Bandwagon's top releases of 2021 so far – Japanese Breakfast, BTS, Olivia Rodrigo, Silk Sonic, Zild, Subsonic Eye, WOODZ, and more

Bandwagon's top releases of 2021 so far – Japanese Breakfast, BTS, Olivia Rodrigo, Silk Sonic, Zild, Subsonic Eye, WOODZ, and more

And just like that, we've hit the midpoint of Year 2 of the New Normal.

It's fair to say that we're pretty much experts in the whole pandemic lifestyle—face masks, handwashing technique, physical distancing, and all. Now more than ever, we've turned to the digital landscape to catch concerts and esports tournaments, check in on our friends, and get work done. We've adjusted, and so has the music scene.

The ongoing global pandemic might've slowed things down for many artists, but it couldn't drain their creative powers completely. That's why we're still able to get fresh releases from our favorite bands, who help make this excessively dragging predicament a little more bearable.

From Japanese Breakfast to Olivia Rodrigo, Zild to Bruno Mars, here are some of the Bandwagon editorial team's top picks of releases from 2021:


CAMILLE CASTILLO, EDITORIAL DIRECTOR

Top song so far...
BTS - 'Butter'

My gateway to BTS was 2020’s record-breaking hit, ‘Dynamite’, so I was a bit apprehensive about them releasing another English song this year. I mean, how do you top all that?! I had no idea what ‘Butter’ would sound like but that didn't stop me from pre-ordering vinyl and cassette copies ahead of the release. It did not disappoint. I immediately loved it the first time I listened to it.

‘Butter’ gives me the same feeling as Carly Rae Jepsen’s 'Cut To The Feeling’– like my soul is soaring to the heavens. There are so many good moments in the song, I especially love Jin’s first verse, which took me by surprise. It’s such a good fit for his voice. I was waiting for the rap line (RM, SUGA, J-hope) to come in and their timing was perfect, making a confident statement and ending the track on their own terms. (I love the music video, but I’ve been watching the karaoke version these days just because it’s hilarious).

Honourable mentions: Epik High ft. CL and Zico - 'Rosario', ena mori - 'TALK! TALK!', Seori - 'Lovers In The Night'

Top local album so far...
The Buildings - Heaven is a Long Exhale

I’ve always been a fan of Mariah Reodica’s voice. It’s just the right kind of “delicate” which juxtaposes perfectly with The Buildings’ sound. Heaven Is A Long Exhale is a great listen especially on long drives (I wish I can go on a road trip just so I can listen to it, with the wind in my dog’s hair…). Looking forward to the day I can see them perform these songs live!

Honourable mentions: Dicta License - Pagbigkas, Zild - Huminga

Top international album so far...
Taylor Swift - Fearless (Taylor's Version)

Almost 2 years into the pandemic, we’re still in lockdown (at least where we are), and the mind still yearns for something familiar. The first of Taylor Swift’s re-recordings, Fearless (Taylor’s Version) is just the right mix of old favourites (‘Love Story’) and new songs from the vault (‘Mr. Perfectly Fine’). 

Honourable mention: Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

Top music video so far...
SEVENTEEN - 'Not Alone'

I had never listened to SEVENTEEN before, but I came across the music video for ‘Not Alone’ through YouTube’s autoplay and I haven’t stopped since. The video has everything you need in your pandemic life - a cute dog, a zoom birthday party, a house party by yourself, camping in your room, a fun trip to the grocery store.... finally hanging out with your friends in an open space (because ventilation is important!) after a loooooong time of being on your own. 


LELAND TAN, ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Top song so far...
Ben Böhmer, Panama - Weightless

Initially brooding and altogether cinematic, the baby-faced German electronic producer divvies up the track’s emotional hook with Sydneysider Panama to form another belter for an already loaded greatest hits collection in Böhmer’s repertoire. Future Classic is home to a wealth of fervent producer-vocalist assemblies that I dig (eg. Flume-SOPHIE, Flight Facilities-Giselle), and Böhmer’s nuance to conjure soundscapes coupled with the ever-wistful McCleary signals big moves from the label to traverse further.

