Top Albums/EPs of 2023: Bandwagon Picks – Laufey, WayV, Phum Viphurit, Blush, fromis_9, Atarashii Gakko!, Clara Benin, Naniwa Danshi, and more

Top Albums/EPs of 2023: Bandwagon Picks – Laufey, WayV, Phum Viphurit, Blush, fromis_9, Atarashii Gakko!, Clara Benin, Naniwa Danshi, and more

Didn't the year breeze by so quickly? Weren't you just looking at your empty crates, which are now completely packed with new records? You even have some CDs and cassettes floating around in transit. Do you even know where you're gonna stuff them?

2023 offered the world a pretty good mix of new and re-imagined tunes that will stick with us for a very long time. It's true, especially for a lot of BTS fans whose Spotify Wrapped this year is taken over by the solo efforts of SUGA, Jimin, V, and Jungkook. Sometimes it's hard to believe that NewJeans dropped 'OMG' and their second EP Get Up this year, that it was just a few months ago that people (and their pets) were dancing to JISOO's 'FLOWER' from her single album ME on TikTok, and that Taylor Swift dropped Speak Now (Taylor's Version) and 1989 (Taylor's Version) in the span of three months.

Artists have been busy all year round, keeping fans fed with every new album and EP they released. At the rate they've been going, it's clear that no fan will go hungry into 2024, but before we go any further, here are Bandwagon's favourite albums and EPs that came out this year.

befriending my tears - Clara Benin


It took 8 years for this album to come to fruition. Since her 2015 debut, Human Eyes, Clara Benin has continued on her musical journey, releasing singles, collaborations, and numerous EPs. Worth the wait, her sophomore album, befriending my tears, is arguably her best release yet. In the 9-track album, the Filipino singer-songwriter comes to terms with her own worries and doubts, learning to "befriend our tears in order to heal."

Working with frequent collaborators Francis "The Ringmaster" Lorenzo and multi-instrumentalist Gabba Santiago, Clara also taps her friends from One Click StraightSam and Tim Marquez – to get behind the boards for a couple of tracks. The end result strikes a balance between Clara's acoustic folk beginnings and her newfound discovery of dreamier soundscapes – evident in the standout track 'keep still'.

Whether you're a 'small town' girlie or struggling with 'imposter syndrome,' befriending my tears provides comfort and refuge in moments of uncertainty.  Camille Castillo, Editorial Director

Bewitched - Laufey


Laufey’s sophomore studio album, Bewitched, is a curious one. It feels, at the same time, vintage and modern and suitable to be performed in grand concert halls and used to create viral TikTok trends. Yet, the paradoxical nature of the record, which has been nominated in the Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album category at the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards, never once feels distracting when you are listening to Bewitched’s 14 tracks. Instead, it is what gives this album its irresistible charm and further supports the view that Laufey’s music is the bridge between younger audiences and the jazz genre.

Bewitched has been called a “love album” by the Icelandic singer-songwriter, and although its title may lead one to think otherwise, the album is more than just about falling head over heels for that special someone. Yes, there are tracks here that do terrific jobs of capturing the feeling of falling in love, such as the beautifully written ‘Must Be Love’ and While You Were Sleeping’, but there are also those that explore other forms of love and the different effects love can have on us. The emotional ‘Letter To My 13 Year Old Self’, for example, sees Laufey look back on her teenage struggles and remind her younger self that “she’s beautiful”. There’s also the bouncy ‘Dreamer’, in which the 24-year-old decides that she has had enough of heartbreaks and retreats into her “cloud” and “fantasy” to enjoy her solitude. Regardless of what your experiences with love have been like, Laufey has ensured that you will find something in Bewitched that will speak to you. - Brandon Raeburn, Staff Writer

Get Up - NewJeans

Running at a taut 12 minutes, NewJeans’s sophomore outing, Get Up, is one of the most solid sets of pop music this 2023. Not to harp on with platitudes, but no one literally does it like NewJeans. This is the point. This is the intention. And it has paid off in a big way.

