Popspoken Reviews: The 21 Best Singapore Tracks That Defined 2018

Evan Woon

It’s time of the year again where best-of lists are all the rage and everyone is recounting happenings with gusto. Well, we at Popspoken are no different.

Much has happened in the local music scene in 2018. This year, we’ve got the likes of neo-soul troubadour Charlie Lim‘s brilliant sophomore effort, CHECK-HOOK, the return of post-hardcore kings (and queen) Caracal, as well as upstart challengers to the throne — in the form of hip-hop maverick Yung Raja and dream pop-outfit Sobs.

Who takes the crown? As we sit back, we take a look at the tracks that made, broke, and defined Singapore’s music scene of 2018. Have a blast!

Disclaimer: Feel free to fight us on our selection. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook article!

Essential Listening:

  1. Linying – Tall Order
  2. Fauxe – AADU
  3. Caracal – Manicenigmatic
  4. Charlie Lim – Welcome Home
  5. Yung Raja – Mustafa
  6. Tabitha Nauser – Rules
  7. Gentle Bones & Myrne – JU1Y
  8. Of Methodist – Lieutenant (feat. Ffion, Axel Brizzy, Slodown)
  9. Disco Hue – Right On Top (Back To You)
  10. Marijannah – Snake Charmer
  11. Jasmine Sokko – Hurt
  12. Lew – Frank Ocean Song
  13. Forests – Kawaii Hawaii
  14. Exhibitors – Blue Devils
  15. Hauste – Leavings
  16. Sobs – Telltale Signs
  17. Evanturetime – Sober (feat. Ben Kheng, JX, Nathan Hartono)
  18. The Sam Willows – Papa Money
  19. Long Live The Empire – Pretty Sure This Is A Song
  20. Slodown – Khaled
  21. Unknown Radicals – Green

All tracks were released in 2018. Happy Listening!

21. Unknown Radicals – Green

In many ways, 10-men rap collective Unknown Radicals can be compared to American hip-hop group/boyband Brockhampton. Similar to their LA-based counterparts, Unknown Radicals share an unspeakable chemistry with one another, latching and building on each other’s flow – ultimately creating a fun and solid masterpiece that is “GREEN”.

20. Slodown – Khaled

For the uninitiated, Slodown is the moniker of the New York-based, self-dubbed “Wong Kar Wait of Soul/R&B” Singaporean Brian Lim. Drawing the song’s refrain from music mogul DJ Khaled’s trademark catchphrase, Slodown deftly transforms this albeit silly ad-lib into a gorgeous, slow-burning piece of art. Fans of acts such as How to Dress Well, Perfume Genius and Spooky Black – keep this guy under your radar.

19. Long Live The Empire – Pretty sure this is a song

Midwest emo has seen a revival in recent years, with bands such as Xingfoo & Roy, Forests and Tapestry hoisting the flag up high for Singapore. Four piece outfit Long Live the Empire is no different, releasing their debut idiosyncratic LP effort Underbite in August this year. Opener “Pretty sure this is a song” is in equal parts self-deprecating and anxious, coupled with simple-yet-frenetic chord progressions, rocksteady beats and a air of youthful nonchalance.

18. The Sam Willows – Papa Money

Singapore’s Kings and Queens of Pop The Sam Willows are back – this time decked in fur coats, expensive cars and branded rings. Boasting lyrics such as “Papa money didn’t buy me things” and “Got my first job at sixteen/Serving coffee seventeen”, this song is definitely an allusion to the hustle and grind of life. Larger-than-life characters pepper the song’s music video, making “Papa Money” an intrinsically fun effort to watch.

Sheryl Teo, Lead Editor, Popspoken

Read our interview with The Sam Willows here.

17. Evanturetime – Sober (feat. Ben Kheng, JX, Nathan Hartono)

At his solo session in this year’s Singapore Writers Festival, producer and multi-instrumentalist Evanturetime (real name Evan Low) spoke on how best to capture the attention of listeners in the streaming age. Pulling up “Sober” as an example, Low called attention to how the vocals begin just two seconds into the song.