If the vocal-less rendition backdropping the German’s sunrise epic above doesn’t sway you, DJ Seinfeld and jamesjamesjames’ subsequent remixes are equally muscular.

Honourable mentions: Tyler, The Creator - 'SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE', Lycoriscoris - 'Shizumu', Kings of Convenience - 'Rocky Trail', Angelov - 'Sezon'

Top local album so far...
Subsonic Eye - Nature of Things

Clear standouts in the Singaporean circuit, the five-piece shake-off any second and third album syndromes, and are my pick of the lot in a dreary year that saw many artists temporarily ditch their craft, and local venues defencelessly throw in the towel. It’s a tragic sight, but the rockers meander through it ardently in their 9-track endeavour, emerging at the brighter side of the woods barely scathed and sonically flowering - a steely win to flip-off pandemic shenanigans. Though, I will caveat by admitting Halal Sol’s zestful wares would stand to shake my selection if dance floors were given the green light; ask me again when we’re allowed to boogie.

Honourable mentions: Halal Sol - Dijamin, Kekko - Dreaming Life, FERS - Shallow, BGourd - Veggie Wraps Vol.3

Top international album so far...
Kings of Convenience - Peace Or Love

A tough one to water down but an aged predilection towards my Norwegian indie-folk uncles is due broadly because Peace Or Love was 12 years in the making, a needful follow-up to the lauded Declaration Of Dependance. While the album takes the familiar make of bossa nova nuances, unwrinkled harmonisation, and decorated free-writing that I’ve scored too much of my teenage angst and adult desolation to, it never once fails to lull its listener into composure and love. The Kings are back and the Kings are timeless.

Honourable mentions: Too many. Harrison BDP - Perspective, Leon Vynehall - Rare, Forever; Yu Su - Yellow River Blue, Genesis Owusu - Smiling with No Teeth, Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend, Biesmans - Planes, Trains & Automobiles, L’Impératrice - Tako TsuboLycoriscorisChiyu, Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over The Country Club

Top music video so far...
Little Simz - 'Introvert'

Raw and consuming. Despite the year’s incompleteness, ‘Introvert’ has drawn 2021’s curtains in my books and thumps out any forthcoming production contenders for its sheer fury and visceral storytelling. 

Here the UK thespian chimes history, purpose, injustice and self-empowerment in waves, and shot at the Natural History Museum interlaced with archival footage, is a thematic marriage between lyricism and prestige. Salomon Ligthelm, who previously commandeered Icelandic trio aYia's 'Easy' in exquisite fashion, forms an indomitable direction here together with the Islington rapper. That its closing stages also employs dialogue by Emma Corrin of The Crown and coils harmoniously with its haunting last frame is a potent touch, but merely dwarfs in stature to the ensemble’s and Simz’s compelling rhetoric (Stefano A. Addae’s gym class number deserves singling out here). This is the rapper at the peak of her creative expression, and if it’s anything to go by, foreshadows an immense record come Autumn.


KARA BODEGON, STAFF WRITER (PH)

Top song so far...
AIRFLIP - ‘Rise Again’

"You gotta listen to this," my husband randomly told me in the middle of the night after watching EX-ARM. And I'm glad he did. AIRFLIP's 'Rise Again' (which is the opening theme for said anime series) brought me so much joy! It instantly took me back to our days of moshpits fueled by the power of youthful pop-punk energy. The mixed smell of sweat and body odor, which we all managed to ignore. The glorious screams of fans filling the concert hall. The post-show dinner with our friends. Those were the days...

Honourable mentions: Rosé - 'On the Ground', TesseracT - 'Nocturne (P O R T A L S)', Memphis May Fire - 'Blood & Water', Bullet For My Valentine - 'Knives', BTS - 'Butter'

Top local album so far...
Zild - Huminga

After borrowing inspiration from 8-bit video games for his first solo album, Zild shifts to a more organic sound blessed with acoustic strings for his second in-quarantine offering, Huminga.

It's easy to get comfy with a cup of tea with Zild's soothing voice and thoughtful words playing in the background. Huminga simply hits right anytime I need to kick back after a long day and take a break—or more aptly—a deep breath.

