Friendship International Vol. 1 (4/24/19)
Posted: by The Editor
Friendship Int’l. is a two-part monthly tribute to the emo and alternative music in Southeast Asia: 1. a round-up of the month’s best new releases from across the Pacific, and 2. deep dives into the cities, labels, distros, and DIY scenes that are giving birth to this explosion.
Welcome to the first Friendship International, an idea that’s been germinating since I moved back from Guangzhou, China in the summer of 2016. I had been living and teaching English in China for only a year, but my time there opened my eyes to a dedicated and enthusiastic music scene I had no idea existed: Southeast Asian emo and indie rock.
While I was in Guangzhou, my friends in the excellent math rock band Colin Phils were living in Shenzhen (the border city just north of Hong Kong), and through them, I was introduced to a thriving DIY music scene. I went to concerts everywhere from repurposed office spaces in high rises to Chinese Irish pubs. I saw twinkly Midwest emo bands, technically stunning math rock, and all kinds of post rock and shoegaze. But what really stuck with me was how, outside of few names like Toe and Chinese Football, no one back in the States was hearing these bands.
There are a lot of obvious obstacles: bands in China have had to contend with the Great Firewall, a wide-ranging internet censor that blocks access to many platforms that bands use to promote their music like Spotify, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But even bands in countries without such a firewall have had trouble getting their music out there. U.S. music media is unlikely to focus on non-English language music, especially when the genre is already niche, and it’s financially prohibitive for smaller bands to tour internationally, especially without an established audience.
This column was born out of a desire to begin bridging that gap.
I’m not an expert on any of this: I’m an American-born white male who spent only a short time in China. I don’t claim to be a part of this scene, just someone who had the good fortune to be exposed to it and who loves it deeply. I spend a lot of my time these days digging for bands who are making incredible music but haven’t yet found a wider international audience.
We’re starting a few months into the year, so Volume 1 will be a little more packed than normal as I try to recap all of the most exciting new releases from the first quarter of 2019. But enough preface:
Chinese Football – Wuhan, China
ffo: American Football, Football, etc., etc.
The fact that the biggest emo band in China is named Chinese Football is proof that God is real and that She loves us. Before you ask: yes, they sound a bit like American Football. However, a band that could have been a straightforward, respectable homage to Midwest emo has become the brightest light in China’s exploding scene. The name started as a goof: singer and guitarist Xu Bo loved all of the Kinsella’s projects, but he also loved how the name Chinese Football sounded like a self-deprecating reference to their nation’s tragically doomed sporting franchise. In a 2014 interview, Xu joked, “If the name has gotten your attention, then our publicity stunt has worked very well.”
Continue? is the second installment of their “Game Trilogy” of EPs; the band says, “the protagonist of the game is still the one you are familiar with, Hot-blooded but sensitive Teenager.” Xu Bo grew up smuggling Drive-Thru Records CDs into China, falling in love with The Early November, which led him to bands like Jimmy Eat World, Saves the Day, and Mineral. He’s also a self-described guitar gear fetishist, and these sonic obsessions come through in the production; the guitars on Continue? are gorgeous. The songs are packed end to end with intricate twinkling, but what really stands out about the instrumentation is how fucking tight it is. The record demands headphones. Chinese Football are perpetually dialed-in, all the licks neatly interlocking like gears in a machine.
Their unfaltering precision can come off a little buttoned-up and careful, but just watch any live video of the band: Chinese Football play with exactitude of engineers, but they also rip. This is especially clear on Continue?; see: the beefy riffs in “Monster,” or the absolutely ass-shaking second half of “Adventure Island.” The EP doesn’t seriously shake up the band’s style, but it feels more dynamic, moving through more ideas per song with greater deftness. The album description bears a brief manifesto, a testament to Chinese Football’s unfailingly optimistic outlook:
Every time you fail, a dialog box pops up in front of you to ask if you want the game to continue (YES/NO). Hesitated again and again, still chose YES. Because you still believe that after experiencing all this, there will be something waiting for you in front.
No Pillow for Sobaka – Taipei, Taiwan
Crooked Days (3/12/19)
ffo: Ovlov, Horse Jumper of Love, LVL UP
Over the last two years, Taipei’s No Pillow for Sobaka has followed an inexplicable arc. Their first release, a self-titled 4 song EP, was a glossy mix of shoegaze and dream pop, all programmed drums and chorus-drenched guitar licks that never seemed to go anywhere. Their 2018 album Taipei Tapes abruptly abandoned the “Chill Beats To Study To” vibe and leaned into truly fuzzed out indie rock, landing somewhere between Guided By Voices and a very stoned Times New Viking.
Crooked Days is the band’s scrappiest, most lo-fi effort, and their best songs to date. You’ll have to turn it up to hear what’s happening past the production value, but these songs sound best loud as hell anyways. The opening track “Tell Me How” is catchy, noisy indie rock reminiscent of Ovlov, while “Leave It Behind” almost edges into early-90s Sonic Youth territory. The last song, “Homesick,” sounds like it could have been slotted into LVL UP’s first album and not sounded out of place. When LVL UP announced their break-up, I felt like that lo-fi indie rock sound was running out of contemporary purveyors. Thankfully, I was wrong: I was just looking in the wrong place. It’s slacker rock with strong hooks, and wherever No Pillow for Sobaka goes next, I’m on board.
