From the Intercom: The 50 Best Songs of 2022
Can you believe it’s been five whole years since From the Intercom started making year-end lists? Five. Whole. Years!
I still remember sitting alone in the local coffee shop (which has since closed down), typing away at a list that I thought that no one would bother to look at. My selection process for the list that year felt like slim pickings — I was relying mostly on YouTube recommendations and Spotify Recommended artists to help me choose what I thought was representative of Asian music at the time. Coming up with 50 songs felt like a challenge.
Fast forward to now. For our 2022 list, the From the Intercom staff and I compiled a giant list of 100+ songs that we deemed worthy to end up on our list and slowly whittled it down, one vote at a time. Can you believe it? There was actually drama behind the scenes about track placements on the list! People voted! Great, great songs that would’ve made it any other year were cut!
With such an abundance of great songs choose from, making a year-end list no longer feels like we were forced to pick the most popular releases of 2022 — instead, this year’s list feels more personal to the site and signifies the tastes of our fantastic writers who make it up. If anything, it’s undeniable proof that Asian and Asian disaporic music scenes are thriving, and we’re being spoiled by their presence.
Here’s a list of our favorites. -Li-Wei Chu (signing off from another coffee shop!)
Special thanks to Li-Wei Chu, Justin Ricafort, Nancy Jiang, Jacob Ugalde, and Mya Worrell for contributing blurbs, and to Derrek Chow for designing our banner.
LÜCY, Hitsujibungaku (羊文学) – “OH HEY”
Few collaborations surprised me this year more than LÜCY and Hitsujibungaku (羊文学)’s indie pop charmer “OH HEY” — mostly because it felt like a Asian indie crossover episode. Both artists are on a monumental rise in their native Taiwan and Japan respectively, and they don’t necessarily align within the same genre. “OH HEY,” however, plays well to LÜCY’s catchy hook strengths while utilizing the scuzzy, devastating guitars that Hitsujibungaku built their name on. When the two entities trade verses between one other, they couldn’t be more at home together.
Oh hey! Turns out they make a great team. – Li-Wei Chu
freddyboy – “On and On”
freddyboy’s wonderfully jangly “On and On” immediately brings to mind the image of those lazy Sunday afternoons where the light is trickling through the half-open blinds and you’re just waking up from a long nap. It’s not often such a feeling of tranquility is conveyed through a few minutes of shimmery guitarwork, but freddyboy has fine-tuned such methods. Though there are some hints of lyrical discord strewn throughout its sunny landscape, freddyboy’s fuzzy guitars drown those musings with some even brighter buzzings.
Don’t be surprised when you find yourself playing this out on and on and on and on… -Li-Wei Chu
Hrishikesh Hirway, Jay Som – “Home”
Hrishikesh Hirway and Jay Som make a great duo. “Home,” the standout track off of Hirway’s tender collection of dream pop songs, Rooms I used to Call My Own, is a truly heartwarming duet that pays homage to the ones who love us.
It’s a message that’s as old as time — one seemingly engineered for a forlorn montage in a rom-com blockbuster — but Hirway packages it in a way that makes it feel novel and inherently warm. “Home” is a crisp, clean lullaby that’ll easily transport you back to wistful, happier times. -Li-Wei Chu
The Happy Fits – “Do Your Worst”
When you listen to a Happy Fits song, there are a few things that you should learn to expect: 1) A reminder of how underrated the cello is, 2) Robust harmonies from its three members, and most importantly, 3) a rockin’ good time.
Though all of the songs on the trio’s third studio album are surefire hits, album closer “Do Your Worst” is perhaps the most representative of where the band is at right now. Framed around a race to the bottom, this sweaty banger invites erratic movement on the dancefloor. From the frenzied cello playing, the unrestrained sirenic guitar and badabada breakdown towards its end, “Do Your Worst” is propelled by an unrivaled, explosive energy that doesn’t let up until its final note. -Li-Wei Chu
Joyce Wrice, KAYTRANADA – “Iced Tea”
Joyce Wrice and KAYTRANADA join forces to usher in full blown ’90s R&B into the Gen Z zeitgeist. The subtle taps and slides of percussion complement butter smooth and subtle synths.
Effortless, relaxing, and sexy in equal measure, “Iced Tea” is perfect for the come up, the come down, and the uh… yeah that too. -Justin Ricafort
Chilli Beans. – “School”
Few bands made a debut album this year as strong as Japanese indie rock band Chilli Beans. (Don’t forget the period!), and that’s heavily due to the fact that the trio meshes together so well as a unit. Reminiscent of other female-led indie rock bands currently tearing up the Japanese indie scene (hitsujibungaku and tricot), Chilli Beans.’s self-titled album starts off strong with “School,” a liberating song that’s rife with joy.
