KATIE – “REMEMBER”
[South Korea / USA]
Korean-American singer KATIE (Katie Kim) is finally ready for the spotlight. After winning the popular Korean talent show K-Pop 4, she underwent training for a grueling four years, disappearing from the public eye to work under YG. However, something didn’t click and Kim was transferred to YG subsidiary AXIS, releasing her first single under the new label. “Remember”, the result of a song-camp session, is a welcome return for Kim, hyping up her English-language debut Log which is going to be released soon.
Sung in English rather than Korean, Kim’s “Remember” is an intensely nostalgic pop song that carries more Western EDM influences than it does K-POP. It’s a glossy and sexy track that’s swaggeringly self-confident, featuring boastful lyrics like “We make love memorable / We make love not so typical”. Her dynamic vocal range (that scored her the win in the first place) is understandably shown off here as well.
Kero Kero Bonito – “Only Acting”
Up until this year, UK indie-pop group Kero Kero Bonito has been pretty predictable with their releases. By blending kawaii Japanese lyrics and clear-cut production elements together, KKB fulfilled a particular niche within the musical community that we didn’t know we needed. Songs like “Trampoline”, “Break”, and “Flamingo” carved out a cutesy aesthetic that only KKB could satisfy. So when “Only Acting” came out, it was supposed to be just another adorable song about acting, right? I don’t think that anybody expected “Only Acting” to turn out the way that it did.
For the most part, “Only Acting” is a play-by-play KKB song. Frontwoman Sarah Midori Perry charmingly sings about her day with her usual diary-like lyrics. One chorus goes by, then two. An out of place guitar solo comes in. Unusual for KKB, but okay. Then it hits–an error? A mistake? Did my Internet just disconnect? Did Spotify glitch out? “Only Acting” does a complete 180, yanking you into the void whether you’re ready for it or not. Suddenly you’re in an alternate dimension where Sarah screeches instead of sings, where the sugar-coated beats dissipate and instead digs into the darkest corners of your mind. The end of “Only Acting” can only be described as cursed.
Yet, it’s one of the boldest songs that I’ve heard all year. “Only Acting” might seem like a sick practical joke, but when the dust finally settles you’ll realize that there’s a grimy, uncomfortable beauty within the chaos.
Kina Grannis – “Can’t Help Falling in Love (Cover)”
There was no escaping the juggernaut that was Crazy Rich Asians this year… especially for anyone of Asian descent. For the first time in many years, Asian actors and actresses took center-stage and proved to the world that they were more than just the one-sided stereotypes that Hollywood had perpetuated for so long.
Just the fact that a major Hollywood studio produced it would have been a win on its own since it broke new ground for representation. But the soundtrack for Crazy Rich Asians elevated the film to another level. Director Jon Chu and music supervisor Gabe Hilfer took special care to give the soundtrack its own unique personality, inviting Asian artists to cover popular songs to create the emotional backbone of the film.
Kina Grannis, who had been making YouTube covers for years, was the one lucky enough to take the spotlight. During the pivotal wedding scene, Grannis’s rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” was everything that the film needed–it was soft, tender, and romantic. Up until that point Crazy Rich Asians was a film about identity crisis and some really, really rich Asians. But “Can’t Help Falling in Love” reminded us that love is the ultimate victor. “Can’t Help Falling In Love” didn’t just become the film’s emotional center. For a brief moment, it healed the world.
Kirara – “Rio”
How many times can you play on the same thematic motif before it goes stale? That seems to be the question that South-Korean techno DJ Kirara seeks to answer with her near-eight minute mix for “Rio” (which coincidentally isn’t even the longest song on this year’s full-length album Sarah).
Grounded by a looping bouncy electronic ringtone riff, “Rio” is arcade-inspired music for techno lovers. Kirara continually builds off of the same jingle by live-mixing the backing instruments, giving “Rio” an amorphous structure apart from that repeating theme. Even though you hear the same few notes over and over again, it never gets tiring because Kirara has countless tricks up her sleeve to make it sound fresh every single time. At one point you’ll hear beautiful chimes in the background, and in another you’ll hear a sample of an exasperated woman shouting “HELLO?” in the middle of the mix.
It’s the sonic equivalent of someone who can’t make up their mind trying on different outfits in a mall and going back to what they’re comfortable with. Kirara’s irresistibly bouncy jingle here was never going to fail, but it’s nice to hear all of those other possibilities of what could have been.
Lexie Liu – “Sleep Away”
[China / USA]
Originally from Changsha, Hunan, Lexie Liu is a young rising singer/songwriter destined for greatness. So far, Liu has had quite a colorful (and successful!) background in music at only 19: she’s already been on the popular Chinese show Rap of China and been offered an opportunity with South Korean entertainment company YG before finally signing on to American label 88Rising.
“Sleep Away” is one of Liu’s most mellow songs to date. Setting the R&B style track with dreamy undertones and a lo-fi vibe, Liu exposes a more emotional, vulnerable side of herself as she sings about her thoughtful perspective on love. The song is a bilingual masterpiece–English and Mandarin verses intermingle with each other to create a truly cross-cultural hit. In classic 88Rising fashion, the music video is nostalgic and surprisingly trippy, redefining Liu’s image.