Reportedly, making music that sounds unlike anything in K-Pop today was part of the marching orders. In a GQ interview, singer-songwriter Erika de Casier, one of the vital forces behind 4 out of the 6 tracks (check out her Blood Orange, Dua Lipa, Mura Masa credits), recounted it as something along the lines of “We want something fresh.” And somehow, NewJeans provided an answer to everyone’s fatigue with the industry’s penchant for dense spectacles.

NewJeans’s draw lies in how they eschew excess, and this is often evident in their restrained yet leisurely production. And they don’t second-guess this approach. Which is why at this point, I also feel it’s increasingly moot to consign NewJeans’s music to mere Y2K nostalgia bait. Minji, Hanni, Danielle, Haerin and Hyein’s airy singing confidently and gently glides over beats that would feel also at home at an underground club. The brisk, chugging breakbeats of ‘Super Shy’, the Baltimore club-infused ‘ETA’, and the hushed UKG jam ‘Cool With You’ make a case for this. Get Up also leans into an honesty uninterested in spectacle and refuses to be cloyingly twee, favouring disarming intimations as if you’re all chummy with the girls (Carly Rae Jepsen comes to mind, who in the words of poet/essayist Hanif Abdurraqib is “the most honest pop musician working”).

While the ‘Hype Boy’ and ‘Attention’ era – as well as the sublime ‘Ditto’ in the interregnum – wasn’t too long ago, you get the sense that NewJeans’ affinity for club-forward sounds and dewy-eyed lyricism have coalesced into the origins of a so-called NewJeans sound here in Get Up – as nebulous as it sounds. That is: not to say that they won’t evolve at some point, but the record feels more like the actual starting point, even after their awesome overture of a debut EP and a phenomenal rookie year. The opener ‘New Jeans’ couldn’t be more on the nose: “Look it’s a new me / Switched it up, who’s this? / 우릴 봐 (Look at us) NewJeans / So fresh, so clean.” - Paolo Abad, Contributing Writer

GUTS - Olivia Rodrigo

When GUTS was released in September, it seem to have shook the world.

Olivia Rodrigo's second studio offering was filled not only with angsty pop-punk anthems and soft, soul-seeking songs; it was filled with every young woman's inner thoughts and musings. It should matter that here is Olivia, giving us a peek into what her life has looked like since Sour, but it doesn't: GUTS is all about how women, regardless of age, can recognize the embarrassing and self-deprecating things we have told ourselves in every lyric and line. And because it's presented to us in a way that's so raw and honest, we find ourselves accepting that yes, we're alright with movies that make jokes 'bout senseless cruelty (that's for sure), we are our father's daughters (so maybe we could fix them), and it's us who've been making the bed (pull the sheets over our heads). 

But while the album's music and lyrics are pretty solid, the whole angry-in-agony concept is no longer new to us. What is new is Olivia and how she's able to make listeners feel every emotion in every track. In GUTS, the pop artist doesn't simply sing her songs, she performs them. This elevates the album even further, turning the usual into unique and the petty into powerful.

It's no wonder it got so many Grammy nominations. Between the relatable sound and message, Olivia's vocal talent and the many visual re-presentations of its tracks, GUTS is definitely giving glory. - Maddie Castillo, Contributing Writer

Distant Memories - Kurosuke

If the phrase “time is of the essence” could be embodied in the form of lush city pop soundscapes, it would take shape of Kurosuke’s Distant Memories. Within the brief length of 30 minutes and 9 seconds, vocalist Christianto Ario eloquently captures the nuances of falling in and out of love, such that it compels you to conjure hauntingly accurate memories of current and past relationships. 

Especially in the short film directed by Adriel Manoe – a cinematic masterpiece that also romanticises life in Singapore, Japan, and Indonesia – Christiano (like the genius storyteller he is) cruises through eight bittersweet chapters that start off on a spirited note about the beauty of novel romance in ‘Hourglass’, ‘Carousel’, ‘Love is a Holiday’ before realising that nothing lasts forever in ‘Forevermore’ and ‘De Lune’.  

But most importantly, Christiano comes to terms with the end of the relationship in the final track, ‘Distant Memories’, as he bids a final farewell to his former significant other: “All I know, our memories gonna last forever in me / Till the end of my time / I don’t want to say goodbye to you for now but I know / This life would be just fine / We’ve had our turns and now / You live right in my heart”.

