NENE – “Famous”
What do you get when abgs try their hand at lo-fi rap? Chances are, you’re going to get something like “Famous”, one of the lead singles off of Japanese rapper NENE’s self-titled mixtape.
For those of us who can’t speak Japanese, NENE’s music is enigmatic especially because she drops hype-words like “NIKE”, “champagne”, “TOKYO”, and the titular “famous” left and right. Built off of “Yaaaaaaaaaa”s and weird video-game animal noises, “Famous” is one of the strangely addictive songs that I’ve heard this year. It’s absurdly autotuned in the way that T-Pain is, but there’s a certain charm in the way that NENE presents herself–as a ridiculously fun personality.
That’s not to mention the meme-tastic video for “Famous” that exists in the same green-screen realm as Doja Cat’s “Mooo!”. NENE’s well on her way to becoming “famouos” (as she spells it in the video) in Japanese rap, and this song is a great example why.
Neon Bunny – “Now (지금)”
Neon Bunny (Lim Yoo-jin) is pretty well revered in South Korea. Although she released her sunny debut album Seoulight to critical acclaim (winning best Pop Album at the Korean music awards), she’s changed her sound immensely since then–switching out her cheerful pop ballads for slow, nighttime jams. Stay Gold, Lim’s sophomore album, was the complete antithesis to everything that she’d released before. On “Now (지금)”, Lim continues her trajectory towards darker, electronic soundscapes–to great success.
A rare mix of Korean, English, and Japanese, “Now (지금)” is calm, chilling music for the midnight driver. Lim creates an ethereal world with her music, one filled with twinkling beats and echoing vocals. But it doesn’t last for long. Right after she sets up the sonic environment, there’s a bubbly breakdown that leads to a hypnotic English chorus: “If I could / If I could / See you now / I’ll tell you everything / Tell you that I love you”. Sampling the city (presumably Japan), “Now (지금)” is a truly metropolitan song: one that’s meant to soundtrack the electronic city long after those bustling streets have cleared.
Otoboke Beaver – “あなたわたし抱いたあとよめのめし”
How many different kinds of angry can you go through within the span of two minutes? On Japanese punk band Otoboke Beaver’s “あなたわたし抱いたあとよめのめし”, you’ll speed through so many racing emotions that you may get whiplash.
It’s a song that can only be described as psychotically gleeful. In one second the Kyoto-based band will be screaming at you in rapid Japanese–in the next, they’ll be performing an innocent schoolyard chant. “あなたわたし抱いたあとよめのめし” is Aggretsuko music for the real world. At the end of Otoboke Beaver’s heart-pounding song you’ll either want to mosh some more or get hit by a truck–it’s your call.
Get that defibrillator ready, because you’re going to need it.
Parekh & Singh – “Ghost”
Thank you, YouTube algorithms. On a lazy Saturday afternoon, I was browsing through YouTube when I got a recommendation for Parekh & Singh’s “Ghost”. Curious, I gave it a listen… I’ve been a fan ever since.
Parekh and Singh are an Indian dream pop duo / indie folk from the city of West Bengal, India. Drawing from a colorful aesthetic that is heavily influenced by Wes Anderson, their music sounds like it could easily soundtrack one of the American director’s films.
The first single off of their Ocean LP, “Ghost” is essentially about enjoying the simple life and reminiscing about the good old days. The music video does a great job of capturing the nostalgia of the little moments, like when the main character collects all the things that is reminded of her dog who passed away at the time. With Wes Anderson’s vibe and its transparent drum kick and guitar, “Ghost” offers you a chance to cleanse your soul.
Parekh and Singh are so underrated as musicians in the music industry right now, but hopefully one day “Ghost” and their other songs will hook people’s attention and be more widely appreciated. As my fellow people had said in the Youtube comment section, “Goosebumps for days!” –Piter Balayan
Raja Kumari – “Shook”
Though you might not know Indian-American Raja Kumari (Svetha Rao) by name, you’ve almost definitely heard of her work. Collaborating with major pop acts like Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azealea, and Fall Out Boy, she’s got quite an extensive repertoire in the music industry. Although she’s ventured into creating her own music in the past (The Come-Up mixtape and Curry Sauce Vol. 1 back in 2016), Kumari finally made her return to the spotlight as a solo artist this year. Cue “Shook”, Kumari’s second of two 2018 singles that is guaranteed to put her back in the public eye.
“Shook” is a swaggering pop song that hits harder than anything else she’s worked on before. With a biting, take-no-prisoners attitude, Kumari exudes confidence and power over her own track much like the deities that she references throughout the lyrics. And that’s one of the things that Kumari does best: naturally injecting elements of her own culture into her music. Lines like “Diamond bindi shining with the bangles out” and “Shiva, bitch I never sleep / I’m a trinity” are boasts that all come from a place of pride. Kumari never tries to hide her Indian-American heritage from the public, instead pushing it to the forefront of her work.
That’s what makes “Shook” so special… I mean, “when the last time you seen a Hindustani stunt?”
Ramengvrl – “CA$HMERE”
“CA$HMERE” is pure hype music.
