2020 Midyear Roundup: Bandwagon's regional and international picks

2020 Midyear Roundup: Bandwagon's regional and international picks

Now, would you look at that? We've made it through the first half of this awful year in one piece.

Let's be honest—2020 so far has been tough what with volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, corruption, and pestilence (thanks, coronavirus!) holding the entire planet in a chokehold. We're kind of facing a baby Apocalypse these days and one of the things that reassures us that everything will be okay is that we still have our music heroes creating and blessing our ears with tunes to keep us sane.

From Carly Rae Jepsen to Lamb of God, Ena Mori to Rina Sawayama, here are some of the Bandwagon editorial team's top picks of releases from 2020:


Camille Castillo, editorial director

Top song so far...

I loved everything about Carly Rae Jepsen's surprise album drop, but this was the song that resonated with me the most. Plus, you can't beat a CRJ + Jack Antonoff combo.

Honourable Mentions: Dirty Projectors - 'Overlord', Real Estate feat. Sylvan Esso - 'Paper Cup', Moses Sumney - 'Cut Me', Pinkmen - 'Sardinas', Jay Som - 'A Thousand Words', Grrl Cloud - 'Tonguetied'

Top local album so far...

This is so ironic since I can't dance to save my life, but I absolutely love Pamcy's music. Her new EP Sayaw is the perfect soundtrack to house parties (with my siblings, don't invite people over!) at the veranda. She gave us another reason to party in our pambahay.

Honourable Mentions: Ena Mori - Ena Mori EP, Oh, Flamingo! - Volumes EP

Top international album so far...

I think in times of crisis, nostalgia gives us this sense of familiarity and safety and I'm just glad that the new album by The Strokes came out this year. It's called The New Abnormal and I'm not sure if Julian Casablancas was being prophetic with that...

Honourable Mentions: Græ - Moses Sumney, Bombay Bicycle Club - Everything Else Has Gone Wrong, Real Estate - Main Thing, Yumi Zouma - Truths and Consequences,  Carly Rae Jepsen - Dedicated Side B, Hinds - The Prettiest Curse, Taylor Swift - folklore

Top music video so far...

'Watermelon Sugar' would be the obvious choice for a 2020 Harry Styles music video, but 'Falling' has Harry drowning with a baby grand piano in a lilac chiffon Gucci gown. So much drama.


Kara Bodegon, staff writer (PH)

Top song so far...

It's impossible to skip Bea Lorenzo's 'Imaginary Love.' The moment it starts playing, I drop everything and let myself get lost in it...and then possibly hit repeat. Over and over and over again.

Honourable Mentions: Zild - 'Dila,' Dana Blaze - 'watch u burn,' Monuments - 'Animus'

Top local album so far...

If I had to put the future of pop music in one person's hands, it would go to Ena Mori (no pressure). Her self-titled EP is that burst of sunshine you need to get you out of any dark spot you might be trapped in, especially in these annoyingly trying times.

Top international album so far...

There's no better soundtrack for 2020 than Lamb of God's self-titled album. I mean, think about it—the political themes, the rage, the power! It's all so fitting. Anyone who's ditching this album just because Chris Adler isn't in it is totally missing out. Gotta say, Art Cruz is taking good care of that throne and has proved it with this record.

Honourable Mentions: The Used - Heartwork, Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia 

Top music video so far...

You can't imagine the joy that filled my being when I saw Four Year Strong release their back-to-back singles 'Talking Myself in Circles' and 'Brain Pain' at the start of the year. It showed promise for 2020. I had high hopes, big plans, and a lot of cake. But look where we are now. At least, we have good music to keep us company through this crappy year.


Ginny Palma, contributing editor (PH)

Top song so far...

Recently, I’ve finally gotten used to saying, “Jack Antonoff, again?” every time I find myself getting sonically suplexed in slow-mo. That, and ‘Comeback’ is just about as sublime as a Carly Rae Jepsen song could get. This declaration of love is just a sampling of how I’m bound to ultimately include Dedicated Side B on my 2020 Top Albums list.

Top local album so far...

I think a good number of the Bandwagon PH team have been self-proclaimed Ena Mori fanclub members for a good year or so now, but I only got to listen to her until a couple of months after this EP was released. I was absolutely floored by how inventive and sincere the writing was, and how the solid production of each track served to further empower those qualities. Also, that voice? Suffice to say, I am now also a proud member of the Ena Mori Fanclub.

Top international album so far...

Fiona Apple has always been one of my music queens (along with Regina Spektor and Tori Amos), and this album makes it feel like I’m going through another major chapter in my life. With how tumultuously suffocating this year has been for pretty much everyone, it might very well be that. It’s so delightfully, gracefully unhinged, as expected, and boldly certain of its message, also as expected.

Top music video so far...

