We’re two days away from Christmas! Regardless of whether you celebrate, we’re here with a last-minute gift for the Listmas tree – the top 25 albums made by Asian artists, particularly Southeast Asian artists, in 2022.
Like the year we’ve just had, this one’s a thoroughly mixed bag – but it’s full of goodness, that we can guarantee. We have sentimental but stunning album-length explorations of genre; vivid reflections on life’s tribulations and mental health; ferocious, unfuckwitable statements of intent; and projects that are just bangers from front to finish. Desperation, vengeance, euphoria, empowerment, heartbreak, resurrection… they cover all these themes and more.
We hope you’ll find something to love here – something you hadn’t heard before. If your favourites aren’t on this list, maybe they dropped a little too late (sorry, RM…) – or they got lost in the embarrassment of riches. Let us know what we missed and happy listening.
Karen Gwee, Regional Editor (APAC)
Words by: Carmen Chin, Karen Gwee, Felix Martua, Scott Ng, Eli Ordonez, Khyne Palumar, Chanun Poomsawai, Tanu I. Raj, Surej Singh, JX Soo, Derrick Tan, Adrian Yap and Gladys Yeo.
25. Perunggu, ‘Memorandum’
‘Memorandum’ kicks off with one of the best album openers to come out of Asia this year in the form of ‘Tarung Bebas’. Short, sharp and to the point, ‘Tarung Bebas’ is the perfect summary of what to expect from Perunggu and ‘Memorandum’: loud, unadulterated guitar-driven alt-rock.
Formed as a respite from their corporate jobs, Perunggu let all of their frustrations – stemming from different stages of their individual lives including heartbreak, boring jobs and criticism of the Indonesian government – loose on the record. They only occasionally slow things down for a short reset, before jumping right back into sticking it to the man. SS
Key Track: ‘Tarung Bebas’
24. FLEUR!, ‘Fleur Fleur FLEUR!’
FLEUR! released their debut single right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 and having all momentum come to a screeching halt. But listening to their debut album, you wouldn’t be faulted for thinking that they’re seasoned veterans with years of songwriting and performing under their belts.
‘Fleur Fleur FLEUR!’ is a light, fun love letter to the classic ’60s and ’70s bands that inspired the band to pick up their instruments and turn the sounds they grew up loving into something of their own. A mix of early guitar rock reminiscent of Dara Puspita and peak Black Sabbath, ‘Fleur Fleur FLEUR!’ is tight, fast and fun. SS
Key track: ‘Break Sebat’
23. Curb, ‘Hope You’re Doing Well, Michaela’
Raw emotion and jagged riffs have always been emo music’s stock in trade, but Singaporean emo revivalists Curb’s debut record ‘Hope You’re Doing Well, Michaela’ has a distinctly local flavour.
From the urgent ‘Become Again’ culminating in an apathetic battle cry of ‘Fuck it I’ll just play some PUBG!’ to the rebellious ‘I don’t wanna be a / Ignorant fucking boomer / When all my friends are dead’ or the short but anthemic ‘Afraid of Getting Old’, Curb speak from a uniquely Asian point of view – one of close quarters and a usually unvoiced tension between generations that still interact closely. Compared to American emo imagery of broad vistas and distant cities, Curb’s cutting honesty hits home, and hits a little harder. SN
Key track: ‘Become Again’
22. JRLDM – ‘Mood Swing’
From: The Philippines
Varying shades of emotional aches, fury, and tireless optimism colour Jerald Mallari’s decade-in-the-making debut LP ‘Mood Swing’. Co-produced by SVC’s Juss Rye and invitingly billed with collaborators like Gloc-9, the album’s chief strength hinges on JRLDM’s gripping storytelling (best heard in ‘Sayko’), urgent poetry (“San ka natatakot / lungkot ba o pagod?”), and tasteful ease in melding atmospheric hip-hop and trap with jazzy, soulful R&B.