Top international album so far...
Architects - For Those That Wish to Exist

2020 was a weird time for bands who were all trying to find out how to play shows and be with their fans in the middle of a pandemic. To search for an answer, Architects took over the Royal Albert Hall in London and threw a killer livestream show, where they debuted new music from their latest record For Those That Wish to Exist.

I was instantly blown away when they played 'Animals', 'Discourse is Dead', and 'Dead Butterflies'. It didn't matter that the concert was at an ungodly hour (because of the time difference, just like any other Western concert I watched online). What mattered was that the show gave me something to really look forward to in 2021. And the wait was totally worth it.

Honourable mentions: Cory Wong - Cory Wong and the Wongnotes

Top music video so far...
Bowling For Soup - Getting Old Sucks (But Everybody's Doing It)

Being trapped indoors for over a year now has made me feel my age. And if there's a new song I gotta pick as the soundtrack to me accepting my fate, it has to be Bowling For Soup's 'Getting Old Sucks (But Everybody's Doing It)'. It's the perfect tune that captures the true '90s-kid-in-the-year-2021 experience, backed by the perfect music video. And to my fellow 30-somethings (and above), don't forget that punk's not dead. It's just in bed by 9 p.m.

Honourable mentions: Bella Poarch - 'Build a Bitch', Paul Gilbert - 'Werewolves of Portland'


FRANCHESCA BASBAS, STAFF WRITER (PH)

Top song so far...
Gallant - Comeback.

Gallant is one of my favourite R&B artists so following Sweet Insomnia in 2019, I couldn’t wait for his new album. To keep a long story short, Neptune is out of this world (get it? haha). One song I kept on repeating was ‘Comeback.’. It had the early 2000’s R&B sound (that I absolutely adore) mixed with an alternative trap beat that just made you want to listen to it over and over again. 

Honourable mentions: keshi - ‘beside you’, Billie Eilish - ‘Lost Cause’, WILLOW - ‘transparent soul’, Ysangyo - ‘Why Don’t We Linger?’

Top local album so far...
Reese Lansangan - Time Well Spent

There’s a different level of appreciation you have when you can tell when someone put in their entire heart and soul into an album and that was the case for me with Reese Lansangan’s Time Well Spent.

Listening to the album felt like watching the most beautiful coming-of-age film unfold so if I ever get a movie about my life (haha), this is the soundtrack I want. My favourite songs are ‘Orbiting’ and ‘Slow Mornings’!

Top international album so far...
Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR

Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour encompasses the entire spectrum of the teenage experience so it wasn’t hard to completely fall in love with the album because it touched on themes so tangible and real. It felt so genuine and heartfelt like you could almost feel her heart break with every single word, which of course was juxtaposed with your good ol’ teenage angst. 

I’m pretty sure I listened to the entire album nonstop during its release week, it’s too good! If I had to pick my favourite songs off of Sour, it’d definitely be ‘traitor’, ‘1 step forward, 3 steps back’, and ‘good 4 u’.

Honourable mentions: H.E.R - Back Of My Mind, Gallant - Neptune, Public Library Commute - 1000 Summers, ØZI - PEDESTAL

Top music video so far...
BAMBAM - ‘riBBon’

This entire year so far, I’ve been looking forward to each GOT7 member’s solo release, particularly BAMBAM because he always had a diverse musical palette. When he dropped riBBon, I was beyond excited – it was everything I wanted and more. 

There’s a mesmerising visual aspect to BAMBAM’s solo album that you can really see it take form in the music video for ‘riBBon’ – it’s vibrant, quirky, and out of this world. From the colour palette to the stage design, it looks like something out of a Wes Anderson film, or maybe a summer version of Alice In Wonderland. In short, it looks really pretty hehe.


GINNY PALMA, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR (TH)

Top song so far...
WOODZ - 'FEEL LIKE'

I always get a very particular thrill when WOODZ announces another comeback. This kid always pushes his own boundaries and isn’t afraid to try a different genre each time, and he always does it with his own flavor and a neat flourish. 'Feel Like' has WOODZ kicking in with good old electric blues, inviting us to groove to a wealth of sexy guitar riffs blended into a steady rhythm and sleek vocals. What does it feel like? It feels delicious. 

