Friendship International Vol. 2 (5/15/19)
Posted: by The Editor
Friendship Int’l. is a two-part monthly tribute to the emo and alternative music throughout 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.
Friendship International is back with a beautiful new logo designed by none other than friend of the column and graphic design genius, Hancock (@hancxck on the social media of your choice). The best part of the response to the first volume has been hearing from bands that I’ve been a fan of for a long time. It feels like the column is already beginning to serve its main purpose: to bring together the emo, alternative, and punk scenes from opposite ends of the globe. As always, if you are in a band in Asia or want to recommend a new release for the column, my email inbox and Twitter DMs are open.
April was a wild month: my spreadsheet had at least 30 notable releases that I had to whittle down. It was a painful process, but the resulting list features a tremendous lineup of old favorites and newcomers, and an incredibly diverse range of genres, including surf rock, shoegaze, ska, easycore, and classic slacker indie rock.
Wellsaid – Hong Kong
ffo: You Blew It!, Dads, Joie De Vivre
Long live Sweaty & Cramped! Hong Kong’s finest independent record label and distro was my introduction to the emo scene in Asia. The first Hong Kong show I went to was one of Sweaty & Cramped’s famous “no-stage” shows held in a converted office space, dozens of floors up in a high rise near the bay. Looking out through the window, I could see the tiny figures of soccer players scrimmaging under park lights, while inside, math rock and emo bands shredded right on the floor at eye level with the audience.
Lok Sum, founder of Sweaty & Cramped, formed the label out of a series of shows he put on under the same name with the intent to shake up Hong Kong’s music scene. “The idea is that many shows in Hong Kong can be kind of stagnant,” Lok said in an interview with RADII China, “Some friends and I wanted to introduce more interaction and passion to live music, and we hosted a number of no-stage shows. It was great seeing some people ‘unthaw’ and really throw themselves into the shows.” Lok’s love for Hong Kong’s emo scene and for the music that inspired it comes through on his band Wellsaid’s newest full length, Apart.
The album’s opening song “Spilling My Guts” is a perfect distillation of all the best parts of Apart: bright, clean guitar twinkling, insistent bass, and Lok’s contemplative croon: “I guess I’m dead to you, I might as well be.” It’s immediately familiar to fans of Lok’s other band, Emptybottles, who also traffics in open-tuned emo, but Emptybottles are more beholden to math rock, only occasionally including vocals in their pursuit of the perfect guitar riff. “Spilling My Guts,” both the title and the tune, introduce the centerpiece of Apart: Lok’s songwriting abilities.
Of the album’s nine tracks, two are acoustic, and all are dense with Lok’s lyrics that take a hard look at the journey from adolescence to adulthood. On American Football’s LP3, Kinsella and company found a way to translate LP1’s soundtrack to teenage angst into a soundtrack to middle-aged angst, questioning the sustainability of old habits and searching for a brave way to face life’s challenges after the exuberance of youth has faded. Lok, although younger than Kinsella and company, fills the new songs with introspective explorations of these same ideas. “Paris, Texas” narrates the struggle to mature through paying taxes and ill-advised flirting with the bartender, building to a shouted “Slack motherfucker!” in the chorus. This reference to Superchunk’s energetic takedown of a shitty coworker is recast as the refrain of a self-deprecating narrator experiencing the growing pains of adulthood. At the end of “Rest My Head,” Lok screams, “I am a finished product. / I am so fucking done. / Oh what have I become?”
Apart has too many uplifting moments to be a downer, however. “Mileage May Vary” is an Emptybottles throwback replete with interlocking guitar riffs and a triumphant trombone outro. These are songs that will undoubtedly sound incredible live, so if you have the opportunity, make it a priority to get to one of those sweaty and cramped rooms where Hong Kong’s best music scene is continuing to grow.
Otoboke Beaver – Kyoto, Japan
Itekoma Hits (4/26/19)
ffo: smashing the patriarchy with a goddamn crowbar, Boredoms, Melt-Banana
Otoboke Beaver play punk with the conviction and intensity of a band who knows exactly who their enemies are. In an interview with Bandcamp, guitarist and singer Accorinrin says, “Otoboke Beaver allows us to express ourselves in a way we couldn’t do in our regular life. We don’t assume to speak for all women—we can only speak for our own experience—but if other women think, ‘Yes, I understand this experience,’ and can feel power, then we are happy.” On Itekoma Hits, Accorinrin’s lyrics explore the ways women are dismissed and their concerns ignored, indicting men who feel entitled to waste women’s time, overbearing employers, and a society that only seems to listen when a man speaks.
