Music Reviews

Our Picks for 2018: Malaysian Songs

We run through the best Malaysian singles of the year. Make sure to also check out our Top 10 Malaysian Albums of 2018 list here!
In this list, we cover songs that were released as standalone singles by artists from across all genres. The top 20 is my attempt at semi-accurate summary of what we felt were the standout tracks that made 2018 the year that it was for our music scene. Since there were a bigger pool of singles to choose from rather than albums in an age where people don’t make as many albums any more in Malaysia, it felt insufficiently inclusive to us to simply stick to a top 10. We hope you discover some tracks that you’ve missed throughout the year, and we’d of course be keen to check out your top songs of the year!

20) XOXO Rozella

The best piece of pop this year is Rozella’s eschewing from her more R&B chanteuse side and taking up a sweet persona reminiscent of pop geniuses like Carly Rae Jepsen. A lovely track with a great chorus, and overall a fun love song to sing to the people you adore.

19) gimam – niqie

Metaphors, parables and poetry are wonderful things, but there’s something that induces a sigh of wonderful respite when you hear a song that just says it like it is – sometimes life makes you feel so bored and lonely that you want to die. There’s nothing sarcastic about niqie, though they might not take themselves too seriously. Their brand of dream pop that’s exploding all over the Internet with artists like Boy Pablo and Phum Viphurit gives the genre a more local, laid back feel. You might get confused about why it’s so catchy at first, but unclench your butt, sing about death and this song hits all the right (millennial) nerves yang xde member, xde awek.

18) Pujaan Hati – Loko

Indie rock’s catchiest anthem this year is a sweet, schmaltzy love song where the earworms are both the chorus and the guitar riffs. A fun tune; Pujaan Hati a solid piece of slacker rock with humdrum vocals that’s bottom line comforting.

17) Sweet Nothings – Crinkle Cut

One of the biggest musical injustices to me this year is how Crinkle Cut seem to flew under so many radars when these people are high-key belting out chill soul vibes reminiscent of R&B girl groups of yore. Powerful vocals and harmonies makes this track a super sweet listen.

16) Ragu – VIONA

Takahara Suiko’s prolific solo project, VIONA,released several memorable songs this year including Srikandi, Masalah and even a flamboyant remix of Watimang Landak and Dikir Puteri called Watimang Puteri. Ragu however, stands out for its subject matter – an illustration of those forced to live behind a mask, unable to express their sexuality or mental health. The noir lounge pluckings of her ukulele accompanies a profound introspection as to the state of our society and the suffering that comes from repression.

15) Sila Robek Hati Ini – Amir Jahari

Amir Jahari’s combination of traditional and modern finds its quintessence in Sila Robek Hati Ini. As he reminds us all about the virtue of humility and the vice of pride, it feels as though a thousand demons is reprimanding you for your ignorance whenever the ensemble vocals come in. There’s transcendent and teaching poetry in Amir Jahari’s words; a bigger magic that happens when the soft strings finally falls into expanded vocals and percussion. A symphony of spirits.

14) Hanyut – The Impatient Sisters

After their last single, Hey There Young Sailor, The Impatient Sisters has returned to the musical fold this year with the complete version of an already beautiful skeleton of a song, with an acoustic version of it already online back in 2016. The  percussion, and the little production details like the hiss at 1:44-minute mark breathes a haunting soul into this heartbreaking lament about letting go. This surrender has no reservation as the vocals sing “Ini kali terakhir ku nyanyikan tentang cinta”.

13) Stuck with You – LUNADIRA

As a relatively new artist to the scene, Stuck With You is LUNADIRA’s career zenith so far. From the John Mayer-esque plus Austin Feinstein-esque guitars, to the little piano riffs that sparkle the song like stars, this contemporary R&B cut feels both familiar and fresh. The beat is both a staring-at-the-ceiling-contemplating-your-life-choices mood and a slow-dance-worthy romantic surrender. All of that coupled with a strong chorus and you’ve got yourself a classic.

12) Delta Wing – Kyoto Protocol

Delta Wing  is a relationship song riddled with aviation metaphors that honestly takes the Kyoto Protocol sound to new heights. In my opinion Delta Wing, both in terms of lyricism and musical composition, is probably one of the most solid melodies the band has ever released. On the surface, it’s already a great alternative rock song with catchy riffs and a good amount of keys to add to the epic quality of the sound. Underneath are songwriting gems I can’t get out of my head, even from the very first verse (Just like a marvel of history, we are ahead of our time). Their latest album The Pen Is Mightier has a lot going for it, including the almost monologue-ish, Nick Cave-like singing in Universal Rhyme as Fuad welcomes you to life or the humour in Guilty Plea. Delta Wing though is the track that an incomparable amount of heart.

11) Wa Caya Lu – Sweetass

Rock may not be as alive as before, but noise pop grunge rock outfit doesn’t give a crap. As long as we’ve got each other’s back, have a good time, and turn the fuzz up to 11 on those rough-around-the-edges melody – even the most distorted feedback from the speakers sound like sweet, sweet nostalgia. Screw pretensions, wa caya sama lu, lu caya sama wa.

