As we’ve mentioned year after year, there’s no exact science or mathematics to determining the best local tracks of a year. But our local music scene is growing, and this was a good year for many of our homegrown artistes. Here's our annual round-up of the best local tracks that have been produced in 2017.
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It’s hard to not get immediately sucked into this song with Lunadira’s enchanting whispery voice and lucid storytelling. Mostly only backed by her ukulele, Lunadira’s story of heartbreak is both captivating and tear inducing. Her inclusion of sound effects such as rolling thunder and pattering rain gives the song an almost visual effect. It’s like watching a break-up montage in a movie but without the visuals, leaving that part completely up to your imagination.
Featuring Chris Baker of American punk band Anti-Flag, this song is a straight up punk song that doesn’t hold back. It offers a misanthropic look into how we’ve only got ourselves to blame for all the misery on the planet. The chants of the refrain ‘We can’t be saved’ is basically 2017 world politics in a nutshell.
After years of teasing, the Shah Alam duo finally released their debut EP earlier this year. ‘Damncoldurban’, the break-up song of the album is easily one of its highlights. Azrul’s painful southern-tinged exclamation ‘So, who am I to you?’ is filled with pathos yet at the same time makes for an excellent chorus. Also, an honourable mention to the short guitar solo in the song, something you don’t hear too often in 2017.
‘Dance Me To Your Love’ sounds like it could’ve come out straight from ‘80s Britain when Depeche Mode were at the peak of their careers. The instrumentalisation on this track is sprawling – from the robotic beats of the retro keyboards to the psychedelic guitar licks – yet utterly danceable.
The enigmatic co-founder of HOAX Vision is low-key the collective’s most interesting member. His tracks are experimental and pushes hip hop to different territories by playing with different flows over non-conventional beats. On this track, Bastard’s sombre verse is contrasted with Mica Da Silva’s soulful vocals that are laid over a glitch-infused IDM-influenced beat by F R S.
Attune is one of the rising stars of the local SoundCloud rap scene, and this song is proof of why he’s worthy of attention. ‘If I Ever’ showcases Attune’s various flows, from traditional fast rapping to a more melodic delivery that gives the song a catchy sing-a-long quality.
Celebrating nostalgia in music can be regressive sometimes, as it could be a roadblock to innovation and progress in the future. While Masdo can be guilty of this by adopting pop yeh yeh aesthetics in their image and music, their song ‘Kecundang’ is way too charming and catchy to overlook. It’s an exceptionally infectious song about hooking up and ghosting – a problem that still afflicts many of us in 2017.
‘Butter Breakfast’ is dream-pop at its best. The song’s opening line ‘It’s a sunny day, let’s get breakfast together’ captures the vibe of the song perfectly – sunny, chill and lazy. ’Butter Breakfast’ is the Cyberjaya band’s only song, but if it’s any indication of the quality of their future releases, we’re excited.
On ‘Air Tenang’, Gard delivers his lines through his trademark auto-tuned garble. Throughout the song it sounds as if he’s doing a dramatic reading of Malay poetry, but auto-tuned – surreal yet utterly romantic. ’Air Tenang’ sees him partnering up with Sabbala and the song is littered with gut-wrenching one-liners like ‘Dipulau jauh di situ, ku menunggu mu’.
‘This Is My War’ just clocks in under two minutes, but all the best hardcore-punk songs are short and intense. Hailing from Sarawak, Jane belts out lyrics that are strong and delivered impassionedly. Her screaming ‘This is my fucking war / For pride, for glory’ makes for a great statement of intent and is nothing short of empowering for all those listening.
If it wasn’t for the internet, cross-continent collaborations such as this one between Subang Jaya’s Islands and Paris-based band Club Douceur would have never happened. This airy shoegaze gem celebrates ordinary human beings doing the things they love over infectious guitar riffs.
Half-court’s ‘1232’ shows that not every good electronic song needs to be a club banger. This slow burner of a song evokes the same feelings you get after a tight hug – warmth, intimacy, euphoria. We daresay, ‘1232’ is probably this year’s best electronic track.
‘Unanimity’ by up-and-coming producer Madullar isn’t one of those sasau bangers you’d expect Viktoria to be on (but not surprising either considering her experimental streak). Viktoria’s vocals on the track are auto-tuned and chopped up, at times even sounding like they’ve been reversed. Mostly the lyrics are unintelligible, with some audible phrases popping up to the surface such as ‘Tell me to go’ and ‘No self-control’ backed with an ambient, glitch beat. All these add up to a track that’ll put you in a trance, elevating your headspace to some unknown landscape of introspection.
There are many odes to KL, we all know that; but there doesn’t seem to be many songs in the scene paying tribute to the other states. That said, Noh Salleh’s love letter to his hometown is a much needed addition to our local music catalogue. The song is arranged beautifully with some jazz, P Ramlee and kroncong influences thrown in, and you can imagine Noh behind the piano playing it in a smoky bar somewhere, reminiscing about the green forests of Sarawak.
Hip hop took on a more emotive mantle this year, and no one has donned the cape better than Ichu. His use of autotune is a delight to witness. Where autotune usually detracts the humanistic quality of the work, in ‘brb’ Ichu’s use of the device adds another layer of vulnerability to this already melancholic song.
