New Bloom members Peter Freestone and Brian Hioe pick some of their favorite indie EPs from 2021, focusing on bands from Taiwan. This is one of a series of Best Album lists compiled by New Bloom.
1. No-nonsense Collective 無妄合作社
No Mercy (AIRHEAD RECORDS 空氣腦唱片)
No-nonsense Collective (無妄合作社) is a band who has experienced a spectacular surge in popularity in recent years, especially following their acclaimed 2019 album 21st Century Post Youth (二十一世紀的破青年). No Mercy sees the group experimenting with synths and latching onto an incredibly catchy post-punk sound. The synths are a welcome addition on tracks like“Quiet Farewell (平靜的告別)”, but they’re not overused.The title track, for example, is a punk thumper, sanded down to only its most essential elements, with a vocal performance that offers a peek into the band’s politically radical leanings.
Leo Wang (Leo王) might be one of Taiwanese indie’s most recognizable names, consistently putting out unmistakably down-to-earth music with infectiously good vibes. Although he made his name as a hip hop artist, on Bad Digestion (消化不良), he’s really not rapping, just singing, and the music is mainly influenced by reggae, funk, and jazz. But of course, it’s just as kiang as you’d expect from the name.
After over three quiet years since their last release, Journey to the Eternal (仙丹), finds ULove (遊樂) playing now with a new drummer, experimenting with the yueqin, and even incorporating elements of dubstep into their sound. It’s all great, but the reggae-adjacent “Immortal (神仙)”, with its compositional focus and lyrical restraint, probably steals the show. They also recently released an MV for their song “The Wayward Cloud (我是一朵雲)”, which dives headlong into a drunken KTV party scene starring Huang Dawang (黃大旺).
US:WE is a post-rock/post-hardcore band from Taipei who formed in 2008. Their 2021 split EP,Jiǔ (玖) — including new songs from the alternative blues/rock bandGLDN, from Yokohama, and post-rock psychedelic/grunge bandPAKK, from Seoul — was released by 22RECORDS in collaboration with Qiii Snacks (琪琪音像) in the PRC and Deaf Touch in the USA. Among the three tracks by US:WE, “21st Century Finale (二十一世紀終曲)” stands out for its surprising dubstep breakdown, arranged byD-19 at REUSED Productions.
Following a few loosies released since Kuroshio (烏流, “Oo-Lâu” in Taiwanese Hokkien) formed in 2019, the three tracks on Thinn Tē Bué (天地尾) are a tight presentation of the group’s free-ranging style. The band’s sound draws on elements of jazz fusion, funk, and afrobeat, topped off with crooning Taiwanese Hokkien vocals. While there’s a lot going on musically, it’s not overwhelming—likely thanks to master of the smooth groove Yuchain Wang (王昱辰), who recorded and produced the EP.
Fossil (化石) is a music project initiated in 2017 by Lo Tsun Lung (羅尊龍), the drummer of Sunset Rollercoaster (落日飛車). Here, he collaborates with bandmate Wang Shao Hsuan (王少軒), Shih Wei Huang (黃士瑋) of Come on! Bay Bay! (來吧!焙焙!), and Yen Chieh (顏世傑) playing synths. The title of their long-awaited debut EP (波羅的海), which would seem to literally translate to “Baltic Sea”, is actuallya reference to one of Lo’s nicknames (波羅).
Having only released a handful of songs, it’s pretty impressive how quickly EASY WEEDS (溫室雜草 ) blew up in the Taiwanese indie scene. Tickets to the Taichung trio’s March show at Legacy Taipei, backed by Night Keepers (守夜人), sold out months in advance, and they were one of the top four acts to win the popular vote in the annual poll by The Next Big Thing (大團誕生 ). Althoughthe band has tried to distance itself from comparisons to other groups like deca joins and Wendy Wander (溫蒂漫步), it’s hard to deny they’re nailing that sound, right in the sweet spot of the current zeitgeist.
Clocking in at just over 30 minutes, it’s not an EP, but I really wanted to slide this one in. The debut album of COLD DEW,YUYU (欲欲)opens with “Cloud (雲)”, a track that takes a wonderfully melancholic spin around the surf rock block, only to get drenched in shoegaze. The band’s penchant for dipping in and out of genres particularly shines on the 18-minute psychedelic epic “San-Di Love Song” (山地情歌) — although“Hot Spring” (溫泉) might be the more digestible lead-in. Here, they keep it a bit breezier, breaking through a wall of distorted sound as soon it’s built up, abruptly shifting to a bluesy dream pop palette, which just as soon descends into an adrenaline rush of psychedelia.
The third EP from experimental pop project i’mdifficult (我是機車少女) is hands down the band’s most compelling work yet. While their first two releases hinted at the group’s potential, on25, their dynamism is on full display. Recently they also did alive recording session for LUC UP!, produced in collaboration with Normal Pictures (普通影像).
財富自由精神健康 Wealth and Values (大紅國際 Dahong International)
Tin Ten Tan (聽天湯) isn’t exactly new. The group formed following the break-up of Obviously (顯然樂隊), after the band’s lead singer and drummer moved from Kaohsiung to Taipei. So unsurprisingly, their debut EP,Wealth and Values (財富自由精神健康), continues in a similar vein as Obviously. But they’re clearly pushing their pop-informed rock sound into more whimsical territory. “The Duplex Apartment (樓中樓)” is a stand-out track, featuring the unmistakable voice ofMurky Ghost (周穆) — a musician and spoken word performer whose dark tonality and mythopoetic lyrics have made her one of the most compelling figures among the recent wave of more experimental Taiwanese hip hop artists.
And here’s a bonus!A split EP from two bands: Angry Youth (厭世少年) and It’s Your Fault (問題總部). Both are excellent here, but for me,the latter’s“Song About Soul”, featuring rapper Dudu King (金其禾), really feels next-level, heart-melting sublime.