Honorable Mentions: Rise Against - 'Nowhere Generation', NCT Dream - 'Hello Future'

Top local album so far...
Hariguem Zaboy - John Young Sandwich

I first heard these guys back in 2016, in a massive compilation CD handed to me by Pok of Panda Records, which was probably my first introduction to the Thai underground scene. The latest album from them is also quite massive, both in the number of tracks and intensity of sound. It’s shoegaze at its core, raw and heavy in some parts, free and formless in others; just a whole seismic journey. And then there’s their list of collaborators — Martin Bisi, Wharton Tiers, Tim Green each helped engineer this album. I was like, “No way.” But clearly I’ve been out of touch and it’s all extremely yes-way. 

This sort of music always feels a bit like home to me, which is sadly the only place I’ve managed to experience these songs. It’s a shame we can’t go to a bar and immerse in it live just yet, but regardless, John Young Sandwich has done a fine job letting us think that we are.

Fave tracks: 'Mind Triggers', 'An Altman Fan (The Horse Scene)'

Honorable Mention: January - Hometown 

Top international album so far...
Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

I’ve got a friend who said something like, we don’t give happiness enough credit as a reason to create art. That’s what kept resonating within me as I listened to this album. Jubilee has practically all the elements of pop that I love, and all the genres of rock that I constantly crave. It’s twee and powerful and takes us on yet another foray through space (this time a fun little adventure). More importantly, it’s Michelle Zauner owning her right to joy and the confidence to tell the world about it. 

Yet another record I wish I could experience in person, front and center. Japanese Breakfast IRL is magic, and this album offers the sweetest taste of that.

Fave Tracks: 'Be Sweet', 'Savage Good Boy'

Honorable Mentions: Modest Mouse - The Golden Casket, Julien Baker - Little Oblivions

Top music video so far...
Lil Nas X - MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)

Oh my god. Oh my demons? And also oh my heavens. I always love when an artist is unapologetically who they are, especially when so much of the world today is still intent on policing self-expression and watering down identities. The visuals in the music video are so bold and wild, and they meld in this fantastic universe together as smoothly as Lil Nas X sashays into every scene. Plus, the music is simply, incredibly infectious. This is Lil Nas X’s world and we’re all invited to come and play and maybe even stay. 

Honorable Mentions: Julien Baker - 'Hardline', TAEMIN - 'Advice'


ELLY LAU, WRITER (SG)

Top song so far...
Japanese Breakfast - ‘Posing In Bondage’

The first time I listened to this song, I was an emotional wreck. Not necessarily in an ugly-crying way, but there was something quietly devastating about the lyrics and how they meshed together with the gorgeous instrumentation—the hypnotic synths, the strings interspersed between, the Grimes-esque coda...this song is just everything.

I also read Michelle Zauner’s memoir Crying In H Mart shortly after Jubilee was released, and the book (which was excellent by the way) added so much more context and intimacy to the listening experience. Although Zauner has said that ‘Posing In Bondage’ is about being tied down by monogamy—in a positive sense—I also interpreted it as a love letter to her late mother, where they shared a profound kinship that would continue to bind them both in life and death. 

Honourable mentions: A.G. Cook - ‘Xcxoplex (with Charli XCX)’, Jessie Ware - ‘Please’, Olivia Rodrigo - ‘drivers license’, Kero Kero Bonito - ‘Well Rested’, Sharon van Etten & Angel Olsen - ‘Like I Used To’, WJSN THE BLACK - ‘Easy’

Top local album so far...
Cayenne - Cayenne EP

Hyperpop has finally reached our shores! When Cayenne aka Celine Autumn (vocalist of local indie darlings Sobs) first dropped ‘Drivin’ Away’ last year, I was super hyped for her solo releases. This debut self-titled EP is a saccharine, punchy collection of songs that reminds me of SOPHIE (may she rest in peace), but sprinkled with Cayenne and co-producer jorud’s own flair. It’s exciting to see how the niche microgenre of hyperpop continues to evolve beyond its PC Music roots into a transnational movement, where Singaporean artists are also part of this fluid soundscape.