Forests – Singapore
Spending Eternity in a Japanese Convenience Store (1/1/19)
ffo: Marietta, You Blew It!, I Love Your Lifestyle
There isn’t a band alive having more fun than Forests. SEIAJCS is their first album since 2016’s Sun Eat Moon Grave Party, a truly delightful whirlwind of raucous, shouty Midwest emo, replete with open-tuned shredding. SEIAJCS finds the band streamlining their approach to focus on big choruses and catchy sing-alongs, highlighting just how sharp their pop sensibilities are. I can’t think of a better introduction to Forests than the hilarious video for “Kawaii Hawaii,” the lead single and album highlight, where the band dances around a public restroom, miming playing their instruments and directly addressing the camera.
The three-piece doesn’t take anything too seriously on SEIAJCS. Their humor alternates between poking fun at themselves and self-aware riffing on the melodramatic hallmarks of their genre: “I’ll never be the joy to your division / This town needs fun”; “Won’t you meet me halfway / You can’t spell forever without over.” There’s an overwhelming number of puns and silly pop culture name-dropping (“Just like Stranger Things / Hey you got me feeling upside down”). The songs themselves, however, demonstrate real growth: the riffs are infections rather than showy, and everything is packed with memorable hooks. SEIAJCS is a kegger after a long, shitty week at work: life’s rough, so let’s party. An impossible album to dislike, and an early contender for my favorite album of the year.
LUST – Malaysia
ffo: Animal Collective, Menomena, Deerhoof, MGMT
Tekesima, the first full-length from LUST, is an ecstatic journey through fractured psychedelic pop. It’s hard to know where to start with a record this freewheeling and wide-ranging; pick any three-song stretch and try to count to the influences. For example: “Quemama” recalls the frantic energy of Feels-era Animal Collective, “Desire” builds an upbeat Grouplove-style singalong into a churning anthem, and the guitars in “U I Adore” float and glisten like The Walkmen. There’s hints of Man Man, Voxtrot, of Montreal, The Shins, and Deerhunter. Tekesima is WOW: That’s What I Call Early 2000s Indie Rock! thrown into a blender and strained over ice.
Despite the constellation of reference points, Tekesima is more cohesive than any of LUST’s previous releases. They’re experimental but accessible, cacophonous but firmly committed to crafting tight pop songs. They’re capable in any number of styles, but they’re at the their best when they focus less on impressing and more on letting the song breathe, like in “U I Adore,” when the influence becomes less important than the strength of the central, soaring melody.
OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE
Beast Jesus – Manila, Philippines
Binary System Transmission: 002 (3/31/19)
ffo: 4,000 demons sword fighting, a circle pit in a hurricane
Beast Jesus does chaotic mathy screamo right out of the Circle Takes the Square playbook: keep it unpredictable, alternate between beautiful and brutal and, when in doubt, play it faster.
Broccolies – Tokyo, Japan
4 song tape (2/2819)
ffo: garage punk, having a good time, happiness.
Broccolies have dropped the most fun punk record of the year thus far, and they did in under four minutes. The longest song on 4 songs tape is 1:17, the band bounces through more sugary oddball hooks per minute than should be possible.
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir – Daegu, South Korea
Keep Drinking (3/8/19)
ffo: Blink-182, NOFX, kickflipping over a cop car
Drinking Boys and Girls Choir are a three-piece skate-punk band in the classic tradition. They match the frantic pace of bands like Blink-182 and NOFX, but the vocal melodies really shine when they slow it down, managing to touch on everything from dub rhythms and cowpunk drums.
Eiffel – Manila, Philippines
Unsaid Things (3/30/19)
ffo: CSTVT, Bridge and Tunnel, TWIABP, Midwest Pen Pals
Eiffel should have been one of the bands that racked up thousands of reblogs in the Tumblr-era “emo revival” of the early 2010s. All the pieces are there: twinkly riffs, cathartic screams, lyrical angst, and unexpectedly beautiful builds. Eiffel’s sound is immediately familiar, but still feels fresh and vital in 2019.
Enamore – Indonesia
Such Is Life (3/3/19)
Backyard – Indonesia
ffo: Basement, Citizen, Nothing, Superheaven
I once heard somebody call it soft grunge: the sludgy, shoegaze-influenced alt rock of bands like Basement and Citizen. Right now, Indonesia is doing it better than any country on earth. Enamore’s Such Is Life EP is five songs of beefy guitars and clean vocals, crafting anthems that a band like Nothing would be proud to call their own. Backyard only has one song out to date, and it rips: “Revived” is a crunchy mid-tempo scorcher.
susurrus – Singapore
Ultra Orange (3/4/19)
ffo: Don Cabellaro, Tiny Moving Parts, Covet
susurrus’s debut EP, Ultra Orange, is a dizzying mix of aggressive screamo and technical math rock, deftly switching between time signatures, demonstrating their chops on jazzy interludes only to explode into Hella-esque chaos.
Thin City – Shenzhen, China
EP – (January 28, 2019)
ffo: Les Savy Fav, Parquet Courts, Pere Ubu
Thin City’s brand of sunny, danceable post-punk (think Les Savy Fav by way of The Fall) feels like Shenzhen’s answer to Parquet Courts’s arty garage rock, but instead of coming across jaded or detached, Thin City sounds jubilant. It’s smart and progressive, but above all, it’s deeply charming.
Here are the tracks in playlist form!
Keegan Bradford // @FranziaMom
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