Because of their outspoken stance on gender issues, Otoboke Beaver is fated to be forever referred to as a riot grrrl act, and while there’s certainly some spiritual kinship with bands like Bikini Kill (see: their Kill Bill-esque rampage video for “Love is Short”), Otoboke Beaver has much more in common with progressive noise rock bands like Boredoms and Melt-Banana. They’re more punk than either of those acts, more interested in pure velocity than technical wizardry, but they share a mastery of their instruments and the tendency to slam on the breaks and dive headlong in a new direction. A lot has been made of the band’s fuck-you attitude, but too many reviews do the band a disservice by only highlighting the band’s messages of female empowerment without also acknowledging the power of the music itself.
The album is stuffed with shouted refrains, whiplash stop-start rhythms, infectious riffing, and show-stopping energy and delivery from Accorinrin. The bass and drums are a dialed-in unit, thundering with authority. “What do you mean you have talk to me at this late date?” is an absolute thrasher that changes tempo five times in less than two minutes. There’s flashes of experimental pop, surf punk riffs, and even call-and-response chants that rank among the year’s best pop hooks. Many of these songs have been released previously, but it’s a testament to Otoboke Beaver’s clarity of vision that all of these songs flow seamlessly together.
They’ve played SXSW for a few years now, and it’s nothing short of criminal that this the first time they’re breaking through to a wider American audience, but better late than never, and the women of Otoboke Beaver have made it clear that they aren’t going anywhere. They sure as hell aren’t slowing down.
tidal – Quezon City, Singapore
life after (4/21/19)
ffo: Title Fight, Balance and Composure, Dikembe
Tidal play Tight Flight-inflected emo punk with an energy that has more than once led to me yanking out my headphone cable at work while involuntarily dancing in my chair. “Anthemic” is an easy word to throw around when trying to describe loud music, but these songs feel so full of personality and purpose that the word feels more than appropriate. Even the stretches without lyrics feel vital: the instrumental bridge in “My thoughts are the sea” emotes as much as any of the lyrical passages do, reminiscent of a time when bands like Boys Life and Christie Front Drive pulled as much pathos from the guitars between verses as the words.
The album notes refer to life after as “Songs about the pasts that are being dragged into the future, a recollection of what was before in a life after,” and this theme of mingled nostalgia and regret runs throughout the record. However, they play with an energy they keeps it from ever becoming dour: think Dikembe’s classic debut, Chicago Bowls, with a little bit of shoegaze influence stirred in.
“78” should be immediately slotted into your summer playlists. Windows down in the car, drumming on the steering wheel, the whole deal. From the very first guitar notes, it demands to be played as loudly as possible. “Dog Days” is a similarly massive tune, a full-stem-ahead ripper that drops into a muscular half-time outro, the lyrics serving as a manifesto for the album: “the walls remind me of places I can’t be in / and faces that i never thought would haunt me / in my own nightmare / this is just temporary / i know we’ll power through / this is just temporary / let this be temporary.”
Gascoigne – Jakarta, Indonesia
Bond Electric (4/1/19)
ffo: 90s indie rock, Pavement, Superchunk
A 2016 YouTube video shows Gascoigne in a narrow practice space, lazily running through their first single, “Stolen War Emblem,” doing their best Pavement imitation right down to the meandering lead lines. It’s fun in the way that three buds jamming is fun: loose and noisy and familiar.
So when the video for “King,” the lead single from Gascoigne’s first proper full length Bond Electric, was released, it felt like band opening an entirely new chapter. “King” nods toward classic power pop and 90s college rock before breaking off into an extended guitar workout. The band makes a big deal about their love for Pavement, but their sunny indie tunes feel like they have more in common with Indoor Living than Slanted and Enchanted. The band describes themselves as slacker rock, but they’re too good at what they do to be convincing as underachievers. Although tunes like “Roadburner 3000” and “Interstate” owe an obvious debt to Malkmus, Bond Electric is more akin to Superchunk’s breezy melodies and infectious riffing. “Finer Way of Doing Things” takes a laid back groove and elevates it with a hooky chorus reminiscent of classic Merge Records bands. “Paint It Over” hints at a Superdrag influence, and “Liberal Prospects” earns its four-and-a-half minute runtime through sharp vocal hooks and huge guitars.
For singer and guitarist Alvi Ifthikhar, slacker rock isn’t a nihilistic mentality, but a way of subverting life’s pressures. “Slacking off is not about being depressed,” he said in an interview with the Jakarta Post, “it is about taking your time and goofing off as much as you like and you’ll eventually get there.” Ifthikhar’s lyrics echo this relaxed optimism: on album standout “Hook Line Sinker,” he sings, “There’s no reason for you to be in a hurry when you see it was rigged from the start.” Gascoigne isn’t in any kind of hurry, but their jangly indie rock is already hitting the mark.
