We’re not definitively declaring 2015 as the best year in the history of hip hop – but we’re definitely declaring that we’ve been blessed with a ton of game-changing, major hip hop releases this year in KL. It was a good year for local music, we think, and choosing only 30 songs was a cruel, cruel process.
This list isn’t about what’s wrong about the songs that didn’t make it to this list; it’s about what’s right with the songs that did. It’s not an exact science. It’s not mathematics. We didn’t sit down to systematically decide that this particular track was seven percent greater than this other track (please no more mathematics). Some songs on this list are just enjoyable earworms that we listened to on repeat this year; others we felt displayed skill of some sort, and so on and so forth.
Presenting, Time Out KL’s list of 30 top tracks this year and the reasons we chose them.
Listen on Spotify.
The top 30 local tracks of 2015
It’s not difficult to see why Sphere’s ‘Raging Pop Regime’ EP was one of the most anticipated releases of the year – the indie pop group stews in bright, gentle nuances; airy but affecting, shimmering yet subdued. Cheerful guitars, chorused riffs, it’s pop at its finest – it refused to drown in populism but also refused to drown its populism. Ng Su Ann
A four-piece instrumental, post-rock outfit from KL, Reset to Zilch released debut album ‘A Phantasm; Antithetical’ earlier this year. ‘Quasar’ begins very simply; it’s over a minute of feedback and fuzz, but then the song builds. The bass enters, the drums crash. In a dynamic demonstration, a sample lifted off the award-winning film ‘Network’ (1976) carries you through nearly a third of the track: ‘Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamn amusement park.’ Verdict: Reset to Zilch is no phantasm; true, it lingers much like a dream or a ghost, but in the best way. Ng Su Ann
Not for nothing have JB’s brother-sister duo Juno and Hanna won approval from the likes of The Wknd, as well as opening slots for Bandung’s Bottlesmoker and Singapore’s Anise. ‘Fifteen’ creeps along moodily over creaks and gradually enveloping, sparse synths. Ng Su Ann
Iqwan Ridzuwan and Khairil Shah return with a new record in the style of a synth-ballad; awash in ’80 new wave, the elegantly poised electropop tune channels doom and gloom, this time featuring a Scandinavian-style songbird, only known as Sophie. The biting beats, the spidery synths, they’re all anchored by Sophie’s vocals, which soar and sway: ‘If only night could grow longer / as I am getting no answers’. There’s not much happening on the track, but that’s a good thing: The result is an austere, sensuous arrangement, one for long, moody nighttime drives. Ng Su Ann
Froya’s single off her debut album ‘Panic Bird’ might as well be called ‘Millenials’. The Sabahan singer-songwriter’s ode to her parents is a happy, radio-friendly tune which, after a few listens, you’re likely to sing along to. Nadia Rosli
Bittersweet is back to upend a lot of year-end lists. The Brit-rock-influenced band’s new single ‘Control’, taken off their upcoming third album ‘BTSWT’ due in 2016, feels like a stepping stone towards the high standards they’ve set for the past decade or so – hitting home loud (keyword is ‘loud’) and clear, with relentlessly upbeat guitars and drums, as well as buzzing, rattling jangles that pout and prance. Ng Su Ann
There’s an innocence to Youth Portal songs that’s adorable – on ‘Draft’ the frontman seeks attention, and it’s exactly how you’d imagine puppy love to be as he repeats ‘I wanna draw / draw your attention today’. The dreampop beats further emphasise the naïveté of the Cyberjaya band’s young love story. Nadia Rosli
Dangerdisko’s recently released ‘Hedonism’ is sleek and even comes with a backstory (go to their website and read the whole thing). ‘Hope’ is the last track on the album, but it’s a beautiful closure with Soraya’s silky vocals stealing the show over the duo’s dreamy, bedazzling beats. Nadia Rosli
At times, Kyoto Protocol’s ‘Catch These Men’ plays out like a paradox – one minute they’re sticking it to the man and a few songs later they admit to being corporate whores. That aside, who wouldn’t agree with the band’s point of view about ‘the rich getting richer and the poor deplored’? The chorus is the cherry on top – an anthem for worker bees everywhere, repeating ‘I’m dispensable right now / I’m not a figure’. Nadia Rosli
The top 30 local tracks of 2015
Ali Aiman is back after last year’s solid first release that was the ‘Overture’ EP. In ‘Morning Sun’ he sings of what we assume is ennui, and around the second minute a piano bit plays on, giving all the jazzy feels that in a few years’ time will definitely be known as the Ali Aiman signature sound. Nadia Rosli
