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Keyana
Photograph: Secret Signals Keyana

Local Vocal: fresh new music from Singapore this week

This bi-weekly music series brings you the city's freshest music export that we've got played on repeat

By Cam Khalid
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Need some local flavour to spice up your music playlists? Discover the Singapore sound from the city's freshest music exports with Local Vocal, our new music series. Here, we spotlight the latest and hottest tracks from Singapore's rising singer-songwriters, veteran bands, multihyphenated producers, and other audial ambassadors of the local music scene. Expect indie bops, pop bangers, dance anthems, hip-hop beats, R&B hits, and genre-mutating tunes that deserve more airplay. Think music scene here isn't vibrant enough? We beg to differ.

RECOMMENDED: 50 best local songs to have in your music playlist and 7 local musicians that should be on your radar in 2020

Currently playing

Scorpio by Keyana

The sophomore single of up-and-comer Keyana makes an appealing alternative to rounding off the tempestuous Scorpio season (which ends on November 21, FYI). Scorpio can easily be described as contemporary R&B with an alluring blend of moody trap-soul, ‘90s nostalgia, and sultry vocals. The slow-groove number also plays out like a coming-of-age TV drama à la Euphoria where the 17-year-old Ghanaian-Singaporean lets her walls down, confronting her past and reshaping her perspective on love with candor. 

Scorpio is written about my experience being in a toxic relationship. I felt like I was trapped and was unable to make decisions on my own. This song encapsulates the frustration and pain I felt being in a relationship like that, calling out the toxic patterns I observed during that time, while reflecting on my strength of being able to walk away from such a painful relationship. I hope people who relate to my story and lyrics are able to feel my intensity and desperation in this song,” shares Keyana. If anything, Scorpio shows us the R&B wunderkind’s true potential – definitely an artist to keep an eye on.

Scorpio is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Hungover by Soph Retief

With electrifying synths, tropical beats, and bold-as-brass lyrics, multi-instrumentalist Soph Retief’s latest track is an undeniably catchy ear-worm that seems to stay looped in our minds. Born and based in Singapore, the 22-year-old of South Africa and British descent takes lead from the likes of chart-toppers Meghan Trainor, Dua Lipa and Ariana Grande in crafting her pop sensibilities. Then again, it’s no surprise that she manages to nail it down to a tee, having bagged the MTV Asia’s Project Aloft Star in 2016.

But beneath the bright surface of the dance floor filler lies an honest outlook on the all-too-familiar adage of spending nights out to drink lovelorn sorrows away. “It’s that acknowledgment that while partying and crazy nights out can be a lot of fun, it does nothing to process the pain and heartbreak of having to let go of someone. I know that this is a sentiment that people can relate to, and I wanted to put it out there that they are not alone in feeling this way,” adds Soph.

Hungover is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Vices by Tabitha Nauser

The Singapore Social alumna is back with a “rebellious track” which, in all honesty, isn't half bad. But don’t expect a loud and raucous approach. Instead, Vices is a minimalist sort with drum pads and lightly smoked, soulful vocals – one that sticks to pop’s current “less is more” ethos. The quarter-life pledge features Tabitha Nauser singing confidently over sunny, keys-driven instrumental about cutting people off and trusting her own gut. 

So how is it rebellious, you ask? “It’s about putting your own mental health at the forefront and doing what makes you feel good despite societal pressures and expectations. That in itself is rebellion because it’s about making the choice to go against the ‘norm’ or to change the narrative of what’s acceptable. It’s a track that makes me feel free and empowers me in knowing that I do know what’s best for me,” explains Tabitha.

Vices is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Marian Carmel
Marian Carmel
Photograph: Khairul Ameer

Rose by Marian Carmel

Like chicken soup for the soul, Marian Carmel’s Rose is a soother that’s filled with lush vocal harmonies and velvety strings. Drawn from the phrase “rose-tinted glasses”, the single is a form of catharsis for the 23-year-old singer-songwriter as she reflects on life and makes peace with her personal growth. “I have grown a little older, I have learnt a little more/but whatever happens, hope it’s not forgotten/or seen with glasses tinted rose,” she sings in delicate tones à la Emily King, Lianne La Havas, and Sabrina Claudio. There’s no denying that the indie R&B/soul darling has an innate ability to elicit emotions and keep us listening, especially with the ebb and flow of her ethereal vocals and orchestration in such a slow jam like Rose.