Jam packed with blissful sing-along harmonies, admirable charisma, and catchy asides (“Yup, I gotta go!” And “I cannot be doll!”), “School” is a delightful indie rock jam from a young band that is on its way up. -Li-Wei Chu
Hazel Mei – “Rocket Shoes”
Built off the back “angsty” voice memos, “Rocket Shoes” is a fine outlet for Brisbane-based singer-songwriter Hazel Mei’s anger. With a near five-minute romp of jazz-influenced indie pop sound, Hazel Mei chastises her unseen subject with the most elegant of insults. The sting from catchy lines like “Short-sighted / You decided that these games that we play / We’re all gonna lose” and “You don’t owe me and I don’t owe you,” are almost mollified by Mei’s vocal touch, but they linger long after the trumpets have faded — coming back to haunt you twice-fold in retrospect.
“Rocket Shoes” is an unapologetic release from a singer tired of keeping it all in, allowing her — and us — to readdress feelings that we shouldn’t keep hidden. -Li-Wei Chu
Soft Blue Shimmer – “Prism of Feeling”
At this point, Soft Blue Shimmer have mastered the art of shoegazey, ’90s dream pop. Love Lives in the Body, the band’s sophomore album, feels like a victory lap from their gorgeous debut and brings with it another number of droning hits… the most captivating of which is their lead single, “Prism of Feeling.”
Warmly refracted through a wall of guitars and swelling sounds, “Prism of Feeling” mirrors that bubbling wave of emotion that gives the song its namesake. Lead singer Meredith Ramond paints a gorgeous image of what it feels to be loved by another, as well as a plea to love one’s self in the process. -Li-Wei Chu
Chloe Berry – “Unbecoming”
Chloe Berry’s feeling nostalgic on the scuzzy indie rock single “Unbecoming,” and I’m right there with her. Who hasn’t longed for those blissful days of childhood innocence, especially with all that’s going on in the world?
“Nostalgic for the me I used to be / Before the world got to me,” goes the fittingly bittersweet chorus, before Chloe Berry wonders about what past Chloe would think about who she is now. A time-capsule letter to her evolving sense of self, “Unbecoming” is an exercise of self-reflection over a rock beat. Concluding on some harsh wind chimes and some wild cymbal-crashing, it’s clear that she’s still working out the answer to who she is herself right now… and who she might be in the future. -Li-Wei Chu
Yuna – “Make a Move”
Yuna’s a legend. Ten years after her English-language self-titled debut album, she’s still around and finding new ways to up her game in the R&B scene. Any of the 17 songs on this year’s Y5, the artist’s ambitious 5-EP/fifth studio album (depending on how you want to look at it) could have made the list here, but “Make a Move” is one of Yuna’s all-timers.
Reveling in buttery, crystalline pop bliss, “Make a Move” puts Yuna’s effortless confidence on full display. It’s a song that’s flirty and forward, while maintaining that starry, chill vibe that Yuna is so well known for. When Yuna makes her move on you, you know that she’s won the battle. -Li-Wei Chu
Lucinda Chua – “Golden”
When London-based Lucinda Chua released the ethereal “Golden” last year along with its Tash Tung-directed short film, there was a feeling that she’d set out to right some wrongs — blossoming into the role model that she herself didn’t see when she was growing up.
Written from “the perspective of her younger self,” “Golden” finds Lucinda Chua stepping back in time and re-entering that confusing headspace of an adolescent trapped between cultures. “Who do I run from / Who do I run towards,” she sings on the first verse, reflecting the identity crisis that comes from a lack of East Asian/Southeast Asian role models surrounding her growing up in the UK. There’s a heaviness to the sparseness of the song, bringing a gravity to the message that’s accented by a choir of background singers, majestic strings, and purposefully still notes. But when Chua’s voice rises above it all, it’s a moment of cleansing that shatters that darkness with a ray of light.
“When the sunlight hits me / I’m golden, you’ll see,” indeed. -Li-Wei Chu
Fujii Kaze – “damn”
Japanese singer-songwriter Fujii Kaze has been making hits for a while now in his native Japan, but it wasn’t until his 2020 song “Shinunoga E-Wa” hit viral gold on TikTok that the rest of the world began to notice. Armed with a smooth, suave charm, Kaze’s brand of R&B-influenced pop songs are wildly catchy and dangerously sleek — perfect for the young singer’s leading man vibe.
