From the Intercom: The 50 Best Asian/Anglo-Asian Singles of 2018 (Part 1)
ADOY (아도이) – “Blanc (ft. George 죠지)”
Don’t let their silly name fool you–Seoul’s ADOY is quickly becoming one of South Korea’s most promising new bands. ADOY (who takes their name after the band’s cat Yoda, spelled backwards) is a mixed electronic-rock band that takes cues from both genres in order to develop their sound. Another interesting angle the group has is in their stunning visual art, featuring close-ups of annoyed-looking characters that sharply contrast with their dreamy vibe. On “Blanc”, all of these elements (including the artwork!) come together to create a song that’s at once sentimental and relaxing.
Throughout its near four-minute runtime, there are minor details that make ADOY stand out from their peers–interrupting synths make quick entrances and then disappear, and at one point a guitar drifts in before fading away. “Blanc” is overtly nostalgic about ephemeral feelings, drawing upon references like California wine, dizziness, and sad quotes like “we’ll never be together” that tells a whole story through bits and pieces. ADOY makes music to soundtrack your day to day life, unobtrusively making their stay before disappearing–just like the feelings that were once so alive that California night.
alextbh – “walls”
A self-taught producer, singer, and one of the most outspoken artists in the Asian LGBTQ+ community, queer R&B idol alextbh is something of a beacon of hope for his native Malaysians. After gaining fans from all over the world for his love songs like “Stoop So Low” (10 million streams on Spotify!) and “Mornings (See You Again)”, Alex has become one of Malaysia’s most interesting artists to watch. Recently, he’s in the middle of a new project cycle, switching out his trademark pink to one defined by color-coded beige and peach visuals.
“Walls”, his second release of the year, is a stripped, intimate R&B pop song so intensely sensual that it’ll make your heart ache. With a BPM slow enough to resemble a gradually pulsating heartbeat, Alex whispers sentimental confessions over undulating beats. There’s emotion packed into every single letter, syllable, and breath of “walls”.
Rarely is a singer willing to emotionally bare it all for the listener to such success, but “walls” confirms that it’s what Alex does best.
Aolani – “Call Me Up”
Gardena-based R&B singer Aolani (Kalyn Aolani Oshiro-Wachi) isn’t afraid to use her sexuality as a weapon. Just take a look at the cover for her self-titled EP where she kneels in front of pink and purple curtains, staring directly at the camera. It’s suggestive, sexy and intimate–an audacious image move for the young artist’s first release.
It then makes sense that Aolani’s lead single, “Call Me Up”, follows suit. Doused in rosy, starry R&B beats, “Call Me Up” is one of the year’s sultriest releases. Aolani’s breathy voice matches with the calculated sleaziness of the track, allowing her to directly whisper into your ear, call-girl style. As a song about a FWB relationship, “Call Me Up” also has some of the most directly sexual lyrics I’ve heard. “Baby I want you / Even just for a night / I want to feel you inside / Baby I want you, it’s alright / You can open me up, open me up baby”, she croons at one point.
But don’t be alarmed–in an interview with LA Record, Aolani states that she wants to put her femininity in the forefront of her songs, and that it’s her personal choice to express herself in the way that she does. Young as she is, Aolani’s ultimately the one in control– giving us a fresh take on what it means to be a powerful female artist in 2018.
BLACKPINK – “DDU-DU DDU-DU”
During the summer of 2018, BLACKPINK’s “DDU-DU DDU-DU” was inescapable. BLACKPINK, who was already tremendously popular thanks to their unstoppable hit “BOOMBAYAH” back in 2016, quickly racked up millions of views for “DDU-DU DDU-DU” within the first 24 hours of its release, breaking YouTube records. As a result, “DDU-DU DDU-DU” could be heard from every location ranging from KBBQ restaurants, bingsoo shops, and even through the walls of your local karaoke place. And once you were infected with the song’s earworm, good luck. “DDU-DU DDU-DU” is insanely catchy despite being almost completely in Korean, spawning countless memes and even a hilarious remix with the year’s other most popular earworm, baby shark. “Hit you with that…” became the phrase to listen for wherever you went, because it would inevitably follow with the swaggering “DDU-DDU-DU”.
If you haven’t been drawn in yet, make sure you join the fun. After all, millions of BLACKPINK fans can’t be wrong.
Brahny – “Bloom”
It wasn’t until “Bloom” that Brahny truly found his niche as an artist.
Although the Torontonian R&B artist had been releasing music long before he dropped the crushing “Bloom” on 777tv (an “internet-based record label”), his first ventures Fresco Time Machine EP and “Auburn” arrived with little fanfare. The music video for “Bloom”, which was bathed in a pink haze and an aesthetic that would make a vaporwave artist jealous, became his breakthrough. For the first time people noticed just how lush Brahny’s beats were, and how luminous the landscape that he created was. Buried in the lyrics, Brahny painted vivid pictures with his words so tangible that it felt like we were living them. The overtly nostalgic chorus, “Remember back when you were young summer nights were love / Liquor melts into your heart starbursts on your tongue / Wakin’ up to restless minds drowned in memories / Fever dreams in vivid reds calmin’ by your touch” was nothing short of masterful.