Gathering three of Singapore’s most well-known male vocalists is already a feat in itself, but Low’s true achievement lies in melding the pop sensibilities of Benjamin Kheng and JX (Jon Chua) of The Sam Willows with the jazz inflections of Nathan Hartono, and sealing the deal with his signature lush instrumentation.

– Jovi Ho, Issues Editor, Popspoken

Read about other producers in Singapore here.

16. Sobs – Telltale Signs

Local indie record label Middle Class Cigars’ flagship signing Sobs impressed with  debut release Telltale Signs this year, attracting much fanfare from Southeast Asia and beyond. Telltale Signs‘ lead single is a song driven by imagination, possible lovers, and impending heartbreak. Frontwoman Celine Autumn is a pure joy to listen to, laying her heart out onto repetitive, multi-layered, wall-of-sound guitar riffs. So lose yourself in the music, travel right back to the good ol’ retro days, and dance the night away.

Teo Dawn, Arts Editor, Popspoken

15. Hauste – Apple

We simply can’t get enough of opening track “Apple” from Hauste’s debut effort Leavings. “Apple” is a song that is crafted with such gifted technicality – from the tapped bass-and-guitar riffs, syncopated signature changes, tight rhythms, to the bright xylophone touches – all combined together to create a song that is such a delight for math rock/post-rock enthusiasts everywhere. Fans of bands such as Chon, Minus the Bear, Sphaeras, and Don Cabellero, check this song out.

14. Exhibitors – Blue Devils

Exhibitors’ “Blue Devils” is one juggernaut of a single; combining abrasive guitar riffs, pummeling beats, melodic verses, and near-perfect unclean vocals to create an assault on the eardrums – imitating greats like Modern Life is War, Touche Amore and Defeater. With “Blue Devils”, Exhibitors continue to prove that they are the prime standard when it comes to melodic hardcore music in Singapore.

13. Forests – Kawaii Hawaii

Our perennial favourite midwest emo trio are back! Titled “Kawaii Hawaii”, this song’s music video is every bit as what its title suggests – cutesy, laid-back, idiosyncratic – all while performed in the confines of Esplanade’s public toilet. In this song, pop references to Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, Bjork, and Die Antwoord are made in trademark self-deprecating Forests fashion – complete with brilliant instrument technicality, rallying choruses, and humorously awkward lyrics.

Forests’ sophomore effort Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store will be out on January 1st 2019, so keep a lookout for that!

Read our interview with Forests here. 

12. Lew – Frank Ocean Song

“You live miles away, but you still keep me safe.” These are the captivating, honest-to-God, and emotive opening lyrics that lures listeners into the silent yearning that is Lew’s “Frank Ocean Song”.  In this song, Lew opts for a minimal setup; letting brief instrumentation and his whispered, subdued vocals carry the weight of the song. While restrained to basic ukulele chords, “Frank Ocean Song” strength lies in its vulnerability – echoing the likes of equally candid songs such as Ariana Grande’s “Thank you, next”, and SZA’s “Drew Barrymore”.

11. Jasmine Sokko – Hurt

Following her acclaimed debut EP N°, Jasmine Sokko’s major label debut under Warner Music Singapore impacted radio in August and hasn’t left the airwaves since.

“HURT” showcases Jasmine Sokko’s signature electronic repertoire with fuller, more radio-friendly breakdowns. Written and produced by Sokko herself, the track perfectly embodies the defiant energy of Ariana Grande’s “and what about it?” gif, while capturing the stutters and sobs of turning on a former lover through the chopped and pitched repetitions of “I Just”.

The song displays elements of tropical house and serves as the lead single to an album yet to be announced. But if the gaudy pinks and lilacs of its accompanying visual (Dir. Martin Hong) hint at her next project’s direction, 2019 could see Sokko taking on the frenzied sounds of bubblegum bass.