I started following Rina Sawayama a bit this year because her videos had popped up among my YouTube recommendations. I loved nearly every single one of them so far, but I settled with ‘Bad Friend’ because of how it took a very different turn from her usual decadent, wildly colourful style, and brought us a film noir piece that perfectly complements the internal turmoil that echoes through the song and the violence that eventually ensues. That it was the last video she shot before the lockdown makes it all the more sombre. 


PB Hermoso, contributing writer (PH)

Top song so far...

The track puts me in this position where it feels like it’ll always be summer. Julian’s voice is the cool breeze while the rhythm and lyrics radiate warmth, longer days, and maybe a cocktail by the sunset.

Top local album so far...

Even when it’s a single, and clearly not an album, I can’t get enough of Peaceful Gemini’s 'Warrior Princess.' It empowers women to be headstrong and proud of who we are. This also delivers a meaningful message that girls can change the world, too.

Top international album so far...

This year seems to be a whirlwind of experiences both physically and emotionally and that’s what the album celebrates. It dances during a storm, sets fire to every hormone you wish you never had in your body, and encourages everyone to speak without fear.

Top music video so far...

This is a tough decision, but I chose Parcels' 'Redline/IknowhowIfeel/Elude (Live Vol. 1).' It’s simple: they’re recording in the studio, dancing, and having a great time. In this video, they remind everyone of the charm or magic of music in its raw form. It’s only a room with instruments, friends, and a collective passion for music.


Paolo Abad, contributing photographer/writer (PH)

Top song so far...

Chromatica was heaven-sent in the time of coronavirus, and its carrier single, 'Rain on Me,' is the would-be cure to all our anxious woes.

Lady Gaga’s latest album, filled with four-on-the-floor house beats, was made for the dance floor and is a return to her pop form after her little Joanne detour. Among all the tracks, the Ariana Grande guest feature was the absolute banger it was hyped up to be: euphoric and triumphant—unreservedly said: an anthem made for the ages.

Top local album so far...

Tarsius’ latest full-length effort isn’t like my first encounter with them via 2011’s Primate. That one was perhaps a little cheeky (in a good way), and with Culture Cow, Diego Mapa and Jay Gapasin’s electronic project remains as exciting as ever.

I’m tempted to compare it to Floating Points’s Crush, a similarly texture-rich electronica masterpiece, but that wouldn’t exactly be fair. Gapasin’s improv-like drumming gives it a certain unique flair, coupled with Mapa’s astute programming and instrumentation. My favourites are the lush 'Gumamela' and the dark techno-esque 'Nose Bleed' with its surging jazz-ish percussion.

Top international album so far...

For me, it’s a tie between two fine works of pop by queer artists.

Arca’s work is always able to elicit a certain thrill: it’s just boundary-pushing music. But the trans artist’s discography has tended to be somewhat obtuse and arcane—which, mind you, isn’t a bad thing. With KiCk i, however, she sort of changes gears, with the result being—in my opinion—her most accessible and pop-primed offering since the track 'Desafío' from her 2017 self-titled record and Björk’s Utopia.

Amid the clangs and the glitchy pulses—not to mention the stellar guest features (i.e. Björk, SOPHIE, Rosalía, Shygirl) – there’s a liberated sort of joy that you can feel from KiCk i. It’s experimental-sounding, but it’s also self-assured. It’s pop, but it defies expectations of what a pop song should sound like.

Rina Sawayama’s SAWAYAMA, I think, is equally dazzling in the way it borrows from pop tropes at the turn of the century without being bland throwbacks.

I was first drawn to Sawayama's work because it reminded me of Utada Hikaru—a personal hero to the Japanese-British artist. There’s still a lot of that in SAWAYAMA, with a renegade, unabashed spirit to it—plus a dash of cheeky Evanescence-esque metal thrown in for good measure. If these were better days, 'Comme des Garçons' and 'XS' should be on rotation at a gay club near you.

Top music video so far...

I present two choices once more—both melancholic visuals befitting these strange times. For your consideration: one from a singer-songwriter, and another from a techno producer.

Proselytizers trumpet around, “The end is near” with prophecy in hand, but Phoebe Bridgers, as the figurative dead girl walking in a skeleton onesie, offers the stark realism of her words and pictures of a limbo-like desolate arena. (Is it all an allusion to the empty spaces in the age of a pandemic?). This is her vision of the end.

Bridgers sings about inevitable things in a relationship, and inadvertently paints a portrait of encroaching fascism in America while she’s at it. But the picture and sound aren’t locked. The video isn’t a word-for-word interpretation, leaving much room for thought. For something so economical with its visuals, the accompanying video to Punisher’s closing track is actually kind of a lot to take: surreal, a little perplexing, and at its best, philosophical.

