Friendship International Vol. 6 – Sept-Dec 2019
Posted: by The Editor
Friendship International is a tribute to the emo and alternative music throughout Asia: a round-up of the best new releases from across the Pacific, and deep dives into the labels, distros, and DIY scenes that are giving birth to this explosion.
You, like me, are currently staring at your phone or your laptop. You have been doing this with almost no interruption for days. The light coming through the window is a cruel tease. You have four abandoned porn tabs and one open Google search for cheap flights to exotic locals you legally cannot travel to. There’s rumors of the liquors stores closing. You’re seriously considering pivoting to a bidet.
You, like me, are on the hunt for a novelty, any distraction that could numb the pain of a fascinatingly dull existence that we all longed for until it was here—forever at home, Netflix and chilling with your existential dread and the chitter of Slack chat notifications. If there was ever a time for a project as unhinged as a massive list of underground guitar bands from Asia: the time is now.
Friendship International wavered from its monthly schedule, and then disappeared completely for a few months. This is something I do for fun and for the love of it, and as we all know, there are precious few hours for anything outside of Adding Value for our respective employers. But the column must go on because I can’t stop making it. The spreadsheets-within-spreadsheets continue to multiply even when I’ve resigned myself to not finishing the next volume before month’s end. Simply: I fucking love the music, and I think the bands in Asia deserve so much more than a footnote or a festival side stage.
Volume 6 recaps the remainder of 2019: 50 releases from September through December. This list, overzealous as it is, still represents hours of whittling down the possible records to write about. The run of excellent skramz that we saw in early 2019 continues, while more and more youth crew and straight edge hardcore bands are cropping up. Easycore is back, and its influence is being felt on pop-punk everywhere: bands are more liable to throw in the odd breakdown and/or key change. Gentle indie pop ballads are having an unexpected moment, and the Fall / Winter crop of emo releases has fully cemented 2019 as the year Asia’s emo scene eclipsed America’s.
Open another beer. Turn your Bluetooth speaker up until your neighbors are listening with you. Take a little break from refreshing your apps and find a new band to throw into the Spotify rotation.
It goes without saying that musicians everywhere, not just in the States, are feeling the pain of canceled tours and lost revenue. Bandcamp has made the excellent decision to forgo their cut of all sales through their site from midnight to midnight today, Friday the 20th. Please, if you are able, show your support by buying music today. I link to Bandcamp pages if I can find them for a reason: streaming isn’t paying anybody’s rent. Support artists you love by paying them for their art. Today is an especially good day to do so.
Ploverstream – Quezon City, Philippines
Hand in Hand (9/3/19)
ffo: Hot Rod Circuit, Boys Life, The Promise Ring
One of the most refreshing things about the Asian emo scene is the number of bands exploring corners of the canon that remain criminally overlooked in the States. The oddball pop-punk-gone-powerpop of Piebald and The Promise Ring’s Very Emergency are historical landmarks that—in the U.S. anyways, have had a less direct impact on the emo revival than the Kinsella Family Extended Universe (KFEU). Ploverstream’s debut album mines the former without being too reverent about any of its inspiration points, finding their own lane in the intersection of emo and pop-punk.
The band covers a lot of ground: “Junctions” has the melodramatic flair of late-aughts pop-punk bands like Armor for Sleep, while “Sarah’s” the sunny energy of 2001’s emo graduating class: Bleed American and Stay What You Are. But the song that knocked me on my ass was “Countdown,” a driving banger with a twinge of twang that recalls nothing as strongly as Hot Rod Circuit—a criminally underrated band, despite the periodic influx of new fans discovering and exploring the genre. Hot Rod Circuit incorporated slide guitar into a warm Southern twist on emo that birthed countless inferior pop-punk bands, but very few bands have ever successfully captured that magic. It makes sense that the first band in years to do it justice would be from the Philippines. Catch me driving with my windows down, howling the undeniable chorus of “Countdown”: “HAIL TO THE KING OF Q.C. / LONG LIVE THE QUEEN OF CALI.”
Vague/Wreck – Jakarta/Bandung, Indonesia
Split EP (11/30/19)
ffo: Fugazi, Braid, Jawbox
Just like anybody who writes about music and has a Twitter account, I get a lot of bands sending me their music, and even someone at the glorified-blogger level like myself typically has more Bandcamp links than I’m able to sort through. But please: keep sending them, because when I finally get around to it: it sometimes turns out to be something as amazing as this Vague/Wreck split. Shouts out Yudhis from Vague; thanks for putting me on.