– Jovi Ho, Issues Editor, Popspoken

10. Marijannah – Snake Charmer

While Marijannah might seem like fun-loving, tongue-in-cheek tribute band to everyone’s favourite sweet leaf, the band’s sludgy, muddy-as-hell riffs and stoner doom metal points to every direction otherwise. Drawing a page out from Black Sabbath’s bassist Geezer Butler’s lyric book, Marijannah’s music depicts a landscape filled with barren wastelands, flashing skies, and desolation. Lead Singer Nick Wong’s vocals cut through the viscous soundscape – reminiscent of wailing singers like Ozzy Osbourne and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.

9. Disco Hue – Right On Top (Back To You)

Disco Hue’s “Right On Top (Back To You)” displays everything that we love about the four-piece electronic pop outfit – it is fun, lighthearted, and bouncy. In this song, Disco Hue employs the same formula that made breakout track “Gotta Find You” so infectious. Lead singer Sherlyn Leo’s vocals are focal to the song; and the band opts for a minimal synth-driven and drum machine set-up – producing a straightforward and funky banger that belongs on dancefloors everywhere.

Read our interview with Disco Hue here.

8. Of Methodist – Lieutenant (feat. Ffion, Axel Brizzy, Slodown)

A year after releasing “Authority” and beginning his narrative on power play, singer-songwriter and producer Of Methodist brought together the most promising names in local R&B/hip-hop in the dark and sensual “Lieutenant”.

Featuring Fffion, Axel Brizzy and Slodown, the NSFW track appears to continue the submissive streak exhibited in “Authority”, but with more defiant confidence. While 2017 saw Of Methodist croon about an other assuming their authority, “Lieutenant” is less questioning and more declarative.

While “Lieutenant” boasts the largest number of features among our picks this year, varying production and equal portioning lets the track shine. Props to Of Methodist for fitting four artists in under five minutes while maintaining the sonic palette as a vocalist and producer.

– Jovi Ho, Issues Editor, Popspoken

Read our interview with Of Methodist here.

7. Gentle Bones & Myrne – JU1Y

You wouldn’t expect Gentle Bones and MYRNE to play at the same music festival due to their different genre backgrounds, much less work on an album together – but that’s exactly what they did this year, and the release of JU1Y as part of their B4NGER PROJECT album defies everything we once knew about using genres to understand artistes.

This is a pretty mutinous achievement for two of the biggest stars in their own scenes, namely indie and EDM respectively, following decades of the standard classification of music in Singapore. JU1Y is dreamy and dancy at the same time, with elements of life all over the track such as laughter, muffled speech and a car engine.

Through the sounds that come out from the collision of both their worlds, JU1Y effortlessly carries a great range of idealism and reality, which are essentially all the necessary ingredients that leaves listeners begging for more.

Sheryl Teo, Lead Editor, Popspoken

Read our interview with Myrne here. 

Read our interview with Gentle Bones here. 

6. Tabitha Nauser – Rules

Former Singapore Idol alumnus Tabitha Nauser seems to have re-invented her image – and we’re totally loving it. Possessing the sultry swagger of female pop starlets like Beyoncé, Dua Lipa and Halsey, Nauser navigates through “Rules” with burning vengeance – belting out empowering lyrics such as “I ain’t never needed / No man to give me no crown / No man to hold me down”. Props need to be given to Grammy-nominated producer Michael Fatkin as well – Fatkin balances the beats, arrangement, and instrumentation on “Rules” out perfectly, drawing it right down to a T.

5. Yung Raja – Mustafa

Some might label Yung Raja as a one-hit wonder (well, he technically only has one song under his belt), but boy is that track banging. Peppering his song with Tamil references such as “Grindin all night / Thookkam all day” and “It’s the Thambi Mustafa”, its evident that Raja is proud of his heritage, and trying to bring it to the mainstream. Mustafa is heavily reminiscent of Singaporean rappers reppin’ their respective areas, much like Faris Jabba dropping a Geylang ad-lib, or even Akeem Jahat’s gangster epic”Woodlands“.

With that, Yung Raja is worth every bit the hype and he’s got what we want – that ostentatious style, vibe and musicality. Other than his bright pink hair and wicked fashion sense, you already know from his flow that he’s a local boy through and through. A brown superstar indeed.