And with that, the album serves as a timeless representation of the distant memories that will be etched in the vast chambers in our minds, now and forevermore. -  Adlina Adam, Writer

12 hugs (like butterflies) - Hitsujibungaku 

Hitsujibungaku, with their light and ethereal sound, are one of the best representatives of the new wave of Japanese indie shoegaze bands. In their latest album, 12 hugs (like butterflies), the band offered a fuller, more mature sound, evident in  ‘Addiction’, ‘honestly’ and ‘FOOL’. Further listening to the album I found ‘GO!!!’ reminiscent of The Jesus and Mary Chain. The lead single from the album, ‘more than words’ is a solid shoegaze track and catchy enough to be the ending theme for Jujutsu Kaisen: Shibuya Incident. The three-piece act performed the song beautifully on THE FIRST TAKE, showing how powerful Moeka sings. - Alif Rahmanda, Staff Writer

Layover - V of BTS

I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when it was revealed that BTS' V would finally be making his solo debut. After all, the artist has dropped numerous unreleased tracks on Instagram and Weverse Lives and has consistently assured us that no, these would not be included in his yet-to-be-released album. 

With V teaming up with NewJeans' creator and ADOR's Min Hee Jin, I couldn't wait to see and hear what they would come up with together. Comprising 5 tracks (including an extra instrumental cut), Layover showcases V's rich baritone across a range of genres – from old-school R&B to '70s romantic soul.

One of the best parts of experiencing this album is that V seemed to have enjoyed himself in the process of creating all components of the record – from the digital cover and physical album heavily featuring his beloved pet, Yeontan to the dreamy and laidback music videos (one of which stars a Yeontan lookalike). Looking forward to the eventual (cross fingers) release of this EP, a perfect soundtrack to slow and rainy days. - Camille Castillo, Editorial Director

SIMILAR - eleventwelfth

eleventwelfth are back with their latest offering SIMILAR, years after their impressive self-titled debut. For this new album, the band tapped several collaborators to lend their musicality. Interludes like ‘ANTARA’ and ‘KALA’ feature ambient and backing vocals from Reruntuh, moniker of Jakarta-based singer-songwriter Eky Rizkani. CHON guitarist Mario Camarena can also be heard on guitar for 'KALA'. Some of the best Indonesian math / Midwest emo songs for this year such as ‘only if you weren’t so loud’, ‘every question i withhold, every answer you never told’ to the mellow lead single ‘another night awake with you on my mind’ comprise the tracklist. I do think eleventwelfth songs work best if they feature female vocals, in this case, singer Adeliesa. A new classic, I guess we will have this album in our playlist for months or years to come. -  Alif Rahmanda, Staff Writer

War of Being - Tesseract


Sometimes getting lost is the way to reconnect with yourself and Tesseract’s War of Being tackles that complex state. It’s the kind of introspective album you can’t just have playing in the background; it demands your full attention.

You can hear fragments pulled from Tesseract’s discography through the entire record, taking listeners on a journey laid with heavy riffs capable of shifting tectonic plates. I am obsessed with the opening track ‘Natural Disaster’ and how it goes back to One (personally, still my favourite album).War of Being’s 11-minute title track is a winding road with twists and turns that make you feel like you’re headed one way, when you’re in fact just a few steps away from falling off a cliff.

A lot of love went into War of Being and you can tell. While I’d say every Tesseract album is superb (no bias), the attention to detail on this one is on a whole other level. It’s atmospheric, yet organic with an enthralling story to tell. They even made a video game out of it!

On a personal level, this album came out just a few months after I had given birth to my first child. The overwhelming emotions that come with that could really take a toll on you. As a new parent, you face a kind of identity crisis that blurs the way you would’ve defined yourself before and the person you’ve suddenly become. War of Being became a sort of rock to me, reminding me that I’m still me. - Kara Bodegon-Hikino, Writer

Unlock My World - fromis_9

No fillers. No skips. No further notes... Just kidding.

