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We review the good (and bad) releases of July — Sam Rui, Obedient Wives Club, O$P$, M1LDL1FE and more

We review the good (and bad) releases of July — Sam Rui, Obedient Wives Club, O$P$, M1LDL1FE and more

July offered a wealth of releases from Singapore and beyond, and the genre range is something we didn't notice until we took a step back — from Geylang crunk to bedroom R&B, dream pop and thrash metal, here are some interesting releases from the past month.

You can also stream the various releases with the provided links. Your playlist for the week is sorted!


CINEMATICA | Obedient Wives Club

Genre: Indie pop
Release date: July 14th

It wouldn’t necessarily be right to call the new Obedient Wives Club EP happy – but considering how fuzzy, bleak and reverb-filled their previous releases have been, Cinematica sounds downright joyful. The vocals have been brought to the forefront, orchestral touches of glockenspiel and strings have been added, and there is a slight decrease of general fuzziness – as if someone just banged on the jukebox, making the lovelorn tunes a little bit clearer to hear.

If there is a flaw to Obedient Wives Club’s approach to songwriting, it is that they can sound like a pastiche of a pastiche: they ape bands like The Raveonettes, Tennis, and Dum Dum Girls, bands who, in turn, ape 1960s girl groups like The Supremes, The Ronettes and The Crystals. As a result, they do tend to become twice removed from an original sound – without adding much of a spin of their own.

While a more original take on the 60s sound would be very welcome in the band’s future, it’s hard to argue with the results when the individual songs are as good as they are on Cinematica. 'Baby Bye Bye' is an incredibly charming take on the girl group formula of “heartbroken lyrics with a chipper melody”. 'Factory Girl' is all hazy, smoky Julee Cruise roadhouse performance until it breaks off into an extended, mesmerizing outro of twinkling guitar. And closer 'All That Remains' takes a turn towards dejected pop-punk with some surprising speed changes along the way – putting the grrl in girl group. 

Cinematica is an incredibly exciting step for Obedient Wives Club to take. It bears with it a promise of great things ahead — if they dare add a few more tweaks to their formula to make them stand out against their more obvious inspirations. — Mads K. Bækkevold

Rating: 8/10

Stream the release here.


SEASON 2 | SAM RUI

Genre: R&B, electropop
Release date: June 30th

Previously on Sam Rui Season 1, the talented singer-songwriter totally revamped her style last year — going from her folk and indie-pop into an invigorating alt-R&B direction. Back by a string of stunning, sensual releases, the burgeoning starlet was invited to perform at Laneway Festival Singapore to much fanfare.

Eager to move on to the next level, Sam Rui has unveiled her much-hyped debut album, aptly entitled Season 2. Not only is it a culmination of the great work she's done in the past year, it also presents fans with a confident look at her creative future. Although half the LP is made up of popular past releases such as 'Down' (featuring FAUXE), 'Better', 'Solid Gold' and a couple of others, this is far from a re-thread.

Instead, her intimate confessionals are now given more cohesive context. As many know from her singles, Sam Rui isn't afraid to display romantic vulnerability, resentment, but this 10-track effort coalesces all those diaristic tales of heartbreak into a sound that full-bodied and full of promise. Producer GROSSE is an emboldening key to her yearning narrative, while guest star omarKENOBI is a fantastic addition on the album's standout track 'Let's Get Coffee'. — Hidzir Junaini

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.


M1LDL1FE | M1LDL1LFE

Genre: Indie rock
Release date: July 28th

M1LDL1FE's debut EP comes as a brand new start for a band looking to break new ground for themselves. On that merit alone, this self-titled EP succeeds.

The band’s focus on swirling textures and heightening production bodes well for headphone listening — on all fronts, the former members of Take Two have stepped up, and the EP has ended up an aural treat. For a band whose first EP suffered from bland execution, they're taking this new lease of life with considerable vitality.

Lyrically, the band remains lacking — the two-parter ‘Back Door’ is noticeably epic, but the refrain “I just want you to want me” does little else than to tamper the song’s soaring conclusion. ‘How You Forget’ serves as the EP’s final track, but also its best: all the elements that the band toy with come together incredibly neatly, and it’s as concise and adventurous you can expect from this band at such an early stage.

M1LDL1FE's low points are worth overlooking in light of its strongest qualities, and you may just take something away from this promising debut. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.


Songs of Summer | Amberhill

Genre: Dream pop, indie rock
Release date: June 30th

Songs of Summer, the debut EP of the musical collective Amberhill, is an incredibly promising effort. Swirls of keys and synths phase in and out of the ringing, delayed-laced guitars and floaty contemplative vocals, anchored by a tastefully energetic rhythm section. Pastoral whimsies about beauty and nature, about "purple mornings, orange kissed skies", interweave with vague narratives of love and loss. 

