Sign off from an eventful year with these handpicked numbers from 2020’s closing months and crank it up for a socially-distanced celebration, fueled by new music from home. Happy New Year from the Popspoken family; to more fire tracks in 2021.
1. While I Can by JJ Lin
Earlier this Fall, crown prince of Mandopop JJ Lin announced the release of his duo-dimensional album “Drifter/Like You Do”, accompanied by a virtual listening party that called upon familiar faces like Jam Hsiao, Jackson Wang and Harry Chang.
The EP is conceptualised on duality; its tracklist split with six Mandarin songs on “Drifter”, while “Like You Do” is expected to be released early next year. On the forthcoming album, “While I Can” is a track that upholds the album concept, debating the fine line between dreams and reality, and the existence of a parallel universe. “While I Can” hits all the right notes, opening in an electronic dream as the popstar croons and alternating between tranquil beat drops and acoustic breakdown. The tune is as easy on the ears as its music video is on the eyes, where the concept of inner-consciousness is thoroughly dissected under the guidance of Taiwanese director Henry Chen. “I have always been intrigued by stories related to parallel universes or alternate realities and wondered what it would be like to transit to another universe. The director has actualized my imagination in this video,” JJ reveals.
2. No Safety by Louie Indigo
Months back, we bopped along to the Orchard-honouring “Somerset Boy” and now as the year comes to a close, Hip-hop rapper Louie Indigo flicks the safety off of his firearm, and takes another point-blank shot. “No Safety” marks Louie’s first foray into producing, introducing his listeners to an even higher dose of his personality in one spicy bite without cutting back on the butter-smooth bars his fans have grown to expect from him.
In a swift rebrand, Louie has honed his rap skills through his recent releases. “No Safety” is a message of fearlessness and attests to the progress that he has made through his musical journey with a recalibrated focus on the approach to his craft. “I had this spark of inspiration when I was on an island in Indonesia with not much technology, I sat by the waters and just had a vision of what I truly wanted to do once I was back home in Singapore. I felt like I needed to approach my music in a way where it’s raw, that way people could really feel the depth of my voice and also vibe to the music,” he explains that the feeling induced when listening to music trumps all else technical. “Does it make you feel like you need to achieve more, does it make you feel like you should be grateful for everything or does it make you feel like you can go for that last superset at the gym?”
As an active artist in the local community of creatives, Louie has high expectations in the present and future of Singaporean music. “We have a lot of volume and talent being put out and our rise to becoming one of the most prominent musical cities in Asia has been rapid since 2018.” The promising prospect of growth is a cycle that drives musicians to challenge themselves and grow with the community, with no room or reason for self-assured hubris.
Speaking on future projects, Louie looks forward to bringing on his next single, produced locally and highlighting the suburban underground culture in Singapore. “My music showcases that and my next single will be a great depiction of what it truly means to be with the youth in Singapore and how times are changing in our favour. It’s a rap track with no title as of yet but it will be organic and wavy at the same time.”
3. Play Nice by Haneri
If there’s one thing to take away from Haneri’s fresh disco track “Play Nice”, it’s that sometimes the answer to a head full of worries is to strap on your dancing shoes. Singapore Idol finalist Daphne Khoo has adopted an alias since her debut on the talent series and has been rocking her fresh rebirth on the pop charts. “Play Nice” is a groovy embodiment of the Friday nights we had pre-pandemic and the third track off “Milliona”; a brand new chapter in the book of Haneri.
4. Xmas This Year by NyaLi
Christmas this year is slightly different, that much has been clear. Jazz-pop songstress NyaLi paints a picture of a realistic festive season that takes the elephant in the room into consideration—a global pandemic that’s not on holiday leave. “Xmas This Year” is an updated Christmas tune that could fit in with lavish festive carols but with quippy verses to poke fun at the rather unusual circumstance. In fact, NyaLi explains to us that the original track was written on a Christmas Eve three years back. “Actually, breathing Xmas this Year v1.0 into existence that fateful night took about an hour. I still remember sitting alone on my friend’s double bed all wrapped up thick PJs and in fluffy blankets, still feeling chilly. Loved, but also far away; a lot of feels. I’ve been fond of the tune since and intended its release for a while… given this year’s apocalyptic climate though, modifying the lyrics definitely felt right and necessary.” The track is touched by the festal woody warmth of the upright bass, that sets it apart from music that favour the convenience of an electric bass.