“Bloom” signals a new start for Brahny, creating the basis for a gorgeous new world that we could only dream to be a part of.
CHVRCHES & WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA – “Out of My Head”
[UK & Japan]
The world we live in is getting smaller by the second and I am all for it. Thanks to modern conveniences (hello social media), people from countries around the world are connecting in ways that were nearly impossible a decade ago. 2018 has been a progressive year in music, with international artist collaborations being a noticeable trend. (Does BTS & Nicki Minaj’s single “IDOL” ring a bell? Or Due Lipa & BLACKPINK’s “Kiss and Make Up”?)
One epic crossover between East and West is “Out of My Head”, an upbeat track produced by Scottish synth-pop group CHVRCHES and Japan’s EDM/J-Pop/hip hop trio WEDNESDAY CAMPANELLA. The surprisingly empowering and head-bob inducing instrumental is backed by a harmonious mix of KOM_I’s bubbly vocals and Lauren Mayberry’s addictively airy chorus. The final product is the heroic anime soundtrack that’ll make you soar. – Clarissa Aben
covet – “shibuya (ft. San Holo)”
Covet’s “shibuya” is a sprawling showcase of technical skill. Led by front-woman Yvette Young, the math-rock trio’s lead single is music for guitar enthusiasts and casual listeners alike, interweaving multiple strands of melodies and continuously folding them into each other until they turn into one. The near six-minute song finds moments of haziness and then clarity, keeping it interesting for people who aren’t used to listening to pure instrumentals. Adding to the mix are contributions by popular EDM artist San Holo, whose inclusion remains a mystery–but a welcome one nonetheless.
“shibuya”, like the rest of the songs on covet’s debut album effloresce, is intrinsically complicated. Take a look at the fingerwork required to play it–Young’s two-handed approach to guitar playing has made her quite a celebrity in her own right on platforms like Instagram. With her group, however, Young’s skills are truly given a chance to shine– “shibuya” being the best example.
Dabin – “In Flames (ft. Lexi Norton)”
This one’s for all the wistful souls out there. If you’re looking for something to satiate your inner sadboi, give Canadian-based electronic producer Dabin a listen because his tracks are sure to evoke “all the feels”.
With a musical style akin to fellow EDM artists such as Illenium, San Holo, and Said the Sky (just to name a few), Dabin crafts a soundscape that brings listeners back to their fondest memories. As the title suggests, “In Flames” represents the painful disintegration of a broken relationship. Despite lyrical themes of pain and destruction, Dabin blends beautifully orchestrated melodies, emotion-fueled vocals, and a banging drop together for a truly fire song. – Clarissa Aben
Daniel Shibuya – “Summer Boredom”
If blockbusters are to be believed, summer is the best time of the year. Students come together and hang out in big packs at the mall, go to the beach, and generally do dumb shit… because why not? But what the movies don’t show you is the other side of the monotony of summer–the dreaded summer blues that occurs whenever the cameras stop rolling. For the 80% of the time that your friends aren’t around, summer can be damn well annoying and lonesome.
Bedroom-pop artist Daniel Shibuya shines a light on the downsides of summer in “Summer Boredom”, a twinkly ode to those who aren’t always out partying with their friends. Even though he seems like he has it all figured out (people who don’t have their lives together rarely make great songs like he does), Shibuya’s lyrics reveal a different story. “We don’t know anything at all / I’m just as lost as you inside / And I just find the time to hide away”, he casually admits. Although “Summer Boredom” is about depression at its core, it’s deceptively cheery–bright guitars and synths pepper the track. Ironically, listening to “Summer Boredom” will brighten up your day.
No one’s immune to the summer blues, but “Summer Boredom” just might be the perfect antidote for it.
Gong Gong Gong (工工工) – “Siren 追逐劇”
At the tail-end of the year, a curious name started to appear alongside a number of indie rock shows on both sides of the US coast. Opening for fan favorites like Parquet Courts, Flasher, and BODEGA, Beijing indie-rock band Gong Gong Gong (工工工) suddenly found themselves thrown into the Western spotlight. Made up of guitarist/vocalist Tom Ng and bassist Joshua Frank, the duo creates music that leans into psych-rock influences at times. Their first single “Siren” shows that the pair are soon poised for a breakthrough.
Poetic, jarring, and anxious, “Siren” is built around a dramatic chase scene that Ng describes in full detail in Cantonese. Amongst dual shredding guitars and an underlying drone, there’s just the right amount of distortion to support his mysterious story, creating an inescapable uneasiness. Within the narrative of the song, it’s also only fitting that the galloping guitar loops that “Siren” builds on stays at a constant, never stopping until the end of the song.
Much like a siren itself, “Siren” is hypnotic, guaranteed to make you fall under its spell.
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!