Top international album so far...
Cola Boyy - Prosthetic Boombox

This album makes me so damn happy. Cola Boyy is, without a doubt, my favourite discovery of the year so far. Hailing from Oxnard, California, Cola Boyy aka Matthew Urango is a disbaled Afro-Latino musician who’s also an outspoken activist. In his debut LP Prosthetic Boombox, he unapologetically tackles his disabilities and the working class struggle on the dancefloor, crafting a colourful musical salad of funk, disco, and soul.  

My favourite track would be the opener ‘Don’t Forget Your Neighborhood’, which is a collab with legendary electronic outfit The Avalanches. Overall, Prosthetic Boombox is such a jubilant and feel-good record, but its intersectional politics are what make it unforgettable for me.

Honourable mentions: Faye Webster - I Know I’m Funny haha, Lucy Dacus - Home Video, Sweet Trip - A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals, Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend, CHAI - WINK, Doss - 4 New Hit Songs, Parannoul - To See the Next Part of the Dream  

Top music video so far...
fromis_9 - ‘WE GO’

Everything about this music video screams fun, and it’s probably the most creative one I’ve seen this year. I really love how they played around with graphic design elements, and kudos to their editor for the crazy transitions. I also like how the video incorporated Zoom and social media, which was a creative way of making these pandemic times seem less depressing. I mean, the song itself is also a catchy summer banger, and the girls look amazing—what’s not to love? Stan fromis_9, y’all.

Honourable mentions: TWICE - ‘Alcohol-Free’, LOONA - ‘PTT (Paint The Town)’, Megan Thee Stallion - ‘Thot Shit’, St. Vincent - ‘Down’


TERRY NG, WRITER (SG)

Top song so far...
Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic - ‘Leave The Door Open’

Silk Sonic’s appearance in the music scene this year has been the best thing since sliced bread. Except sliced bread isn’t nearly half as smooth as Bruno and Anderson’s velvety vocals and soulful instrumentation on this track. The vintage feels and irresistible lyricism on this song is a surefire recipe to set it up for Grammy nominations and other accolades at next year’s awards season.

Top local album so far...
JJ Lin - Like You Do

Honestly, there’s no bigger name that has arisen out of Singapore’s music scene than JJ Lin. Reaching out to an even wider audience with his first English album, the Mandopop prince demonstrates that his artistry cannot be limited by the confines of language and genre. Every song on the record is a true mood, and I especially liked the vulnerability that coats the hit single ‘Bedroom’.

Top international album so far...
Twenty One Pilots - ‘Scaled and Icy’

There’s hardly a common theme that ties the songs in Twenty One Pilot’s latest record together, but perhaps that’s the beauty of this project. Written against the backdrop of a world in lockdown, there’s a track on the album for every emotional need that could possibly arise in these unusual times. From a perk-me-up on ‘Good Day’, to a call for discernment in ‘Never Take It’ and a gentle prodding to try something new in ‘Shy Away’, this album proves to be relatable on many levels.

Top music video so far...
Justin Bieber - ‘Hold On’

I’ve been a huge Belieber since the beginning. For me, it’s been quite a ride to have seen Justin’s sound and image transform over the years. The music video for ‘Hold On’ is quite literally a visual representation of Justin’s maturing perspectives on love, seeing it now as a force that would stop at nothing (even robbing a bank) for the benefit of those dear to him.


YUCHANG FU, WRITER (SG)

Top song so far...
Taylor Swift - 'Don’t You (Taylor’s Version)'

I don’t know how this beautiful track did not make the cut to the original Fearless or platinum edition tracklist, but I’m glad that Taylor decided to include the song into Fearless (Taylor’s Version). Emotionally devastating lyrics combined with Jack Antonoff’s dreamy and wistful production, the song is one of the best vault tracks from Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and it easily becomes one of the saddest songs in Taylor’s discography.

