A Year in Review — JUICE’s Favourite Records of 2015

source: A Year in Review

source: Amok

Adam Kasturi’s AMOK
At three albums strong, Adam Kasturi remains adamantly low profile – so much so that third record AMOK was released without the aid of Singapore-based indie label Order Records, of which his second outing MITOS was under. This meant a free download (via Mediafire out of all outlets) similar to debut album JAGUAR. Featuring a whopping of 27 tracks – with only a few of them dropping below the album’s median quality – the predominant frantic pace of AMOK is like a metaphor for life on the fast lane of the city as viewed from the urban ennui and melancholy of a 9-to-5er. If the Dystopia of the Now keeps on churning works like Adam’s, we’re fine with the trajectory the world is heading to.

source: NSFW

Mean’s NSFW
JUICE Malaysia’s Editor can be seen on the official site of Mean’s seminal LP NSFW, giving the Singaporean dapper rapper the sort of endorsement he’d rarely offer to his countrymen of Mean’s ilk. That alone speaks volume of The.XS Collective’s most renowned member, but we’d let you decide for yourself after listening to the record. At its most obvious, NSFW is at the onset a brilliant combination of good beats and flow – two aspects of hip hop most rappers from ‘round this region fail to recognise due to conforming to the oft-berated ‘lyrical-spiritual-miracle’ stereotype. This isn’t saying Mean lacks in substance though; he’s got both substance and style, the latter of which, thankfully, is in tune with the zeitgeist of Tumblr-gen hip hop, new Weird ATL, and Low End Theory-style production.

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.gif’s soma
Sure, Malaysia’s got moody, lowtemp electronic duos in spades as well. But to be frank about it, none has reached the level of artistry comparable to what Singaporeans Din and Weish are doing as .gif. While EP saudade is a strong debut that immediately establishes their sound, it is their first full-length soma that cements them in the same pantheon as genre luminaries the likes of The Knife, Little Dragon, and maybe even Björk. The literary aspiration heard on the EP is expanded upon here, with the duo referencing ‘literature’ beyond prose and well into local cinema with ‘godspeed’, their unofficial sequel to Singapore’s 1998 classic film Eating Air. Their sonic ambition, while not exactly maximalist now, has expanded as well – the reworking of their previously released ‘juvenile’ being a prime exemplar.

source: Garden of Delete

Oneohtrix Point Never’s Garden of Delete
No one makes post-internet art quite like Oneohtrix Point Never. The music video to ‘Boring Angel’ made an affecting, nigh artful narrative out of emojis, then there’s the 4chan metaphorical K-hole of ‘Still Life’, and now with new album Garden of Delete, 0PN has released yet another music video (for single ‘Sticky Drama’) that engages the same demographics. In this case, via what seems like a confluence of LARPing and ‘90s styled cyberpunk. He doesn’t need visuals to communicate these ideas, of course. The most obvious being opening track ‘Ezra’, in which he turns the oft-dreaded buffering delay into part of the track’s overall aesthetic.

source: Radland Inn

Orang Malaya’s Radland Inn EP
It pays to be an outsider – and for a scene stagnant with older scenesters dictating how a particular genre should sound like, it pays for it to have an outsider shaking up the status quo. HOAX’s Orang Malaya plays that role to a tee. Coming from a band background alongside seminal folk-slack rockers Jaggfuzzbeats and with not much hip hop experience prior to HOAX, he might be the odd choice, but it is exactly his lack of familiarity with the scene that makes debut EP Radland Inn so distinct from the limited dichotomy of MY hip hop; mainstream, Malay-pandering rap and Golden Age-stuck rap. Aided by Metro Boomin’s free drum pack and a heap of ATL and Chiraq influences, Orang Malaya alternates between ig’nant, belligerent rap over trappy beats and genuine emotional payoffs à la the late Camu Tao. ‘I Just Wanna Feel Real’ is a highlight.

source: Summertime '06

Vince Staples’ Summertime ‘06
If Tyler, the Creator and gang are the new Neptunes, then one-time Odd Future member Vince Staples is the equivalent of the very underrated and Neptunes-produced Clipse. Recent album Summertime ’06 is a grimy discourse on the black experience that offers nary a didactic conclusion, making it antithetical to the much more hyped and painfully on-the-nose Kendrick Lamar release, To Pimp a Butterfly. Shame that for a lot of vanilla fans of hip hop – whose points of reference are still limited to Biggie, Pac, Nas, Wu, and other obvious acts – they are more concerned for Staples’ admittedly truthful critic of hip hop’s obsession with maintaining the ‘Golden Age’ status quo than the quality of his output. Fuck old people.

source: Love Must Be Real

Leo Ari’s Love Must Be Real EP
“Love must be real, because it fucking hurts,” so says Leo Ari’s mission statement for debut EP Love Must Be Real. With apologies to the homie, the pain he suffered was godsend for us – to paraphrase our own profile of the artiste, the record is a potent dance-y subversion of the crushing feeling all too familiar with any 20-something going through the Bildungsroman of heartbreak and emotional catharsis. All filtered through an unintentional new wave aesthetic that borrows from this decade’s indie rock zeitgeist; synths, reverbs, vocal effects, and overt electronic influences.

source: Art Angels

Grimes’ Art Angels
Concerns of Grimes’ follow-up to Visions arose immediately after the release of single ‘Go’ – a track at the time so abominable in pandering to commercialised trap that Grimes herself decided to scrap the album that she had worked on at the time. Now with the gift of retrospect, we suspect she never did scrap the album – Art Angels is exactly what she had hoped to achieve at the time, a pop album that’s unapologetically pop as opposed to the leftfield pop of Visions. This, in the context of a full album, turns out to be Grimes at her most creatively unbridled – had ‘Go’ survived the tracklisting, we suspect it might just come off as a good track now.

