2017 is another great year in music as you see the oddest and most unexpected type of genre being revived, legends of the past reinforcing their plaque on the local Hall of Talent and a diverse and vibrant hip hop scene. There’s something for everyone this year, and our album lists reflects that almost accurately. Album evaluations are approached differently, as some albums have amazing songs from otherwise mediocre albums, while an album can gel into a singular piece, without any standout tracks, and still be worth noting. There are so many other greats and most only slipped slightly off of our list, but after much thought and deliberation here are our top 14 albums and EPs from 2017!
Brendan De Cruz‘s singing oozes raw and guttural folk reminiscent of folk singers like Keaton Henson, but he pushes the envelope beyond acoustic guitars in Black as he captures the macabre sound of his lyricism with the aid of wonderful strings and backing vocals. The eponymous track welcomes you into the sombre world of the album with haunting cellos by Mariamlisa Zainal. The way Brendan sings it is emotionally artful too, as the last line “Won’t you” reverberates into the empty. The same atmosphere rings in For Your Eyes as well. The EP closes with cheeky irony entitled The Blues? as Brendan sings goodbyes to the things that hold him back and overall ends this small collection of melodies just right. It’s folk from the shadows at its purest.
On A Trip is a post-rock quartet influenced by the atmospheric yet narrative-heavy sound of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor. In fact O Grey World is slightly reminiscent of ambient classics like Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, especially with the radio voice that punctuates their track Crying of the Unheard; talking about the suffering of the world (We were told that we were fighting terrorist, but the real terrorist is me). The album as a whole is a consistent piece of ambient post-rock, with every track falling into place to invoke that sorta misplaced, disorienting and sad feeling one gets when living in such a confusing world (*cue topical remark about moral degradation and/or capitalism*). At the very least that’s our interpretation of it. What’s clear is that this is not just empty jangly guitar-driven anthems – O Grey World definitely tells a clear story through its soundscape. Kajang is a great track and the way Crying of the Unheard builds up to that moment at the 2:40 minute mark is an experience to be cherished.
Capt’n Trips and the Kid is desert rock laid out in the sun too long, inviting hallucinations in the wobbly shape of psychedelic monsters. They show that through their album art, but most importantly, they show that through their music. Paraverse starts out anthemic, with El Beasto’s sliding bass intro which transitions into a great coda midway through the song. The lyrics are minimal, signifying a drunken stupor filled with mirages (Up to something/Up to nothing/Going nowhere/Headed Somewhere/Knowing always/Knowing Always/To be the way of the river – that’s the whole thing – saying a lot, by saying a little) as the song carries it substance through its instrumentation like progressively convoluting wah-wah guitars – bringing you into a Mad Max-like universe. El Beasto squeezes into their second track My Meat by exploring a more demented version of surf rock. Lead vocalist Jes Ismael‘s vocal styles in My Meat, oscillating between that deep voice and a higher pitched plea gives this otherwise absurd song about carnivorous dictator personality and quality. Spider Shark continues this surf rock sound from My Meat later on in the album (our favorite track in the album after El Beasto). The Paraverse is a brilliant piece of psychedelic rock, but it’d be lazy journalism to just put it in that small box. More than just a vacuous trip, Capt’n Trips creates a world for listeners to dive in. Don’t just imagine being given a hallucinogenic, imagine given an entire universe – or Paraverse – to live through.
This ambient shoegazing, coldwave band from Ipoh brings in this new brilliant record that plays like a twisted, collection of tales from the world of psychedelia. Told through soft, inaudible voices and lots of distortion, A Shoegaze Stories is a tale of dark fuzzy, fairytale ambience. Post Cabaret starts off with your classic catchy drum sequence (reminiscent of a cabaret, as the title suggests), and jumps straight into Soft‘s shoegazing specialty. Other tracks that stand out include Heaven With You, My Adore and Sweet Love since it ends on a note that is almost orchestral in its romanticism. Song For Apollo Heights also soars, with an intro that echoes vaguely like a rocket launch. Grunge Glory also hits the heart home, if you’re nostalgic for that era but can also dig the noise-ambience of yesteryears. It’s not a flat and monotonous album at all, although there are some tracks that are a bit repetitive of the other. Overall, Soft brings a lot of promise to the local shoegazing scene. Not many can weave stories through sound, especially if it’s all fuzzboxes, distortion and post-rock-esque melody.