Really now, fromis_9’s Unlock My World is such an impressive piece of work – 10 spotless tracks running the gamut, from irresistible dancefloor-ready selects (‘Don’t Care’, ‘Prom Night’, ‘What I Want’), balmy wind-downs (‘My Night Routine’), syrupy jams (‘In the Mirror’ and the English-language ‘Wishlist’) to undeniable standouts like ‘#menow’ (the title track) and ‘Attitude’. For all this variety though, Unlock My World feels seamless. It also almost feels like one of the industry’s best kept secrets this year, like it’s criminally overlooked for all its impeccable, iridescent shine. We’ve been too preoccupied with big singles; this is a veritable gem of a pop record.

As fromis_9’s first full-length album since debuting in 2018, Unlock My World was a long time coming – the outcome of the 8 members’ painstaking hands-on work. With the edge of a “beginner’s mindset” that galvanised the group into showing better musicality than ever, the album now sounded like it had just come out at the perfect time. “It took us some time for the unique and vivid colours of personality to come together, but I think we have built a strong universe called fromis_9 that is stronger than ever, full of glittering and diverse characters,” member Sae Rom told Bandwagon. - Paolo Abad, Contributing Writer

Ichijikikoku - Atarashii Gakko!

Who’s still a stranger to these delightfully strange little creatures? They’ve made a huge splash overseas in the past couple of years, and in Ichijikikoku, the girls of Atarashii Gakko! make a “temporary return home” to celebrate their recent triumph. Just as the title suggests, this digital EP finds the group going back to their sonic roots and working with a full team of Japanese producers, including long-time collaborator H ZETT M, on a grand crusade that solidifies their place as one of the musical vanguards of Japan’s current era. Early reviewers have described this as more than a temporary return, but a “triumphant return” and I get exactly what they mean. 

The 7-track album delivers hit after hit that it almost feels as if listeners are transported to the world Atarashii Gakko! envisions, pulling you in wave after wave. The songs seemingly intertwine a nostalgia for strong local tastes with the experiences they’ve gained navigating the international stage. The girls themselves also had a hand in the songwriting here, most notably for the mega-viral sensation ‘OTONA BLUE’ (composed by yonkey), and in one fell swoop it’s immediately clear they’re fully in their element in this. Ichijikikoku not only celebrates the band’s homecoming but marks the steady rise of a movement where glory is found in an unabashed celebration of individuality and freedom, and, quite possibly, sets the stage for this adorable gang of misfits to make their way to becoming new school leaders of the world. - Ginny Palma, Contributing Editor

Laughing In Insomnia; Smiling In Insomnia; Medicated Insomnia - eaJ

I know, I know. Laughing In Insomnia, Smiling In Insomnia, and Medicated Insomnia are three separate EPs. But hear me out. I'm not entirely sure whether or not eaJ intended this series to be a trilogy, but I see all three EPs as an album in three parts.

Serving as his first solid body of work since going solo, the In Insomnia series is raw and candid in lyrics and delivery. Comprising Soundcloud originals like 'LA Trains,' 'Pacman,' '50 proof,' and crowd-favourites such as 'Typical Story,' 'La Stars,' 'In My civic,' and 'Castle In The Sky,' the EP series is more than a collection of songs. It's an honest and genuine diary of emotions and sentiments, which always results in heartwarming performances. Here's to hoping for a full-length release in 2024. - Camille Castillo, Editorial Director

Supercrush - Blush

Beneath the euphoria of having a crush on someone, there is either contentment or heartbreak – and this is exactly what Blush is trying to amplify in their debut album studio album. Of all the releases that the Singaporean alternative rock and shoegaze quartet have pushed out, I must say that the entirety of Supercrush is to die for. 

A "sonically bastardising collection of love songs written by a group of depraved individuals,” is how the band’s drummer, Nicholas Wong, refers to the album. Within ten bittersweet tracks, vocalist Soffi Peters takes us across stories of a one-sided relationship, amid falling head over heels for a love interest. Although that may sound like a tragic romantic tale, I’d like to think that the clash of thunderous drums and wailing electric guitars against the hauntingly enchanting vocals – despite the melancholic lyricism – created a safe haven for those tuning in. Especially apparent in ‘Crush’, ‘Supertruck’, ‘Still In Love’, and ‘I’ll Take Care of You’, the tracks develop an emotional odyssey that transforms the nuances of love into a cathartic experience. 