The single release is also accompanied by AR-activated postcards for fans to participate in the upcoming debut concept album’s theme. Check out the postcards on mariancarmel.com.

Rose is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Causeway Youth
Causeway Youth
Photograph: Cross Ratio Entertainment

You Got Me by Causeway Youth

If jangly guitars of the early 2000s are your jam, let us introduce you to Causeway Youth, starting with You Got Me. This road-trip essential shows that the ambient pop duo has a knack for injecting reverb-dripping guitar hooks, dreamy vocals, and atmospheric textures in such a simple tune. The song acts as a confession for catching feelings for another while not truly knowing if the feeling is reciprocated – something we can all relate to.

You Got Me is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

What we've played

Cage The Animal by Naomi G

There’s a new dark pop princess on the horizon, and you won’t want to sleep on this emerging artist. Going by the moniker Naomi G, the singer-songwriter debuts with a gothic, pop-R&B hybrid that chronicles the cycle of toxic relationships. Drawing influences from the broody minimalism of Lorde and Banks – think moody, downbeat electronica laced with the slick notes of Alt-R&B and topped with ethereal dream-pop – Cage The Animal makes a great introduction to the new artist.

Cage The Animal is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Freedom Fades by Masia One and Alx

Forget those flights and cruises to nowhere – why not take a long stroll to nowhere with rapper Masia One’s latest silky smooth track oozing through your headphones? Together with producer Alx – albeit separated by the Causeway – the “Far East Empress” goes back to her lyrical roots with a lo-fi number that revisits the golden hip-hop era where 90bpm concoctions of rap, jazz, soul and funk dominated the airwaves. The thoughtful lyrics make room for reflection of all sorts including mental health, which is much needed especially in these strange times.

Freedom Fades is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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No Safety by Louie Indigo

From the woodwind sample to the heavy beats, Louie Indigo’s brash hip-hop track is an absolute earworm. With the auto-crooning Travis Scott-esque trap rap Scotty2Hotty and the honey-coated R&B Summer Walker-esque banger Free Me in his singles discography, it’s a clear indication that the hip-hop chameleon is versatile af. The latest addition No Safety is straight heat with catchy hooks and fire bars. Plus – in all its ad-libs glory – it can easily pull off as the fraternal twin of Tyga and Offset’s Taste.

No Safety is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Givin It Up by Dru Chen

If Dua Lipa’s sophomore album Future Nostalgia got you ‘levitating’, then rising funk-soul star Dru Chen’s new single will raise you higher. Along with Prince’s guitarist and band member Harts and Dr. Fink, Dru takes you Funkytown with this electropop jam that’s riddled with 00s pool-party electrofunk to 90s nu-disco influences, and an impressive range of vocals from low, sultry croons to high-hitting notes – all delivered with great panache. Together, it makes a funky antidote for any dull day.

Givin It Up is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Solace In My Sleep by shy-c

There are ways to soothe your nerves and combat insomnia. While not entirely, music does help one way or another. And if you need a bedtime lullaby, it’s indie-electronic producer shy-c’s new single. With an apt song title, Solace In My Sleep features a dreamy blend of lo-fi synth-pop beats with acoustic instruments, as well as soft vocals narrating the concept of sleep as a form of escapism. If it’s any consolation, shy-c admits that he only “started to have much better sleep after finishing this track”.

Solace In My Sleep is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Drivin’ Away by Cayenne

You know Celine Autumn as the vocalist of indie trio Sobs, but do you know her as Cayenne? Taking a different route from Sobs, Celine’s new solo route under the moniker Cayenne takes inspiration from the likes of Charli XCX’s avant-pop and AG Cook’s PC music to produce a playful track that’s part dance music, part bubblegum pop, and part indie-rock. Unlike Sobs, Cayenne’s vocals are heavily autotuned, but it works given the video game aesthetics of the track and music video.

Drivin’ Away is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Feel Too Much by Jawn

There’s not much local music featuring the Irish fiddle. But Jawn’s comeback foot-stompin’ tune could easily be slotted into a folk-rock playlist full of Mumford & Sons, The Lumineers, and Of Monsters and Men. Packed with relatable lyrics and folk masculinity, this upbeat single makes up for the singer-songwriter’s five-year hiatus. “I wanted to write something that made both me and the people around me feel good. Call it good aftercare after all the sad stuff, taking responsibility for the feelings and turning it around to something celebratory,” he shares.