Vague’s Bandcamp bio professes a love for Fugazi and Dinosaur Jr., which is clearly felt in their music. However, their songs on the split also have the elements of sludgy post-hardcore like Unwound or Shellac, filtered through Braid’s angular guitars, played with the intensity of a hardcore band. Their two songs feel spiritually descended Jawbox’s dogged intensity, veering between clenched-jaw tension and cathartic release. Wreck has similar post-hardcore heritage, but the vocals edge into Fugazi territory, a little more punk and declarative than Vague. The guitars remind me in places of an adderall-addled Lungfish, a heavier style played at 2x speed that ends up feeling a little more playful, even with the barked sincerity of their vocalist.
The split was released on HÉMA, the Bali-based label started in 2014 by Bagus Purwoko as a way to promote lesser known Indonesian bands by curating splits and collaborations between like-minded musicians. Although the split isn’t on Spotify, HÉMA worked with the Vague and Wreck to create a Spotify playlist of the music that inspired them as they wrote and recorded the split. It’s a very cool glimpse into how two bands with a shared love for similar source material came to two complementary but distinct sounds. HÉMA’s self-described mission to unite bands that have “similar emotions and aesthetics” is ambitious, but they succeeded on every level with this split.
Haiki – Yokohama
ffo: Macseal, Marietta, Hightide Hotel
Haiki released their first album in September; less than six months later, they’ve just wrapped up a Japan-wide tour opening for Tiny Moving Parts and Trophy Knives. Listening to the Noroshi, their rapid rise makes perfect sense. Haiki’s emo revival tunes combine energetic riffing with pop sensibilities much like highlights on Macseal’s 2019 album, Super Enthusiast. There’s a welcome restraint to their music that pushes the vocals to the forefront. Anything that tagged “emo revival” these days comes with the implication that the music pulls from the same set of open-tuned forefathers: American Football by way of Algernon Cadwallader, Cap’n Jazz by way of Snowing. Haiki isn’t trapped by their influences; the melodies draw inspiration from Japanese pop music and, rather than retreading the same riffs, they put a fresh face on the twinkly sound.
Acne (暗疮) – Guangzhou, China
ffo: There’s truly nothing like it
In 1998, when guitarist/vocalist Gary Ho formed Acne, they were a traditional death/thrash metal band, part of a thriving scene thanks to late-80’s pioneers like Tang Dynasty (for more on metal in China, this article by Josh Feola is a great quick primer). In 2014, Ho decided to make a change: get rid of the drum kit, and replace it with only percussion instruments from traditional Peking Opera (sometimes called Beijing Opera). Crossways is, as far as I know, the first widely available Acne record in the west, and it is a wild introduction to the band. The traditional percussion instruments are not just various drums; the yueqin (plucked lute) and jinghu (two-string fiddle) made frequent appearances. The whole effect is crisp and punishing, everything mathematically tight and right down the middle as far as growled thrash goes—that is, except for the warped pinging of the traditional instruments, notes veering off in different directions, even the bass thumped out in the style of the opera, more slapped than strummed. The album’s lyrics are sung in alternating Cantonese and Mandarin—every corner of the album is further evidence of Ho’s commitment to the history and heritage of his music. It’s a hell of a journey.
Ache – Jakarta, Indonesia
Self-Titled EP (12/15/19)
ffo: Elliott, The Promise Ring, Mom Jeans
Ache embody the openhearted joy of Jimmy Eat World without sounding anything like them, the grinning energy of the Promise Ring without the jangle, and the hooks of a newschool band like Mom Jeans without the snot-nosed goofiness. The vocals immediately make me think of Chris Higdon of Elliott, but the songs on this EP are never dour, veering close to Hot Rod Circuit’s uptempo brashness in places. The magic of Ache’s sound is that they sound familiar—you know these kind of surging emo singalongs—but when you try to pin it to a single band, you can’t do much more than follow a few connecting threads. They aren’t afraid of a midtempo chorus; there’s plenty of spots on the EP that you could justifiably describe as “soaring.” The vocal melodies have an obvious Japanese emo influence; they’re smoother than U.S. emo, giving their jazzed-up pop-punk the emotional heft of a ballad. Ache pulls as much from Japan’s emo scene as they do from the Midwest; the last thing they released before this EP was a cover of Shipyards, a cornerstone of the Japanese emo scene, and they cite Turncoat, Falls, What-A-Night, and Summerman as influences. (All of these bands should be on your list if you’re interested in Japan’s scene: they make up a good starting 5.) The closing song “Dread” (featuring Avin from the excellent pop-punk band Cubfires) has the wide-screen drama of early Armor for Sleep, but again: that’s not quite right. You just need to hear Ache. They’re a band that demands attention.
brittleglasscasket – Manila, Philippines
ffo: Gouge Away, Cerce, Punch
Sasscore is now a global phenomenon, although in the Philippines, it sounds a lot more like the ferocious hardcore of Gouge Away than the spastic metalcore of SeeYouSpaceCowboy (don’t get me wrong: there’s definitely a Converge influence in brittleglasscasket’s heavier moments). This is in no way a complaint: brittleglasscasket’s self-titled debut is ten songs of searing hardcore that alternates between screamed vocals and world-weary speak-sung lyrics about trying to remain present in a society fixed on individual happiness over any kind of greater good. “Frantic Serato” is a buzzing hive of stabbing guitars swirling around a spoken word condemnation of how mental illness is stigmatized, urging listeners very plainly to consider sharing what they’ve been through: “Talking about your story is a powerful experience. It gives others hope by showing them that they are not alone.” Album closer “Mercato” offers a comprehensive mission statement for the record in less than a minute and a half: “I’m just trying to have a human experience in the moment, And not worry about future I have no control, Or a past I can do nothing about.”
