Best Malaysian Albums of 2018
Here’s what our editor thought were some of the best local albums of 2018.
Music is subjective, of course, but you’d be lying if you didn’t think some songs you listen to impacts you more than others. There’s a huge arbitrariness around lists, in every art form, especially end-of-year ones. Should albums incorporate its impact upon the overall music scene? Should it throw away all accounts of personal taste? Does innovation and experimentation beat good old-fashioned hooks? All of these are questions everyone tries to answer, and I think the pursuit of finding the answer to that (every single year) is a fruitful one. More than anything, I want to be able to share music that you probably missed out on throughout the year, especially with so many good releases from so many genres as well. The fun is in the “Oh-I-didn’t-know-that-came-out-this-year” feeling.
In terms of albums, I’m pretty disappointed with myself that there’s not much diversity in this list. That being said, the Top Songs of 2018 will come out tomorrow night, and there’s a whole lot more diversity from singles rather than albums or EPs. Maybe it’s just not the age for albums anymore in the overall Malaysian landscape, with digital screaming increasingly dominating the industry.
I had a hard time also squeezing everything to just 10 albums, daring myself to cut down from the Top 14 I did last year. There were so many near-misses. But you know if nothing gets filtered, then what’s the point of doing this whole ‘curated’ shenanigan? There’s also the fact that the list is actually in order, but there’s no great difference between 1 and 2 than there is between 10 and 1. At the end of it all, this list of albums is just a list of albums from 2018 that I would take to an island with me if I had to absolutely only choose 10. Most sensible way to put things.
10) Koleksi Dendangan Untuk Masa Hadapan – Spooky Wet Dreams
Spooky Wet Dreams new leaf and new lineup got them to explore bigger sounds than their usual indie punk roots. Even though they still stick to the same type of ethos and vibe, there’s a whole lot going on in their snapshot of Malaysia so far. As a band that dares to essentialise the atmosphere of a ‘Malaysia Baru’, complete with its anxiety and hardships, Koleksi Dendangan is a great musical landmark in and of itself. The tracklist goes back and forth through fast-paced frustrations at the system to more low-key self-effacing ballads like Virgin. The bass line and megaphone vocals of Irama Propaganda have wedged themselves into my psyche when it comes to sounds that commemorate the ins and outs of this year.
9) Wa Caya Lu – Sweetass
Call it murky grunge, noise pop or call it whatever they want you to call it (the enigmatic ‘Haruan Cina Noise’), Sweetass cuts the edge off with a little light-heartedness, coursing through the veins of rough distorted guitars anchoring itself on pretty big melodies (re: 1995 & solo in self-titled tracks ). It’s gritty and catchy – from the feedback sound that heralds in Naughty by Nature, to the screechy mumble flinging you back to the freaking 90s when Gen X angst exploded from garages (or the equivalent of garages) as you hear Wa caya sama Lu. When zines and punk forums were THE THING. Wa Caya Lu is not just a lazy homage, but a no-nonsense compilation of disillusioned, fuck all stoner (drugs are bad) jams. The way the production makes you feel like you’re about to witness some band blast your face off while they’re setting up their amp touches a homely nerve. Trust the sound, bang your head, ramble on mentadak mentadu – this album was one hell of a catharsis for my 2018.
8) O – Altimet
I was put in a very odd place, when Sasha Ningkan sings the chorus from Hujan’s Bila Aku Sudah Tiada in her feature with Altimet on the eponymous track ‘O’. When Altimet raps “Budak bawah tanah sudah terbang”, you feel drawn into not just his career, but all the time that has passed in the course of the decade. The audio clips recalling how one of Malaysia’s most iconic hip hop artist did it back then (including a special feature from the OG, his mum), made you feel like you sort of grew up together with that man. Bersamamu is a prime example of this with references to pop culture like Billie Jean, Siti Lela Mayang, Ahmoi Chantek by Hujan and more. All of this is elevated by the fact that the features and production on this album is so beautiful and versatile. One of my favourites is Kidd Santhe’s production in Pendekar Pena and the vocal collabs with Aina Abdul and Taufik Batisah also stand out as highlights. A lot goes on here, but everything is punctuated and chaptered like the book Altimet has always wanted to release with monologue and introspection. It is a beautiful irony that his last album ever, also serves as the best introduction to almost all Altimet can be. He wraps up the album with a Bismillahirrahmanirrahim, signaling that his life has just begun, making it feel like a hopeful fanfare for all our lives too. Here’s a to a great 2019.
7) Siang dan Malam – Amir Jahari
Duality is the name of the game for Amir Jahari’s latest, most mature – and most spiritual album – to date. Songs like Bayang and Sila Robek Hati Ini represents the spectrum of emotion and contrast that drives Amir Jahari’s lyrics. Something ethereal and idyllic emanates from the production and collaborations too, which makes every song transport you to a serene jungle of some of Amir Jahari’s emotional struggles and unfettered urge for redemption. It’s not fair to box the musicality in this album to simply folk, as the sounds grow bigger through traditional percussives that even the most parable-esque of his songs an easy listen.