Top local album so far...
brb. - fleur

The first time I have discovered brb. was actually a happy accident. I was scrolling through a friend’s playlist and I accidentally hit play on ‘juice’, one of the songs on their EP. I was immediately fascinated by their unique production. From then on, I kept a lookout for their new releases and fleur definitely did not disappoint at all.

Top international album so far...
Lana Del Rey - Chemtrails Over the Country Club

When Lana was working on Chemtrails Over the Country Club, I was already hooked on  NFR! and I didn’t know whether Chemtrails would live up to my expectations. To my relief, she delivered once again. With themes of romance, escapism and nostalgia on the album, Lana’s storytelling abilities shine in songs such as ‘White Dress’ and ‘Yosemite’. With this album, she proved once again that she is one of the most influential artists of this generation.

Top music video so far...
Demi Lovato - 'Dancing with the Devil'

Demi Lovato’s 2018 highly publicized overdose shocked many people around the world including myself. So when she dropped the music video for the extremely personal and revealing title track, the message of the song was even more devastating when she details the horrifying events that unfolded during her overdose. Demi is open about her struggles with addiction and she holds nothing back in the video.


PAOLO ABAD, CONTRIBUTING WRITER (PH)

Top song so far...
Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paas, Silk Sonic - 'Leave the Door Open'

'Leave the Door Open' is like a free-flowing river of gold. Here, Anderson .Paak and Bruno Mars meld their distinct but connected sonic palettes into a retro-sounding and sultry jam.

As the first release from their forthcoming collaborative album, I feel this track can signal either do a full lean and throwback to this Motown sound – an unabashed pastiche – or something more timeless and eclectic, akin to .Paak’s own Malibu (2016) or Oxnard (2018).

Honourable Mentions: SOPHIE - 'UNISIL', Japanese Breakfast - 'Be Sweet, Utada Hikaru - 'One Last Kiss', Yukika & Pat Lok - 'The Moment', Emile Mosseri & Han Ye-Ri (from Minari) - 'Rain Song' , EXO - 'Paradise', Lucy Dacus - 'Brando'

Top local album so far...
The Buildings - Heaven is a Long Exhale

It’s been about half a decade since The Buildings released new material, but Heaven is a Long Exhale doesn’t sound like the product of a hiatus. This follow-up to 2016’s Cell-O-Phane bears the marks of a long period of upheavals, including this pandemic. As a result, the record occupies a strange liminal space between nostalgic artifact and more recent sensibilities; raw and immaculate; visceral and calculated – all in a good way.

It also just ticks all the boxes of late ‘00s to ‘10s indie canon, and honestly, I would say – as this is better in Filipino – nakaka-bagets (makes me feel younger). I think that’s such a rare quality for releases as of late.

Honourable Mention: Dicta License - Pagbigkas

Top international album so far...
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra - Promises

Transportive but also grounded, as well as cerebral yet sublime, Promises is an extraordinary opus that surpasses any of the qualifiers I just mentioned. One minute, you’re standing still, and with hardly a moment’s notice, you’re sweeped up into the distant stars. This record is truly a musical tour de force.

Floating Points (a.k.a. Sam Shepherd) deftly weaves ambient tones and pulses together with the lush instrumentation across the piece’s 9 movements – a celestial feat on its own. However, with Promises, the saxophonist Pharoah Sanders could just cement his legacy in the pantheon of musical greats.

Honourable Mentions: Lucy Dacus - Home Video, Porter Robinson - Nurture

Top music video so far...
Rostam - 'From the Back of a Cab'

There’s only so much you can do when making a music video with COVID-19 restrictions in place, but I think 'From the Back of a Cab' triumphs in its simplicity. The video just captures the idea that just one car could witness a plethora of stories left untold to the world. The Rostam and Friends cast caught my attention, but it’s the storytelling that takes it all the way.

Honourable Mentions: Lil Nas X - 'MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)', Doja Cat ft. SZA - 'Kiss Me More', Olivia Rodrigo - 'good 4 u', The Chemical Brothers -'The Darkness That You Fear'