Decoding the X Factor

Note “Notep” Panayanggool and Anya “Yale” Muangkote SUPPLIED

Debut EP by the homespun electropop duo brims with DIY indie-pop aesthetic and radio-ready listenability.

X0809/ X

Made up of Note “Notep” Panayanggool and Anya “Yale” Muangkote, Bangkok electropop upstarts X0809 (reads “x-oh-eight-oh-nine”) are perhaps one of the most thrilling acts to have emerged from the local music scene recently. A little back story before we dive into the duo’s microcosm of otherworldly electropop sounds and their debut EP, X. Some of you might already be familiar with Notep, a ukulele-toting crooner who got her start in the music industry by making it as a first runner-up in the seventh season of reality singing competition The Star.

After releasing her first and only solo album in 2012 with GMM Grammy, she teamed up with multidisciplinary designer Anya “Yale” Muangkote and two other musicians to form indie-rock outfit The Krrrrr. However, due to artistic differences, the band was short-lived, which then prompted Notep and Yale to strike out on their own under cryptically named project X0809. The pair’s debut single -30 (Minus Thirty), released just last May, showcased their promising potential as DIY artists. Nary an album to even call their own, the pair was already garnering quite a bit of attention from festival organisers who invited them to play at Japan’s The Solar Budokan and Hong Kong’s Clockenflap Music Festival. Now, exactly a year later, Notep and Yale follow up their debut single with a five-track EP titled X, which, according to Notep, is all about “exposure”, “exploration” and “experiment”.

Intro opens with layered vocals and synth flourishes all laced with nebulous atmospherics. The sonic textures are far more realised here than the rather minimalistic vibe of -30, and highlighting just how much their musicianship has matured in such a short period of time.

The next cut, Soul, finds the twosome taking things down a notch with a languid, sensual melody. Whispery and childlike at times, Notep’s vocals come across as a slightly brighter version of Banks and Broods’ Georgia Nott. (Anyone who followed The Star will know that Notep’s not exactly a showy singer. Throughout the competition, her song choice tended to gravitate towards the works of artists with soft and hum-along-able vocals like Lula and Palmy).

Worn and Ho are the EP’s highlights. The former oozes pop sensibility and catchiness that will surely appeal to the mainstream both domestically and internationally. Equally danceable, the latter is reminiscent of DIY indie-pop darling Grimes. “She makes you wail/ Falling from chimney/ Chasing your tail/ She puts you slowly/ Under the spell,” Notep coos alongside a spacey synth line, an element that continues throughout the disco-leaning closer Eh. The teasing trap breakdown at the mid-point of the track is also a nice, unexpected touch.

Entirely self-written and self-produced, X is an impressive debut EP from the up-and-coming duo. Notep and Yale are bringing something refreshing to the table. Even when the production inches closely to the more experimental side of things, the pair counterbalance it with enough pop goodness that’s hard to resist. X is a thoroughly enjoyable, fun-for-all release and we can’t wait to hear what they have in store for us next.

THE PLAYLIST

Penguin Cafe/ Cantorum

Penguin Cafe is a reincarnation of legendary British avant-pop ensemble Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Led by Simon Jeffes’ son Arthur, the band put out a new LP, The Imperfect Sea, earlier this month. Cantorum is an expansive piece built around piano and violin repetitions. These give the song an increasing sense of unresolved tension that counteracts with the subtle percussive elements. The nagging, almost menacing sonic volatility, however, never really dissipates.

Black Lips/ Can’t Hold On

Fitted with a new line-up, Black Lips return with their eighth studio LP, Satan’s Graffiti or God’s Art?, a follow-up to 2014’s Underneath the Rainbow. Its lead single, Can’t Hold On, finds the Atlanta (now) garage five-piece cranking out an old stomper complete with scuzzy guitars and rumbling drums. “Can’t hold on/ Hold on to nothing,” guitarist/vocalist Cole Alexander sings with the rasp of a heavy smoker before letting out a primal wail. As the track reaches its halfway point, the saxophone wafts through the dense fog of guitars and bass, giving the overall production a retro psych-rock finish.

Grizzly Bear/ Three Rings

After what seemed like an endless (and unnecessary) period of teasing on social media, Grizzly Bear have finally dropped Three Rings, their first new material since 2012’s massively lauded Shields. Prefaced by foreboding drumbeat and ominous synths, the song comes equipped with the group’s flair for dense compositions. “Don’t you be so reasoned/ Don’t you know that I can make it better?/ Don’t you ever leave me/ Don’t you feel it all come together?” frontman Ed Droste intones over free jazz-slash-electronic stylings that bring to mind some of Thom Yorke’s solo works.

!!! (Chk Chk Chk)/ Dancing is the Best Revenge

Dancing, like most forms of creative expression, is believed to stimulate the release of endorphins. This concept appears to provide the basis for Dancing is the Best Revenge, the anthemic latest single from NYC-based dance punk outfit !!! (pronounced “Chk Chk Chk”). Here frontman Nic Offer assumes the character of Nicole Fayu, a drag queen who sings about boogieing as an act of taking vengeance alongside serious servings of sprightly basslines and disco guitars.

LCD Soundsystem/ Call the Police

As LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy is no stranger to making immediate, propulsive music. From Daft Punk is Playing at My House to All My Friends, Murphy swiftly oscillated from dance-punk to electro-leaning indie. Now, six years after his farewell concert in 2011, he re-emerges with Call the Police, one of two new offerings set to appear on LCD Soundsystem’s forthcoming comeback album. The seven-minute track features a driving, arena-sized post-punk melody and the political message that speaks to our times (“Well, there’s a full-blown rebellion but you’re easy to confuse/ By triggered kids and fakers and some questionable views/ Oh, call the cops, call the preachers/ Before they let us and they lose”).