Where it rises above its peers creating dreamy, lush music is just how rich and sonically deep it sounds. Multi-instrumentalist and band ringleader Joshua Lau has an ear for texture — the band has a distinct, singular sound, a cohesive unit where everything blends perfectly together. Of course, there are moments like the end of ‘Cycles and Notions', where the music crescendos and coalesces into a moment of beauty. And ‘Summer’, despite being the least sonically interesting song there, brings clarity to the emotional arc of this brief record.

The result is a most peaceful and sorrowful fever dream of an EP — and great expectations for their next offering, of course. — Yong Junyi

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.


The Fallen Reich | Assault

Genre: Thrash metal, death metal
Release date: July 2nd

Five-piece death metal outfit Assault may have formed in 2006 but The Fallen Reich is only their second release. Despite that, or possibly because of that, the level of musicianship and songwriting displayed discloses a maturity not shared by many of its contemporaries. The Fallen Reich develops and moves in an organic fashion, and nary an uninteresting moment exists on this brief 25-minute offering.

Though they generally adhere to traditional song structures, each section and riff is always advanced in some manner — a palm muted variation here, double pedal there, dual guitar harmonies next.

The opening riff on ‘Genocidal Conspiracy’ morphs easily into a furious thrash metal breakout before worming its way back to the original motif. And this is all done without losing any of the intensity that makes the album such a joy to listen to — On ‘Ghettos’, for instance, blast beats give way to a singular crushing bass riff that forms the basis of what might be the record’s heaviest moments, and the title track is pure adrenaline. 

Assault’s ability to pace their songs and keep them interesting is their greatest asset. But this is also the result of their embracing of all aspects of metal history, integrating the 70s bluesy Sabbath lines and dual guitars or the 80s and 90s into their template of death/ thrash metal. Lead axeman Hanesh has to be commended too, for some exquisitely phrased solos. The Fallen Reich may not be reinventing the steel, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable, destructive, explosive listen. — Yong Junyi

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.


BAGEL | AIRLIFTZ

Genre: R&B, hip-hop
Release date: July 12th

Malaysia's Airliftz continues the genre-blurring traditions of his Western contemporaries, mixing in razor-sharp verses with smooth vocal melodies — there's so much to pinpoint in his style but it results in a refreshing take on hip-hop and R&B, rather than being a hopeless retread. Airliftz is lovable and joyous, and his infectious energy translates incredibly well in this five-track EP, entirely produced by GROSSE.

GROSSE is doing some of the best production work in the region, and the Singapore-born producer continues to do remarkable work on this EP. From the downtrodden melancholy of '19' that leads to a soulful climax — an uplifting experience in itself, worth the admission alone —  to the glorious throwback R&B qualities of 'Appreciate', Airliftz pays homage to his influences without losing sight of his own generous personality.

Hopelessly romantic and engaging, Bagel is an absolute delight. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 8/10

Stream the release here.


THE ANSWER | O$P$

Genre: Electronic music
Release date: July 21st

The evocatively monikered O$P$ are probably most well-known to the average Singaporean as the guys soundtracking the 'Ghost Vision' music video – an animated vision of Haw Par Villa’s hellscapes.

Fans they may have picked up from that track’s crunk-infused, video game sampling sound may initially find themselves disappointed by the more commercial, mid 90s jungle vibes of the opening title track – which is then repeated in a sexier, slinkier “woke AF mix” two songs later.

On the two 'The Answer'-tracks, singer Vandetta comes across as a swirling sample gleamed from elsewhere – some long-lost soul chorus found through crate-digging at a Geylang record store. Closer 'Disco Buddha' sounds more like an introduction to a potentially great track that never comes – all atmosphere and samples of traditional Chinese instrumentation, ultimately going nowhere.

It is 'Prove it on the Floor' that serves as a guide to what excellent, strange things O$P$ could offer if they cohere all their disparate sounds. On this track, Vandetta proves a bittersweet contrast to the track’s sinister build and ominous Casio electronics – putting O$P$ more squarely back in the Haw Par Villa club night they were born to perform at. — Mads K. Bækkevold

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.


Palm Dreams | James Reid

Genre: Pop, R&B
Release date: July 8th

James Reid has claimed his independence. On Palm Dreams, the PBB-alumnus was able to produce an album that challenges the type of pop music that is usually expected from Filipino celebrities, thus establishing himself as a creative force to be reckoned with in the local music scene. 

With the help of co-producer, Paulo Tiongson aka poor taste, the artist shows off his musical chops by channeling influences from post-808s& Heartbreak style of hip-hop and R&B. 

Tracks like 'Turning Up' and 'Forever' can be considered odes to Drake, in which James proudly claims his well-deserved fame and success, yet still finds himself vulnerable when overwhelming emotions like love, lust, and frustration present themselves to him. 'Cool Down' and 'Down Low' are more Childish Gambino-esque in production with synths and reverb-drenched guitars that make you want to have a Kauai trip of your own. 

