I’ve never been an avid consumer of any music (or any media for that matter) that isn’t produced in English because I prefer to understand the work that I engage myself in. However, in 2018, I resolved myself to expand my music listening circle and also distance myself from the never-ending onslaught of rap music.
Fundamentally, there are significant overlaps that the albums on this list have with the Western music that I normally listen to. Yet they also come with their own idiosyncrasies that decidedly ground them within the environment that they were created in. Just by dipping my toes in these projects, it just makes me excited about the work all across the globe that I could get the chance to immerse myself in.
So read on about some of my favorites albums that I found this year.
(Some of these weren’t released in 2018 because I only found them over the past couple of months.)
Chinese Football – Here Comes a New Challenger!!!
Hailing from Wuhan, China, this math rock band has more in common with punk-rock bands like Joan of Arc and (unsurprisingly) American Football than more noise-rock oriented groups like Polyphia and Chon.
Feeling as if the band set themselves up in your bedroom for a personal concert, this 4-track EP bristles through with bouncy guitar leads and breezy vocals. Like a perfect summer sun enveloping your skin, the band excels in immersing you within their brand of idyllic relaxation.
Rosalía – El Mal Querer
Following her breakout with her 2017 album Los ángeles, Spanish singer Rosalía breaks into mainstream consciousness with El Mal Querer – an album that embraces contemporary pop trends while still unabashedly rooted in its flamenco roots.
Even with the gloriously experimental yet time-honored production, Rosalía’s voice is the star of the record. Equal parts bold and vulnerable, her breathy vocals that softly caress you through the woes of heartbreak or belting soprano-like delivery that can empower the most dejected of souls; one thing remains for sure. Her presence on the mic is one of the most commanding in pop music right now.
Maison Book Girl – Yume
If you told me at the start of the year that I’ll fall in love with an art-pop record made by a Japanese girl group, I would’ve smacked you silly but here we are. One of the most eccentric albums I’ve had the pleasure of listening to this year, Yume feels like a journey through an abandoned asylum that just happens to be filled with bubblegum pop singers.
The addictingly glitchy production and sparsely structured tracklist provide the record with a near movie-like narrative. With skits that feature only the sound of muffled digital ticking and a 4-minute interlude that is pure white noise, this not an accessible album by any means. Still, every full-length song that pops up is an absolute bop that revels in its experimentation while still excelling in its familiarity.
Elephant Gym – Balance (大象體操 – 平衡)
Elephant Gym is very much like Taiwan’s math rock counterpart to China’s Chinese Football. Of course, there is without a doubt that there are many, many other math rock bands out there that share a similar sound as them. Still, the reason I fell in love with Elephant Gym is pretty much the same as Chinese Football’s.
Yet, there’s one major difference between the two. Where Chinese Football bursts with optimism, Elephant Gym confidently radiates melancholic exuberance. The guitars are softer and the rhythm rarely enters the realm of mind-bending technical skill – all to the band’s strengths. Their music quietly envelops you like the soft atmosphere hanging in the air after a heavy downpour.
Wednesday Campenella – Galapagos (水曜日のカンパネラ – ガラパゴス)
The second Japanese artist on this list, Wednesday Campenella is even more experimental that Maison Book Girl. Taking inspiration from traditional Japanese folk music and infusing it within the bustling Japanese electronic scene, Galapagos succeeds in feeling both fresh and familiar at the same time.
Now, I don’t understand a lick of Japanese but the way that Wednesday sets up her vocal delivery is able to stir up the feelings of nostalgic yearning in me. Her lyrics and even the general concept of the album might have nothing to do with what I’m feeling. Still, just by the sound alone, it just paints a vivid picture of an empty rundown schoolyard that is progressively filled up and emptied out over the course of the album. It’s a project that deserves to be heard by everyone.
offonoff – boy.
It is a bit ironic that my favorite song off of the South Korean duo’s album is one that is performed solely in English but hey, in the end, I like to go back to the things I’m familiar with. The most Western-sounding release on this list, offonoff creates the perfect blend of R&B that you could either lose your mind raving to or slowly vibe out to.
It’s an album that’s able to cater to a wide array of moods. Though ultimately a mellow project at heart, it still contains enough grit and swagger to bump its way to any suitable occasion. Their sound might not be the most original nor is it the most innovative, but what they can do well, they absolutely knock it out of the park. It’s one of the best R&B records I’ve heard in recent years.
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