From the Intercom: The 18 Best Albums of 2018 (Part 2)
# 12. Superorganism – Superorganism
Cheesy or cheeky? Whale or prawn? No matter what your opinion is on one of the perplexing new bands of the year, it’s hard to deny that Superorganism’s self-titled debut album is one of the most refreshing takes on indie-pop as of late.
Fronted by an apathetic 17 year-old Japanese girl named Orono, Superorganism is a band for the Internet era. All eight of its members who came together from all across the globe (Australia, South Korea, Japan, New Zealand, UK) originally met online. Becoming friends by way of Internet memes and music forums, the members of Superorganism decided to finally come together in person to form a band. And that’s perhaps one of the reasons why Superorganism has such a unique sound.
Throughout their mish-mash of a debut, Superorganism bombards you with glitchy samples that seem almost thrown together, but cohesively held together by the whole Internet aesthetic. There’s a controlled randomness here that brings to mind constant ad-like intrusions that straddles the fine line between quirky coolness and annoyance. For example, soda cans and crunching apples are used as instruments on the group’s most famous single “Something For Your M.I.N.D”, while alarm clocks and honking cars drive you mad on the ironically named “Relax”. There’s a strange sample of Tony Robbins in album opener “It’s All Good” that seems completely out of place, and faint giggles exist on the periphery of “Nobody Cares”. The whole album is basically a musical puzzle piece, where samples upon samples are forced together to create a melodic kaleidoscope.
Superorganism has a uniquely mismatched sound, with bits and pieces from each band member used to fill in the spaces. There’s a sense of camaraderie in between the lines of Superorganism, and perhaps that’s what makes it ridiculously entertaining to listen to.
# 11. I Mean Us – OST
OST might be one of the most criminally underrated records of the year.
Hailing from Taipei, noise-pop band I Mean Us have been around since 2015 but have been silent for most of their career. After throwing around a couple of demos here and there for the last three years (one of which went viral!), the band finally released their long-awaited debut OST this year to unfortunately little fanfare. But don’t let that deter you from checking out OST, because it’s one of the most soaring, enthusiastic records you’ll hear all year!
Taking its name from an enigmatic statement, “This is the Original Sound Track between us”, OST seems to be an album of memories and shared experiences. The two main vocalists, Chun Zhang and Mandark Liang, switch off throughout the course of the album, covering the spectrum of human emotion with their opposing vocals. “I Don’t Know” and “12345 I Hate You” are fragile, emotional ballads, while “Dance!” and “You So (Youth Soul)” are feel-good anthems that look into the future with a fervent ferocity. The ups and downs of OST are beautifully measured, never becoming too cheesy or over-optimistic.
It’s a triumphant debut for us all, an OST to truly live by.
# 10. Subsonic Eye – Dive Into
[Middle Class Cigars]
There’s a moment in the middle of “Last Day”, about halfway into Subsonic Eye’s sophomore album Dive Into, where everything devolves into chaos. Reverb, wild drums, and squelching guitars roll in like a wave, pulling you in and swallowing you whole. Then, for a brief moment, everything stops. Lead singer Wahidah returns, singing “Hey, it’s my last day”, setting off another tsunami of sound that sweeps everything away.
It’s hard to describe the emotions that Dive Into makes you feel, but there’s an intensity here that’s fueled by the waves of sound that lap each other time and time again. The Singaporean band’s unique brand of dream pop roars, tumbles, and crashes, just like that of the ocean wave that adorns the cover. On songs like “The Tired Club” or “Sorry”, there’s a fuzzy, but clearer picture of the emotions being delivered–sadness and longing make a profound impact on the feel of the album. At other times, like on the 9-minute climax “Dive Into Me”, a blur surrounds the subject matter, making it anyone’s guess as to what it’s about.
But that’s the thing with Dive Into. You can’t always quite make out what exactly is being said throughout its 41 minutes, but one thing’s for sure–you can definitely feel it.
# 9. CHAI – Pink
[Sony Music Entertainment]
N.E.O. kawaii rockers CHAI have become somewhat of a phenomenon in the West recently, thanks to their left-field image and their defiant subversion of what it means to be cute. Despite releasing their debut album Pink in October of 2017, CHAI started to venture outside of their native Japan in 2018, re-releasing their record on Fullerton’s Burger Records and making appearances in popular music publications like Pitchfork and VICE. It’s clear that “N.E.O.”, CHAI’s most popular song to date, has labelled them as societal rebels off the bat (the song redefines “kawaii” on the band’s own terms), but Pink goes much deeper than that. The whole album is a prime example of unconventionally wacky rock that CHAI themselves have managed to perfect.
Lead vocalists Mana and Kana (who are twins) have familiarly cute voices that you’ll likely hear on traditional J-POP songs, and there are moments on the album where they seem to be doing just that. “Horechatta”, “Kawaii Hito”, and “Sayonara Complex” sound almost like normal pop songs that you’d find on the radio. But what makes CHAI so exciting is when they decide to go all out, shouting, screaming, and making weird noises to line the record. When dialed up to a 11, Pink gets really weird. “Gyaranboo” is accented with baaaaaaaaaa’s, bu bu bu bu bu’s, and additional unconventional sounds, “Boyz Seco Men” features a strangely bleeped out pseudo-rap break, and of course “N.E.O” has that whole screaming “NEO KAWAII” breakdown that caught everyone’s attention in the first place. These are some of the highest points of Pink, and it’s the band’s combined charm and image that makes it work so successfully.
Pink is unlike anything you’ve ever heard of before–it’s the birth of outsider indie rock tinged with J-POP influences that goes hard. It’s safe to say that “kawaii” is not the only thing that’s being redefined here.
# 8. St. Lenox – Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love
# 7. Kero Kero Bonito – Time ‘n’ Place
UK-based band Kero Kero Bonito had it made. Their first two albums, Intro Bonito and Bonito Generation quickly gained a cult-following online due to its quirky sound–after all, kawaii Japanese lyrics and plain-style singing rarely worked so well together before. Lead singer Sarah Midori Perry and her producers Gus Lobban and Jamie Bulled had developed a winning formula of glossy, flawless pop. But when the trio returned for their surprise third album Time ‘n’ Place, it was clear that times had changed. Right at the center of the album cover artwork was a low-def mugshot of Perry with a blank look on her face. What happened to the triumphantly smug Perry that had adorned the cover of Bonito Generation two years before?
Time ‘n’ Place (and their TOTEP EP, which also came out this year) is the first indication that Perry is more than just that Internet pop star. Underneath the pristine sheen, Perry is an actual person. The trio dropped all of the Japanese whimsicality of their former albums, turning in an album grounded in honest reality. Broken synthesizers, distorted keys, and disjointed instrumentals thematically carved out another niche for Time ‘n’ Place to fill. Instead of bubblegum pop, we fell in love with Kero Kero Bonito for a myriad of other reasons.
“Only Acting” and “Dump” (a song about a literal garbage dump) were bizarrely cacophonic proof that it was impossible for KKB to return to the optimistic idols that they were. Songs like “Swimming”, the campfire ballad “Sometimes”, and “Dear Future Self” brought back sparkles from days past, but added a tinge of sadness that were unbearable. “Flyway”, Perry’s tribute to her recently deceased pet bird, was perhaps the most touching and dark: “When I pick up the courage / I hope that I can join you someday”, she sings in the final line.
With that, Time ‘n’ Place signals the death of the pop star that we had once known. Though we may never see the ditzy, flashy Perry again in the future, we’re in love with the dynamic direction that they have taken.
Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!