source: The Magic Whip

Blur’s The Magic Whip
Admittedly, we are casual listeners of Britpop kings Blur. We also have no shame in admitting that we still like ‘Beetlebum’ and ‘Coffee and TV’ after all these years, but we weren’t true fans because that’d be insulting to ardent fanatics. However, this year, Blur dropped their first album in over a decade and single ‘Lonesome Street’ immediately rekindled a waning interest in the iconic band. Upon a near obsessive reading on all matters regarding The Magic Whip, we were enraptured by the happy accident that caused the making of the album (Blur, practically stranded in Hong Kong, made the album in five days) and the stories behind every song. For instance, ‘Pyongyang’ was written as a homesick postcard to Albarn’s daughter in London, and ‘My Terracotta Heart’ tells the story of the strained but healed relationship between Albarn and Coxon. Also, we listened to the whole album while exploring the city of Hong Kong — we can’t even begin to describe the surrealistic giddiness we felt at the time.

source: Verde

Tei Shi’s Verde EP
The Argentinian chanteuse is easily the best voice that we’ve heard this year. Her EP Verde was an excellent display of her alluring singing ability. It’s dainty in its femininity and gentle in its fluidity. But Tei Shi hones her vocals well; on the thundering ‘80s synth pop track ‘Bassically’, she manages to wail like a siren—like both the mythical creature and the alarm. Even though she had categorised herself as making ‘mermaid music’, she obviously did that as a lark. Still, there is some semblance of accuracy in describing her sound as beautiful — fearsome even, according to some — mystical beings. There is beauty in her soulful, alt. r’n’b-inclined pop music. ‘Go Slow’ and ‘See Me’ are other standouts, so be sure to check her EP out.

source: Commemorate!

Dirgahayu’s Commemorate! 
If you regularly browse through the magazine or visit our website, you’d know that this local math rock band has made several appearances, from bits of news of their newly released singles to a full-blown review of their debut album Commemorate! and an one-on-one interview with the band in the Malaysiana issue. In addition to their noted technical skills and on-stage vitality, one thing that we noticed about Dirgahayu is the care and attention they pay to details. A song of theirs is intricate in its length, and though it is purely instrumental, each song has the capability to cause a ferocious sensation upon listening. Furthermore, the band has kept themselves really busy with multiple local and regional tours, all the while still managing to release quality music videos and singles along the way. The effort and dedication the members have invested in making Dirgahayu the best band they can be have paid off.

source: To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly
Not even a week after this album was released, fans and music critics were already calling it a ‘classic’, which was admittedly strange. Seven days were barely enough time to fully comprehend a body of work that took over a year to complete – so what gave it its immediate status? Kendrick’s energy and poetry. Some found the ‘blackness’ of it overwhelming, while others embraced it with ease. There is more to the album than its jazz and funk composition; there is more to it than addressing social issues. It serves as a personal tour of Kendrick’s labyrinthine mind. Is this the greatest album of all time? Check back in 50 years, but for now it is one of the best in 2015.

source: Beyond Horizons

Stellar Dreams’ Beyond Horizons EP
Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film Interstellar was a cinematic feat. The film and its soundtrack that was composed by the prodigious Hans Zimmer were the triggering components that gave Iqwan Ridzuwan (Jake) and Khairil Shah the inspiration that prompted them to create and share their constructed universe with us in the form of their fifth EP entitled Beyond Horizons. The EP begins by laying down the ground work where it evokes a sense of chilling isolation, but come ‘Parallels‘ and ‘Dimensions‘, the inclusion of female vocals obliterates that feeling entirely. The wispy vocals provide an obvious juxtaposition of tender, sweeping singing with the blunt and sinewy synth arrangements. While we are inclined towards the Euro electropop that’s enabled by the addition of feminine vocals, instrumental tracks such as ‘Horizons’, ‘Valkyrie’, and ‘Memories’ are capable of captivating you into a nocturnal dream state just as well. As far as local synthwave goes, Stellar Dreams are indubitably the only duo of that genre that matters at the moment.

source: Etcetera

Pastel Lite’s Etcetera EP
When JUICE first featured Pastel Lite back in mid 2012 for our cover story on (at the time) new local acts to watch out for, there were the expected few older scenesters who scoffed at the duo – perhaps due to their unassuming and diminutive appearance. But look at them now, having toured in China and played at Laneway Festival Singapore this year, and with Etcetera EP as a document of their sound thus far, Eff and Faliq are the rockstars we’ve always suspected them of being all this while. Sure, synth pop has had its canon locally – Tenderfist and M.O.I.S.T (of which Faliq is also an occasional member) come to mind – but the polished sheen of this EP combined with their constant gigging and an actual dedicated fanbase make them the only one to have made the genre their career.

source: In Colour

Jamie xx’s In Colour
In Colour is without a doubt a UK dance record – one that tries to encapsulate the dance culture there in a single document to boot – that isn’t very apologetic about its accessibility in the pop world. Informed by a rave culture he didn’t exactly grow up with, Jamie xx lent his Millennial ears to the oft-aggrandise glory days of dance music, the result was admittedly a bit of a turnoff for purists. But still, the typical EDM fan wouldn’t be big on this either. Perhaps then, the target audience for this is someone like Jamie himself – a dance musician, dance fan, and dance historian; JUICE in essence.