Clearly drawing inspiration from politically charged folk acts like Defiance, Ohio from the US and Iwan Fals from Indonesia, P-RM are a group of folk punkers from KL. ‘Meriam Air’ is both a protest song and a song about protesting. The song details the brutality that sometimes occurs during protests through water cannons and tear gas, and it exudes a sense of defiance against such oppression.
Alex’s lush production on this song is a lesson in restraint. Featuring the saccharine-voiced Singaporean Sam Rui, the minimalist downtempo beat allows Sam’s and Alex’s voices to flow into space, which further amplifies the yearning of companionship that’s evident in the song. Alex also proves you don’t actually have to pull off a Shakespeare impression in your songwriting to make a great love song – a sense of longing is clear even in the simplest of lines, ‘Oh I see you’.
For a self-proclaimed emo band with sounds influenced by American bands who have a penchant for sad and depressing lyrics (such as Cap’n Jazz and American Football), Milo Dinosaur’s songs aren’t very, well, emo. Not stylistically – they’ve got that down pat – but in terms of content. ‘Usah Resah’ stays clear of the genre’s clichés and provides an uplifting soundtrack. The guitars are catchy and the lyrics memorable – it’s the perfect motivation song for your Monday morning commutes.
‘Hiao’ – a Chinese expression meaning vain in English – is all about getting what you want and loving yourself. lilasianthiccie and nyonyabusiness turn the trope of the vain woman on its head by reclaiming it as something self-affirming – an anthem of self-love and sexual expression. A potential watershed moment in Malaysian hip hop.
‘Masa Kita’ is one of the stand-out tracks from Pastel Lite’s debut LP, ‘Balada’. One of only two Malay songs on the album, the languid number encapsulates one’s paranoia when saying goodbye to a lover. Eff’s despair is palpable in the refrain, ‘Apa yang aku resah, masa akan berlalu / Cinta kita akan musnah, kau jumpa yang baru’.
After teasing the song in live shows for several years now, Iqbal M finally released ‘Kota Memujuk’ as part of their EP, ‘Antara Dua Darjat’. While the song has a slight religious slant, the song isn’t exactly nasyeed. The song is a beautiful reminder of our mortality as Iqbal dutifully advises, ‘Banyak salah laku / Masih tak terlambat / Masih ada waktu’. A great reminder that rock music and spirituality can coexist.
'Appreciate’ is Airliftz’s anthem that’s both against his doubters and about how far he’s come to get to where he is now. It also has the type of hook that gets stuck in your head for days – a testament to his hit-making abilities. While the song has its cheesy moments, only Airliftz can turn it into an endearing feature rather than a drawback.
‘Dead Cities, Ghost Town’ is a seven-minute epic. The song begins in typical post-punk fashion with lines being delivered in a deep monotonous manner á la Ian Curtis. It then reaches the climax as the vocals get more desperate and the guitars and drums get quicker, coming to a point of blurriness and organised chaos before moving into a slow drifting into melancholia.
On this single, Orang Malaya explores the uncharted territory of pop music by trading in his trap beats for catchy choruses. ‘Light’ sees Orang Malaya expressing his anxieties of his dark past through his signature lazy sing-songy flow over smooth synths. The Orang Malaya of ‘Radland Inn’ has grown past trap into an artist in his own right.
The minimalist beat produced by Kidd Santhe shines a light on Zamaera’s bars, which are filled with witty punchlines and tongue-twisting rhymes. While the song is only just under three minutes, the message is clear – rappers beware, Zamaera’s coming.
Titled after a brand of cheap cigarettes, ‘U2’ overturns the typical rap trope of bragging about being rich. In the track, he sings and raps – over an instrumental that wouldn’t seem out of place on an anime soundtrack – about being young and broke but still being able to party with his friends with cheap beers and cigarettes. The song is a soundtrack for youthful hedonism.
'Di antara lahir dan arwah hanyalah beberapa langkah’ lurkgurl laments on ‘Sariah’. lurkgurl’s genius has always been her knack for brevity, encapsulating existential anxiety in a single line. The song has all the hallmarks of a great lurkgurl song – her whispery voice floating above lo-fi guitars and a disregard of traditional songwriting structures.
'Jangan Puja Sampai Kecewa' by monoloQue
monoloQue manages to integrate elements of traditional Malay musical instruments like the angklung and gamelan without the song feeling ham-fisted or motivated by nostalgia, which many bands are guilty of these days. Instead, the inclusion of the instruments feel natural and they add their own dimension to the song as the sounds weave in out with the guitar riffs and synths. fb.com/monoloQuerasmi
Driven by shimmering keys, Emir Hermono’s production on this is as sweet and addictive as candy. Throughout the song rappers Gard and Ichu share their anxieties and feelings on love through auto-tuned raps. ‘Beritahu mereka yang aku duniamu’, Gard painfully exclaims while Ichu shares his longing: ‘Berharap setiap mimpi akan menjadi nyata / Hidup bahagia untuk selamanya’. This is the love song of the year.
The band’s foray into Malay songwriting seemed like a natural progression for Killeur Calculateur. On paper, the lyrics resemble Malay poetry littered with alliterations and internal rhymes. On record, the words come alive and feel more pertinent than ever. Towards the end of the song, the band urgently proclaims ‘Persetankan dewamu’, something we all need reminding as we end 2017 and enter 2018 with an unpredictable political climate – both locally and abroad.