Palm Dreams concretized James Reid’s creativity as a musician. Despite the tendency of sounding repetitive in its production, the album as a whole is still enjoyable and that fans and non-fans would acknowledge it as a bold move considering the creative constraints of being signed under a major record label. It will be exciting to see how James’ peers like Sam Concepcion, Kiana Valenciano, and Bret Jackson will follow in his footsteps. 

As for James Reid, we will be expecting more from here on out. — Iggy San Pablo

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.


80s Magic | MITCH ADVENT

Genre: Electronic music
Release date: July 20th

Cynicism may tell you that 80s Magic is a relentless cash-in in a cultural climate obsessed with the past — and, to some extent, this EP does sadly reek of it — but Mitch Advent’s previous output portrays someone working hard at his craft.

Unfortunately, 80s Magic is a mixed bag, and a wearying experience for fans overwhelmed with countless synthwave releases already present on Bandcamp. There are some genuinely pretty moments if you dig in deep enough, but there's also an equal amount of puzzling ones.

Mitch Advent’s foray into dance music has mostly been about maximalism — it’s no different here, but with the ever-present 80s influence in music, subtlety is key. For an EP reverently titled 80s Magic, there isn't much in the way of an actual tribute — songs are flooded with synth samples and pounding drums that sound like the 80s, but none of the songs truly capture the wistful beauty that makes synthwave work in our post-Internet age.

80s Magic is a listenable take on our era’s decade fetishisation, but there's where the EP stops short of its purpose. Still, this serves as Mitch's most interesting path in his music so far. Let's hope he brings it further into adventurous territory. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 5/10

Stream the release here.


Walled Garden Vol. 01| VARIOUS aRTISTS

Genre: Electronic music
Release date: July 18th

Walled Garden Vol. 01 is a compilation by Malaysian record label BOTANIC, featuring the talents of underground artists from Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines. Diverse it may be, this compilation is maniacally forward-thinking — a stimulating listen that offers only a peek at what the region has to offer. 

Adam Kasturi’s ‘Kebangkitan di Insectarium’ weaves in fractured synths and new age-like samples, which result in crossroads touching upon the briliance of Dam-Funk and Fatima Al Qadiri. ‘Crystals’ by YAHNA pays attention to modern dancefloor rhythms whilst adding his idiosyncratic touch. ‘Hollowness’ is ghostly and menacing, setting the stage for a remarkable guest spot by Vendetta on the hypnotic ‘Lullaby in G Minor’ by Sylfiden. ‘Apocalypse’ is more subdued than its title suggests, with long reverb chords flooding the song with distant, crackling vocal samples.

Rounded up by the brilliant ‘Mahkota Agenda’ and the subdued ‘Tahniah’ by Orang, Walled Garden offers plenty of thrills as a cohesive release, and it's the first of — we hope — many compilations and releases by this label. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 7/10

Stream the release here.


THEIA | THEIA

Genre: Electropop
Release date: June 30th

Hailing from New Zealand, Theia has garnered considerable attention in her hometown and beyond for her breakout single 'Roam'. While comparisons to compatriot Lorde may never end, Theia holds her ground with her own brand of R&B-influenced electropop.

With this debut EP, Theia works her magic with a set of pop songs that sparkle — the first two tracks, 'Silver Second' and 'Treat You' unveil their addictive qualities at first listen, whilst 'Champagne Supernova' (not a cover of the Oasis song, although we would love to hear an R&B rework of that stadium rock anthem), 'Everything' and 'Forever' work best as after-midnight tunes in a stark bedroom.

Everything about Theia's self-titled EP is geared for pop success, and it's no wonder she's already raking in the streaming numbers. But as pop music continues to evolve and mutate, it'll be interesting to see how this enigmatic singer-songwriter will progress in the years to come. — Daniel Peters

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.


Water From The Creek | Ian Penn

Genre: Folk
Release date: July 3rd

Dramatic Window Staring Disorder (DWSD) is when a slow — usually sad — song plays and all you can do is let the tunes carry you into your own little world. Suddenly, you become the humble protagonist of your own music video. 

Ian Penn’s Water from the Creek unearths from inside of us those feelings of reminiscence, compelling us to simply turn our heads to the side and watch the raindrops trickle down (since it’s the rainy season again). This 10-track folk release at the halfway point of being bittersweet and nostalgic, with songs about past experiences, love, and longing. The simple instrumentals, average tempo, and innocence in Penn’s voice paint a solid picture for listeners. 

Lyrically, there is a simplicity and clarity in how the words are paired, and getting the message across, whether it’s for an essay, ad, or song, will always be an important skill. The album has tracks that, if you only listen to once, sound all too familiar. The atmosphere of all of Penn’s songs in Water from the Creek is mellow and minimal, which may not be the cup of tea for many people who desire variety and the thrill of change — especially when there are only a few differences between this EP and his previous release, Wild Abandon

Sure, it lacks variety and could be more different compared to other songs, but there’s no changing the fact that Ian Penn’s Water from the Creek is chill in all aspects and is still an album perfect for every cathartic case of DWSD. — Aaron Pagdilao

Rating: 6/10

Stream the release here.

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