My second choice is a gem from one of my favourite acts under the Ostgut Ton label: Etapp Kyle. He makes a brooding (and oddly expressive) sort of techno that I have lately become enamoured with. The companion video to his single 'Nolove'. which he also directed, personally reminds me of cult classic documentaries Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka.

The already cinematic track is paired with an austere montage, interspersed by the faces of (yet) unknown characters. I learn that this is just but a small part of a bigger film project set in Kyle’s birthplace in Western Ukraine which they describe as “a part of the world that can often be characterised by hardship—a place of "no love"—but also one of human spirit and immense beauty.”


Franchesca Judine, writer (SG)

Top song so far...

I've been trying to expand my music range, so I've recently been exploring music from Europe which was when I came across Lous and The Yakuza. She's a relatively new artist, only having released her debut single in late 2019 but she already seems so established and knows her sound so well. This song is a mix of trap and pop, and it's definitely a 'slow vibe' type of track. The lyrics also talk about how a good thing can quickly turn into a bag thing, which sadly, is very fitting for 2020 so far.

Top local album so far...

Sezairi has always been on top of my list of local artists so when he released this EP, I was ecstatic. It's a collection of catchy beats and smooth vocal that seamlessly walks the line between pop and R&B. It's one hit after another.

Top international album so far...

I think, thematically, it's so fitting to modern times. The album talks about loneliness, self-depreciation, and discovering all the parts of yourself, which screams "big mood"! The album has 21 tracks, which is never really heard of, so you get a whole mixture of sounds in there—from emotional ballads, like 'Julia', to bubbly pop tracks, like 'Tattoos Together'.

Top music video so far...

 

This was a difficult choice to make but I'll go with the music video for '대취타 (Daechwita)' by AGUST D.  The storyline in the music video is so captivating that you tend to forget to listen to the song. The scale of production for Korean musicians' videos are always on a whole another level, so obviously you wouldn't think anything less than grand but something about the narrative progression in this is just exquisite. 


Christy Chua, writer (SG)

Top song so far...

I was just introduced to Lauv's music in detail this year, because my housemate couldn't stop playing it literally every day in the kitchen, shower, or in the living room we share. It was such an earworm for me, I had to continue plugging it into my long walks to the supermarket, on long train rides, and it was a reminder of how things were all good before the pandemic hit.

I think 'Mean It' is more than just a question, it's a question that we haven't been asking ourselves enough, if we really mean what we say or do, or has it just become ingrained inside of us and something we do on autopilot mode. It saddens me that just a few months back I almost bought tickets to Lauv's Europe tour, but I guess I'll see him when it's meant to be.

Top local album so far...

brb.'s debut album relationshit is literally a box of desserts for me—sweet and sticky 3 a.m. thoughts about love. Having fallen in love with their musical style since 'cool with it', imagine my joy when an entire album of music that I enjoy dropped. My favourite has to be 'do me right.'—it somehow reminds me of a chill old-school K-pop boy band track matched with the lo-fi beats of my dreams. 

Top international album so far...

A collection of imperfections, the mixtape delivered a raw, unedited footage of their friendship and their emotions into every track. It got me especially emotional after having the opportunity to interview them for a piece. no song without you fleshed out a different side of HONNE—the stripped back, minimalist writing is definitely what we need in a world fraught with chaos. smile more smile more smile more.

Top music video so far...

Anything that Red Velvet does is a true stunner, I cannot deny this. I've never been this impressed by the cinematography and choreography in any music video, but the black and white symbolising Yin and Yang in perfect synchronization just got me. The prelude and ending with futuristic scenes which reminded one of the k-drama My Love From Another Star was a throwback for me. Mmm.


Sunnie Wang, Chinese Writer (SG)

Top song so far...

The song name in Mandarin actually translates to “still water”, reflecting the commentary in our modern society where individual thoughts behave like water droplets. When a droplet first hits the surface of the water, it creates ripples. But these ripples gradually disappear and the initial droplet eventually becomes just another part of the larger body of water.

Honourable Mentions: OHMYMEITING & Goose – ‘Parallel (行星恋)’, AccuseFive – ‘Nothing To Do With The Sea (与海无关)’, ?te – ‘You Say Goodbye Easily’

Top international album so far...

Hailing from Mainland China, rapper Ice Paper’s third album in two years is almost entirely a solo work. He plays the role of producer, composer, lyricist, and sound mixer in all 24 songs that span multiple genres, including classical music, electronic, and pop. Across the album, Ice Paper’s songs carry a wide range of inspiration, from historical figures to folklores and even anime, but are linked together with a common theme centred around ancient Chinese culture, providing a critique of modern society from a traditional viewpoint.Honourable Mentions: Chen Hsien-Ching – Call In Plan (Call In计划) , Xing Zheng – Museum of Tears (眼泪博物馆), aoi – Stories With You (有你的故事)

Top music video so far...

