2018 introduced the region to new music lifted from different spectrums of genres by some of the most creative minds in music and art. Whatever suits your tastes, there was a record that came out this past year to satisfy your sonic cravings.
Here are some of the best releases in the region born in 2018 curated by Bandwagon, your go-to source for fresh music in Asia:
USISA - BULLET DUMAS (PH)
Just hours before taking on the stage for his first solo concert, Bullet Dumas surprised fans with the release of his debut record USISA, an eco-friendly 10-track album that had a limited run of Bandcamp download codes printed on postcards.
Dumas' first full-length album encapsulates the powerful and jaw-dropping presence the Filipino folk singer-songwriter carries onstage. With previously released singles, 'Tugtog', 'Limguhit', and 'Put To Waste,' USISA urges listeners to reflect on their emotions through the raw and vulnerable words of Dumas. - Kara Bodegon
CHECK-HOOK - Charlie Lim (SG)
Charlie Lim ended 2018 playing one of his biggest hometown shows to date. Together with his band, The Mothership, and some of Singapore’s most highly praised musicians, the singer-songwriter delivered a masterful concert, which is arguably one of the best Singaporean shows of 2018.
Stepping away from the guitar-centric singer-songwriter style, which he is best known for, he released a slew of dance-centric music in his latest release, CHECK-HOOK, which he mentioned is an “ode to overthinking”. The tracks take a deep dive into the sensuality of the R&B domain and are buoyed by deep synth pulses and gentle piano sounds. He even incorporated rap in his track, ‘Better Dead Than A Damsel’, which featured two rising Singaporean rappers Yung Raj and Fariz Jabba. Truly, CHECK-HOOK is a bold and adventurous step, and it feels like a direction that Lim wanted and had to take, old fans and old ways be damned. - Michelle Arteche
Underwater - Elephant Gym (TW)
Elephant Gym’s otherworldly collection of nine songs goes beyond bass, beyond jazz and funk, and even beyond math-rock. They combined old elements with more experimental ones without betraying their signature style. They mixed together a variety of influences from each member during their individual turns in leading production and creation. They also infused a number of collaborations from other artists, making their songs diverse in genre (hello, hip-hop track halfway through the album) and even in language (check out ‘Quilt’ in English).
Indeed, Underwater is an invitation to immerse in sounds that stimulate, engage and remind. Let your ears (and even your eyes) enjoy their 2018 offering, while reminiscing about their intense stint in the Philippines and prepping for their gig in Singapore first thing next year. - Madeline Castillo
All My Friends - tide/edit (PH)
With All My Friends, tide/edit successfully justify all the gear and equipment they copped for music-making purposes. They continue to experiment with different and interesting sounds born from post-rock guitar licks and modern technology, adding that their new process of writing songs collectively shifted everything for the best with just a few taps and clicks.
Putting out a fresh record was just a part of what made 2018 great for the Filipino post-rock quartet. They were able to share their album live with eager audiences and make new friends across Southeast Asia and keep their Japanese fans well fed with fresh tunes. - Kara Bodegon
Take It Apart and Put It Back Together - Caracal (SG)
Singaporean post-hardcore band Caracal made its return to fold this year with its first record in two years, Take It Apart and Put It Back Together. Newcomers Rachel Lu and Trent Davis join the band to fill in as vocalists and bassist accordingly and their additions are more than welcome. The five-track EP features the heaviest Caracal material to date, exorcising the demons that plagued the original band’s line-up and their storied and tumultuous past with ex-vocalist K.C. Meals. The end result, while brutal at times, also features the band at its most vulnerable and honest. Rachel’s vocals and Trent’s backing screams add a new layer of expression to the Caracal sound we’ve all come to love, and easily stands among one of the best records from the region in 2018. - Surej Singh
BOYS - Talitha (MY)
In 2010, the Internet got a peek into Talitha Tan’s musical ability when she started posting covers of popular hits on her YouTube channel. A few years later, the Malaysian singer-songwriter’s debut single ‘Okay’ garnered over 1.8 million plays on Spotify, and shot the singer to domestic fame.