百姓一揆 – Mishima City, Shizuoka Prefecture
Ikki 2 (12/31/19)
ffo: CSTVT, Snowing, Make Do and Mend
There’s an aggressiveness to IKKI 2, but unlike a lot of aggressive emo, it doesn’t lean into any kind of screamo/skramz. Instead, there’s a surly edge to the guitars that are part post-hardcore and part crushing post-rock. Make Do and Mend seems like the appropriate connection to make, but something about how raw and urgent everything feels on this EP makes me think of CSTVT’s emo punk or Snowing’s frantic ramshackle approach. This is not to imply that the record is straightforward: there’s jazzy flourishes to the guitar riffs that speak to the band’s technical ability. Smart diversions into instrumental passages and abrupt transitions keep anything on the EP from feeling belabored or overdone. It’s emo reframed with more aggressive and technical guitars, at once more immediate and more innovative than the genre has been lately.
Elephant Gym – Kaohsiung City, Taiwan
Gaze at Blue (11/29/19)
ffo: A film about an ancient aquatic civilization scored by classically trained calculators
Elephant Gym is no secret: since releasing their full-length Underwater through U.S. label Topshelf Records, they have toured the States twice, last fall with Japanese math rock luminaries LITE. The band is comprised of siblings KT and Tell—who grew up learning to play classical music from their mother—and drummer Chia-Chen, who met the two in high school through a music club. I guess you could call Elephant Gym math rock, but that’s a dismissive way to refer to their expansive, experimental sound. Elephant Gym’s music is driven primarily by the interplay between the drums and KT’s bass; Tell adds layers of texture between his guitar and an array of keys and synths. It’s intricate and technical, but it feels more exploratory than anything. “Gaze At Blue,” a single released prior to their tour with LITE, finds itself as it goes—or, more accurately, reveals itself as it goes, each new phrase taking us deeper into its winding architecture.
Marijannah – Singapore
ffo: Black Sabbath, Weedeater, Bongripper
The first lyric on Istanah is “scour the wings of the night, in search of my bride.” There are vampires, witches, and various “soulless creatures.” God is dead. There is a song titled “Spiderwalk With Me.” Marijannah’s music is, in many ways, loving homage to Sabbath, but the long, winding guitar passages are firmly in the post-Sabbath weed metal tradition. Marijannah is a Singapore supergroup, a less-serious outlet for members of grindcore icons Wormrot and the heart-on-sleeve emo punk band The Caulfield Cult. It might be a little tongue in cheek, but it also sincerely whips ass, which is exactly how I like my fantasy metal.
Indigo Moire – Indonesia
Minestone EP (11/25/19)
ffo: Minus the Bear, Everyone Everywhere, Turnover if Turnover wasn’t boring
Indigo Moire is a mystery to me: Minestone popped up in my Bandcamp feed because I follow Svara Records, the Indonesian label that released the EP (they also released some of the earliest physical copies of Forests’s breakout album Spending Eternity In A Japanese Convenience Store, which is how I became aware of the label). This EP has the melodic sensibilities of an electronics-free Minus the Bear, with the hazy shimmer of Turnover’s post-Peripheral Vision easy-listening indie pop. It’s an evenly paced, mature sound that still has the scrappy spirit of an emo band. The band sounds confident and in control on this EP, which I purchased on cassette within seconds of starting “Gleam.” This is a band that, if there’s any justice at all, will soon be a much more widely recognized name.
Without / Good Luck With Your Fun / a&works – Japan
My Favorite Place (9/21/19)
ffo: Grown Ups, Algernon Cadwallader, Spraynard
Alright, look: I’m bullshit. I’m guy who spends all day writing about Asian emo and I can’t find this 9 song split ANYWHERE. The split with three of the coolest emo bands in Japan, the split that had such a stacked release show that the bill doubles as a primer for the current wave of Japanese emo. Just start googling these names. But the split? Can’t be shipped to the States. I spent like three months trying to find this shit, and unless one of you out there is willing to print it in the U.S., we’re just not gonna get it.