While the rapper/producer isn’t above taking enjoyable potshots at “toxic” people (‘Kuwan’), JRLDM’s finest work comes when he’s keeping demons in check (‘Lason’) and dreaming of deliverance while packing grit against life’s continued struggles (‘Para Sa Sarili’). KP
Key track: ‘Para Sa Sarili’
21. Rekah – ‘Kiamat’
Are you a creative, generative human being who’s been worn to the bone by capitalism? Rekah understand your plight all too well, narrativising the struggle to keep the soul alive and nourished on their debut album ‘Kiamat’.
Desperation and despair roll off this album – whose title translates to “doomsday” – in waves. Much of that is owed to the vocal performance of Tomo Hartono, who sounds like they’re ripping their throat open on more than one song. The Jakarta band invite other influences into the album’s hermetic world (hear the singalong-inviting chorus of ‘Kabar Dari Dasar Botol’, or the post-rockisms on ‘24 Jam Di Fatmawati’). But none of them dilutes the frantic, furious hardcore charge of ‘Kiamat’ – few things, really, can stand in this record’s way. KG
Key track: ‘Mengajari Api Berdansa’
20. Elephant Gym – ‘Dreams’
After two LPs and two EPs, the Taiwanese trio Elephant Gym were well-established as a force in the wonky, dexterous field of math rock. On their third album, ‘Dreams’, they range widely in search of fresh adventures.
From vocalist 9m88 to Hakka legend Lin Sheng Xiang to the Kaohsiung City Symphony Orchestra, Elephant Gym are aided and abetted in their mission by an impressive roster of accomplices. As always, the band find harmonious common ground with their collaborators – and, as on the gorgeously understated ‘Happy but Sad’, make room for sweet, simple pockets of mood. On ‘Dreams’, Elephant Gym show they have miles to go before they sleep. KG
Key track: ‘Deities’ Party’ (featuring Chio Tian Folk Drums and Art Troupe)
19. Lurkgurl – ‘she-fi fantasy’
Khadijah Juswil’s deliciously lo-fi EP ‘she-fi fantasy’ vibrates with sonic elements that shouldn’t go together, but do. Jangly plucked acoustic guitars are paired with wailing synthesizers and twinkling bells; organic samples of faint dog-barking sit beside rumbling thunder; an instrumental tune that starts with bluesy riffs swerves into melodic folk then crescendos into slurred dissonance.
Juswil’s whisper-sung introspections are largely rooted in lovelorn yearning: “You’re the hourglass/ I’m in quicksand,” she sings in ‘she-field’, and pointedly in ‘she-fiction’: “Want her in my head, in my heart, in my bed… her name burnt behind my eyelids.” Cleverly titled and densely textured, Lurkgurl’s ‘she-fi fantasy’ runs barely 13 minutes – but these are precious few minutes excellently spent. KP
Key track: ‘she-fiction’
18. Linying, ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’
There is a sense that the words and stories on ‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’ existed even before a single note of music was ever written. They are the stars of this record: Tales of romance and self-discovery are not novel in pop music, but what sets the stories in Linying’s long-awaited debut album is the descriptive, specific way she approaches her subject matter.
‘There Could Be Wreckage Here’ could only have come from a deep and intensely personal place. The Singaporean-songwriter doesn’t mince words – they are instead thoroughly examined, carefully wielded and ultimately flow, mellifluous and full of meaning, into your ears. AY
Key Track: ‘Shhh’ (feat. MILCK)
17. Dogwhine, ‘Life is Shuffle/Surrealist’
When the Bangkok five-piece dropped their debut EP ‘Dog of God’ back in 2019, no one was quite prepared for what was about to hit them: an indie band making protest music by fusing rock with jazz elements.
Sonically innovative and unapologetically political, that EP is one of the most poignant, albeit underrated, Thai releases in recent memory. And although the band’s sophomore album ‘Life is Shuffle/Surrealist’ is a markedly more polished offering, their modus operandi remains unchanged. Muted lyrics with a searing political bent laid across the currents of squealing trumpet blasts and murky post-punk guitar riffs – it’s jarring, but in all the best possible ways. CP
Key track: ‘Merit’
16. BIBI, ‘Lowlife Princess: Noir’
From: South Korea
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and if there is one record this year that embodies female rage, it’s the South Korean artist’s debut studio effort. Inhabiting the character Oh Geum-ji (inspired by Park Chan-wook’s Lady Vengeance), BIBI takes us through the innermost emotions of the fictional underworld princess.