Her latest album, BOYS, is a remarkable showcase of her range. Soulful riffs and infectious start-stop synths are a common sonic thread running throughout the record, which are the perfect vehicles to carry her emotive vocals. Her heart-wrenching ode to her mother, ‘Please Stay’, is also one of her best tracks to date.
Singer-songwriter albums aren’t normally the most gripping of musical output but Talitha succeeds where others haven’t by keeping her moves simple and effective. She gives the listener exactly what she’s capable of and the magic of empathy turns that into more. - Michelle Arteche
RIP Indo Hisashi EP - No Rome (PH)
Paving a way for young Filipino musicians around the world, No Rome transcends from a scene of floral decor and teenage love blues. This 4-track EP is not a full course meal, but it’s a jam-packed hors-d'oeuvre.
'Do It Again' brings us back to the basics of synthpop where the only rule is to dance until your mind stops drinking new thoughts and ideas. It’s pure, but not as raw as 'Narcissist', which plays with our emotional stability and drags us back to the lowest circle in hell: our id. It is also accompanied by The 1975 who add rhythmic mayhem that only make us wonder, “how can we get over this?” between synths and electric drum beats.
RIP Indo Hisashi is a timeline on its own, reflecting the humble beginnings of Rome and his future as a puppeteer of many plays (where he or Matt Healy are, probably, the playwrights). - PB Hermoso
When Love Was Around EP - Midnight Fusic (MY)
Malaysian indie alt-rock band Midnight Fusic released its debut EP this year following the release of two highly successful singles ‘Heart of May’ and ‘Lovesick’. With the two singles came a lot of high hopes and expectations of the band, and thankfully, those were more than ably met on the EP. Equipped with upbeat and dance-inducing instrumentals and a velvet-smooth vocals to match, Midnight Fusic thread a fine line between nonchalance and emotion to perfection. It’s light, it’s breezy, it’s almost care-free but most importantly, it’s a good time.
On a macro level, the young lads of Midnight Fusic are indicative of the healthy state Southeast Asian pop-rock is in. When Love Was Around is an encouraging step forward for the regional tenor of the sound. - Surej Singh
GRANDMA - UNIQUE (PH)
After breaking away from IV Of Spades earlier this year, 18-year-old singer-songwriter Unique surprised the world with his stunning 12-track debut record Grandma. The album is packed with a progressive and psychedelic sound that leans toward the realm of British rock, which dominated the UK charts from the 1960s to 1970s. With Grandma, the O/C Records artist is also given the opportunity to express himself visually as he directed and conceptualized the official music video for 'Cha-Ching!'
Grandma proves that Unique is more than capable of giving the world greater music across the horizon. - Kara Bodegon
Telltale Signs - Sobs (SG)
Sobs is the kind of band you want to have playing at every bittersweet moment in your life -- and probably more. With their playful and cheery sounds cleverly juxtaposed with sad lyrics, the band manages to encapsulate the meaning of the phrase “smiling through the pain” so perfectly. The trio’s latest release, Telltale Signs, plays on a loud-quiet-dynamic, lyrics fueled with frustration and preppy dream pop.
In ‘All Poison’, frontwoman Celine starts off with doubtful optimism, only to progress to feelings of helplessness as the song rolls on, where she sings, “Runnin out of ways to stay in line / When will I find a space that I could feel safe inside”. It’s reliability like this that has made Sobs one of the most vital indie voices in the region. - Michelle Arteche
orchid - crwn (PH)
CRWN’s newest beat tape is the peace and quiet you probably hadn't thought you needed.
The combination of CRWN’s talent in beat making and samples from live instruments come together very well. All ten tracks are gifted with this sense of relaxation and reflection, bringing listeners to a state of zen. Between the pleasantly simple tunes, chill beats, and nods to nature, ‘Orchid’ is light, airy and very refreshing. - Madeline Castillo
ZEPHYR - NIKI (ID)
For an artist, hype is the sharpest of all double-edged swords. Especially in our accelerated culture, where numbers dictate the worth of an artist and the value of what they bring to the table, the vagaries of trends and taste have never been more worrisome. But NIKI, the 19-year-old Indonesian R&B chanteuse, the honey-voiced rose amongst 88rising’s thorns, showed that she has her sights on the infinitely more meaningful frontier of craft with her debut album Zephyr. Forged in the crucible of neo-soul and R&B, the eight-tracker is a soft-focused, straight-for-heart set of songs that bristles as much it burns with its powerful import.