Indonesian rapper Ramengvrl is no stranger to Internet virality (nearly all of the songs that she’s released have been some sort of hit), but “CA$HMERE” is her best–and most braggadocious–yet. While most other rappers flex their gold chains and other flashy paraphernalia, Ramengvrl turns her attention to cashmere instead. And she’s only being practical. I mean, have you felt cashmere?
With a hook that’ll get stuck in your head for days (“When I die, I be covered in cashmere” and “If you a rich bitch clap your hands”), “CA$HMERE” is a new life motto to live by. Start clapping now.
Rina Sawayama – “Cherry”
British Japanese pop-star Rina Sawayama has become something of a cult figure. A model-turned-musician, Sawayama has achieved attention from music critics especially with the release of last year’s self-titled RINA EP, which fused 90’s era pop music (think Britney Spears) with modern musical production trends (thanks to her frequent collaborator Clarence Clarity). On the first of the two singles she released this year, “Cherry”, Sawayama continues wearing those influences on her sleeve and quickly established herself as an artist that won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
“Cherry” also comes from a very personal place for Sawayama–it’s the first song in which she works her experiences with her own pansexuality into the lyrics. The chorus itself has since become a battle cry for its self-positive message. “Even though I’m satisfied / I lead my life within a lie / Holding on to feelings / I’m not used to feeling / ‘Cause, oh, they make me feel alive”, she openly admits. Popularizing phrases like “girl gaze” and “will you be my cherry”, Sawayama’s not afraid to take a stand for those who have felt the same way–creating an anthem that resonates not just for pansexual people but for everybody, regardless of sexuality.
Sam Rui – “Solid Gold (ft. LXX of High4 20)”
Sam Rui is one of the most underrated artists in the scene right now. After releasing her debut R&B sleeper hit Season 2 last year, she’s inspired some big names in the R&B scene including alextbh and NIKI, just to name a few. A true people’s artist, she’s also collaborated with fellow Singaporeans Gentle Bones and MYRNE as well as K-Pop artist Grazy Grace this year, trying her hand at different kinds of musical styles to expand her artistry. But one of the collaborations that stood out the most from this year was a remix of her song “Solid Gold” from Season 2.
By itself, “Solid Gold” was already a pretty sexy song. A song about an instant connection, “Solid Gold” gets right to it with lyrics like “Take me back into your bed / I don’t care if we just met / I just wanna get to it” over a sparse, dreamy beat. Rui is not mincing words here. But add LXX, and you get a completely new dimension. Suddenly, “Solid Gold” is about a mutual love between two people with LXX’s added rap verse. The two voices interlock and harmonize beautifully, transforming “Solid Gold” into a song from a single perspective to one about a magical night for both parties. Rui’s and LXX’s back and forths are intimately flirty, further deepening the mood. Towards the end of the song, scrambled samples are blended together to finish on a hazy, unforgettable “goodnight”.
Desires blossom and sparks fly in “Solid Gold”, making it one of sexiest songs I’ve heard in a while.
SASAMI – “Not the Time”
It’s a wonder that LA-based musician SASAMI (Sasami Ashworth) hadn’t established herself as a solo artist before this year. After playing backup for established indie rock acts like Cherry Glazerr and teaching piano to aspiring musicians for years, she finally decided to take the spotlight herself by releasing two singles this year. “Not The Time” (the other being “Callous”) is a rock song that shows off what she’s been secretly capable of all this time.
“Not The Time” hinges on the sad acceptance that the relationship that Ashworth is referencing just isn’t going to work. But even then, she’s optimistic about her future: “It’s not the time or place for us / But you said that you would save some space for us”, she points out. Drowning herself out amongst the sounds of squelching guitars, Ashworth directly conveys an emotion that’s unpolished but true to herself.
It may not work out with whoever she’s addressing, but “Not The Time” proves that her time is definitely now.
Say Sue Me – “Just Joking Around”
Korean indie rock quartet Say Sue Me has been hard at work this year. If their sophomore LP Where We Were Together and dual EPs (It’s Just a Short Walk! and Christmas, It’s Not a Biggie) happened to slip under your radar, fear not–“Just Joking Around”, is your chance to catch Say Sue Me at their best.
A leftover single from the Where We Were Together sessions (their LP takes its name from the chorus of this song), “Just Joking Around” is a great taster for the band’s surf-inspired sound. Over the span of near-six blissful minutes, the song makes running leaps, rips through killer guitar solos, and slides into jumpy dance breaks. Sadness effortlessly transforms into joy on “Just Joking Around”, a familiar emotional trajectory that the band excels at time and time again.
All of these elements work together to form a touching tribute to one of their old bandmates, Semin–as well as a bite-sized summary of what Say Sue Me’s all about.
Li-Wei Chu is a recent graduate from UC Davis who majored in Cinema and Digital Media who also briefly studied film at Queen Mary, University of London. Li-Wei is obsessed with horror films (especially the ones that give him nightmares), films from East Asia, and really, any film that makes you stop and think.
He loves talking about film and indie music with others. He’s also a record collector and cross-stitches when he has free time. In the future, he hopes to be able to write about film and wants to find a job in the film industry that can support his record buying habits. Maybe one day he’ll also be able to play the guitar.