Cerap is a culmination of some of Box for Letter’s older singles transforming into a work of art. What’s more is that despite the theme of space, astronomy and stargazing, Cerap EP is not an experimental project of New Wave proportions that can be a hindrance to listeners of other Malay indie rock. It is still first and foremost, an accessible album with wonderful lyrics and a melody that is not too unorthodox, sticking back to the formula of indie rock except with slightly more anthemic auras. However with this album, Box For Letters, prove themselves to be true artists. Even with their lyrics booklet that can be found in the album, the page for the song Cerap is filled with a background depicting a mountain of telescopes gazing into a dark empty night sky, in place of what would otherwise have been shallow words.
Synesthesia is predominantly orchestral, focusing on creating environments instead of telling smaller, personal stories. This gives a sense of grandeur to it, already evident in the string sections of Ikan Kekek, everything bombastically composed to stadium level rock, as instruments come together to wax magic and to provoke every one of your senses. ynesthesia is fun experimentation and homage to the many cultural elements that makes up each person and their affinities – shaking off all veneers of elitism as it drags people into an audio sphere that can viscerally blow you away, while leaving you mindful of all the limitations music can traverse. “The main focus of our music is never to change what is traditional, but to create music without borders. We make music with no genre or cultural limitations. However, while we’re doing that, part of us wants Malaysians to start embracing their own identity. It’s easy to forget our roots in a globalized world”, Ashwin remarked. Synesthesia achieves that, by mixing up the batter and transcending norms, without forgetting the influences from which they borrow.
Their recent split EP, Arus, is a great collaboration with Jakarta band, Vague. The two songs from Killeur Calculateur, Tayang Sulit and Suara Air contrast each other so beautifully, as the former is a piercing remark on society’s false gods and the latter a more spirited song about friendship. Both bands take up the challenge of writing in their mother tongue as opposed to English, and execute it spectacularly. As An EP , Arus finds a steely balance of post-punk chaotic Fugazi rage and border-crossing Nusantara poetry. When talking about their relationship with Indonesia, Smek of Killeur Calculateur remarks, ” “I think the borders are just political borders. There are no cultural borders, there are no language borders, if you think about it. There are no musical borders and that’s the best part”. The highlight of such an EP is the thought put to emssage, that shows Killeur Calculateur evolve to an exciting extent, genre-wise from their demo days all the way to Books of Flag. Wonderful lettered moments include “Persetankan dewamu/Penganut panca dusta/Berzikir khabar angin/Kufur akal“ and “Diskusi radikal tak kunjung mati/ Dari bawah tanah berakar umbi”
This album has so much to offer, in so many ways. To get a rough idea of what’s to come when you listen to the album, it might help to know that Torsades de Pointes is a specific type of abnormal heart rhythms that might cause sudden cardiac arrest, or simply put, a heart attack. Whether or not this was intended by Shunna is besides the matter, but this abnormal cardiac rhythm concept seems to encompass all of the songs on her album. Whether it’s an your heartbreat from falling in love and dreaming of someone far, far away such as how it’s represented in her track Terang Bintang, Tenang Bulan; or reckless quiet optimism in It’s Gonna Be Much Better. This album also leaks out so many influences. There’s the slow EDM aura of songs like Permulaan on one hand and the acoustic wonder of Aku. It’s as if Yuna started out discovering the beauty of lo-fi distortions, but then again, Shuuna is so much more than that. Even in Pengakhiran where the lyrics are simple and repeated, those guitar licks remain imprinted in our minds. Same goes with the opening of Good Night with that guitar riff that reminds us of some spy-action flick.