Young love is the thematic concern that defines the parameters of Zephyr’s universe. And with her hushed, sweetly unspooling coo and storytelling verve that bestows upon episodic vignettes a poignant undeniability, NIKI makes the familiar hit home meaningfully. - Indran Paramasivan
Late Night Doppelgänger - Nicco Homaili (SG)
Nicco Homaili’s is a voice you need to hear. His nocturnal, spectrally resplendent sound is a fertile canvas for the spectrum of anxiety, frustration, anger and self-earned revelation that creep and/or blossom in one’s psyche in the late night. He devotes his debut full-length album to pushing against the limits of this no-holes-barred self-conversation.
Nothing is spared here: As much as he rages against the dumbing materialism and superficiality-obsessed tendencies of the present (‘Dots in a Dot’) and how self-interest has possessed people to the point of blood lust (‘Trust No One’), he subjects himself to the harshest, most unsparing form of emotional bloodletting on many of the album’s best songs, such as ‘1402’ and ‘Dirt On My Name’.
Yet, its emotional parity with the listener’s isn’t this album’s greatest gift. On Late Night Doppelgänger, Nicco doesn’t just commiserate. What he does better is render his existential tremors as the spectres of his innermost creative impulses. That is what makes this set a late-night masterpiece. - Indran Paramasivam
Sounds from Within - Six the Northstar (PH)
We haven’t heard much from Six the Northstar since his Bandwagon Hush stint, but it seems like he has been busy. Now, with the year almost ending, he drops a new album.
Each track contains a minute or two of things that are definitively Six: some familiar beats, the old-school samples, and then some. But his newest release is not the third volume of SixTrueMentals. It is something better: the original soundtrack of “From Within,” a documentary on the growing street culture community in the country. This means that this auditory gem will come with very interesting visuals real soon, but for now we can keep ‘Sounds from Within’ playing in the background as we usher in the new year. - Madeline Castillo
The Pen Is Mightier - Kyoto Protocol (MY)
Rock music is undergoing a years-long fall from grace. Spurned by a zeitgeist more taken in with the undeniable ubiquity and social import of hip-hop and the seductive thump and ease of populist dance music, the good old mode of a bunch of people in a room making music with their guitars has become the province of die-hards and lifers. Now, more than ever, rock is a sound and spirit that demands investment – there are no casual fans. All this is just as well for Kyoto Protocol, one of Malaysia’s longstanding and finest indie-minded rock bands.
The Pen Is Mightier is the band’s most interesting unveiling yet. It’s finds a sweet spot in a musicality that is riffy, punchy and catchy and which doesn’t sacrifice being socially conscious for heavy-handed one-size-fits-all generalising. ‘Universal Rhyme’, ‘Delta Wing’ and ‘The End’ are highlights from a collection that is intelligent and enduring – and a reminder of why rock can’t ever die. - Indran Paramasivam
Turmoil EP - Trophy Knives (MY)
Malaysian punk rockers Trophy Knives’ EP may be short, but it’s packed to the brim with angst, pounding drums, terrific bass lines, sharp riffs and piercing vocals. The EP, while concise, takes listeners on a trip, toying with their emotions. The five-track EP showcases the best of the band’s musicality and capabilities while highlighting punk’s undying glory. The socially charged EP tackles a slew of social issues that has plagued members of the band for some time, with several of them having dealt with racism and more. While the band still has fun on the record, it’s described the EP as a necessity in order to speak about the issues that affect it and society at large. - Surej Singh
Ikhlas - FAUXE (SG)
Even before the listener encounters it, Ikhlas is upfront about the high stakes of its conception. Bahasa Melayu for “sincerity”, the album finds one of Singapore’s most uncompromisingly questing musicians searching out for the next level within the most contextually specific limits he has ever set for himself. The traditions and span of Malaysian music is FAUXE’s project, here. In uncovering disparate fragments from the past, reverent Singapore taps on a historical vein that underpins Southeast Asian culture – systems of thought and belief that are very much alive today. But Ikhlas doesn’t just stop at sincerity and veneration.