All in all, Supercrush is not merely an album. From the way the band succeeds in exhibiting the wave of emotions associated with having a crush, it is sure to leave an indelible mark on one’s heart, much like the imprints of unforgettable love. Now that we’re closing in on a new year, it’s time for us to move on from the past and get started on a clean slate. From now on, let’s make a deal with Blush that there’ll be “No more hide and seek / Only find and keep”.  - Adlina Adam, Writer

Recollections - Gabba

In 2020, Gabba kickstarted his solo career with the release of 'Puzzle'. A fitting opener for his debut album, Recollections, the Filipino multi-instrumentalist tells me how he has always envisioned the track to open the album, regardless of what songs would follow next. Comprising 14 tracks, it might seem overwhelming, but somehow, they sit just right. Produced by Francis "The Ringmaster" Lorenzo, the album is a sonic collection of Gabba's memories in life, a diary of sorts.

Gabba stirs your soul with melodies and riffs, taking you from one memory to the next. Whether you're within Gabba's own memories or swimming in yours, Recollections has a way of evoking a rollercoaster of feelings without weighing heavy. It's emotional, and at the same time, uplifting. (It also gets you through a ginormous workload, but we can talk about that next time). - Camille Castillo, Editorial Director

The Greng Jai Piece - Phum Viphurit


If you were to ask me, I’d leave it to Phum Viphurit to perk up my day. Something about his music (a staple in my Spotify playlists, of course) radiates sunshine and rainbows that never fail to reassure me when I’m at my lowest. The last time the Thai singer-songwriter put out a full-length album was in 2017 with Manchild and since then, I patiently waited for the ‘Lover Boy’ act to churn out something new. 

Alas, The Greng Jai Piece was born. The term Greng Jai Piece translates to the last portion of food that is set aside for an esteemed individuals in their dining group. It taps into matters like addiction in ‘Healing House’, societal standards portrayed in ‘Greng Jai Please’, open-mindedness in ‘Welcome Change’, and acceptance in ‘Loving and Letting Go’ (a great reminder for the new year), and I realised that even the hopeless romantic crooner has to confront reality. 

Together with the refreshing change of pace in Phum’s songwriting, The Greng Jai Piece inspired me to take a risk and welcome change in my life at the beginning of the year, be it career-wise or forming new connections. And now that we’re well into wrapping up 2023, I have absolutely no regrets about taking that leap of faith. So thanks, Phum! - Adlina Adam, Writer

After the Magic - Parannoul 파란노을

Little is known about Parannoul, yet it somehow feels I’m privy to the inner workings of this incognito character – sans a proper, elaborate narrative. “Trash disguised as amateurism,” the anonymous Seoul-based act once (self-disparagingly?) has said about their own music, yet it has managed to transcend one-line designations. Their previous works have always done well in blurring boundaries, but it kind of feels reductive and disingenuous to call the entire project just genre-bending. Listening to Parannoul feels like knowing the entire story isn’t necessary to begin with. To listen is enough. To feel it is everything.

After the Magic is the artist’s most sanguine-sounding project to date. It’s not quite textbook shoegaze – a label often attached to Parannoul’s work – as it thrives in diverse instrumentation and liminal spaces. It is at once cinematic and succinct; cocooned and expansive; cosmic and visceral. A passage in ‘Parade’ echoes a rapturous Bach hymn. ‘Sketchbook’ and ‘개화’ (Blossom), even with their hazy guitars and glitchy touches, sound lush (personally, I recall Sufjan Stevens’s Age of Adz era). ‘도착’ (Arrival) and ‘Imagination’ are like anthems made for stadiums. The album highlight, ‘북극성’ (Polaris), is an ecstatic awakening: “반짝이다 떨어져라 / 불타올라 더 크고 밝게 / 어른이 되면 달이 될거야 / 너무 밝지도 어둡지도 않아.” (Twinkle, and then fall / Burn up, bigger and brighter / When I grow up, I'll become the moon / Neither too bright nor too dark.)