Feel Too Much is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Cry by Dominic Chin

This isn’t your average sob song. Instead, the R&B track sounds like a baby-making jam of the late 90s, and early Noughties – or something out of Nick Jonas’ discography (note those gospel-inflected arrangements). Lyrics-wise, it’s breaking social demands, telling the listeners that it’s OK to cry and that doing so isn’t less masculine. “I used the term ‘cry’ as a symbol in the song to represent all the unfair expectations that others place on us. We came into this world crying and yet somehow it has become ‘feminine’ to do so,” he points out. It’s definitely a theme that isn’t typically discussed in Singapore’s mainstream pop music, so big up to Dominic Chin in beautifully delivering it through the power of music.

Cry is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Catch & Release by Tim De Cotta

Got some Jordan Rakei, Tom Misch, or Anderson .Paak spilling through your speakers? Now, add Singapore’s multi-hyphenated artist Tim De Cotta to the mix. His new super chill single Catch & Release hops onto the soul train with the singer-songwriter’s silky smooth vocals, groovy basslines, and a drum sample that emphasises the throwback influence. It comes as part of a trilogy of singles from his upcoming Heart Matter EP, which is his latest project since his 2017 debut Heartstrings EP.

Catch & Release is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Splinter by Myrne (with Salem Ilese)

Sounds like a dream, Splinter is a collaboration between local DJ and producer Myrne, and American Tik Tok sensation Salem Ilese. "[It] started out originally as a song that Salem sent over – it was a downtempo, slow-paced song about being with someone with a bit of an abuse streak. I really liked the idea that she had, and gave the original a bit of a pop-punk lean, whilst keeping to my electronic roots,” Myrne shares with us. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the electronic spectrum, the single has an effortless blend of subgenres from electropop to chill synthwave. Topped with Salem’s delicate vocals, it surfaces as part of the new crop of melodic dream-pop that’s trending nowadays.

Splinter is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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For Life by Eve Alai and Senara

Another collaboration you won’t want to sleep on, For Life sees the reunion of local producer-songwriter Eve Alai and Sri Lankan pop darling Senara who joined forces earlier this year for dance floor filler Pills and Potion. There’s no denying that these two have magnetic musical chemistry that our boogie bone can’t resist. The duo’s second dance collaboration shines with Eve’s signature blend of deep house and nu-disco that’s complemented by Senara’s versatile vocal chops, which ebbs and flows through a range of notes.

For Life is available on Spotify

Guilty by Abbey

Internet personality Abbey is redefining herself as a singer-songwriter with her debut original solo track Guilty. Written as part of the Shine Talent Development Programme, the emotive downtempo number amalgamates Abbey’s lush vocals with hints of R&B and producer J.Son’s trademark pop sensibilities. Together with the tension and releases in the arrangement and lyrics of intense feeling, the song manages to evoke a sense of confusion, guilt, and inner conflict that’s relatable to anyone who has experienced unrequited love.

Guilty is available on Spotify.

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Song for the Underdog by Annette Lee

Multi-hyphenated girl-next-door Annette Lee recently released her second EP early this month. Titled Song For The Underdog, it's produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Jerricho Scroggins, and hit-maker Colton Price. While the EP is empowering as a whole, the other tracks are overshadowed by the title track which stands out as a pop power anthem for, well, the underdog. The pumping, synth-coated pop cliché is locked and loaded with uplifting lyrics including a chant of “I rule the world with the power inside of me” that builds in momentum before the drop, releasing the enormous energy it needs as a power track.

Song for the Underdog is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

If The World Ends Tomorrow by Qastalani

After the 2019 release of his debut EP Hope I’m Not Too Late, emerging singer-songwriter Qastalani is back with more chill vibes. This time in the form of an R&B ballad If The World Ends Tomorrow (seems like there’s a trend centred around time), which is beefier than the previously released, stripped-down tracks but still as mellow and emotive. Here, Qastalani delves deeper into his vocal range while experimenting with kick drums, snares, and hi-hats, as well as the reverb effect on the guitar. If it’s anything to go by, it’s that this up-and-comer has a few surprises up his sleeve.