This is the CD economy in Japan I’m always going on about: the music label system is controlled by a few major players who (correctly) believe that pivoting to streaming will shrink profit margins, and music fans in Japan have never stopped buying CDs. Since neither uploading music to streaming services nor shipping CDs internationally makes much financial sense for bands, a lot Japanese music remains hard to access in America. Ultimately, it means these bands are getting paid, so we are forced to respect it. It also will not stop me from covering these three bands, who are all playing a major part in Japan’s emo boom.
Without play big-ass emo punk in the Grown Ups mold (an underrepresented sound in the current emo landscape). Their EP Westgate No.5 is one of the best emo records I’ve heard in the last five years, a blast of driving guitars and shouted vocals. Dogleg fans should take note.
a&works have the wiggly energy of Algernon Cadwallader or, more accurately, the perennially underrated Make Me. The clean, noodly guitars don’t feel mathy or showy. Their 2015 EP is raw and unpolished in the way that feels like you’re in the room with the band, giddy goofballs all yelling at once.
Good Luck With Your Fun could be grouped with emo acts like I’m Glad It’s You, Duck. Little Brother, Duck!, and Charmer, but the energy that runs through it is pure Spraynard. They also have some of the hallmarks of Algernon’s oft-imitated sound, but their approach is more punk and direct—a natural bridge between Without and a&works.
Xingfoo&Roy – Singapore
“Salty Water” (11/14/19)
ffo: Retirement Party, Modern Baseball, Mayday Parade
Xingfoo&Roy are the next big thing out of Singapore’s thriving emo/pop-punk scene, and their scrappy, heartfelt songs are here to fill the void in the hearts of Modern Baseball fans still morning the loss of their underdog heroes. “Salty Water” has it all: chuggy palm-muted verses leading into choppy start-stop riffs, the kind of strained, earnest melodies we coined the phrase “heart on sleeve” for, and an emotional clip from The Office (the heir apparent to Dikembe’s iconic Freaks and Geeks sample). But don’t stop here: you need to go back and listen to their 2018 EP Late to the Party. Lead single “In Another Castle” is a massive sappy jam that should be immediately ushered into the modern emo canon. Hopefully, “Salty Water” means we will be hearing more from Xingfoo&Roy this year.
OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE
Amu Daria – Klang, Malaysia
ffo: June Paik, Louise Cyphre, Jeromes Dream
Amu Daria is a brand new screamo band, but the members have been around the Malaysian scene for a while. Their combined resumes include Safety Zone, Break Free, Invalid Format, xAntiVaccinex, and Aster. They cite Tristan Tzara, June Paik, Louise Cyphre, and Jerome’s Dream as their influences, and unlike most bands that claim such an impressive pedigree, their execution lives up to their aspirations. It’s violent and cacophonous, but intensely focused and precise. Amu Daria’s goals go beyond “fuck it up”; they have a deliberate blueprint for fucking it up. This doesn’t stop their music from sounding equally as spontaneous and in-the-moment as their more chaotic contemporaries.
Ananas – Kyoto, Japan
1st Demo (12/1/19)
ffo: Otokobe Beaver, Bikini Kill, The Slits
Ananas have their roots in the riot grrrl sound of the 90s, but their sound has as much frantic hardcore as it does punk. Their debut demo is Sleater-Kinney thrown into a wood chipper: angular, jabbing guitars thrash around in tandem with singer Karina’s declarative sing-shout vocals. A tight ten minutes that feels like a mission statement.
Ascariasis – Philippines
ffo: Napalm Death, Insect Warfare, Pig Destroyer
Like all grindcore, Deathmonger is unrelentingly fast, furious, and punishing. Unlike a lot of grindcore, it is very, very good. The sludgy intro to the title track gives way to a perfect 20 seconds of brutal grind. The band knows when to slow it down just enough to give the nasty riff room to breathe. The raw, guttural vocals seal the deal.
Beeswax – Malang, Indonesia
Admire ft. Tiara Larasati (11/15/19)
ffo: From Indian Lakes, Copeland, As Tall As Lions
Beeswax often gets referenced as a prominent part of Malang’s rich emo scene, but the band has quickly grown into a graceful indie pop act with Copeland’s whispy gentleness. The band says, “This track becomes the farewell track before our guitarist decided to part ways. ‘Admire’ is a track dedicated to everyone who ever had a crush on a random person they meet in a café, public transportation, and many more.” It’s a two-fold sentimental gut-punch, and if you like syrupy pop that goes down easy, it’ll do the trick.
blood pact – Singapore
blood pact (9/27/19)
ffo: Joy Division, Miserable, Interpol
Do you wish the NYC indie rock scene of the mid-2000s had been goth as hell? Of course you do. Blood Pact is only band fit to claim that throne.