He hasn’t even released a full album yet, and 19-year-old Airliftz is leaving a significant spark in the Malaysia’s rap scene with how flow and production. He’s been mixing beats and rapping over them on his own on SoundCloud and recently got picked up by Jin Hackman’s label, This Way Up Records. In the midst of all the young upstarts in hip hop with their chains and booty-shaking trap rap, Airliftz deserves way more limelight than he’s getting now. Although he loves to groove to trap rap, evident in one of his more popular tracks, Gwalos, Airliftz has always been keen on exploring beyond that sound. Always slightly more influenced by soul and the sleeker side of R&B in his audio production (present in his SoundCloud tracks like I’m Lovin You), Bagel is a testament to that, as he struts through and pretty much ownes that sound. From the very first track, you know that Airliftz influence is as diverse as can be. U Know It samples a dreampop track, Warned You by Good Morning, a definite far cry from the R&B, soul and jazz tracks that make up the sample pool of most rap artists. Even then he still somehow wraps it into a coherent bop. In fact, the whole album transitions so seamlessly, it leaves you wanting more. Airliftz keeps it in that light humourous side of trap rap, but always dropping sick flow, especially in their song Bagel (which is literally about a bagel). There’s always a hint of mid-2000s, 808s and Heartbreaks hip hop; with a more feel-good, atmospheric vibe that pokes through all the bass and the autotunes (think Chance the Rapper but less Jesus and more Lil Yachty ). This album is also refreshingly positive and bright too, with very self-affirming and motivational songs like 19 and Appreciate. Bagel EP, being the banger that it is, feels grounded and humble with little moments in the album such as in the monologue clip in the beginning of Appreciate. Airliftz talks about proving to people that doubts he could use his music to put food on the table and fights against all odds – and you can’t have a better conclusion to this hopeful EP than that. In a rap world where swagger is defined by hard beats and trap rap sentiments of ‘badness and bougieness’, this young artist gives a fresher taste to the modern hip hop genre. And at only 19, there’s going to be a whole lot more to celebrate in the future. Hopefully a whole buffet table filled with bagels.
“I hate it when people think we’re a techno band. Or EDM. Honestly speaking, EDM is one of the things I hate the most”. Faliq, one half of the Pastel Lite duo, talked about their experiences as a band in an interview with me. It might seem ironic when you consider that the band is armed with KORG synthesizers, laptops and drum machines, but Pastel Lite is vehemently not electronica, as they plug life back into the New Wave synthpop of the 80s, choosing to take inspiration from bands like Kraftwerk and Human League and current bands that veer into that territory such as MGMT. Lead singer, Eff, and Faliq, audio-engineer-extraordinare and multinstrumentalist, document different parts of their life in this unique album. There’s the gut-busting, femme fatale song Damsel that talks about the ‘mannequin status’ that some men associate with their partners that Eff strongly hates, and Zenith, apocalyptic and ominous, (the first line of this song is literally Welcome to the apocalypse) documenting their former studio burning down. From the flames, Pastel Lite returns with Balada 3 years after their 2014 EP and it is great. Although the New Wave theme is stil alive and present, what makes Balada a great album are the moments of creative outbursts interspersed in simple and catchy electropop, such as the sitar played by Keeran Raj in the song Sunny or the soaring electric guitars in Into Flames. This album also contains their first Malay songs Aneh and Masa Kita. Through these wonderful tracks, Eff finds her voice and grounding in Malay lyricism that is not tacky and overused, but just the right amount of candid poetry. “We’re sick of people thinking we’re DJs. The Malay audience needs to know that it’s more than techno and lagu clubbing”. They’re not your run-off-the-mill R&B with LogicPro, and they’re not DJs out to mix beats. They’re Pastel Lite, and they’re coming in heavy.
For more than 10 years, Noh Salleh has been a household name in the music industry in Malaysia, whether alternative or mainstream. His songwriting and creative direction has evolved from garage rock drawl, to the metallic vigour of Sang Enemy and in his solo career he finds a soulful jazzy spirit residing within his love for all that is romantic and noir. Although Angin Kencang has already found its form back in 2014 as an EP, ending with a beautiful piano version of the eponymous track with Lok U as the pianist, it is only this year that It became a full-fledged album, portraying more side to the Noh Salleh repertoire. In the track list you already have soaring and intimate love songs like Biar Seribu and Bunga di Telinga, but in this album the song Renjana definitely meets that quality of poetic serenades that Noh has a knack for with lyrics like “romansa cahaya dimata yang mencinta oh renjana bergelora menyeduh hangatnya jiwa sepi air mata”. Noh does this a lot, making the simple act of asking for a smile sophisticated and hypnotizing. The wonderful conclusion to this album is a full-on jazz reverie where Noh declares his love for home state – Sarawak. After writing several songs about Kuala Lumpur he finally pays homage to his roots, in the same way he gathers inspiration from music belonging to the sleeker decades of suits, fedoras and cigars. This album is proof that even after so long, Noh’s throne of diversity and quality is way above any threats.