It’s a FAUXE transmission. That means the listener will enter a distinct world, multi-layered and astoundingly dynamic. Consider the highlight ‘Tunku’, which splices a Tamil folk song with a hyper-percussive beat worthy of the drum and bass’ fury and power. In essence, Ikhlas makes a claim of what is worthy of immortalising in a time capsule of Southeast Asia. - Indran Paramasivam
Send Nudes EP - Sihk (ID)
2018 has been a banner year for Indonesian producer and DJ, Sihk (pronounced “sick”). From signing to gargantuan EDM label Barong Family, to releasing his debut EP and being featured on its all-star album, he has undoubtedly caught the attention of EDM fans across the globe, and for good reason. Make no mistake, Send Nudes is an extremely grabby title, but it pays off because once you listen to it, you’ll realise this is a record that needs every ounce of attention it can get. From slick guitar licks sprinkled into bass-heavy opener ‘Flower Pots’ to the weird-but-captivating beeps of ‘R2D69’ and festival banger ‘Next Level’, which has since seen plays at renowned festivals across the planet, it’s clear that Sihk really can do it all. It’s a unique EDM record that outlives the grabbiness of its title. And well, at that. - Surej Singh
summer/salt - nights of rizal (PH)
If movement is the inspiration behind Nights of Rizal’s debut album, then he got something absolutely right. ’summer/salt’ is a combo of trippy beats, catchy rhythms, and pretty interesting lyrics made for trips to the beach with friends, impromptu, long drives to wherever late at night, and for-nobody’s-eyes-ever dance routines in your room.
All ten tracks apparently have their own story to tell (and can be accompanied by beautiful merch, too!), but all undeniably hold one message: to simply never forget to move — whether to the beat, forward from a bad spot or onto your next adventure. - Madeline Castillo
Stardom - Vũ Cát Tường (VN)
Starting out on the reality TV show, The Voice Vietnam, where she attained first runner-up, Vũ Cát Tường has made big strides in her career with her unique ability to experiment with different genres. Her latest album, Stardom, exhibits her prowess in compositional ability and grasp of a multitude of genres, which is a thoroughly contemporary outlook and one that is rewarded by the Top 40 charts and pop radio. From her aggressive rap in the single ‘Leader’ to the R&B-influenced ballad ‘San Francisco’, it is obvious she is certainly not afraid to expand and experiment with different sounds.
In a recent interview with Bandwagon, she also expressed her desire to make music as accessible as possible in all parts of Vietnam. With such a powerful driving force in her life, Cát will continue to be one of Vietnam’s brightest stars. - Michelle Arteche
Aurora - Maude (PH)
Maude's second studio album Aurora was worth the wait. The 11-track record carries a mix of old and new songs wrapped in bittersweet, melancholic lyrics and catchy melodies, all while sounding brighter compared to their 2014 debut offering Pelota Court. Featuring the lovesick tracks 'Potion,' 'Brownout,' and 'Cloud Nine,' Aurora will make you feel all your obsessive angst filter through you or perhaps even be thankful for the good and stable relationships you have in your life.
Despite having a year-late release, vocalist Luis Azcona tells Bandwagon in an interview that he likes "the timing of this release," adding how the process of releasing music these days is so different from before. We just hope it won't take them another four years to drop fresh anthems for the broken-hearted. - Kara Bodegon
Aftermath - Lostthreads (PH)
Lostthreads welcomed heavy metal fans into their new world of heart-racing riffs and neck-breaking beats to fuel moshpits with their sophomore album Aftermath.
Aftermath follows the release of Lostthreads' 2013 debut album Wake Up Your God, and brings out a heightened sense of rhythmic complexities and powerful screams, packed with djent influences. With 'Fourth Circle,' 'Weight of the World' and 'Hell In God's Eyes,' there isn't a moment wasted on their 7-track offering under Tower of Doom, so all you have to do is sit back and let it set you on fire. - Kara Bodegon
Check out more of our year-end features here.
For the latest music news, fresh features, and concert announcements in Asia, sign up on Bandwagon's The Insider.