Boredom – East Java, Indonesia
Demo 2019 (11/5/19)
ffo: Ought, Title Fight, Balance and Composure
Boredom struck me at first like one of the grungy Indonesian bands mining the catalogs of Basement and Citizen, but a second listen to their 2019 demo left me feeling like they had more in common with the self-aware post-punk of Ought or Parquet Courts. They aren’t nearly as snarky or arch, however. “Youth Skins” has a hint of pre-Hyperview Title Fight; we could use more guitars this big and triumphant. They remind me a lot of the era when Make Do and Mend or Balance and Composure would tour with Tigers Jaw or TWIABP—the beefy jock rock counterpoint to the skinnywrist emo headliner.
Defiant – Baguio City, Philippines
Principium Et Finis (9/13/19)
ffo: A missing piece of hardcore history
Defiant was one of the pioneering metallic hardcore in the Philippines, a stomping mix of NYC HXC and thrashy metal riffs. xThinkpositivex Records, the go-to label for straight edge hardcore in the Philippines, has compiled two long out of print records from Defiant; their 1998 cassette EP and their half of a 2002 split with Limitbreak. We’re seeing more of these rereleases/collections of out of print material from hardcore bands in Asia, which is an extremely welcome trend—so much 90s hardcore history has been inaccessible to the States for a long time, trapped in cassettes and CDs that never made it across the ocean. RIP Defiant; Defiant will never die.
dolorosa – Manila, Philippines
ffo: Portrayal of Guilt, Dillinger Escape Plan, Full of Hell
Dolarosa is a skramz band, but not quite in the Saetia mold: there’s a technical prowess and punishing intensity that is tightly controlled, not spastic. Dolorosa plays emoviolence that is genuinely frightening: they sound like you’d be in equal danger in the pit or on the stage. There’s some real horror in their sound, and they’re incredibly talented musicians, everything knit so tight that songs like “IV” verge on Dillinger Escape Plan territory. But instead of feeling like a showcase of instrumental proficiency, there’s a wide-eyed intensity to the throat-shredding vocals that keeps it all raw and immediate.
eleventwelfth – Jakarta, Indonesia
it’s all my mistakes (12/11/19)
ffo: Owen, Covet, Delta Sleep
Wistful emo act goes wistful indie. The twinkling acoustic guitars feel like Owen’s open-tuned fingerpicking gone adult contemporary. This move jives with eleventwelfth’s overall progression out of their previous catalog of emo ballads toward progressive pop—intricate arrangements melted down into a gently simmering soup of bubbling guitars and swirls of light synths.
End Street – Quezon, Philippines
Sandali Lang (11/13/19)
ffo: The Movielife, Boys Like Girls, Transit
Based on Spotify streaming numbers, “Sandali Lang” is the song that is finally exposing End Street to a wider audience, and for good reason. We’re headed toward a full easycore revival (Firework back! Young bands like Two-Point Conversion doing breakdowns! New Found Glory somehow still touring!). If it’s inevitable, let’s get one thing straight: the easycore capital of the world is the Philippines, and End Street are the prime example of why. Their newest single is a crowd surf-worthy anthem, pitch perfect vocal hooks, and the sassy pre-choruses that Cartel distilled down to an exacting science. Not to mention the fucking breakdown into key change. Big banger.
Foster Parents – Shanghai, China
Idle Archipelago (11/29/19)
ffo: Floral, Colour, Their / They’re / There
Friendship International intentionally does not cover many expat bands. There are many excellent bands all throughout Asia made up of international transplants, and they are often supportive, contributing members of their local scene. However, the goal of this column has always been to highlight the music of Asian musicians because so few English-speaking publications are giving them any coverage at all. We’re making an exception for Foster Parents because they mean so much to China’s blossoming math rock scene: they are long-term Shanghai residents who are universally regarded as kind and unfailingly supportive of Chinese music. Foster Parents play gentle, artfully arranged instrumental math rock with the grace of Covet or Floral. Idle Archipelago may be perfect Chill Emo Jams to Study To, but it deserves your full attention.
GAMELANOiNK – Bekasi City, Indonesia
Fucked Up Years (12/31/19)
ffo: Kid Dynamite, Swingin’ Utters, Good Riddance
“Pogo A Go Go” is almost entirely a massive bro chorus, what sounds like 40 or 50 shirtless sweaty dudes chanting in unison as the song gallops along. You could call it orgcore, you could call it melodic hardcore, but the easiest (and most accurate) way to describe Fucked Up Years is to call it Circle Pit Music. The songs are uniformly snotty, scrappy, and infectious.
The Giraffe Told Me In My Dream – Taiwan
ffo: Stars, Slowdive
The latest in a growing group of dreamgaze bands, gentle vocal melodies floating on top of a hazy, simmering layer of shoegaze guitars. “Where are we going” has a Stars vibe, pretty dreampop with indie rock appeal, but the song’s 7+ minute runtime allows for lengthy diversions into searing guitar workouts and an ear for a dramatic build that hints at post-rock aspirations.