10) Immunity – Prasasti

Prasasti’s brand of post-punk revivalism is straight to the point. The sheen is in its jangly guitar undercurrent and melodious tones, decorated by the beautifully desperate and piercing vocals. Underneath the spacey overtones, is a rallying to call to break free from monotony. Definitely on the verge of breaking out into something bigger.

9) Igauku – Mafidz

Mafidz is a folk ensemble with big sounds but earthy lyrics, and their single Igauku is their best single to date. Eerie cellos laden the already gorgeous lyricism with a very mysterious personality, in this song about being liberated from your nightmares. The production chills your bone with huge atmospheres to an already beautiful instrumentation, with the vocal harmonies that come in whenever the chorus comes in (Jiwa yang lemah tak bernyawa). There is so much meaning to Mafidz’s beauty and as much the entire album is already a solid compilation of their talents, Igauku is a great starter course for their sound.

8) Ominous – Golden Mammoth

Golden Mammoth takes you on a desert-landscape journey where everything seems slightly awry. (Ominous all in my mind, Speaking to me day and night) The occult-esque harmonies, and the part where the song transitions into a melodic blue-sy progression with a sly harmonica sneaking in makes this one of the best piece of psychedelic rock this year with King Gizzard vibes – a tinge of madness and sensuality for your ears. On alternate days, it makes you feel like a little kid caught in a haunting mess and is desperately clawing to get out – which is, in a way, a profound summary of adulthood probably.

7) Ocean – NJWA

When NJWA sings I really want this to last, I feel like she echoes a thousand voices of people yearning for eternity in an emotion so often discussed in the pages of a million novels, movies and songs. It really is her ethereal voice that has been commandeering this song, which has been floating around quite a while since she did a live version on Balcony TV back in 2016, but the production just turns up the romantic reverie to a hundred. How come something be soulful and strong, yet simultaneously be vulnerable and honest? NJWA has the answers. It’s this song.

6) Still Mine – Alextbh

Sultry beats with smooth vocals, alextbh continues to bring his R&B sound to deeper, primal levels. It’s the “WOOHs”, the synths, the totally unbridled “I’ve been losing my goddamn mind” refrain at the end all makes up for one of the most underrated Malaysian bops of 2018.

5) Licik – TUJU | K-Clique

If you’re a Malaysian hip hop fan, and you haven’t heard of Sabahan collective, K-Clique, you’re drastically missing out. Just this year they released three bangers, two of which were Sah Tu Satu and Lane Lain Line. The other one is Licik where one of its members, Tuju, takes the lead. Carried by beats with the type of strings you hear in a Godfather movie, Tuju spits bars about overcoming deceit and self-doubt (Jiwa curiga/Sebab tak kenal diri). All of these verbal acrobatics is done with punctuated pacing, no blistering speed to show off his cold, sharp skills. Just truth bombs.

4) Bulatan Belon – Sounds of Kites

Umar’s raw vocals paired with the steady rumbling of his guitar makes for a stupendous folk persona that is aided by storytelling which only takes a few verses to hit the mark in his album Remember Sycamore. Bulatan Belon acts as a sweet, sentimental relief from the overall melancholic introspection of the album without being to schmaltzy. The definition of ‘just-right’, wrapped in a comfortable blanket.

3) Z v Z – Zamaera

Very few tracks deserve to be deemed  one of the ultimate motivational tracks of this year. As Zamaera recounts all the challenges she’s overcame and overcoming, (How do I move on if this heart remains vengeful?I forgive the old me but sometimes I forget to/Be a little strong), she also reminds us to not let the haters bring us down. The strong message is the cherry on top to the showcase of Zamaera’s versatility, where her bars flow seamlessly over soulful old school rap beats and when the backbeat comes in. Another great track, Truth, was released this year, but Z v Z is just a pure testament to the breadth of her skills. When it comes to Malaysian hip hop, Zamaera is already joining the pantheon of the greats even before she’s released a proper album.

2) Ego – Margasatwa

Emotional pleas find a retro feel in Ego, a heartfelt song that seems to visualise a difficult relationship with so much sastera dari jiwa. I feel stupid every time I try to describe this song, but essentially  it’s got it all: a beautiful string section, short but sweet guitar solos, resplendent vocals, and just lyrics that are equally filled with frustration but also hiding behind so much decorum and flair. I constantly myself wanting to repeat the chills I got when I first hear the chorus chime in with ‘Muka masih basah, disimbah masalah’. Almost impossibly beautiful, spread this gospel in every karaoke room you Nusantara music fans out there.

1) Irama Propaganda – Spooky Wet Dreams

GE14 restlessness manifests itself in the cries of “Kau jolok” and funky bass lines, reminding us that the festive isn’t always glorious, and that keeping the anger alive keeps the higher ups accountable. Dance to it, mosh to it, in all of its unfettered energy bestowed by a rush of blood to the head, this song is a public service announcement. So much music came out this year, as always, but it would be hard to find anything else in 2018 that captures the zeitgeist we’re all feeling – whichever side we support.

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