LOVE ALL SERVE ALL, the singer’s sophomore album, serves up jam after jam mostly in a similar vein, but “damn” veers sharply left into a rawer, bad-boy edge. Donning a rockstar bravado and shedding his heartthrob image, “damn” is the singer’s successful collision of rock meets pop. It’s a successful image change — although a brief one — but it’s an example of Kaze’s versatility as a pop star.
TikTok, do your thing once more! -Li-Wei Chu
SEULGI – “Anywhere But Home”
There were few solo debuts in K-Pop that I was as excited about as I was for Red Velvet’s SEULGI. The reason? The woman is simply a workhorse and perfectionist through-and-through, from her vocals to her dance performances. “Anywhere But Home” is a testament to her work ethic and her addictive style.
Sleek, suave, and every other synonym in the book that means “sexy,” the mature disco-R&B track hits the spot right off the bat. SEULGI, for the record, you can definitely take me anywhere you want. -Nancy Jiang
Emei – “End of an Era”
“End of an Era” evokes part punk-rock and musical theater and also the moment when you stop shopping at Limited Too and you go to Hot Topic and buy your first band shirt.
On this track, direct confessional lyrics and Radio Disney delivery are lab-engineered to stay in your head forever. When this genre of femme-fronted punk rock first came out, I was not mature enough to enjoy it for what it was, but I am now!
There’s no doubt this track is perfect for the next slate of 2000s-esque coming of age comedies coming out. The only question is: Who is going to get it first? -Justin Ricafort
Keshi – “TOUCH”
Melancholy piano, car rumbling bass, and trademark sensual songwriting positions “TOUCH” as the tongue-tied cherry on top of gabriel. I feel like I’m not allowed to love this song because I’m 26, but what is love if not keshi persevering? “TOUCH” is exactly the type of song I would cry to at 16. As a one man boyband, keshi’s emotional superstardom in 2022 is white hot and intense.
Here, keshi tests his full power on adults who thought their teenage feelings were long gone. -Justin Ricafort
4s4ki, maeshima soshi – “BOUNCE DANCE”
Though the entirety of 4s4ki’s sophomore album Killer in Neverland rests its laurels on the radiant energy of 2000s Internet-inspired aesthetics and J-pop/hyperpop left-field beatmaking, “BOUNCE DANCE” is probably the song the catchiest and cleanly produced of the bunch.
With squelchy beats that twist and turn right into your consciousness, the simplicity of the electronic-afflicted track would be annoying if it weren’t so directly affecting. 4s4ki remains as chill as ever as the song’s narrator, inviting you to bounce along as she pontificates and making the most of a buoyant beat the could bob on for ages. Due to its wildly catchy nature, it’s also just begging to remixed and stretched into different formats — already it’s been given an audio makeover by various DJs.
For your next priavte Roblox server DDR party, be sure to throw this one on the playlist and watch everyone BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE, YEAH! -Li-Wei Chu
sundial – “liar”
No song this year made me feel so personally attacked by sundial’s “liar.” It’s amazing how Dorothy Chan and Jisu Kim are able to tackle mid-20s anxiety with pinpoint accuracy again and again while finding the pop hooks to make it sound fresh every time.
On “liar,” Chan and Kim make falling into toxic old habits sound like a blast, even if it’s hell trying to get out of them. There’s the line about being too broke for therapy but not too broke for retail therapy, purposely choosing to close yourself off from the outside world and then complaining about being alone, and signing up for a gym… only to rarely go. For an extra fun time, take a shot every time they have a lyric that’s too real (it’d be nine for me).
“God I’m only 26 / So many things I gotta fix,” Chan sings at one point. Honestly, fucking same. -Li-Wei Chu
nicole han – “WANNABE”
Sometimes, it’s hard to let go of past emotions. No matter how much you try to tell yourself that it’s over, it’s gone, “no, I’m NOT bothered by it…,” there’s always a part of you that reminds you that that’s not the case.
On nicole han’s roaring “WANNABE,” that’s exactly what happens. Equal parts annoyed at herself for feeling things and frustrated with putting up the outward facade of being okay, nicole han traverses an emotional ocean of complicated feelings in three minutes. “WANNABE” has equal parts charm, anger and jealousy — following Olivia Rodrigo’s footsteps in her gift for portraying vulnerability and rocky relationships over a pop-punk beat. -Li-Wei Chu
MAITA – “Pastel Concrete”
Location location location. The rules that dictate the value of housing, lifestyle, and opportunity also apply to music.