After the Magic shines in the afterglow. Like firework embers that envelop you, its warmth never quite leaves you, even after the hour-long listening session is done. “I'm always afraid when what I have now will disappear and when people will leave me,” wrote Parannoul in their liner notes. “I think these are some kind of magic, that will shine bright for a while and then lights out, like nothing happened.” (제가 지금 누리고 있는 것들이 언제 사라질지, 언제 사람들이 제 곁을 떠날지 항상 두렵습니다. 모든 것들이 잠깐동안 밝게 빛났다가 아무 일도 없었던 것처럼 사라지는 일종의 마법이라고 생각합니다.) - Paolo Abad, Contributing Writer

POPMALL - Naniwa Danshi

 If you ask me, this has been a very good year of Naniwa Danshi releases; I've loved every single they put out, and they've had a handful of brilliant b-sides too. For a very young group, they know exactly what they're about and they embrace it with an enthusiasm that is as endearing as it is impressive. This couldn't be more apparent than in POPMALL, a 15-track showcase that steadily builds up on the solid success of 2022’s 1st Love

The concept is exactly as the name suggests: enter the POPMALL, where you can find a wide array of bright, bold and colourful pop sounds on display. As sophomore albums are wont to do, it takes us through what else Naniwa Danshi have to offer as they take on a variety of genres and put their signature spin on each. I can tell the album is curated with so much care so as to allow listeners to experience the many different ways to enjoy that undeniable “Naniwa” charm. 

Anyone who’s known me for a while would likely tell you that this sparkly sweet cheerful vibe is not something I'd usually go for, but something about this group just captivates me like no other. Maybe it’s the earnestness with which they deliver classic J-pop at a time where it’s no longer seen as “cool” to do so, while also recognising the importance of showing that the J-pop term refers to so much more than what people might expect. Maybe it’s because they’re irresistibly cute (it certainly doesn’t hurt). Instead of challenging conventions, POPMALL and Naniwa Danshi as a whole preserve that classic essence by presenting it with a fresh perspective that’s brimming with the electric dynamism of youth. Naniwa Danshi is filled with the potential to join the ranks of those bringing J-pop to the world – all that’s left is finding out when the shipment arrives.  - Ginny Palma, Contributing Editor

Daisy - Unique Salonga

Daisy paints Unique Salonga in brighter hues and lighter moods. With a clear mind and fresh perspective, something his audio-visual experiment Oblivion helped him achieve, the Filipino singer-songwriter returns with a newfound clarity. In his third album, he practises restraint and challenges himself with the use of thoughtfully selected and carefully curated sounds partnered with his evocative songwriting, evoking "simplicity, peace, and love" in a span of 7 tracks. Starting with 'Daisy,' Unique sets the tone for what to expect throughout the record and takes the listener through a relationship's hopeful beginnings ('Haring Araw,' 'Away-Bati,' 'Di Mapalagay') to its eventual demise ('Panahon,' 'Kabanata'). Ending with 'Daisy' (Reprise), Unique gives the listener a new perspective after listening through the album's entirety.  - Camille Castillo, Editorial Director

Chill Kill: The 3rd Album - Red Velvet

Released six years apart from Red Velvet’s second studio album, Perfect Velvet, the South Korean girl group’s third full-length Korean-language record, Chill Kill, may have taken a much longer time to be delivered than fans had expected, but the 10 new tracks that it has added to the group’s catalogue were very much worth the wait.

In a year that was mostly dominated by impressive releases from acts belonging to K-pop’s newer generation, Chill Kill was like a message from Red Velvet — who turned nine in August — to the world that said: “We’re not quite done yet.” Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, and Yeri all bring experienced performances to the album, displaying impeccable technique individually and combining to create beautiful harmonies that have become synonymous with Red Velvet. Through nine B-sides with varying musical influences — including the R&B track ‘Nightmare’, the dance numbers ‘Knock Knock (Who’s There?)’ and ‘One Kiss’, and the closing ballad ‘Scenery’ — Red Velvet also flex their ability to switch between being mysterious, playful, and soothing deliveries without breaking a sweat. At this point, one has to ask if there is anything that these gifted artists cannot do. 

