DECEMBER 22 ― It’s that time of the year again, when everyone will be geekily making lists of all their favourite things in 2018, and I don't want to miss out on the fun either.
As usual, despite writing about films most of the time here, I’ll start off with a list of my favourite albums since I am, first and foremost, still a rock 'n' roll fan in a rock 'n' roll band.
Most encouragingly, 2018 saw a pretty large number of releases from the Malaysian independent scene across all sorts of genres.
Quite a lot of these were pretty darn good too, as you will see by the presence of quite a few local releases in my list this year.
Because of the large number of releases that I loved this year (thanks to streaming platforms like Bandcamp and Spotify), I’m going to go a bit old school and only put in stuff that had an actual physical release.
So, as much as I loved Wa Caya Lu by local band Sweet Ass, I’ll wait for it to come out on CD hopefully next year and put that on next year’s list instead.
On to the list then!
Joyce Manor ― Million Dollars To Kill Me
They’ve probably graced my list every time they released a new album, and still I never get tired of listening to a new Joyce Manor album.
Sure, they’ve slowed down immensely since the beautifully frantic pace of the tunes on their self titled debut album, but they’ve never lost that magical knack for writing great, memorable and touching pop tunes.
Sounding more and more like a 90s alt-pop band channeling a bit of The Cure every now and then, if a band can effortlessly churn out tunes like Think I’m Still In Love With You and the beautifully lovely Silly Games, they can count myself a fan for life.
Deafheaven ― Ordinary Corrupt Human Love
By now I think most metal fans have already accepted Deafheaven’s place in the wider scheme of things, that is as a band who loves both extreme metal and the prettier ends of post-rock and shoegaze and are unafraid to mesh those genres together.
This one’s prettier than usual though, as there aren’t as many of black metal’s trademark blast beats and riffs that usually populate their albums, and in comes a huge dose of 90s alt-rock and even a little bit of the Beatles thrown in here, especially in the instrumental passages of Canary Yellow and Honeycomb, the former easily one of the year’s most beautifully melodic musical pieces.
They will always have their haters, especially among the more purist metal fans, but I just think that their blend of beauty and brutality is always a transcendent experience.
Milo Dinosaur ― Dengan Ikhlas
Local band Milo Dinosaur’s main man Azim may be a dear old friend, one I’ve known ever since he was still in high school and my band Couple was still just a syok sendiri home recording project without much thought to performing in public, but this debut album is simply legit great.
Melodic emo and pop punk have always been our common point of interest since back then, and it’s so great to see all that love materialise in the energetic, catchy and anthemic set of songs that graces this excellent album.
From the already classic Usah Resah to my personal favourite Kasih (sayang), this is an irresistible love letter to classic US Midwest emo, with an added math-y flavour that will remind you of the great French band Totorro. “Dengan ikhlas” indeed.
The Beths ― Future Me Hates Me
One of the greatest power pop songs of the year, You Wouldn’t Like Me, is in this album, which was how I stumbled upon this New Zealand band in the first place.
There’s nothing fancy here, just some nicely crunchy guitars with energetically punchy drumming backing up some really catchy guitar pop tunes by singer and songwriter Elizabeth Stokes.
It’s just that new bands have not been doing this much nowadays, and very rarely to this great effect. Imagine a female fronted version of modern Aussie power pop heroes The Wellingtons, and you might just be close enough.
Tim ― self titled EP
I’ve been keeping an eye out for this local band ever since frontman Akmal’s one man band efforts first caught my ear in a local punk rock tribute album called Senandung Pawer Kord maybe eight or nine years ago.
Here’s a technically proficient guy doing a punk rock cover of Sheila Majid’s Dia, with totally radio-worthy results, and this band should be huge, I thought to myself.
Fast forward to 2018, finally they’ve taken steps to venture out a bit further than the local punk rock scene and hopefully into the wider listening public, and the result is this lovely five-song CDEP.
That cover of Sheila Majid’s Dia all those years ago basically set the template for this EP, as it’s filled with soaring and classic 80s melodies that will remind you of a cross between 80s Malaysian legends Freedom and J-punk heroes Hi-Standard, with Matahati being the clear highlight and is hands down one of the best songs of the year for me.
The Lemon Twigs ― Go To School
Power pop wunderkinds The Lemon Twigs’ follow up to their incredible debut album Do Hollywood didn’t really set me on fire at first listen, because, of all things they actually chose to make a concept album ― a high school rock opera ― as their follow up album.
So naturally, the songs won’t be as simple and as easily digestible as their debut, but if you stick around, the melodic magic that has always been their forte will come to the fore, and you’ll come to appreciate the excellent songwriting and craft on display in this awesome album.
Plus, just to prove that they’re always capable of knocking out a 3-minute power pop gem, they also found the time to put in their greatest power pop song yet ― Queen Of My School ― which sounds like a lost gem from Big Star/Alex Chilton or any number of their great imitators like The Scruffs.
Sekumpulan Orang Gila ― Dermaga
To be completely honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of metalcore (or post-hardcore as some might want to call it), but I’ve always had a soft spot for local metalcore superstars Sekumpulan Orang Gila (SOG, as they sometimes like to call themselves), who’s always managed to strike that right balance of melody (in the form of soaring choruses) and muscle (in the form of breakdown-friendly heavy riffs).
Dermaga, their second album, continues the formula they explored in their debut Bahtera, but where this one really improves in leaps and bounds is in the production quality, which makes their expert songwriting and arranging skills shine even more.
In the world of SOG, traditional/asli Malay songs can nonchalantly rub shoulders with metalcore screamers and even pop rock numbers and ballads, such is their versatility and disregard for trying to fit in with the rules of the indie/underground scene.
And when the songs are as damn good as Dermaga, Dua Jiwa or Run, why should anyone care about genre labels/rules anymore?
*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.