Value-wise, “Pastel Concrete” is a beachside bungalow. It’s misty and salty and feels like those days where the sky and ocean blur together. MAITA’s observations on Santa Monica elicit feelings of over-caffeinated, hairy legged dog walkers in short shorts tracing the sand speckled sidewalk of Venice Beach. It’s all charmingly dreary. By her own words about the song, she “found it all uncomfortable and fascinating.”
“Pastel Concrete” is the sound of letting go of a place that lives in your dreams. -Justin Ricafort
Superorganism, CHAI, Pi Ja Ma – “Teenager”
Someone said this sounds like “Hot Cross Buns” and I can’t stop hearing it. That’s probably an okay litmus test of whether or not you’ll love it.
The base of “Teenager” is this childlike nursery melody of CHAI chanting “teenager” coupled with Orono Noguchi’s disaffected delivery. Superorganism’s Mark Mothersbaugh-inspired textures parade us into a refrain of “Happy Birthdays.” That might read as a little confounding, but Superorganism pulls together futuristic production, car crash sound effects, and lyrics of youthful innocence well.
If the group is going to carve out their own genre, it should be called sugary piñatacore. -Justin Ricafort
Yoshi T. – “MCQUEEN”
That emoji with the sunglasses summed up, ya know? Each year needs fresh new swagger, and LA-born, New York-raised rapper Yoshi T. proves he’s got enough for both cities. The slick and gummy instrumentation on “MCQUEEN” gives it a bounce while some comfortably aloof vocals flank us in the track’s vortex.
“And I don’t really dress this clean / But do anything for the birds and the bees.” It’s giving Mac Miller, Yeek, and a healthy dose of funk. Something about the lower tempo and beat makes me want to see folks line dance to this one.
Stick around Yoshi T., cause all I see is potential. 😎😎😎 -Justin Ricafort
Su Lee, Ariza – “Super Happy”
It’s a fact of life that you can’t be happy all the time. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a few moments throughout the day where you can experience true euphoric happiness (for me, that moment comes when I’m listening to a really great album). So it goes without saying that when you get to that point in your day, treasure it!
On “Super Happy,” Su Lee seems to have taken this to heart. The fittingly jaunty earworm to enhance your state of happiness, “Super Happy” is indie pop bliss in a radio-friendly package. “I’m feeling super happy now / Though I don’t know how long it will last / But for now / Just let me taste all of that sweet life,” Lee sings in the chorus over upbeat rhythms. With an assist from Colombian indie artist Ariza, Su Lee taps into that universal feeling of appreciating those high points in life… and concurrently, our futile attempts at holding onto them for just a little bit longer. -Li-Wei Chu
Tiffany Day – “SAN FRANCISCO SIDEWALK”
Jittering, bubbling, and sunny, “SAN FRANCISCO SIDEWALK” has one of the sweetest messages of the entire year. The track has an upbeat, pulsing energy layering lyrics of parallel growth and support between friends that span across time zones and life patterns.
“And we grow, we grow, we grow, we grow / No matter where we are / We may be lonely, but we’re never that alone.” It’s too easy to get bogged down in sour cynicism as we get older. Instead, Tiffany Day responds with a song packed with bliss and generosity that we should remember to feel as hard as we possibly can. -Justin Ricafort
Bodysync – “Body (ft. Tinashe)”
Sporting an irresistibly kitschy ’90s/’00s aesthetic and a faded rabbit mascot, Bodysync (the collaborative project of Ryan Hemsworth and Giraffage) knows just how to get you moving.
All of the songs they released (16 this year alone!) are delightful dancefloor tidbits that are liberating and wholeheartedly invites you to the dancefloor (see: “this edible ain’t shit,” “Overdrive,” “Forever”). But on “Body,” the duo’s collaboration with Tinashe, that charm is upped tenfold. All of a sudden, the vocal chopping gets crisper, the beats get brighter, and Tinashe’s breathy vocals can make you feel like the coolest person in the world.
Maybe it’s because we’ve been indoors for so long, but any song that can make me want to pop and lock is definitely a winner. -Li-Wei Chu
Linying – “This Time, Tomorrow”
First impressions can often make or break it, but Linying makes getting off on the right foot on “There Could Be Wreckage Here” look like child’s play.