Teo Dawn, Arts Editor, Popspoken

Evan Woon, Music Editor, Popspoken

4. Charlie Lim – Welcome Home

We’re gonna say it: Charlie Lim’s sophomore effort CHECK-HOOK is Singapore’s most experimentally diverse album of the year – reminiscent of celebrated electronic UK acts such as James Blake and Jamie xx. On this record, songs like “Better Dead a Damsel” balances rap verses from Faris Jabba and Yung Raja – similar to Blake’s “Take the Fall for Me” featuring RZA; while [.gif] singer Weish’s vocals punctuates two-step garage beats on “Premonition”.

However, it is opening single “Welcome Home” that takes the cake. The interweaving sounds on “Welcome Home” is a pleasant surprise, and Lim’s impressionable vocals and groove delivers a song that keeps you company for all moods. The music video for “Welcome Home” is also conceptually interesting – how would Charlie look like if he was a total f*ckboi? (MEMES ARE COOL O.K.)

Teo Dawn, Arts Editor, Popspoken

Evan Woon, Music Editor, Popspoken

3. Caracal – Manicenigmatic

Let’s give it up the return of the kings (and queen) of post-hardcore, Caracal. Ever since charismatic ex-frontman KC Meals departed in 2015, many feared that the band would become a shadow of its former self: after all, who could replace the defiant, unbridled, and mercurial energy that KC provided at live shows?

However, this is Caracal that we are talking about. Revolving around the main core of guitarists Gabriel De Souza, Field Teo, and drummer Martin Kong, Caracal rose from the ashes – bringing in frontwoman Rachel Lu (Rock Rosettes) and bassist/backing vocalist Trent Davis (Tomgirl) to the ever-revolving line-up.

The re-formation of one of Singapore’s leading post-hardcore acts is one exciting endeavour, and lead single “Manicenigmatic” shows completely all signs of that. Check it.

2. Fauxe – AADU

We’ve always had the impression that Fauxe is what would happen if Daft Punk’s music married Kanye West’s. A weird combination, we know, but just hear us out.

Both are super producers – Fauxe has produced for other leading acts such as Mediocre Haircut Crew and Sam Rui; Fauxe used to be masked – very much like EDM’s celebrated robot duo, and lastly, Fauxe regularly curates music that amalgamates the fields of electronic music and hip-hop together.

2018 effort IKHLAS is one brilliant example of that. Utilising chopped samples from Tamil Malaysian group Lock Up, Fauxe created a bonafide electronic dance banger in the form of “AADU” – a track blessed with infectious house beats, an upbeat keyboard line, and a retro groove reminiscent of the 1980’s disco era.


And now, for the number one track of 2018 … drumroll, please.

1. Linying – Tall Order

Things have been going on swimmingly for indie electronic singer-songwriter Linying. Ever since being featured on NPR’s All Songs Considered in 2016, Linying’s rise to the top has been meteoric – from becoming Universal Music Singapore’s first female signing, and being listed on the Global Viral 50 charts on Spotify,  just to name a few.

She’s also worked with Felix Jaehn and KRONO, and her vocals has also been lauded by actor-singer Troye Sivan. But enough of her accolades. With “Tall Order”, Linying has written a song that is introspective, contemplative, and built around the themes of  self-realisation and self-love.

In her interview with Culture Collide, Linying explains that the song is about suddenly waking up and seeing “yourself in a different light”. Linying bares her heart on the line here, showing herself in mourning; she’s sick of herself, and yearning to be be the person that she once originally was.

In many ways, “Tall Order” echoes the feeling that one gets when listening to an introspective album like Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs – signalling that the feeling of monotony, lethargy or dull-living can sometimes be worse than heartbreak or death.

Read our interview with Linying here. 

Photo Mosaic taken from bands respective Facebook pages

Editors Note: We love every single release here that has been in 2018. Here’s to a great 2019!

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This article Popspoken Reviews: The 21 Best Singapore Tracks That Defined 2018 appeared first on Popspoken.