Good Gestalt – Yogyakarta, Indonesia
ffo: Swearin’, Cayatana, Bully
Good Gestalt’s demo is mixed a little oddly (grungy guitars down low, doubled vocals way out front, drums crashing distantly), but it’s a demo, so get over it. The songs here are driving punk/indie rock that highlight vocalist Ariela Gwendi’s magnetic presence, landing somewhere between Swearin’ and Pool Kids in her approach. “Catharsis” careens along for its whole two-and-a-half minute runtime, never slowing down or changing gears, and I never want it to. A very promising introduction.
Goodenough – Bogor, Indonesia
ffo: Every Avenue, Mayday Parade, Valencia
Goodenough are the pop-punk band we deserved and didn’t back in those heady days when Boys Like Girls could have a single chart in the Billboard Top 100. It’s a sound I barely have to describe to you: it’s Jamie all over; it’s Maria counting you in. However, Goodenough are really tight, great musicians with an ear for what worked best for those bands. Their new song “Alongside” opens with a school bell ringing, and I can see it all clearly now: a music video of the band skateboarding in slow motion through the halls of a high school, the video playing on the TV in a Journey’s shoe store in the mall.
GRMLN – California/Tokyo
Non Classical (9/20/19)
ffo: Editors, Elvis Depressedly, (Sandy) Alex G
Yoodoo Park is back. Again. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a volume of Friendship International without him. The insanely prolific Japan-born songwriter splits his time between America, Japan, and Australia, and he self-releases a truly mind-boggling amount of music that vacillates between moody lofi pop and a bedroom rock version of mid-200s indie rock like the Strokes, winding dual guitar lines underpinned with a drum machine. This new album is the latter: there are whiffs of Interpol and the Bravery in Park’s delivery. He’s an elastic songwriter who capably fills the shoes of whatever genre he takes on, and even when the songs on Non Classical feel a little derivative of a bygone NYC indie rock scene, he plays the part convincingly.
H2R – Medan, Indonesia
SOCIETY REJECT(ED) (10/18/19)
ffo: Minor Threat, Gang Green, Negative Approach
H2R has been around since 2007, and despite countless lineup changes, they have remained true to their vision—in their own words: “fast short straight..right into your ear.” It’s head-down golden age hardcore, but the rapid-fire vocal delivery references classic Indonesian punk like Puppen, a foundational 90s hardcore band. I’ve written more about the history of Indonesian punk and hardcore, but all you really need to know about H2R is that they are fast, loud, and extremely good.
Hazy Sour Cherry – Tokyo, Japan
Tour de Tokyo (11/22/19)
ffo: Tiger Trap, Cub, Belle and Sebastian
Hazy Sour Cherry’s jangly twee pop songs nail the spirit of the early-90s indie pop bands who used a syrupy sweetness and spiky melodies to craft unadorned gems, earworms that bear endless repeating. Tour de Tokyo also has a hefty dose of J-pop, the melodies not quite as off the wall as the aforementioned, but the album’s polish doesn’t detract from the quirky fun. Vocalist Tsuzumi is out front in the mix—and rightfully so: she is the band’s strongest asset. There’s a winking self-awareness to her pleasant cheerfulness; the band is having as much fun with these songs as anyone listening to them.
Heavside – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
For What It’s Worth (9/9/19)
ffo: Basement, Title Fight, Citizen
Kuala Lumpur loves that big, mid-tempo “hard rock” sound with searing vocals that I’ve heard described as soft grunge, which is pretty apt. Heavside is the forefront of that scene right now, and for good reason. Their sludgy, shoegaze-influenced alt rock sounds both emphatic and exhausted—the Platonic ideal of soft grunge vibes. They knit threads of aggressive guitar music together into a big fuzzy blanket of sound that fans of Basement would be remiss to sleep on.
Hiperson/海朋森 – Chengdu, China
Four Seasons EP (11/15/19)
ffo: Bedouine, Hand Habits, Lomelda
The newest EP from Hiperson hints at a detour from their typical lilting indie rock: the drum loops and burbling synths hinting at a more relaxed version of what The Rapture or !!! might have done in years past, but the vocal harmonies are almost choral, soaring regally above the electronics. The rest of the EP is more their usual lane: light and jangly guitars underpinning songs that pull from traditional Chinese folk music as well as dreamy indie rock.
The Hollowcane – Bandung, Indonesia
Sound of the Mountain (12/21/19)
ffo: The Walkmen, Girls, Young the Giant
The Hollowcane have dialed in that big beautiful folksy indie rock sound, the pretty, reverb-drenched, groovy stuff. They would have been Pitchfork Best New Music in 2009, but their new record is well-timed, given the recent reevaluation bands like Girls have gotten. They aren’t tied to Aughts indie rock: their sound has pop crossover potential, something like Young the Giant with the schmaltz turned down.