Rather than taking the listener from point A to point B in a story with a beginning, middle, and end, it feels like she has dropped you into the crescendo of a coming-of-age film. The epic tale that is “This Time, Tomorrow” grabs hold of your attention, and as she croons about her yet indiscernible growth, you’re able to faintly envision the timeline of the main character’s development arc — making dumb mistakes, getting caught up with the law, but also learning, gaining perspective, a bit at a time with each passing day. -Nancy Jiang
TRANG, Khoa Vũ – “Ngã Tư Không Đèn”
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really well-versed in what’s going on in Vietnam’s music scene — independent or otherwise — but TRANG might be the one to change that.
“Ngã Tư Không Đèn,” the singer’s breakthrough single off of her similarly whimsical second album Chỉ Có Thể Là Anh is a wonderful example of the breezy coffee shop pop that she so expertly creates. Like the best pop songs, it’s irresistibly catchy and TRANG’s lovely soft vocals conjure up feelings of sighing sunny afternoons.
Keep your ears on TRANG — it’s only a matter of time before she takes the entire music world by storm. -Li-Wei Chu
Mudd the student, Chang Kiha – “Pseudoscience”
Bouncing off the walls of the BALMING TIGER supergroup, Mudd the student careens out with a raucous, sci-fi, alt rock bop.
Crunchy guitar riffs, Mudd’s rugged raspy voice, and the skipping effect in the chorus are totally stratospheric. In the middle of the track, Mudd starts lecturing which is nothing short of goblin mode. With influences from Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., and Pavement, Mudd’s tastes are certified indie rock gold. “Pseudoscience” is a song that reminds you how much creative energy is still possible in music production and signals that the members of BALMING TIGER are already defining the next generation of South Korean music. -Justin Ricafort
Heo Koy Kyung – “So life goes on”
There’s something about cold winter nights that give way to introspection. In those moments when you’re alone, songs like Heo Hoy Kyung’s “So life goes on” may give way to solemn, chilly thoughts.
It’s easy to hear why South Korean indie musician Heo Hoy Kyung’s music blew up practically overnight; it’s only been one year since she signed to a label and she’s already got a full-length album out. Kyung’s music has the rare ability to be harshly grounded and solemnly reflective. “So life goes on” is perhaps the best example of her skills.
It’s a song that is not so much an instant stunner as it is a quiet implosion of feelings, couched between Kyung’s melancholic delivery and the song’s steely vibe. For a moment here, crushing depression turns into beholding beauty. -Li-Wei Chu
9m88, Silas Short – “Star”
How is it that 9m88 doesn’t have a radio show yet? Maybe that’s the reason why the musician gave us 9m88 Radio this year, which is maybe the next best thing. Here, the New York-via-Taipei artist demonstrates what that would sound like, throwing together 11 gorgeous tracks that showcase her glossy jazz-R&B style together with a roster filled with independent artists on the rise.
9m88 Radio is more free-form mixtape than it is a traditional album, but on the neo-soul jam out closer “Star,” 9m88 reels that back in and points that spotlight back on herself. Produced by Silas Short, “Star” is 9m88 at her most comfortable, mixing self-affirmations with bouts of self-deprecation just as easily as flipping a switch. Smooth and free-flowing vibes bubble up off the track, allowing 9m88 to shine. -Li-Wei Chu
Ichiko Aoba – “hello”
Seven albums later, the world of Ichiko Aoba still continues to grow. At this point, Aoba’s music can be distilled into a few words: delicate, gorgeous, and whimsical… all of which cast a tranquil spell on every listener with each listen. This year, she once again does what she does best, but this time re-contextualizing it around the soundtrack for the Japanese drama film Amiko.
The soundtrack is filled with crisp acoustic instrumental quirks that slightly depart from Aoba’s solo studio albums — the wandering clarinet and musical motifs tell someone else’s story. But “hello,” the film’s theme song, is classic Aoba. It’s a song that is couched by her gift for visual, sparse storytelling that so cements it into greatness. With nothing more than her voice and a solitary piano, “hello” is a song so fragile that it feels like even a single misplaced breath might break the still tension of the track.
By the time a sample from the film makes its way into the song and Aoba whispers the name of the track itself, it’s all over… you’re completely drawn in. “hello” is one for the books, and perfect for the heavy drama of life. -Li-Wei Chu
bestfriend – “Someplace Else”
Man, being emo driving into the city is such a vibe (🙁), but you can always rely on Bestfriend to emulate the soft spoken feelings of romance.
“Someplace Else” offers the gentle infatuation with lines like, “With you laying in the grass behind the baseball diamond and me with my hands in the cloud” on Postal Service drum machines and shades of shoegaze. The Canadian duo is mastering this lonely, lovely sound and all our fluttering hearts are better for it. -Justin Ricafort
Rina Sawayama – “This Hell”
Clubs may not be as packed as they were pre-COVID, but if they were, “This Hell” would be that song you would wait for the DJ to play every single night.