If The World Ends Tomorrow is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Y Didn’t You Say So by Haneri

Together with its disco-esque cover and opening, Y Didn’t You Say So can be easily mistaken for a Doja Cat cover. While in the same direction towards boogie wonderland, Haneri’s (aka Daphne Khoo) frothy track takes a different turn – away from Doja’s raspy, quick-hitting rap flow. It’s layered with groovy basslines, funky beats, and what sounds like hiccups in the background, all coated in Haneri’s trademark doll-like, nasally vocals. Nonetheless, it’s still a party-startin’ combo of funk, pop and dance that could do with a viral Tik Tok choreo of its own.

Y Didn’t You Say So is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Sickleberry Sunsets by Wovensound

Sickleberry Sunsets is centred by a mesmerising hook that features Shak singing “It’s music to my ears” – and we couldn’t agree more. Taking a page out of Brockhampton and Tyler the Creator’s books, producer Wovensound weaves in elements of lo-fi, jazz and hip-hop to create a track that sounds like a road trip. It takes you on a sonic adventure through various sections of the song, with each artist bringing their own flavour – Ihasamic! with his punchy rap verses, Shak with his arresting, soulful vocals, Andrew Marko with his fiery bars, and Raina Sum with her haunting, minimalist bridge.

Sickleberry Sunsets is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Beautiful Monsters by J.M3

This haunting composition cleverly captures the gothic element of Robert Louis Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is, of course, the inspiration for this alt-electro track. It starts as a downtempo affair before propelling into something more upbeat, roping in more production elements – a reflection to show the duality of contrasting and sometimes conflicting sides of a complex individual. With the 3D animated music video by a mystery visual artist in Indonesia, Beautiful Monsters could easily be packaged as a contemporary remix of Coraline.

Beautiful Monsters is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Feeling Like… by Shye

If Alvvays and Japanese Breakfast had a baby and it sounds like a Billie Eilish-Clairo combo, it’d probably be the straightforward bouncy romp of Feeling Like… Unlike her previous releases, bedroom pop darling Shye speeds things up in this upbeat track about waking on the wrong side of the bed. But it’s just as good. It’s got everything you could want in an indie-pop tune – jangling guitars, surf-pop riffs, catchy hooks, and reverb-drenched, whisper-pop vocals. 

Feeling Like... is available on Spotify.

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You Are The Song by Chasing Daylight

If danceable indie tunes à la Two Door Cinema Club and The Wombats get both of your two left feet moving, the rest of your limbs will follow with Chasing Daylight’s latest release from its two-year hiatus. The energetic, self-love anthem marks the alternative-rock outfit’s skew towards indie-pop, with all the genre’s usual suspects – bright synths, catchy guitar riffs, and a power pop-rock beat with a strong emphasis on the kicks and snares. Along with the feel-good track, the band also hopes to raise awareness on emotional and mental health, especially among the youths, by teaming up with more social service organisations. You can catch its interviews and more on its social media pages.

You Are The Song  is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Don’t Say It by Sarah X. Miracle

It’s hard not to mention how Sarah X. Miracle’s soulful colouring of her dark, smoky tone à la Sade gravitates you towards the songstress’ debut single every time you hit replay. A magnetic combo of pop-driven beats and R&B-fuelled notes girded by a Dua Lipa-esque timbre and topped with celestial falsettos, the assertive track embodies a fresh expression of female empowerment. It’s a push to confront the discomfort without ghosting – something that should be championed in the art of dating.

Don’t Say It is available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Discover the Singapore sound

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Ken Loh
Photo: Ken Loh

Busking 101: Singapore's busking scene

Music

Find yourself stopping in your tracks to listen to an acoustic rendition of Oasis’ Wonderwall along Orchard Road? You’re not alone. Singapore's home to plenty of street musicians who turn public spaces into their stage – with special permits, of course.

Opening doors for street performers in the city, the Busking Scheme was introduced in 1997 to champion talented individuals and give carte blanche to express themselves and interact with the audience in a public setting. To be able to do so, have to apply early and prep up for the audition in advance. You'll then be notified within four to five weeks from the date of the audition. Once you've received the Busking Card, you're free to flex your musical chops within a validity period at designated busking locations including Orchard Road, Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Marina Bay.

But contrary to popular belief, buskers aren’t just performing for your loose change. We chat to some of the city's talented street performers to get to know what goes on behind the covers and mash-ups. Who knows? One of them might be a viral video away from becoming the next Ed Sheeran or Justin Bieber.

RECOMMENDED: EDM 101: An introduction to Singapore's electronic dance music scene and 6 local musicians that should be on your radar in 2019

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