For a mainstream Chinese artist who is making the leap over to America, “Sleep Away” is proof that Liu is set for world domination. –Emily Gu
LOOΠΔ – “Heart Attack (츄)”
It’s hard to categorize what exactly LOONA is. Are they a girl group? A deconstructed collective? A training program for young pop-star hopefuls? LOONA, whose group name means “Girl of the Month”, was first revealed by South Korean record label Blockberry Creative back in 2016. From there, it took them a good 18 months for them to introduce the group members one by one, with each member debuting with a single. This year, LOONA finally came together as a group, performing together similar to how Girls Generation does. While this reverse introduction was interesting in theory (usually groups make it big together before breaking off and releasing singles) LOONA’s debut [+ +] didn’t have as much personality as any of its singles. Perhaps the best of which was “Heart Attack”, LOONA member Chuu’s debut.
While most of the songs released by the members flirted with EDM and electronic beats, “Heart Attack” is a musical throwback, following a song progression that is similar to many early K-POP hits. Modern beats are traded out for unconventional instruments like jingle bells, giving “Heart Attack” a uniquely holiday spirit. But don’t be fooled by the seasonal instruments–“Heart Attack” is very much a song for every occasion. Even though she didn’t write the song, 16 year old Chuu sings the song with a certain charm. “Heart Attack” is a great song about naive love that shows the potential in all of LOONA’s young members–and a guilty pleasure for the rest of us.
Manila Killa – “Everyday, Everyday (ft. Nevve)”
[Philippines / USA]
Manila Killa (Chris Gavino), one of my favorite electronic producers of all time, kicked off 2018 with the release of his first single of the year “Everyday, Everyday (feat. Nevve)”. Gavino has come a long way since the days I first started dabbling in chillstep/future bass (his 2014 remix of Dawn Golden’s “All I Want” literally being my life anthem throughout college) and it’s thanks to him that I was inspired to branch out and explore more that the genre had to offer. Luckily, along with fellow producers AOBeats (Andrew Okamura) and Robokid (Ethan Budnick), Gavino founded the Moving Castle Collective and made it easy for EDM junkies like myself to discover a diverse set of talented artists who have a knack for releasing banger after banger.
“Everyday, Everyday (feat. Nevve)” is one song that has found itself on constant rotation on many of my playlists across multiple music streaming platforms—-a true testament to the lasting impact that the track has had on me. Addictively euphoric beats meld into Nevve’s angelic vocals for a feel-good tune that’s perfect for any occasion. –Clarissa Aben
Mellow Fellow & Ruru – “It’s Okay To Dream”
Mellow Fellow (Ralph “Polo” Reyes) and Ruru (Denice Quimbo) are two artists hailing from Manila who redefined the local music scene–at least on the Internet, anyways. Both artists (who self-produce and sing their own songs) are championed online on tastemaker channels, and they each have an avid following on Twitter. It was only logical that their two worlds should collide eventually.
“It’s Okay To Dream” is a bittersweet love song that features the two trading off verses about leaving each other in order to pursue their dreams. Carrying a warm, homemade aesthetic, it’s a song that seems to come from a real place for hopeful young artists like themselves. For both Reyes and Quimbo, “It’s Okay To Dream” is also a great showcase for their production skills–an airy saxophone solo wafts into the song, and the long instrumental breaks carries influences from both artists’ styles. That’s not to mention the heartbreaking chorus where the two come together: “Tears are my fate / If you knew my darling, would you leave me behind anyways?” the two sing in unison.
Although the two will still mostly be known for their solo works, “It’s Okay To Dream” is proof that together, they’re unstoppable.
Mitski – “Geyser”
Be the Cowboy, Mitski Miyawaki’s fifth studio album, opens with a warning.
On “Geyser”, the signs are everywhere: the thundering organ, the sudden audio jump-scare thirty seconds in, and the frantic beeping that underlies the mix all work together to make your stomach churn. The abstract video for the song begins and ends with a threatening red frame, another unnerving sign of caution.
But a closer listen to “Geyser” will reveal a raw, emotional center for those of us brave enough to stick around. Mitski proves there’s a certain beauty in the devastating carnage, like the colorful Fantasia-esque horns that linger around the dark clouds of “Geyser”’s storm. “You’re my number one / You’re the one I want / And I’ve turned down every hand / That has beckoned me to come”, she belts, reaching out for something that isn’t there. “Geyser”, a song that is more about an abstract concept than it is an actual person, is an appeal for a connection that might never come.
There’s an intensity that only Miyawaki can evoke from her cataclysmic opener–one that carries throughout the thirteen songs that follow it.
Monsune – “Nothing in Return”
Bedroom-pop musician Monsune (Scott Zhang) is an interesting character–if only because of how mysterious his online presence is after dropping his single “Nothing in Return” earlier this year. Since then, he’s directed fellow Canadian Brahny’s music video for “Bloom”, but he’s been very mum about everything else. We’re not sure if Zhang is planning a transition to directing (given the success of all of his videos so far), but “Nothing in Return” is quite a way to make an opening statement.
Sampling a breadth of artists that range from jazz-harpist Dorothy Ashby to French singer-songer Serge Gainsbourg, “Nothing in Return” uniquely culls all of his inspirations together and fits them into a place where they can all coexist in harmony. Backed by triumphant horns, Zhang’s voice is filled with longing and hope. “If you kept me waiting with your words / Would you give me nothing in return?” he asks his listener rhetorically.
There’s good vibes here that are reminiscent of The Avalanches’s own work–not an easy feat for anybody’s debut song. “Nothing in Return” is a wonderfully stylistic jam that’s dedicated to Zhang’s own love to music, making us all eager to hear what Zhang has to release next.