This track by Akhyla kid Nicholas Siau aka nemo plays like a short catch up on what’s been going on with his life. Crafted in the style of a last letter and mixed by fellow labelmate Kain, there’re two different stories on this track. On the first half, nemo goes on about parental issues and, after that, dishes out some notes on his love affair with a taken girl, ‘Don’t make me fucking lose it and spell your name out in my raps’. Nadia Rosli
The latest addition to the HOAX Vision family, Viktoria’s ‘The Only One’ is an astute, quiet triumph – cue an expectant, steely-eyed gaze, eyes peeking out from side-shaven hair. It’s a minimal, mid-tempo brood backed by eerie electronics; altogether, it combines sparse, subtly sophisticated arrangement following in the vein of her earlier two tracks, ‘Baby Got Me’ and ‘Nebraska’, with soft vocals that come across more speaking, less singing. Movingly melancholic, she asks: ‘How could you love someone like me / I’m the last thing you’d ever need’, and then beckons, almost pleading: ‘You are the only one, there’s nobody else’. ‘The Only One’ lingers, as these tracks do. Ng Su Ann
Tenderfists’s ‘Tourist Car’ came out at least three years ago and while the band has hinted that they’re working on new material for an upcoming album, band member Faiq Zamir has come out with some solo tracks as Half-court. ‘Now’ is mildly reminiscent of Todd Terje, if Todd Terje commutes on a pastel-hued subway and is a wee bit moody. Nadia Rosli
New kid on the block Sasha Ningkan’s bilingual tune plays like a lullaby as the English verse aims to soothe with ‘Those tears will go away / And things will fade away’. Starting with a very subtle after-the-rain-like beat, ‘Mimpi’ is one of the pleasant surprises of the year. Nadia Rosli
What a name – Bastard Malaya – but Bastard and Orang Malaya, as well as their producer f r s (also known as Faris Malik, one half of Dái-Kan), aren’t in it for the controversy; they’re in it for the chill. ‘Not Really Us’ is Atlanta avant garde; as outliers operating from the periphery of our hip hop community, the bedroom lo-fi laxity, fluid, lazy swag and offbeat charisma of Bastard Malaya hint at an anti-conformist aesthetic that’s unseemly seamless. Bemused and loose, they sing about McD, girls and screwing (this is, of course, a polite euphemism) around with girls – and on the strung-out, unpolished ‘Fever Til 44’ produced by f r s, you can almost hear fresh talent turn skilled pro. Ng Su Ann
A definite highlight from Enterprise’s ‘Episode One’ EP is this collaboration of a song with singer-songwriter Bil Musa, whose vocals add a nice touch while retaining the band’s signature intergalactic vibes. She rambles on in French and we don’t understand a thing (in fact, a Google Translate of the song title comes up with nothing of note), but everything sounds beautiful, so for a while, it doesn’t matter. Nadia Rosli
Jaggfuzzbeats are a self-assured pair from Shah Alam – that insouciant rock-star drawl, and vocalist Azrul Zainal’s cut-glass cheekbones. That there’s nothing new to be found here is a common complaint – they’re a rock’n’roll act with a country, folk-ish twang, and that ground has been trod on often – but we’d be lying if we said we didn’t embrace and enjoy Jaggfuzzbeats, yoking the spirit and styles of retro folk and rock riffs. Ng Su Ann
Is ‘Mother’s Couch’ by the mysterious and talented Orang his Netflix-and-chill song? Most probably, as he channels Panda Bear: ‘So here we lay on your mother’s couch / Where I said I’m getting out of here’. It’s a short, almost three-minute track that leaves you smiling like an idiot – and for what exactly, you’re not sure. Nadia Rosli
‘Comet’ is pretty, especially in the patches when Jeannie Lee sings. It’s also pretty poppy, which is a bit of a departure from the electronic duo, from whom we’ve come to expect a darker, more brooding sound – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, with ’80s synth flourishes and just enough shimmer to hit the sweet spot. Ng Su Ann
The top 30 local tracks of 2015
'Banana' by Jin Hackman
‘A Chinese who can’t speak Chinese? / Yo, the struggle is real,’ raps Jin Hackman on ‘Banana’ (‘Yellow on the outside, white on the inside’). The song, catchy and tongue-in-cheek, is deserving of a spot on any banana’s year-end list. But if you disagree, then go back to watching Wong Kar Wai’s films with subtitles. Ng Su Ann
'Trofi' by Adam Kasturi
It’s tragic that not more people have listened to ‘Trofi’ – the music is moving, not just physically, but also intuitively, spiritually, perhaps on a dim dance floor. The clicking loops, the rhythmic throb, a noise that hisses and rattles until it breaks through; Adam Kasturi is KL’s most visionary producer, ambitious and atmospheric. Ng Su Ann
Read our interview with Adam Kasturi.