A perfect harmony of monologue-like lyrics with an impactful arrangement, the vocals and melody in this song come together like an emotional cheer for the strength of humanity. The music video plays like a symbolic funeral, reminding us that no matter how different our lives are, it all ends the same way – with an emptiness left behind by us as we move on.

Honourable Mentions: LAY – ‘Lit (莲)’


Ong Wenjing – Chinese Writer (SG)

Top song so far…

I’ll admit. My impression of KUN was still stuck in 2018 when he emerged first on the survival show Idol Producer. Two years later, in 2020, we see KUN back on Youth With You 2 (a show under the same series as Idol Producer), one of the hottest idol group survival shows in Mainland China this year, as the ‘PD’. And ‘Lover’ is a song he wrote and first revealed on the show through a collaboration stage with the trainees. Not only did ‘Lover’ change my perception of him as a performer, but the song also shed new light on him as an artist. It’s a hallmark of his growth from a member of a boy group to a solo artist. 

Top local album so far…

The first song I heard from brb. was ‘Talking to Myself’ and it reminded me of Bazzi and Lauv. Imagine my surprise when I realised brb. is a local trio. Undoubtedly, I was excited about their debut album relationshit and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The two previously unreleased tracks, ‘do me right’ and ‘better’ retained their sound beautifully and even took it a notch higher. 

Top international album so far…

To think that Dedicated Side B is an album of offcuts is simply mind-blowing. From the opener ‘This Love Isn’t Crazy’, to ‘Window’ and ‘Comeback’, to the last song ‘Now I Don’t Hate California After All’, this album is still unabashedly Carly Rae Jepsen. And I’m all for it. 

Top music video so far…

LOONA doesn’t ever disappoint when it comes to their music videos. It’s one of the things that make people fall in love with them. 'LOONAVERSE’ is a lore commonly known in the Orbit fandom and it’s sprinkled throughout their music videos dating all the way back to 2016. And in the music video of LOONA’s highly anticipated comeback title ‘So What’, we see hints of the LOONAVERSE again. But what really won my heart over was its message: break free. LOONA has never shied away from talking about self-love and female empowerment, and if ‘Butterfly’ was a small flap of the wing, ‘So What’ is the flame of their passion in this matter. 


Chong Yoke Ming – Contributing Editor (SG)

Top song so far…

Covid-19 has been the one thing on everyone’s mind this entire year. This is especially so in China, where the pandemic originated from, with the country facing over 84,000 cases so far. For Hua Chenyu, Covid-19 hit even closer to home, as the first cases of the virus occurred in his hometown of Hubei, in the city where he took his first steps in music, Wuhan. This single is a heartfelt piece composed by Hua Chenyu to encourage his fellow countrymen to stay strong in the face of the crisis for a better tomorrow. The end of the song features prominent actors and actresses from China playing the roles of family members, wishing for their loved ones to keep fighting and come home soon.

Honourable Mentions: The Weeknd – ‘Blinding Lights’, Sam Kim – ‘Breath’, Lady Gaga with BLACKPINK – ‘Sour Candy’, JJ Lin & Jam Hsiao – ‘Hello’, Hebe Tian – ‘Let It…’

Top local album so far….

Zuo En’s first full-length album is a joy to listen to. Compared to many international Mandopop albums produced by bigger name labels that are more elaborate and heavily-produced, Zuò is a light-hearted collection that makes for great listening on a relaxing afternoon. While the album remains light and simple, do not mistake that for a lack of effort. Throughout the album, each new track brings a little surprise, and you will never feel bored or tired listening to it.

Top international album so far….

To me, Hua Chenyu is the model Mandopop artist – one who is able to take on both the roles of songwriter and singer (this is not always a given in the Mandopop industry), and is not restricted by genre. He always brings something new to the table with every new release, and New World is no exception. Through this album, Hua Chenyu communicates the loneliness he feels through his music, but doesn’t forget to leave us with a hopeful note that we live in a beautiful world regardless of the challenges we face. With an unstoppable creative mind and a k-pop idol’s looks to boot, Hua Chenyu is definitely one of the biggest Mandopop stars of our times.

Honourable Mentions: Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes – What Kinda Music, Lady Gaga – Chromatica, Johnny Tobin – Weekends, Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas, Heat Sketch (热写生) – Yuba Youth (豆皮少年), Allyson Chen – Not My Sh** (不是我的靴)

Top music video so far….

This is such a simple video but it brings so much joy. Just watch it and you’ll understand. Keep your eye on the bassist in the final chorus. One of the most fun music videos of the year.

Honourable Mentions: BLACKPINK – ‘How You Like That’, Ariel Tsai – “CHEERIO”

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