Whether she’s exacting sweet revenge, consumed by resentment, or desperately pleading for love, each track on the genre-bending ‘Lowlife Princess’ is an enthralling page in the story of Oh Geum-ji’s life, told with BIBI’s signature rawness and candour. GY
Key track: ‘BIBI Vengeance’
15. Jinan Laetitia, ‘One’
From: Jakarta, Indonesia
Jinan Laetitia’s ‘One’ is a pièce de déclaration – one that proudly states she isn’t afraid to be a mess. The 10-track LP is a pendulum of the 19-year-old singer-songwriter’s mind, alternating between Swiftian enchantment and Lordesque bravado.
Jinan is at ease over both glossy electronica and Indonesiana beats courtesy of co-producer DJ Osvaldorio; either she is in the mood for a cosmic kind of love with Pamungkas or she is an agnostic casualty who refuses to both forgive and be forgiven. Add larger-than-life music videos, and we have ourselves a teen supernova. “You know for a fact I got issues,” she croons on the album’s opening lyric – showcasing openness and honesty right out of the gate and throughout the rest of the record. FM
Key track: ‘Vanilla’
14. Lee Chan-hyuk, ‘Error’
From: South Korea
Death is often described and treated as the ultimate end – the point of no return. Lee Chan-hyuk believes otherwise, though: for the AKMU singer, death is more of a jump-off point towards a clean slate. His debut solo record ‘Error’ is an 11-track concept album that reckons with inevitable mortality, warts and all.
Lee pairs his raspy vocals with astute, introspective writing, the drama playing out against a backdrop of whirring retrofuturistic instrumentation. ‘Error’ is frenzied, disoriented, optimistic, then pliant. It highlights his flair for creating music that is as alluring as it is authentic. CC
Key track: ‘Siren’
13. VannDa, ‘Skull 2 (Season 1)’
Few artists have released as confident a statement of their identity as VannDa has with his sophomore effort ‘Skull 2 (Season 1)’.
‘Khmer Blood’ booms with the bassy, almost tribal beats that have come to typify the Cambodian star’s self-produced sound, while on ‘C.O.D.A.’ he exudes self-belief and swagger when he proclaims: “You can look up VannDa.” On ‘Skull 2 (Season 1)’, VannDa pushes the limits of his sound and draws deeply on his heritage. Bring on season two. SN
Key Track: ‘Khmer Blood’
12. Seachains, ‘Chuyền’
‘Chuyền’ may very well be one of the most fun records on this list. Vietnamese rap-rocker Seachains’ EP is an amalgamation of pop-punk and trap – complete with hints of power ballads.
High-octane opener ‘Chó’ and feel-good closer ‘Năm Trăm Lẻ Một Ngàn Đồng’ best encapsulate the rising rapper’s sound: punchy riffs, ridiculously infectious pop-punk hooks, snappy drums that would make Travis Barker proud and slick, exaggerated rap verses that would appeal to fans of Trippie Redd and Lil Uzi Vert. Short and sweet, ‘Chuyền’ is a thrilling ride from start to finish. SS
Key Track: ‘Chó’
11. Seulgi, ‘28 Reasons’
From: South Korea
A deep dive into the concept of good versus evil forms the foundation of Seulgi’s ‘28 Reasons’. A carefully crafted concoction of sound, visuals and narrative, the artistic deliberation behind the process palpable, it’s difficult to believe that this is the Red Velvet singer’s debut solo effort.
‘28 Reasons’ is a dark, existential story told through serpentine lyricism, watertight sonics and above all, Seulgi’s dulcet voice, which cuts through the haze like a light at the end of a dark tunnel. ‘28 Reasons’ is a solid start for Seulgi as she begins to explore her creative voice and hones her craft. CC
Key track: ‘Dead Man Runnin’’
10. Mary Sue, ‘Kisses Of Life’
With ‘Kisses Of Life’, young Singaporean lo-fi rapper Mary Sue brings forth cycles of death and birth. The 22-song debut album pays tribute to his late grandfather’s life and the profound impact his passing had on the rapper – while at the same time signalling the arrival of a new hip-hop storyteller to watch out for.
