Our featured picks this week - banging hip-hop from GOK$ & Kenzo, atmospheric post-punk from Bloody Holiday, and groovy R&B from Astronauts & Sheryln Veronica!
GOK$ & Kenzo
The result of a year-long collaborative effort between up-and-comers GOK$ and Kenzo, Mood Swings is an invigorating, if not slightly overambitious EP that’s the definition of the sum being better than its parts. As tracks on their own, the songs on the EP are vague vignettes of conflicting confidence and self-doubt – however, listened to at one go, it manages to be an experience in itself - in large part indebted to Kenzo’s atmospheric yet dynamic production.
MOOD SWINGS title track begins the effort on a strong note. Riding Kenzo’s tastefully shimmery synths, GOK$ takes an understated approach to his opening hook, inculcating a strong sense of isolation. (“Mood swings/ Catch me in the zone that's a mood swing / I can't tell the time check the mood ring / Swearing to myself, kiss the pinky ring “) But on his subsequent verses, GOK$’ ambition unfortunately falls slightly flat. Here, his rigid flows take away from the track’s strong opening (”Moving back from yonder / In my thoughts I sit and ponder / Wonder what I got to do / to prove I do not need to lose”) – although thankfully the dynamic nature of the track still keep it an engaging listen.
It’s an interplay reprised on the subsequent OMNI, a cruising, tranquil track with an underlying eeriness matched by GOK$’ assured bouncy wordplay. But its momentum is again halted by the very middling NEW WAVE – although Kenzo does bring some interesting rhythmic ideas, there isn’t anything on it that’s particularly captivating.
Thankfully, the final two tracks end the EP on a strong note. HUNDREDS is a downtempo banger, bringing an infectious bass lick leading that leads into a killer pitched-down hook. Here, GOK$’ lines feel reminiscent of early Denzel Curry (“Hundreds on hundreds on hundreds / Pillaige and plunder / She make it clap like its thunder/ I don't believe in no blunders”).
Finally, closer FIRE is, well, fire. Kenzo flexes swirling pads and harmonised synths that blend in an almost rock-styled fashion, anchoring GOK$’ most confident verses on the whole EP (“Pacing up and down in the room whilst I plot/ Feelings getting Mixed gotta keep em on lock/ Keep my head high I see nothing but the top / I don't really fold don't know when’s the time to stop”).
Mood Swings is an overall strong effort that is best listened to at one go. The two are a pairing that should continue to stick together for future releases – if GOK$ manages to find his footing and consistently rap with the convicted fervor he possesses on the EP’s highest points, and Kenzo leans deeper into his more experimental tendencies, something truly special will be able to blossom from this collaboration. Go dollar!
Listen to "HUNDREDS" here:
- by Isaac Yackem
"Fucking Everything Up"
Not much is known about Bloody Holiday, an obscure lo-fi bedroom rock project by Franco De Guzman. For one, the man has had a nomadic life. A Filipino native now residing in Los Angeles, Guzman spent his early teenage years growing up in Singapore, a sensibility that reflects in the diverse influences that colour his sophomore five track EP, The Endless. With its tracks taking from indie rock, post-punk and shoegaze, it's a downcast collection of songs that cover themes of change and breaking away from the past.
The Endless’ tracks largely feel like a series of never-ending build ups, full of repetitive, droning progressions stuffed with ambiguous lyrics on self frustration and self reflection. Endless, the EP’s self-titled opener encapsulates this spirit: an atmospheric instrumental which sounds like something straight out of Diiv’s Oshin. When Guzman finds moments of songcraft, the EP finds ways to become compelling moodpieces – like highlight Fuck Everything Up, a melancholic soundscape suitable for an ending scene of an indie coming of age film. Reminiscent of Jesus and The Mary Chain’s Just Like Honey, the track conjures a fuzzy reverie, with his vocals drowning themselves in bittersweet guitar melodies and anthemic drum beats.
However, after multiple listens, The Endless monotonous nature finds itself lacking the charm for it to be memorable beyond its initial hazy imprint. Despite its rather interesting existentialist topics, its musical ideas didn’t attempt any particularly fresh concepts that weren’t already well-tread by artists. Then again, I doubt Guzman would care much about that. It seems that he wants to maintain an ambiguous persona – seemingly a product from his love of underground rock, Bloody Holiday purely seems like an outlet for his personal musical and self exploration. There seems to be no intention of trying to impress anyone – and that’s OK.
Listen to "Fuck Everything Up" here:
- - by Reza
Astronauts (feat. Sherlyn Veronica)
LMI / Where Are The Fruits
Featuring Disco Hue songstress Sherlyn Veronica, Astronauts’ latest, LMI, might be their best quality recording to date. Being one of their slower numbers, the track is substantially more appealing than their previous single, No Pretense.
Astronauts’ long running problem has always been singer Ben Jacob Lee’s vocals, lacking the charisma or virtuosity to carry its lofty funk and R&B ambitions. Thankfully, the presence of Veronica on the track rectifies this issue for the most part, bringing a much needed sense of character within the track’s strained relationship-driven narrative. Here, Veronica’s vocals are arresting – even more so on the track’s sparse opening. LMI also features some of the slickest production yet from the band, striking a perfect balance of understated keys, dramatic string stabs, and bopping 808s.
Most prominently, the solo’s guitar tone and articulation during the solo is fantastic. However, it is the shame the song overstays its welcome, with yet another chorus kicking in after the guitar solo, diminishing much of its impact.
That being said, the track’s overall production and songwriting seems to be tailored towards a listening experience on streaming platforms, which feels like a shame considering the band’s roots in emphasising the live experience. Having seen the band since their start when they were still BJ and the Astronauts, live performances still seem to be their forte.
LMI is honestly not a bad song, but it suffers from being too generic – too aligned to its aesthetic influences like Jamiroquai or Anderson .Paak. If it's played on the radio, Singaporeans wouldn't know that a local artist produced this.
In the end, Astronauts' latest offering unfortunately feels like it was crafted around a carefully designed R&B formula, resulting in something that lacks its own identity. Although the band has proven their worth in the local circuit, especially with their live work, LMI feels like Van Gogh's The Mulberry Tree – for an artist establishing itself, it doesn’t leave a particularly strong impression, instead sounding more just like another song by another band.
Listen to "LMI” here:
- - by Chester