It’s the epitome of Rina Sawayama’s mainstream pop elements all infused into one track, complete with radical self-acceptance, queer solidarity, vocal and instrumental stems bordering on over-production, and even distorted guitar riffs to really sell you on that whole “eternal damnation” thing. What makes it even more signature Sawayama is the fact that it was released during Pride month as well, with references to gay icons throughout.
Altogether, it’s another solid single in her pop repertoire, making for one hell of a good time. -Jacob Ugalde
HARU NEMURI – “Old Fashioned”
On paper, no one may have ever expected a J-pop, art rock song with trap beats to work, but Nemuri is, without a doubt, an innovator.
And while she may scorn the world in the edgy song, there is nothing nihilistic about her staunch rejection of greedy politicians, outdated traditions, and talentless musicians. Rather, the “poetry rapper” puts on a display of tough love for the society she despises — by kicking down its door in refusal to wait for the change she wants. Swoons. God, she’s so cool. -Nancy Jiang
Priya Ragu – “Illuminous”
I will never forgive the staff of this godforsaken site for relegating “Illuminous” to 17. 17! That’s practically the musical gutters on a top 50 list! No one’s going to read past 10! But if you are a Priya Ragu stan, hello. I fucking love this song. “Illuminous” is the dance track of the year.
This single oozes confidence and unbeatable electricity. Priya Ragu is the whole package. Blended R&B bridges, an absolutely infectious chorus, the grooviest guitar and percussion combo of the year, all backed by an ethereal spacey synth earn the dominant line, “I’m supernova, you know I’m coming for you!” The throne awaits Priya Ragu, and there could not be a better track to get stuck in your head this entire year. -Justin Ricafort
Ginger Root – “Holy Hell”
Play any song off of Ginger Root’s Nisemono EP, and you’re bound for a good time. But if you really want to get the party started, “Holy Hell” is the one to go for.
Once again delving into that city-pop-meets-aggressive-elevator-soul fusion sound that Ginger Root has championed for so long, “Holy Hell” is the artist at his best. There’s so many working parts here that tap into production nostalgia of days past including a twinkling piano, an enthusiastic bandleader in Lew, and good ol’ instrumental flourishes that makes toe-tapping and body moving a foregone conclusion… and that’s not to mention the smoky solo towards the end of the piece that majestically slows everything down before bringing it back up.
“Holy Hell” is Ginger Root’s suave charm reaching astronomical heights. Don’t be surprised if you hear this one popping up on various turntable DJ sets in the future. -Li-Wei Chu
Rachika Nayar – “Our Wretched Fantasy”
“Our Wretched Fantasy” is the opening track of one of the most gobsmacking albums of this entire year.
We begin the pilgrimage waking up from a dream, paired with delayed, hazy streaks of sound waves. Stellar reverberating sheets of light prepare us to embark on an intense musical, spiritual journey. We follow cascading keys constellating like starlight. What is the magic that Rachika Nayar imbues into such an experiential single? “Our Wretched Fantasy” is a multi-textured, decadent dawning of a new day. We barely have the words, and positively do not yet have the images that can explain the feeling of this song. -Justin Ricafort
HAOTING – “That’s All My Fault”
At the last place I worked, I spent about three hours mopping the floors. Thirty minutes into the grind, this song came on and it felt like the LEDs overhead turned into colorful lasers and the love of my life had just walked out on me on the rainiest day of the year.
HAOTING sucked me into a dimension of heartache that could only be wrung out by sparkling keys, splashy drums, and the most soulful voice and saxophone combo I’ve ever heard. “That’s All My Fault” is the song you dance alone to in jubilee and melancholy. It’s a brilliant track oozing with charisma that gave me the will to survive an otherwise droll work day. -Justin Ricafort
Fazerdaze – “Break!”
Have you ever just wanted to disappear from it all? Especially in the social media era where the public’s attention is as fickle as ever, is there space for respite without completely disappearing off the face of the earth? In a way, that applies for Christchurch’s Fazerdaze, who released the stellar dream pop album Morningside back in 2017 and largely disappeared aside from a few guest vocals on other artists’ songs. “Break!,” the first single off of this year’s Break! EP is a welcome return to lead singer Amelia Murray’s dream pop universe… and signals the end of such a break. Maybe more importantly, it proved that yes, such hiatuses do work.