Similar to the majority of artists in the industry, NyaLi toughed through her share of the lockdown blues earlier this year. “Not following the (bad) news too closely was definitely helpful. And to be honest, what appears to be motivation was likely more the outcome of frustration and brooding while mostly staying home. That, and a lot of unoccupied time—my live music industry fellows and I faced over 80 per cent forfeited work calls, the angst had to go somewhere!” She shares in regards to coping and keeping her head on her shoulders during uncertain times. The end of the track is punctuated with a “Covid!” yell that epitomises the importance of lightheartedness that’s been missing from grim reality for a while now.
As for the future of NyaLi, look out for upcoming collaborations, including a music video feature in producer ZIONN’s release, “Where We’re Going”. In addition to anticipated drops, a series of charity music live streams is slated to be programmed between January and April, with each stream episode pledging funds raised towards a social cause. More updates on NyaLi’s Facebook.
5. Cage the Animal by Naomi G
A confluence of the highs of pop and the depths of dark poetry, Naomi G’s “Cage the Animal” lacerates the picture-perfect cover of heavily-romanticised human connections to expose the raw, almost animalistic dance of an abusive relationship. In the alt-pop songstress’ first swipe at a studio single, Naomi spares us the fiction of a flawless world full of rainbows and puppies and heads straight in for the kill on top of a gothic pop track.
Communication has proven to be a challenge for many circuit breaker musicians whether it may be between an artist and a production team or a fellow musician, and alternative singer-songwriter Lincoln Lim and bedroom-producer Houg share that they are no exception when working on their latest, “[Feel Like] Dancing Alone”. “We finished the entire song during the Circuit Breaker period in Singapore and communicating in that context was an experience initially fraught with miscommunication and some frustration,” Lincoln expresses the duo’s satisfaction with the final result and strengthened bond.
Folk-pop and chillwave come to a blend on “[Feel Like] Dancing Alone”, an exceptional collision of two separate worlds that somehow just sonically makes sense. Rather than simply inviting Houg on as a secondary feature to the track, both artists had their hand on the wheel to steer the creative direction, serving individualistic elements that ultimately gave them an inimitable piece. Houg declares that moment they’ve realised they’ve hit the sweet spot was when he “eventually found some sort of familiarity in his interpretation of Lincoln’s guitar demo that they both felt like they’ve hit that groove.” No shortcuts were taken on the path to attaining unanimous perfection; it was through careful selection of Lincoln’s guitar licks, translated into synths by Houg to recreate and “Houg-ify” the tune without costing it too much of its essence. “In three words: ridiculous, exciting and collaborative,” Lincoln summarises.
Besides the aforementioned collaboration, Lincoln is releasing an ongoing series of singles that feature collaborative projects that will bear the mark of exciting names from Singapore and beyond. For Houg, an album looms in the horizon. “It’s also going to be one filled with features, something I haven’t completely embraced prior to working with Lincoln. So you could even call this current collab a catalyst for me wanting to get involved with more collab work.”
We’ll take songs that don’t belong in this decade for 200—and we mean that in the best way possible. Melbourne-born, Singaporean-based producer-singer Dru Chen hits it out of the park with “Givin’ It Up” that’s full of funk and soul achieved through generous heapings of basslines and retro tones. The discotheque anthem was a surefire bop the moment it secured stellar instrumentalists to back the delightful falsettos by Dru. “I can’t believe I actually got Dr. Fink from Prince & The Revolution, and funk-rock genius Harts to guest on it too!” Dru enthuses, referring to the addition of strings and synths by Melbourne-based Harts and Dr. Fink from the US respectively.
8. Gonna’ Dance by Firefly Search Party
Keeping things wholesome as always, Firefly Search Party’s “Gonna’ Dance” dishes pure lighthearted folk-pop energy. The duo injects some much-needed cheer with the close of a weary year and lifts listeners off of their feet for an impromptu dance party with the acoustic ditty. Sonically, the track is pleasant on the ears, with Dian and Nate’s intertwining melodies rounding off the comfort-tune that sets off creeping smiles. Maybe true love does exist after all.
9. Oh Boy by Flanery
Introducing her mellow craft to the world, Flanery’s debut single “Oh Boy” is a hauntingly ethereal acoustic piece that blossoms around idyllic poetry. The track falls in place of a comfortable ¾ waltz, adding to its fairytale buoyancy as it floats down the surrealistic nostalgia of being in a place so intensely familiar, yet with no memory to back. Meet Aude Giraud, the storyteller behind Flanery, and her peculiar yet entrancing music.