6) Dengan Ikhlas – Milo Dinosaur
When I first heard Usah Resah come out in 2017, a type of spirit possessed me – the kind that sounds like a stadium of unbridled emotions driven by war-like percussions and mathy guitars. Dengan Ikhlas is an album of hard-earned rawness, where the band members sing in a chorus, occasionally singled out by blistering oft-kilter chord progressions, and then solo-ed by a singled honest voice. It’s spiritual, but where the transitions might be audacious post-hard-core, the lyrics are a candid homage to life, love and the will to carry on. Tracks like Tabah and Kasih (Sayang) are stand-ins for my jiwang anthem this year, but none of it feels a tad bit pretentious. Rock out to this if you haven’t yet. Truly one of the greats.
5) NJWA – NJWA
Still in anticipation for her future project, NJWA’s three-track release brought us into a continuum of neo-soul and nusantara ambience. It’s a green reverie, with silent nights of peaceful slumber. Fall in love with Ocean and find your serenity in In The Name of Love . NJWA’s evolution as an artist is an exciting endeavour to follow, and there’s a lot more in the audio arsenal waiting to be carried through by her beautiful vocals with ethereal productions that make you wanna fall in love again.
4) Megahit Memory – Fi7i
EDM in Malaysia is a creature of polar standards. Most of them clubbing DJs, R&B hip hop producers, or the small but endlessly exciting like the Disko Santan collective, the diverse coterie SaturdaySelects or the acidic dreamscape of producers like Fong Shelhiel. The community however, is not insignificant, and also within their own sphere, experimenters exist beyond just keeping backing grooves for somebody else’s overproduced vocals. Where electronic music gets accused for being too distant from traditional sounds or classic melodies, funk producers like Fi7i come into the fold to bring nostalgia packed in future-proof containers. Although not the first Malaysian producers to reinvigorate the 70s, since you know, Disko Santan staples like CT Selecta exist, Megahit Memory is 2018’s essential curation of nostalgia that also comes with novel originals such as the chilled-out yet acerbic collaboration between Fi7i and VIONA (Takahara Suiko’s solo project) in $$$. If you haven’t yet given Megahit Memory a listen, it’s the kinda stuff we dream about when think about Daft Punk having discovered Sheila Majid to sample. This isn’t some cybertronic future planet though, this is future funk & disco for the present.
3) Bumantara – Budak Nakal Hujung Simpang
This year embodied a type of Nusantara revival in every niche in the indie scene, riding a tide that’s been going on-and-off (high-tide, low-tide sort of deal). They come in many forms, whether it’s the caklempong-laden psychedelia approach (Margasatwa, Ramayan), vintage pop ye-ye (Masdo), or folk neoromantika (Mafidz, Amir Jahari) – there’s something for everyone. Nusantara is and can be an unhelpful scholarly term – it’s vague, abstract and huge. Even when it comes to the genre more closely resembling Budak Nakal, like the more veteran presence of Salammusik (check out their latest singles DJ and Debar Lembut), the influence is varied. Plus, isn’t all music sang in Malay considered ‘Nusantara’? Whatever your opinion is regarding the word, Bumantara takes the Malay folklore to interesting places, with instrumentations that vary through many traditional sounds, and natural ambience. AG Coco’s production keeps the festive energy Budak Nakal is known for and the album is filled with moments of refreshing creativity, while holding on to that to the big band/ska vibes – blaring horns counteracted by soft gamelan tones to create a unique experience.
2) Dog Days Diaries: A Self-Help Book – HACKTICK!
How does something that pay tribute to such a vibrant era of pop punk feel so fresh and deliriously innovative? Hacktick’s Dog Day Diaries has got the answer for you. Whether you’re an angsty teenager looking for a soundtrack, or an adult still feeling like a teenager, there’s a very manic and moshable anthem in every track. Not taking yourself seriously is an art form, and Hacktick! hones that with their energy, honest lyricism and their entertainingly fluctuating cynicism such as in Berhenti Melayu and in Another Loser Anthem.
1) Bersendirian Berhad – Bayangan
The heart of Kuala Lumpur and the lonely urban solitude that comes with adulthood in the modern world gets a soundtrack in 2018 in the form of the gruffy, jagged, folk minimalism of Bersendirian Berhad. Fikri Fadzil’s album is not just a playlist of folk whinging, but an audio diary that serves both a personal expression of disillusionment, but also a bigger societal longing for community and nostalgia. There’s something about folk that feels dated, but when you hear the chug-chugging of Kuala Lumpur’s intro, to the subtle distortions of www, you will realise that there are very few decades that Bersendirian Berhad can exist in except for the present.