“Break!” is a song all about that titular respite, turning it into a catchy chorus for Murray to sing over buzzing guitars. Here, dream pop mingles with ’90s skater punk, trading the artist’s signature soft vocals for a more frenetic declaration of self-care. We could all do well giving ourselves a break once in a while, and this one’s a great example of how well it can work. -Li-Wei Chu
Hinako Omori – “A Journey”
It’s a rare feat when a song is able to transport you to another dimension, but Hinako Omori’s “A Journey” does so with incredible ease.
Get whisked away to a realm of wonders, earmarked by Omori’s use of spatial sounds and meditative chants (“Pick a card, any card / Every card’s a memory”). There’s ambient magic that’s present in this experimental composition, tapping into an awesome, grandiose beauty that stirs your soul. It’s rare that I request that you listen to a song while sitting in a white-walled room, but Omori’s is one that demands your attention and the unique vision she casts. How she’s able to draw from the cosmos, the natural world, and primal feelings all at once is a mystery, but when you land back on earth you’ll want to take another trip and press play again. -Li-Wei Chu
Kiana V, Jesse Barrera – “Heartbeat on Me”
The sparkling, vibrant rhythms of “Heartbeat On Me” is “feeling yourself” incarnate. The mega combo of Filipino American producer Jesse Barrera and Filipina vocalist Kiana V have dance grooves wrapped around their proverbial fingers.
Lifting the glitzy disco instrumentation of ’80s disco, the tempo of ’90s dance tracks and the lowkey, sensual lyrics of 2000s R&B, “Heartbeat on Me” stays extremely focused in audio candy straight to our pleasure centers. And I will always be a fan of clever, beautiful metaphors. “Will your actions match the honey you speak? Could it be that I pulled you out of a dream?” The dance floor was born for tracks like these. -Justin Ricafort
DACEY – “STEPMOM”
DACEY came out of left field with this single, bringing a new high-octane energy to their repertoire instead of the usual psychedelic grooves.
Wild, manic, bass-heavy, and surprisingly forward with its lyrics, “STEPMOM” sounds like a song straight out of Splatoon, complete with fuzzy vocals and non-stop rhythmic flows that never let your attention waver for a second. You can bet they had fun making this one — because it’s certainly one heck of a joyride to listen to. -Jacob Ugalde
Sobs – “Air Guitar”
Singaporean trio Sobs knows just how to write the perfect pop song. That much is apparent on the reminiscent “Air Guitar,” the title track of their sophomore album of the same name. Leaning into their classic, bubblegum indie pop sound, Sobs are at the top of their game. But if that weren’t enough, vocalist Celine Autumn is a master at the craft — she knows just how to turn diaristic entries into compelling poetic couplets that anyone can sing along to.
Few lyrics are as catchy as the song’s hypnotic one-two punch of “Tracing the outlines of my sunken eyes / So burnt out from the light / Like the sweetness of my cherry pie / I can’t stop but I’ll try” as a chorus, but Sobs make it work against all odds. -Li-Wei Chu
Utada Hikaru – “One Last Kiss”
Before you say anything, we at FTI are well-aware this track came out in 2021 as part of the Evangelion OST soundtrack. Duh. Much like Utada’s decision to, despite the release date, include the single in BAD MODE, we also thought it was too good to pass up. This song is magical, people.
Imagine separating from the love of your life, forever, and getting to kiss them one last, final time. Someone writes a song capturing the devastating, absolutely cataclysmic, life-shattering event in words, but by god, it also turned out to be an absolute club BANGER? Suddenly, you’re dancing AND crying in the club? Like we said, magical. A kiss, anyone? -Nancy Jiang
Mitski – “Stay Soft”
Mitski’s best songs pair aching desire with clawing destruction. “Townie,” “Happy,”“Geyser”—they all have their bloody climaxes. But “Stay Soft” might be Mitski’s most explicit. Sensual and brutal lyrics entwine with fleshy beats, slammed piano chords, deliciously cold vocals, like crisp river water cooling flushed cheeks…
Is anyone feeling warm or is it just me? 😳 –Mya Worrell
SASAMI – “Call Me Home”
“Call Me Home” is pure cinematic vertigo, like the listener is moving great distances, very quickly. The muffled, trash-can-lid beats echo the rhythm of train tracks or pace of street lights in a long tunnel.