Hollow Suns – Tokyo, Japan
Into the Water (9/13/19)
ffo: Jimmy Eat World, Sugarcult, Rufio
It’s possible that I try to connect bands to Jimmy Eat World too often; maybe I’m just always trying to find that magic that Bleed American held for me. They straddled emo and pop-punk through enormous guitars and infinitely replayable choruses—jock jams for indoor kids. With Hollow Suns, though, we have a spiritual cousin to Jimmy’s jams. The songs have a thick layer of polish: the vocals are constantly run through a watery filter, and the guitars sound dramatic, somehow. The touches of stadium sound fit, though: these are tried-and-true pop-punk bangers played with rock and roll swagger.
Homerun – Klang, Malaysia
Our Time (12/25/19)
ffo: In My Eyes, The First Step, Better Than A Thousand
Our Time is classic fast loud straight edge, and it holds up against the genre’s big name. I’m not gonna try to sell it beyond that: if you know, you know. It’s absolutely worth your time.
Knowhere / I Like Young Girl – Jakarta/Tokyo
ffo: In Reverie, Stay What You Are, Boys Night Out
A split from a great band in Indonesia and a great band in Japan, a collaborative international release by Anxydad Records, KAT Records, and Rizkan Records? You truly love to see it. Before we begin: yes, I Like Young Girl is a band name that translates oddly. Them’s the breaks when you try to hammer the richness of Japanese into English. We’re moving past it. The two bands are such a natural fit for a split I can’t believe I didn’t see it before now. Although they pull from different eras, the two bands both have an obvious reverence for Saves the Day, particularly the post-Through Being Cool stuff. Knowhere’s side of the split is searing midtempo emo reminiscent of Tigers Jaw’s EP/split releases (which, as all TJ heads now, is their best work). ILYG has a classic second wave emo vibe—guitar octaves and extended riffing that gives way to big hooky choruses. International collaboration, a fully stamped passport of emo sounds and styles, and most importantly: Big Ass Jams. It’s a Friendship International bingo.
lasik – Nagoya, Japan
ffo: Moss Icon, Drive Like Jehu, Twelve Hour Turn
I’ll say it up front: no matter how well I write this blurb, I will not begin to scratch the surface of how much I love these two songs. The music is sludgy and sinewy (post) hardcore that clearly belongs on a branch of the Drive Like Jehu family tree. You know what band rules, but no one tries to emulate anymore? Unwound. You know who Lasik clearly fuck with? Unwound. The is Swami Records shit for the real heads.
Minefield – Malang, Indonesia
DEMO 2019 (12/18/19)
ffo: Chain of Strength, Have Heart, Bane
I still can’t get enough of all the new youth crew bands cropping up in SE Asia. Minefield’s debut demo is two songs: one urgent ripper and one midtempo burner. The recording quality is rough around the edges, but there’s some big stomping mosh shit in here. A band to watch.
Monkey Play 猿芝居 – Fujioka City, Japan
思想音楽の軌跡 (2009-2019) (11/1/19)
ffo: Loud guitars, Punk music, Psych rock
From the band: “This work is a compilation of free demo CDr released by Monkey Play 2009-2019, a rehearsal demo for recording, and a live sound source.” You can hear the band’s growth as the retrospective moves through the decade: the early songs are galloping 90s hardcore punk that blends a ton of influences into the riffs, from great little metalcore flourishes to fuzzy psychedelic jams. Elsewhere, 盲目 typifies how the band began incorporating droning groves and a post-punk attitude. The later songs find band with more bounce in their sound, fully comfortable exploring looser jams and sardonic spoken word verses. When their sound gets slower and sludgier, the guitars really shine: the meandering lead lines sound like Dinosaur Jr. playing Shellac covers.
Naedr – Singapore
“The Waltz of Fate” (11/14/19)
ffo: Skramz, baby
Singapore has it all, man. There isn’t a genre that isn’t represented in the scene there, and in terms of their screamo scene, Naedr is up next. The Waltz of Fate goes from atmospheric metalcore to full emoviolence—and this is just their first single. Whatever Naedr puts out next, Skramzcave is going to be all over it. Get in early on what will be one of 2020’s most watched screamo acts.
Offing – South Korea
ffo: Courtney Barnett, Jay Som, Soccer Mommy
Laid back jazzy indie rock with panache. “Summer Apocalypse” may be a little too aptly named for comfort now, but the groove is truly infectious. This stuff is smooth enough to slide into one of Bob Boilen’s NPR playlists, but the melodies are unique and undeniable. There’s Soccer Mommy-style warbly lead guitar, little horn section flourishes, and an affable slacker vibe that belies the level of talent involved here. Out of everything on this list, this is the one record that I know will inevitably become huge: there’s just no other option for Offing.