Loque is another music veteran, already beginning to stamp his mark with the iconic Malaysian grunge band Butterfingers and then continuing his own cap mohor after coming back from Berklee University in the US by exploring the deep and sophisticated nature of the Nusantara identity. He’s incorporated so much in this album in comparison to his previous work, that it’s become this coherent tour de force of influences and storytelling that no one has yet met in the local scene right. Experimentation is met with an uplifted acute sense of melody through tracks like Jika Aku Seorang Robot and at times showcases a sense of spirituality through songs like Slagi Ada Waktu. MonoLoque as a band displays talent from every angle, in terms of audio production and diversity in instrumentation. It is said though that the Loque album is “beyond it’s time” by people today, and that has got to be a mindboggling thing to grasp. Yet it’s true. In some parts of the album as Loque creates this ambient world filled with inspiration from P. Ramlee, ghazal, traditional zapin and more, you’d notice that everything sounds familiar yet distinct at the same time. The sly and cheeky social commentary in the lyricism is also sang with so much heart by Loque, such as the entire theme behind Ringgit and Jika Aku Seorang Robot (“Jika aku seorang robot, nombor-nombor darah ku, jasad ku import export, besi logam daging ku“). MonoLoque’s virtuosity is complemented by other amazing people too such Faliq from Pastel Lite, Bakri Ismail and more. Jangan Puja Sampai Kecewa speaks to society’s obsession with worshipping their heroes and through its genre-defying and soulful rendition of these themes, it really is Nusantara for the future.
2. Selamat Tinggal Pujaan – Masdo
Indie bands – much like most people – like to look at history to find themselves. You peek through one curtain, you have people who revere the indie bands of the early 2000s, and then if you peek through the other side, you have bands who travel a little further into the 80s, inspired by new wave, shoegazing and the early years of electronica or the bursting colourful funk of the 70s. Masdo takes a step further back into the past and brings life back to the early rock ‘n’ roll and Malay pop-ye-ye, dangdut days of the ‘60s with artists like Kassim Slamat & The Swallows! They do so it effectively, with so much honesty and personality, that you feel like you’re stuck inside a sweaty time capsule filled with people twisting and swinging in their floral shirts and over-gelled hair. We mean this in an almost literal way. In virtually every venue that Masdo performs at, it is filled to the brim like cans of sardine. They’ve lately become more of a nationwide phenomenon rather than a mere band. Masdo functions as a supergroup with Ali originally from The Lipstik (with his song Teruna & Dara making it into Selamat Tinggal Pujaan) pulling Putuceri from Pop Konspiracy , Ambobzeela from Hujan & the talented guitarist & twister, Asmawi. The album stays true to a single musical style but without falling flat or giving much room for mediocrity. From the single Bunga to the overwhelmingly danceable Miss Flower Learns To Twist, every track is a different chapter to a love story familiar to all of us. Another testament to Masdo’s impact in the scene actually already started last year. Even before the album was published, Masdo have had their fair share of meteoric fame with their single Bunga being one of the most requested song on iM4U back in 2016. It was as if whenever Ali sings Nama kau Bunga, the whole country sang along. The #GengPakMaon and #GengBentaraGuru subculture lives on!
n a Malaysian indie scene obsessed with reviving 2008 (supposedly, the golden age of Malaysian indie), Jaggfuzzbeats brings their own version of post-rock and dream pop. Rest Now is diverse, engaging and packed with a familiar mellow indie sound that is slowly becoming the new popular sound of the local zeitgeist. Jaggfuzzbeats packs a consistent punch throughout the album with their dreamy, harmonious, and beautiful cacophony. The holy trinity streak for this record is ‘Hours’, ‘Damncouldurban’ and ‘Talk To You’, with each track carrying its own strength and strain of melancholic melody, coupled with simple but chant-worthy lyricism. In Hours, the words “She broke my heart/Right on the table/I guess I’m wrong/I’m just unstable” reverberates on the build-up, after you’re already taken for a ride by the sweet little opening. The opening which makes one think about train rides or other moments worthy of a thoughtful stare through a dusty window. The range is most evident in their final track Little Miss Sunshine, which is unlike the rest of the tracks on the album, with its folksy overtone. It also acts as a great farewell to times of yore, while we a new future on the horizon slowly taking shape in Malaysian music. All from the humble city of Shah Alam.
If you wanna check out our top songs of 2017, click here.