10. Castles by shy-c
Songs that are built on the foundations of raw feelings and ambience hit different, and the reminiscence of a cosy embrace from the cold manifests in the form of indie producer shy-c’s “Castles”. Inspired by a trip to visit his partner in wintry Europe, “Castles” plays around with the concept of chill and warmth, and was written in the Singaporean monsoon months that bore the integral similarities of a European winter season. For shy-c, the drop of the track proved to be most challenging to perfect. “I think it’s quite easy for me to get carried away with adding more and more layers to a track, but I was very sure that I wanted to bring together both acoustic and electronic elements in creating a rich and full texture during the climax. It was also challenging to find a good balance between the different elements and also carving out different spaces for them to sit in.” Eventually, the effort paid off and “Castles” was born.
With plans to write and produce more music in the coming year, shy-c sounds out on future projects. “Ideally, I’ll have a collection of shorter format tracks that will be released as a beat tape towards the middle of the year. At some point in time, I’m also looking forward to debuting a live set.”
Four-piece experimental band Hauste is a breath of fresh instrumental air from your regular pop mix, returning this year with album “Patterns” to pick up where they left off on 2018’s “Leavings”. On “Corduroy”, Bobbi Brown blesses the clean, string-led track with melodically-spoken verses that borders on RnB, while the band tests the boundaries of complex beats and soundscapes.
12. Adakah Kau Mendengar? by ALYPH
Hearts break in ALYPH’s latest release, “Adakah Kau Mendengar?”, and the Def Jam Southeast Hip-hop star lays his cards open in an uncharacteristically vulnerable and bold sonic direction. “Adakah Kau Mendengar?” starts off a crestfallen lament of the partner’s diminishing interest that gives way to a mellowed-out RnB beat with the rapper spitting bars over top. Clearly, the hip-hop artist is ready for deeper pastures, and “Adakah Kau Mendengar?” is where it begins.
13. The Dance Song by Yung Raja
In the local running for the catchiest song of 2020; Yung Raja’s “The Dance Song” is the head-bopping, body-wiggling soundtrack that has nestled into the nook of our eardrums since its release. With the drop, Yung Raja makes Alamo Records’ roster as the label’s first Asian artist, shattering the glass ceiling that encases the globalisation of Southeast Asian artists. Of the triumph, he remarks, “I realised that it’s not just an exciting thing for me, but it’s also an exciting thing for Singapore’s music scene, to know that America is taking note. America is now paying attention to what’s going on in Singapore in a way that previously wasn’t present. That is a big deal for me, it’s a win for the whole industry.”
As most Yung Raja tunes go, “The Dance Song” is an infectious bilingual groove that capitalises on playful bars, an upbeat tempo and an irresistible hook. The key to writing the charting rap track, which, at this point of time has surpassed over a million views on YouTube, stems from a place of inspiration. Raja had grown up in a family of Tamil scholars—his father an acclaimed Tamil writer and poet, while his sister teaches in Serangoon Garden Secondary. “We all speak in Tamil at home. Everybody’s from South India, so their Tamil is really, really sharp. So whenever I have any form of doubts or questions when it comes to my creative exploration with Tamil, I can always lean on my family.”
Counting his blessings, Raja puts his background to creative use; throwing a little Singaporean spirit into the mix with his bilingual tongue and devotion to Western hip-hop. Try getting this one out of your head, we dare you.
Japanese pop project UQiYO has teamed up with Singapore’s MARICELLE, an up-and-coming indie singer-songwriter, for a neo-psychedelia pop beat titled “lo V er”. The collaborative single utilises one of UQiYO’s unfinished loop tracks, on which MARICELLE lends her chiffon vocals that entangles with frontman Yuqi Kato’s darkened ambience. The final mixdown is an atmospheric transcension that captures an almost-candid experience of two lovers delivering their own untainted perspectives, attributed to the pair recording their parts separately.
Homegrown hitmaker Charlie Lim checks in with a bilingual track, featuring Japanese pop artist Miho Fukuhara. “Ashes” is a first for Charlie in terms of recording in Japanese and having the incredibly talented Fukuhara as mentor definitely doesn’t hurt. Swoon at the tinkling ballad of a back-and-forth between two tender sonants that ensnare the emotions of loss and loneliness.