In a time where rappers try to one-up each other with rapid-fire verses, Mary Sue stands out from the pack by slowing things down and focusing on the weight of his words and channeling his pain into something better. ‘Kisses Of Life’ is a raw, hypnotic journey grounded in heart-breaking reality and grief. SS
Key Track: ‘Paper Generals’
9. Blaster, ‘My Kosmik Island Disk’
From: the Philippines
In an interview with NME, Blaster Silonga called his debut solo album a “selfish” effort. “For me, it’s really important to go into different territories,” the IVOS guitarist-turned-soloist asserted, “so I’m trying to expand my own universe”. And create a universe he did on ‘My Kosmik Island Disk’.
The elegant nine-track collection is a retro-futuristic opus, an expansive sonic microcosm caught between the glorious camp of ’70s glam and effortless Gen Z cool. The 24-year-old relentlessly flexes his encyclopaedic musical vocabulary, flitting between Beatlesque harmonies and slinky nu-disco, often within the same song. With uncompromising vision, the 24-year-old has proved he’s a starman in the making. EO
Key track: ‘Disko Forever’
8. Hikaru Utada, ‘Bad Mode’
You never stop finding yourself. That statement rings true even for Japanese pop icon Hikaru Utada. After battling despondence and coming out as non-binary, they find beauty in stylistic reinvention on ‘Bad Mode’ – all while embracing personal darkness.
With glistening production from A.G Cook and Floating Points, ‘Bad Mode’’s songs present a diverse series of intimate portraits. Here, she is a comforting soul, vulnerable and painfully relatable – at times an inviting friend offering a shoulder to cry on, alongside diazepam and city pop grooves; on others a romantic soul lost in transit, yearning for a getaway rendezvous amid blissful Balearic house blowouts. No matter the story, Hikaru Utada finds poignant catharsis and crafts a standout release of her decades-long career. JS
Key track: ‘Somewhere in Marseilles’
7. Taeyeon, ‘INVU’
From: South Korea
Taeyeon’s voice can heal the soul – which is why everyone expects her to focus only on ballads. But she’s defiant and experimental on ‘INVU’: after flirting with dance-pop on ‘Weekend’, she sinks deeper into synth with chill-house tune ‘INVU’. This heartbreak-themed record offers sombre electronics, contemporary rock elements and – yes – intricate vocal techniques.
Ever versatile, the veteran singer moves effortlessly from the snarls on trap-rock cut ‘Cold as Hell’ to the funky rhythms of ‘Toddler’. And after the emotional rollercoaster, the poignant ‘Ending Credits’ is a perfect closer to soothe your aching heart. DT
Key track: ‘Siren’
6. Zild, ‘Medisina’
From: The Philippines
On this eyeliner-smeared third solo album ‘Medisina’, Zild reaches deep into the playbook of his teenage musical inspirations, marrying an array of genres from ’70s/’80s disco to emo and early aughts alt-rock.
A departure from bedroom pop of his debut album ‘Homework Machine’ and the acoustic stylings of ‘Huminga’, ‘Medisina’ sees Zild embracing romantic schmaltz on tracks like ‘Lumang Kanta’ and ‘Duda’ alongside urgent warnings against returning despotism in ‘Dekada ‘70’. ‘Medisina’’s musical explorations are unpredictable and at times revelatory, retreading once-familiar beats with fresh eyes and ears. SN
Key Track: ‘Medisina’
5. Otoboke Beaver, ‘Super Champon’
Finally liberated from full-time office boredom, Otoboke Beaver return proud victors on their glorious third record. Upping the ante of their breakout ‘Itekoma Hits’, the Japanese noise punk quartet deliver a sonic assault, pummelling everything from tired gender stereotypes to overzealous fandom, all with dashings of unstoppable hooks and Kyoto’s trademark wry sarcasm.
