The Asian diaspora has slowly but surely permeated the upper echelons of the cultural sphere, from starring in Hollywood blockbusters to racking up Olympic medals. If their musical releases so far this year are any indication, it is only a matter of time before Asian artists expand their influence on the music industry as the tastemakers of tomorrow.
From dazzling debuts to genre-bending opuses, here are six of our favorite recent albums from some of the brightest musical stars of Asian descent.
“Mahal” by Toro y Moi
Named after the Tagalog word for “expensive” and “love,” Toro y Moi’s latest project takes listeners on a hazy summer joyride from a bygone era in his Filipino jeepney. The album, which opens with the revving of an engine and is woven together by the wubs and crackles of an analog radio, creates a vintage sonic aesthetic that effortlessly pairs with the chillwave pioneer’s striking production style. By blending elements of psychedelic rock and soul from the ‘70s with eclectic electronics, the audible journey that Toro y Moi guides listeners through is as nostalgic as it is boldly contemporary.
“Duality” by Luna Li
With her debut album, Luna Li marries her classical training with her indie rock sensibilities to cultivate lush and enchanting soundscapes. The multi-talented Toronto-based musician offers hypnotizing vocals and lyrics of love and longing against a milieu of carefully orchestrated instrumentals ranging from shimmering strings to grungy guitar riffs. “Duality” is a blissful play on dichotomies that have begun to define Li’s personal and musical identities – never has such dissonance sounded so dreamy.
“Laurel Hell” by Mitski
Four years after being launched into the stratosphere of indie-rock stardom with the release of the universally acclaimed album “Be The Cowboy,” Mitski has returned with an 11-track testimonial rejecting the excesses of her newfound fame. While the album’s synth-pop-inspired production may sound like an appeal to broader musical trends, it serves as an ironic counterpoint to the singer-songwriter’s piercingly unfiltered yet tantalizingly ambiguous reflections on her strained relationships with what could be either a past lover, her fans or the music industry as a whole.
“Gabriel” by Keshi
A student of lo-fi hip hop, Keshi has channeled the subgenre’s wistful melancholy to become one of the hottest rising R&B artists in the industry. While his long-awaited debut album mostly plays to his strengths, chock-full of tender acoustics and flawless falsettos, Keshi is at his best when he takes musical risks. For instance, the album’s standout opening track “Get It” is a Brockhampton-esque mixture of 808-and-siren-soaked braggadocio and tender crooning that sheds light on Keshi’s extraordinary potential for musical versatility and growth.
“Superache” by Conan Gray
In an interview with NME in 2021, Conan Gray revealed that he is an “intense romantic” who makes any minor situation “much more than what it was at the moment.” In his sophomore effort, Gray’s hyper-sensitivity takes center stage as he crafts peppy bops and power ballads to capture an array of painful emotions, from the anxiety behind a confession to the agony of unrequited love. Gray’s performances throughout his latest album are theatrical and impassioned to the extent that he amplifies even the smallest of stings into a grandiose “Superache.”
“Glitch Princess” by Yeule
As the lines between technology and its creators are increasingly blurred, Yeule offers a chaotic yet carefully crafted sonic glimpse into the coalescence between man and machine. “Glitch Princess” cleverly deconstructs the underpinnings of the (post)human condition with vibrantly dystopian soundscapes populated by glitchy vocals, sparse synths and distorted drums punctuated by flourishes of catharsis. Beneath the album’s meticulously manufactured cybernetic sonic exterior resides an emotional core brimming with authenticity.