Of course, Chill Kill would not exist if it were not for the contributions of its production and songwriting teams. Doubling down on everything we have come to love about the SM Entertainment act’s music — from immersive, layered soundscapes to a good mix of haunting lyrics and fun ones — the creatives behind Chill Kill have teamed up with the five aforementioned ladies — to give us an album that reminds us who Red Velvet are. - Brandon Raeburn, Staff Writer

PLOY - Valentina Ploy

It's hard to believe PLOY is Valentina Ploy's debut album. A personal journey of love, loss, and self-discovery, the album showcases the Thai-Italian singer-songwriter's talent for songwriting and weaving narratives. Valentina handpicked twelve songs from her treasure trove of tracks to include in her first full-length release.

A no-skip album, it starts with 'Intro Note,' a 1-minute message from the artist about the album. From the bubbly 'Bla Bli Blu' to the wistful 'I Miss My Friends' featuring Phum Viphurit to the introspective 'Left Unsaid' – It takes the listener through different emotions represented by a specific ploy or gemstone: "from the happiest of my experiences to the darkest of my moments".  - Camille Castillo, Editorial Director

Mall Edits - obese.dogma777 & Chris Fussner (Tropical Futures Institute)

My first in-depth encounter with Mall Edits came through a hardcore techno/atmospheric jungle-slash-DnB rework of ‘Wow Sabaw Chibao.' We featured it in a key scene from a short film I edited, Abutan Man Tayo ng House Lights, a speculative piece of work set in the near future with Manila inches away from its utter doom. The brief was something along the lines of what rave music would sound like in apocalyptic times. The track – dug up from the vaults of Jorge Wieneke V, the prolific producer obese.dogma777 (FKA similarobjects) – fit the bill, and I could personally say the same for the rest of the volume: a snapshot of what the future sounds like, yet at the same time, also a glimpse at the present counterculture.

‘Wow Sabaw Chibao’ was originally by DJ Love and DJ Ron, pioneering musicians from the southern Philippines and a few of the producers who have had such an immense influence in developing what could truly be called electronic music from the grassroots. They’re some of the stalwarts behind Budots, a unique, hyperlocal sound and movement noted for its pastiche approach to production: with indigenous instrumentation, streetside noises, and its signature “tiw tiw” blippy riffs, among others.

In Mall Edits, that classic Budots sound goes through several transmutations and interpolations, and like their storied origins, the tracks take cues from a wild [sic] array of sounds: Internet Music, trance, hyperpop, jungle, gabber, DnB, breakbeat, Eurodance, hard techno, ambient, campy samples and more. Made in collaboration with Tropical Futures Institute’s Chris Fussner, the album was described by its own makers as “a potent blend of influences from Southeast Asia’s growing experimental electronic scene, fearlessly taking listeners across genres... culminating into an avant garde crescendo that could only hail from the tropics own diverse melting pot of culture.”

Here in the Philippines, shopping malls are considered pocket cities, nuclei of aspirational culture, vapid simulacra – whose breathing logic, at the end of the day, is just playful mayhem. Mall Edits unabashedly mirrors this, and even in its unbridled chaos, the album still ends up as some of the most exciting music to come out this year, full of personality and potential. - Paolo Abad, Contrubuting Writer

On My Youth - WayV

This is WayV’s first full length album in three years, one that’s been long anticipated by fans who have been charmed by their much earlier releases. They’ve always been my personal favourite NCT unit, their sound brandishing a particular sensuality that’s somehow so deeply emotive and which I love to lose myself in. So the time they had to spend away from performing and making music was a loss greatly felt. And frankly, for a while, even with a few – albeit sonically intriguing – comebacks here and there, it felt like they were still undergoing several recalibrations to fully function as a six-person unit.

In On My Youth, it really feels like they’ve finally found their footing and have emerged stronger than ever before. They’ve always been a group characterised by a fierce and solid strength, but here their strength is refined by what appears to be vulnerability acknowledged and transformed into something more sophisticated and carries emotional depth. I remember whispering, “Oh, WayV are so back,” when I listened to this the first time. There’s a level of maturity here that tells me they’ve broken out of any self-imposed limitations and are here to fight for their place in the limelight – emphasised by them closing the album with an excellent English rendition of the lead track. The direction they took works really well for them, and it’s one I hope they continue to hone and more deeply explore. - Ginny Palma, Contributing Editor

Bandwagon's Best of 2023 series continues in January 2024 with Top Gigs and Festivals of 2023 and Top K-pop and J-pop b-sides of 2023.