OTHER NEW AND NOTABLE
Lorsa – Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
PSYCHO AU GO-GO (4/25/19)
ffo: surfing, smashing the state
Lorsa has been making genuine surfpunk for 15 years now, and they’ve boiled it down to effortless essentials: ‘verbed out riffs, gnashing punk drums, and a deep hatred for fascists and Nazis. I rest my case.
Luncheon – Marikina, Philippines
Ur Shoes (4/13/19)
ffo: Transit, Microwave, Real Friends
This is the first full length from Luncheon, but you can tell they’ve been polishing their sound for a while: Ur Shoes is top-to-bottom snotty pop-punk/easycore tunes with huge choruses and the occasional breakdown. You only need to go as far as the first song on the album to understand the appeal: “Deadlines” is so full of sticky hooks that it took me an hour to get to the rest of the album because I just kept running it back.
notbicycle – Japan
ffo: Weezer, Pet Symmetry, Oso Oso
I don’t know anything about notbicycle—this is their first release as far as I can tell—but I haven’t been this excited about a record in some time. I’ve been going crazy trying to figure out what they remind me of for weeks. There’s a definite Weezer influence, and their style of emo has hints of Pet Symmetry and Oso Oso, but I think the reason I can’t quite place it is because they have found their own lane with their crunchy pop-punk. The album’s first track “ハミングバード” opens with chugging palm-mutes and then bursts into a chorus where the riffs and the vocals are competing for best hook. Definitely a band to watch.
Oddblood – Singapore
ffo: Radiohead, Polyenso, Sun Eater
Oddblood (formerly Milktooth) cites Radiohead as their major influence, and you can hear it in their progressive pop. There are angular rhythms, dissonance evolving into complex harmony, and lead singer Su Ying’s gorgeous vocals anchoring it all. They share a lot of sonic ground with fellow Singapore progressive indie band Sun Eater, and there’s hints of the intricately arranged pop of Polyenso’s early releases. The songs are almost deceptively pretty, but don’t be fooled: this a brainy and carefully constructed set of songs.
SkaLeton – Daegu, South Korea
ffo: Mustard Plug, Reel Big Fish, Dance Hall Crashers
South Korea has an incredible punk scene, but this is the first I’ve heard of South Korea’s burgeoning ska scene, and it’s an absolute party. In a 2017 interview with the zine bROKe in Korea, the band listed wide ranging influence from the Spiky Brats, jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, and My Chemical Romance, but the band’s sound is tried-and-true ska punk. The album’s first proper song, “Trombone,” has it all: upstroked guitars, an uplifting sing-along chorus, everybody chanting “Oi!” and, yes, plenty of trombone. The seven song record is aptly titled Friendship; it features numerous guest spots, including South Korea’s skatepunk darlings Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, album art from South Koreans artist SUCK Tattoo, and all the laid-back fun of a beach party.
Telever – Nakhon Sawan, Thailand
have a good healthy (4/23/19)
ffo: Slowdive, MBV, Nothing
It’s about time we featured some shoegaze around here. Thailand has always been home to some of Asia’s finest shoegaze, and Telever approaches the genre with obvious respect for the classics. The band would do Kevin Shields proud with their walls of guitar fuzz, vocals drenched in reverb, and simple, gorgeous lead lines.
Turncoat – Matsuyama, Japan
My Dear Ex… (4/24/19)
ffo: The Menzingers, Dillinger Four, Iron Chic
Turncoat is churning out pop-punk (heavy on the punk) with such precision and consistency, it’s a wonder they aren’t a regular feature on the FEST lineup yet. There’s a definite spiritual connection to Dillinger Four’s sunniest songs on My Dear Ex… I say this as a high compliment: this is orgcore at its finest.
waterweed – Osaka, Japan
ffo: Rise Against, Thrice, Set Your Goals, Knuckle Puck
waterweed is an institution. They’ve existed for years in various incarnations and built a reputation as a hard-working post-hardcore band, but their newest release, Diffuse, is a chaotic mix of pop-punk that would be right at home on any Warped Tour stage in the last decade. The first three songs on the record touch on influences ranging from Thrice and Defeater to Set Your Goals, Polar Bear Club, and even Take This To Your Grave-era Fall Out Boy. Whatever your flavor of alt-rock/pop-punk is, you ‘ll find it here, from skatepunk drums to straight up rock ‘n roll bellowed choruses.
Keegan Bradford // @FranziaMom
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