ONLY THE LAST SONG – Kashiwa, Japan
Promo 2019 (10/13/19)
ffo: Ceremony, Charles Bronson, Soul Swallower
ONLY THE LAST SONG finds that sweet spot of pure, filthy powerviolence that never quite edges into grindcore. A lot of Japanese bands call it fastcore: thrashy, punishing powerviolence that pulls more from hardcore than from metal. Even in these songs that average out to about a minute long, ONLY THE LAST SONG still finds time to back the nasty riff but slower. The band has released a few demos prior, but these three songs (titled just “1,” “2,” and “3”) are as complete a statement as they’ve made.
Opposition Party – Singapore
Tales to Horrify (11/15/19)
ffo: Zombies, circle pits, crankin’ it up to 11
As long-running crossover thrash band Opposition Party has aged, they’ve kept the good-natured goofiness that made them such a joy to begin with. All the art is by Ed Repka (Megadeth, Death, Nuclear Assault, etc), which is a pretty solid cosign in my book. The EP is four tracks of campy zombie d-beat that is as fun as it is righteous.
Prune Deer (話梅鹿) – Hong Kong
Insufficient Postage (9/6/19)
ffo: El Ten Eleven, This Will Destroy You, Standards
Prune Dear is the new hotness in Hong Kong’s post rock/math rock scene—a smaller scene than its counterpart in Mainland China, but still bursting with talent (I’m still eagerly anticipating the solo record from Lok of Wellsaid). Prune Deer is made up of the kind of supernaturally talented young musicians that makes me, a 30 who is still learning how to restring my shit, absolutely incensed. There’s a cocky post-rock bombast to their songs—Prune Deer aren’t concerned with “restraint,” they’re here to fuckin’ rip. The way they incorporate traditional Chinese instrumentation and modes into their music is the freshness the genre needs, swirling new colors into the post-rock template.
Say Sue Me – Busan, South Korea
Your Book/Good People (10/4/19)
ffo: Ian Sweet, Beulah, The Beths
“Your Book” and “Good People” are the two new singles from Say Sue Me, South Korea’s most undaunt-able indie pop unit. They’re a recognized force in Korea, and it’s about time we caught on in the states. These songs would sound great echoing out over a sunbaked Coachella audience, or playing over the speakers of the hip coffee shop by your house with the hot baristas (Good Coffee, NW Portland, just as an example). Say Sue Me has the pop chops of an Elephant 6 band, played with the earnest enthusiasm of a Philly basement show.
Somebody Fool – Medan, Indonesia
Cast No Shadow (11/24/19)
ffo: Have Heart, Bane, Judge
I have loved straight edge hardcore since my teens, which means I know how quickly it can get stale if a band decides to paint by the numbers too much. So let me repeat what I’ve been saying for months now: the XXX bands that feel vital and interesting is happening primarily overseas. Malaysia just hosted the first Asian Edge Day. More and more straight edge labels are cropping up. And Somebody Fool is kicking out the righteous jams on this EP, with lyrics that have a lot more depth than the genre frequently entails.
toast – Indonesia
First Year EP (9/14/19)
ffo: Snowing, Emitation, Make Me
toast is a self-described “college punk” band that has the energy of Snowing, the clean guitars and yelped vocals of Make Me, and the Fuck It attitude of Japan’s Emitation. Think scruffy emo punk with a fondness for the emo revival and zero interest in learning to play guitar It can be a lot to take in at first listen, but toast is doing something so undeniably energetic that I can’t help but feel like they could be a respectable heir to Snowing-core without all the emotional bullshit. I fuck with it.
Vice Versa – Semarang, Indonesia
ffo: Make Do and Mend, Touché Amoré, Ruiner
I’ve often wondered where the Make Do and Mend sound went—that huge, hardcore-adjacent-but-not-hardcore sound that took the bellowed sincerity of someone like Ruiner and threw some post-rock atmosphere over it. Vice Versa has that kind of big, big sound, with the added bonus of Touché-style strained vocals. It’s hardcore-adjacent rock in the best way, finding its own little lane between the breakdowns.
Zado & The Frail Bodies – Singapore
Zado & The Frail Bodies (10/23/19)
ffo: The Buzzcocks, The Cribs, Chris Farren in an Ian Curtis outfit
Zado et al. are here to do one thing: set the drum machine to 100 mph and play hyped-up powerpop over it. There’s a bouncy surf rock feel to some of the tunes, while some of the guitar hooks aren’t too far off from Wolf Parade, everything surging ahead in pursuit of an even catchier hook. The album doesn’t deviate too much from this primary aesthetic, but the solemn gravity of the vocals—somewhere between Ian Curtis and Morrissey—adds a melodic counterpoint and some welcome depth to the instrumental chipperness.
Keegan Bradford | @franziamom