I love SASAMI’s vocal timbre in Squeeze, and “Call Me Home” shows it off best, infusing her lyrics with the weariness of rough tread tires on asphalt (“So you drive and you drive / ‘Til you’re burning your eyes / In the heat of the morning sun”). Can someone direct a road trip short film to this song please? –Mya Worrell
Meaningful Stone – “Psychomania”
“Psychomania,” like many bold statements, starts with a car crash. “What are we gonna do now?” South Korean musician Meaningful Stone asks in the first line of the song. But based off of her unbothered delivery, it doesn’t seem like she’s that interested in your opinion.
It’s a hell of a way to kick off the sound and attitude of a new era, but Meaningful Stone slips right into that gritty rock persona extremely well. Sharply veering away from the soft indie pop sounds of her debut album A Call from My Dream, “Psychomania” is all shattered glass and rocker attitude. This newfound sound is jagged and euphoric — so much so that even her pseudo-rap flow mid-song and cackling laugh is enough to make you want to rock out with her. It may leave a trail of destruction of its wake, but “Psychomania” revels in it, and keeps you coming back for more. -Li-Wei Chu
KALI – “Addicted”
“Addicted” is a song that sees our masochistic relationships with love and wanting to be loved. KALI has no fears of getting crunchy, rowdy, and weird with this one.
Like a mind warped by love, there’s a lot going on here. Howling, yelping, and pitch shifted vocals come with the territory. A lonely piano softens overblown, warbly guitars as drums and KALI’s repeated “I know better” keep pace. Hearing the chants of “I know better” is hypnotizing, but simultaneously inspires some paranoia, as if making us question if we really know better than to keep coming back to the stabby prickles of love only to lose.
Regardless, we’ll never forget one of the most memorable guitar licks of the year. The prophecy is fulfilled. -Justin Ricafort
Son Lux, Mitski, David Byrne – “This is a Life”
What do you get when you combine the talents of three industry heavyweights Son Lux, Mitski, and David Byrne? Unsurprisingly, you get one of the most memorable theme songs for one of the best films of all time.
But even if you don’t take into account the staggering thesis statement the song makes for EEAAO, “This is a Life” is a masterful art-pop song. It’s a song that feels like it shouldn’t work, what with so many discordant parts working within it, but it somehow retains all of the best components of each contributing artist. Mitski and Byrne are an unexpected match made in heaven, and their harmonies sparkle above the crumbly, uncomfortable rumblings that underlie Son Lux’s compositions. Though “This is a Life” is a track that teeters on the melodramatic, it’s an awesome, life-affirming beauty that never falters even with its magnificent message.
No matter which universe you’re tuning in from, “This is a Life” soars. -Li-Wei Chu
Ayano Kaneko – “予感”
“予感” starts off simple: it’s light and airy but transfixing as Japanese singer-songwriter Ayano Kaneko yowls and savors every syllable, a unique hallmark of her unmatched scrappy singing style.
But somewhere along the way, that bouncy tranquility gets shockingly disfigured: electronic distortion brings a sizzle of fuzzy guitars to the tune, turning that calming landscape into a lightning-hot battlefield of noise. And before you know it, just like that, the spotlight is back on the Kaneko, singing you out. It’s difficult for an artist to tell such an entertaining story within their medium — let alone packing so many twists and turns in under three minutes — but Ayano Kaneko manages to switch it up and surprise with every track that she releases.
“予感” is not only a delightful tune, but a sign that even five albums in, Ayano Kaneko’s got a few tricks up her sleeve. -Li-Wei Chu
Saya Gray – “IF THERE’S NO SEAT IN THE SKY (WILL YOU FORGIVE ME???)”
The first time I heard Saya Gray’s “If There’s No Seat in the Sky (WILL YOU FORGIVE ME???),” I’ll admit my initial thought was straight confusion. What was this track that sounded like a strange sonic collage from another galaxy, with twists and turns galore?
But the more that I listened to it, the more the song unraveled itself little by little, giving way to a strange sort of clarity. Of course those mumbling “yups” were supposed to be there. How dare I even question the looping buzz of the acoustic guitar? Birdsong, twilight bugs and phone notifications all come together to form a grandiose texture in the complicated tapestry of a piece, harmonizing disparate noises into one. Is this song a meditation of nature and modern soundscapes?
Saya Gray herself doesn’t seem to give us a lot of answers, singing in an almost-mocking tone that dares you to engage with her cosmic ramblings. That mysterious quality keeps you coming back again and again, each time giving way to a little bit more. An enigmatic hybridization of folk, indie pop, and experimental soundscapes, “IF THERE’S NO SEAT IN THE SKY” is maybe one of the most exciting songs I’ve heard all year, and rightfully deserves its seat in the sky as our favorite song of the year. -Li-Wei Chu