Turbocharged by leader Accorinrin, ‘Super Champon’ is an inventive ride throughout, touching every stylistic base from metal-flavoured one-liners to grindcore intensity. Yet amid all of the chaos, a genuine feeling of joy shines through. ‘Super Champon’ is a statement piece from champions on top of their game. JS
Key track: ‘YAKITORI’
4. MILLI, ‘Babb Bum Bum’
With its title roughly translating to “mega”, MILLI’s long-awaited debut LP ‘Babb Bum Bum’ does not fall short of that promise. The 10-track set, helmed by longtime producer SpatChies, flaunts a mishmash of trap, jazz, and EDM that not only matches her boundless energy but also amplifies it in a big way.
Besides the immediate standout of an opener (‘Welcome’) in which she credits her success to grit rather than sheer luck (“Lucky my ass/ I tried my damnedest!”), ‘Rak Na Wei’ and ‘Boy Pablo’ featuring NAMEMT and BOWKYLION respectively showcase her genre-crossing versatility and the power of collaboration (on ‘Welcome’, she even made up her own girl group ‘MINUS’ to fulfil her K-pop fantasies). Yes, the album clocks in at 30 minutes, but rest assured – MILLI held nothing back. CP
Key track: ‘Welcome’
3. Sobs, ‘Air Guitar’
The cover for ‘Air Guitar’ spells out what the record has to offer: pure, unadulterated pop music. On their sophomore album, Sobs employ glossier production, soaring, singalong hooks and distorted power chords for a breathless joyride into the start of their “anthemic era”.
From the mid-’00s adrenaline rush of its title track, to the drum‘n’bass-meets-Sonic outro of album centrepiece ‘Friday Night’, to a newfound bluntness in Celine Autumn’s romantic lyrics, ‘Air Guitar’ plays as if the Singaporean trio aimed to one-up their knack for immediacy with every subsequent song. The result? The most succinct, sugary and indelible collection of guitar music this year. EO
Key track: ‘Air Guitar’
2. LE SSERAFIM, ‘ANTIFRAGILE’
From: South Korea
If LE SSERAFIM’s debut EP proclaimed that they were fearless, the follow-up ‘ANTIFRAGILE’ proved it. “Do you think I’m fragile?” they ask on the multilingual bass-laden opener ‘The Hydra,’ and if you had any doubts about their capabilities, the album’s bold sounds and bombastic approach promptly clears them up.
Despite the short runtime, LE SSERAFIM keeps you in a chokehold, delivering one musical punch after another. Before you can recover from the Afro-Latin extravaganza of ‘ANTIFRAGILE,’ the dreamy ‘Impurities’ sweeps you up and makes you feel “so natural, invincible”. The smooth R&B of ‘Good Parts (When The Quality Is Bad But I Am)’ leaves you feeling fuzzy, but it’s the pop-punk ‘No Celestial’ that wins out over the rest. Brazen, confident, with just the slightest hint of endearing arrogance, ‘No Celestial’ is the equivalent of killing someone with a kiss. We’re sure there’s more where that came from, and we can’t wait to hear it. TR
Key Track: ‘No Celestial’
1. ena mori, ‘Don’t Blame The Wild One!’
From: the Philippines
With its big feelings, avant-garde vocal stylings and an eclectic soundscape spiked with rip-roaring dancey rhythms, ena mori’s debut LP ‘Don’t Blame The Wild One!’ is nothing short of exhilarating. Here, the skilled pianist and once reluctant solo artist excavates her deepest doubts and fears and fully comes into her own. She recasts mental tugs-of-war as deceptively bouncy bops tackling the intricacies of ego and self-worth, love and jealousy, failure and discontent. It’s a triumph through and through.
On this record, mori and her co-producer and co-writer timothy Run assemble every crunchy bassline, uplifting horn section, handclap, and impulsive growl into a celebration of fellow outsiders and underdogs – or the “wild ones”, as mori calls them. The title track is a manifesto: “I speak louder, louder until my voice is gone… louder for the quiet ones”, she sings. She builds on that message of solidarity on ‘King Of The Night’, coming to a beautiful and empowering conclusion: “All we need is a crown in our heads / all we need is ourselves.” KP
Key track: ‘King Of The Night!’
Leave a Reply