, because Cherry Syrup manages to salvage their defrosting pizza by switching up their recipe in the EP’s second half. Leaning into stronger ingredients, the latter three songs see their rich guitar tones taking a more central role in their compositions, forming a strong foundation that allows room for its counterparts to thrive, elevating the sound of the band as a whole. Where in prior tracks they bashed heads with the stronger instrumental voicings, here vocalist Kathleen Bu’s delicate vocals find their own space to bask. Introducing simple yet compelling harmonic interplay through synth pads or supporting vocal tracks (see: sam’s song and you are not my home), the dream-pop quartet begin arranging each component of their sound comfortably, albeit a little too late in the EP. They still toe a thin line from being cloyingly generic, but the latter three songs ease much more comfortably into the group’s dynamic – with penultimate turning, turning being the best example of this. Showcasing a more tasteful flourish of their pop capabilities, catchy guitar riffs manage to save their sound in the forefront.
Despite its partial redemption, the EP still leaves an unsatisfactory aftertaste. With its opening pair of songs irreparably tearing the release into opposing dimensions to its other delicately atmospheric tracks, their debut feels like quite a shame – as the latter tracks suggest an untapped potential for their unique sound to shine. Their current half-baked sonic focus might need some more refining and sharpening – for that, Cherry Syrup might benefit from more time in the oven.
Listen to "turning, turning" here:
- by Justin Tan
Emerging from classical music origins as a trained violist, producer Mervin Wong’s soundscapes as Planeswalker weave emotional narratives by melding organic, string-driven textures with precisely engineered electronics. On his debut EP Perihelion, he blended his fusion of backgrounds on center-stage into the four pulsating tracks of glittering space-like expanse – embarking on his sophomore work, Entity, he finds further assertiveness in his electronics, as he employs a lush array of organs, strings, and vocal textures to create a work bold in its narrative sweep.
The four songs that form Entity feel akin to a fully-formed journey – a metaphorical battle between darkness and light, replete with complications and resolutions. Opening with an evocative aquatic palette, Submarine opens the EP into rumbling layers of cavernous, manipulated strings, plunging listeners into formless yet monolithic walls of dark ambience. As his vocal treatments and drones swirl and evolve, his sonic sculptures emanate a strangely enveloping glow. Here, its effect is not unlike the work of fellow classical-inclined ambient producers like Oliver Coates – his manipulated string-led drones and swells creating intensely affecting worlds
Choosing not to dwell on contemplative modes, its oceanic landscapes then evolve into actively disruptive undercurrents. Riding the title track’s creeping bass warble, granular 4/4 kicks emerge as they meet gated synths intertwining with celestial vocal harmonies – forming crests and waves amidst his calm sea. As the tracklist progresses, tension intensifies as Wong moves into First Bloom, finds Entity’s turbulent journey at its most aggressive. Colliding distorted synths into alternating LFO gates and stutters, it feels as if one is falling into another dimension – only for listeners to be rescued to the surface with a warm, rising pulse. Eventually, as the action falls on Return’s ruminative stringscapes, the music finds light once again. But after the odyssey of warping through Planeswalker’s 20-minute wormhole, it’s a while before one can awake from its thrilled daze.
Listen to "Entity" here:
- - by JX Soo
“Heist Costs Money"
Ode to All Odds / HILLS.
Part of Semarang hip-hop/R&B collective HILL, singer-songwriter Kanina unleashes a new array of tracks on her newest album, Ode To All Odds. With honest lyricism that deals with depression, anxiety and sexual identity, Kanina’s latest puts herself in the spotlight with its powerful songs of the modern world full of hard-hitting lyrics and tight atmospheric instrumentals.
With hints of influences from alternative indie rock acts such as Mitski and R&B the likes of Erykah Badu, her unique vocal delivery sets itself apart from her fellow peers. As she infuses her questions from therapy into her music, here’s an intimate and personal quality to it – as if she is confiding in her listeners on her struggles and internal conflicts. A personal highlight is the cleverly-titled Heists Cost Money (cause when you think about it, it really does, doesn’t it?). Starting with a piano piece that slowly builds up to a roaring finish, the song finds itself completed with ethereal synths, hard-hitting drums and heavy guitars. Lyrically, the song is a self-reflection on one’s inner struggles with their emotions and anxieties, her observations delivered through a chorus poetic yet brutal: “Biting my own teeth, bleeding to breathe / Living on loop of trials to recoup”.
Eventually, the subject of the track’s title is made clearer. “So about life that could’ve happened, when did you go wrong? / When did you slip away?,” Kanina woefully sings in the interlude. As proverbs go, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs – in order to complete a task or meet a goal, unpleasant things may sometimes be unavoidable. Even when committing a heist, you might need to spend some cash to steal some.
But what if the unpleasant act was acted upon you by a person trying to reach their goals? Or what if you’re the heist in question? You might feel cheated, as if something was stolen from you – in this case, a life that the narrator could’ve had. Kanina mirrors these questions with the songs’ ending. Posing a set of psychological questions to the listener, she metaphorically connects the track’s theme with its title – a life akin to her own crimes and heists. A release offering some great insight on Kanina’s psyche – recommended!
Listen to "Heist Costs Money” here:
- - by Nashrudin