'Poverty Jet Set' by The Fridays
The Ampang pop band, with the release of their true blue fulllength ‘Verklempt’ and resulting relentless gigging, sheds their slacker image; it looks and sounds, you know, like they’re genuinely trying. In ‘Poverty Jet Set’, The Fridays aspire to an early The Strokes aesthetic: taut guitarwork versus woozy nonchalance, evoking images of frontman Acap F staying home, ‘arranging the magnets on the fridge’. Ng Su Ann
Read our interview with The Fridays.
Note: This version is a very early demo recording. For the finished track, buy their album ‘Verklempt’ at selected stores or get in touch at www.facebook.com/thefridays.
'Assassin' by Pastel Lite
‘Assassin’ bubbles to the surface but never boils over completely. Eff Hakim and Mohd Faliq, as Pastel Lite, unleash a sinister, subversive heap of seething intensity with ‘Assassin’: ‘Yes, you could’ve done much better / Yes, you should’ve done much better’, Eff snarls over Faliq’s dark, urgent electronics. Ng Su Ann
'Baby Blue' by Dae Kim featuring Ryota Katayama
Dae Kim has a distinct sound: Half the time it’s hip hop, and when not, it’s fuzzy, lush electronics, communicating love and longing. We like it more when it’s the latter. On ‘Baby Blue’, the light flickers and wavers, but it never goes out. Ryota sings ‘I wait until you come home’, and in that sentence is a small universe of all the things lovers say to each other. Ng Su Ann
‘Bummer’ by Zsyia x Viktoria
‘Bummer’ – the third track from the girls’ mixtape ‘Saccharine’ – snapshots a moment in music right now and it’s a memorable accomplishment. Produced by Fariz Malik, it invokes Doja Cat’s ‘So High’, only dreamier, hazier, slower; the succinct, quick raps, the velvety vocals, it’s all anchored by barely-there, stripped synths. To be fair, it’s not the most pristine of works – but ‘Bummer’ taps into a sweet spot that’s more than the sum of ‘Saccharine’s parts, and it’s a start. Ng Su Ann
‘I Might Be The One’ by Orang Malaya
HOAX Vision’s poster boy has been hard at work – in the past few months alone, he snagged The Wknd Recording Fund, and naturally, celebrated with the release of his record ‘Radland Inn’. He’s at home on ‘I Might Be The One’; it’s the signature Orang Malaya song: moody, muted, a little on the edge. He slurs over slinky, sombre beats. He snaps into weightless, vampy flows. He goes where the muse takes him, and we go with him. Ng Su Ann
Read more about Orang Malaya.
‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ by Leo Ari
When Leo Ari sings ‘Sometimes, it feels like / I don’t love you anymore’, a lesser listener would accuse the song of sinking into the pitfalls of schmaltz. It doesn’t. His skills become evident sometime past the one-minute mark, and at 1:26, sugary synths shake up ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’; he has a knack for analogue warmth, and it shows on this song’s lush production. This one’s for the heartbroken and the hung-ups at the clubs. Ng Su Ann
Read our interview with Leo Ari.
‘九 / 十六 (Kyū / Jū Roku)’ by Dirgahayu
‘Commemorate!’, as a whole, is a brilliant album by a brilliant band – but ‘Kyū / Jū Roku had us from the get go. A Malaysian math rock band making mechanical, muscular music, they veer ever-so-slightly into self-indulgence on ‘Kyū / Jū Roku’; it conjures up specific snapshots in your headspace (Jonathan Glazer’s ‘Under the Skin’, sped up and soundtracked by beeping heart monitors, for instance). More than anything, the song defines and refines the Dirgahayu sound. Ng Su Ann
Read our interview with Dirgahayu.
‘Introverts’ by OJ Law
OJ Law returned this year with the top-notch album ‘Let’s Be Adult’, leaving behind his brand of brooding, bedroom rock for dance and disco-esque tunes. It’s also his most overtly personal record to date, one that, more so than any other before, talks about love, the loss of love, and all in between. We like ‘Introverts’ – not because we’re introverts (we are), but because this is all solid songwriting: glossy, glacial synth-pop with sick hooks and serpentine lyrics. OJ Law is our favourite introvert. Ng Su Ann
Read our interview with OJ Law.