Reviews: Radioactive Sago Project

The Radioactive Sago Project (2000)
This bop-rock posse mixes horns and riffs, low brow and literary, drunken conversations and frenzy orgy, all in a smoky bar where a drunk-ass poet intone his spiels in one dark corner. From pigs to pork barrel, somebody probably thought we were never ready for “Gusto Ko Ng Baboy.” Truth is, we were never ready for this whole album, where Andrew E.’s “Humanap Ka Ng Panget” gets a blow-job makeover (Palagi s’yang nakahalik sa aking *bleeeep*). The early aughts was weird. You have Sandwich, Sago and those “kupaw” bands while the popular radio plays Aiza Seguerra. A- 

Urban Gulaman (2004)
Reimagined old Manila as if it was all neon, funk and jazz. Squatterjazz instead Squatterpunk. Lourd de Veyra jettisoned the non-Tagalog numbers for ones written spoken in the vernacular. Whether it’s de Veyra having written his best spiels yet or the band being in the perfect groove or both, this set is wittier, sharper, funnier at the same time more immediate, more accessible than the first (“Hello”, “Kape”, “Masarap”). There’s no question “Bad Motherfucker” is a bad motherfucker, but maybe you need at least a liter of gin pomelo in your blood to dig “Gin Pomelo.” And as Malkmus once said, words—they’re diamond-sharp today (“Magbanat ng buto at gawing bulalo”, “Burak sa kape, gamot sa ubo, sa utak ng gago”, the whole of “Alaala Ni Batman”). Also, sage advice: Wag Kang Maingay May Naglalaba.

Tanginamo Andaming Nagugutom Sa Mundo Fashionista Ka Pa Rin (2007)
Not exactly as wasak as Sago covering songs by other nominees that year in the NU rock awards but damn close. (Or was it Myx? MTV? Can’t remember.) And maybe, just as cluttered. This is the sound of a band who “carte blanche” after two albums—ram in every damn ideas that they could. Sage piece of advice: Alak, Sugal, Kape, Babae, Kabaong. B+ 

Ang Itlog At Ang Demonyo (2014)
A somewhat sober return to the forms they already bastardized and butchered before, and more. Actually, less. Either you thought they couldn’t top that last album and you’re proven right. Or, that this is just a little more focused than the last one. “Miting Ng Mga Atay” is probably their catchiest sing-song in a while. As usual, music good for uneasy listening—that comes with great album art—that comes in the worst of digipak packaging from Terno Recordings. B

Reviews: Loop, Kai Honasan

Kai Honasan – In Your Face & Other Songs About Other Faces (2014)
You know the type—soft-strummed cutesy girly pop that either makes you roll your eyes or makes you feel sleepy—songs that somehow, typified the ukulele. Not when Kai Honasan is the one wielding it. Not when she can smack you with it right in the face. Not when the producers, Eheads vets Buddy Zabala and Sancho Sanchez, recognize that the songs need more than four strings—drums, keyboards, maybe a little kazoo. You may admire the songs about the annoying guys she knew or dated but you’d surely like her song about the one who always gets her tongue-tied (I could write a hundred words for every second in this melody / Make a bunch of metaphors saying how it should be you and me) and the one where she gave her all—a la Mariah Carey. And that song about the desaparecido/rebel and his muse that sounds like a lilting serenade on a firefly-lit night? There’s no more perfect way to cap this (mini)album. A- 

Loop – Flirting with the Universe (2014)
Don’t be tricked into dismissing them for that nondescript album cover or be deceived by the non-Google-friendly name, the familiar one-word titles (“Runaway”, “Lost”, “Lite”). Vanilla or just another female-fronted band they’re anything but. The words may be mere when you read them but not when Kim Trinidad sings, feels them. As the old adage goes, you can’t tell a book digital album by its cover. This is a dreamy pop-rock record layered with cake, jam, cream – perfect to go with that overpriced coffee one of the songs took its title from (“Peppermint Mocha”). I’m usually not a fan of great singers (all my favorite singers couldn’t sing) but after watching Loop live online, I wanted to write a song that starts with “Dear Kim.” No, not Sembreak—Eminem. A-

Reviews: Ourselves the Elves, Oh, Flamingo!

Ourselves the Elves – It’ll Be Alright (2013)
What elevates this from the rest of female-fronted bands of local indieland, I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s the lack of synths. Or the lo-fi prod perhaps? Maybe it’s the untamed cymbals occasionally clashing with the guitars. Or maybe it’s the intimate air that makes me feel I’m in the same room with them – and they’re giving me the finest 12 minutes of twee-folk I can find – online. Or maybe it’s Akira Medina and Alyana Cabral’s call and response on “Shelter”. And maybe because their music reminds me a bit of Camera Obscura, only it’s more stripped-down and folksy. A-

Ourselves the Elves – Geography Lessons (2015)
Not only a little less “less produced” than their first EP. Perhaps it’s even overproduced, taking their debut as reference that they kind of lose some of those earthly charms. No more “recorded live and in the same room” feels, but no less inviting. Because the crystal clear production also added a magical dimension into the songs (“Longing For”, “Uncertainly”). Magical as in elven, but think Kidlat Tahimik, not Tolkien. Also, why is it that sad songs resonate more than the relatively less sad ones? A-

Oh, Flamingo! – Oh, Flamingo! (2015)
They have some really nifty guitar-indie pop, with some odd, maybe not African-inspired beats (maybe) that you’d wish they have something more interesting to say. Or at least, interesting way(s) to say them. Maybe their latest, “Parara”, “Naubos Na” were attempts in trying to do that. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just wishful thinking because, here’s a band narrowing the gender gap among other things (i.e., they got a cute girl drummer). So I just turn up the volume for those tasty guitar parts. Though I wish some real feelings poked through more often, like in the song they’ve curiously hidden, after the “final track.” B+

Oh, Flamingo! – Volumes (2020)
Probably underrated their first EP the first time around. And it wasn’t until I revisited it for reference, that I realized what I missed—that it’s probably the closest one can get to a certain brand of [guitar] indie rock in this day and age. My initial disappointment though with how plainly they state things sometimes, still holds true. And carries on to this second EP. They’re less obvious this time. I’ll give them that. Though I don’t think it’s the type that makes one bother to look up for hidden meanings, none of which, the band haven’t already willfully revealed. And ideally, it isn’t enough to wear your influence on your sleeve and sing about the same things they already sang about before (e.g., love, sunsets)—and better—no matter how much psychedelic wizardry you mix them with. Like in their first EP, the best cut comes last. Though with the image of their sweaty guitarist stuck in my head, it makes me regret to have read about the song’s backstory. Wish I could unread it. Hint: It’s not about a sweater like the Weezer song; he’s the sweater. Kind of not clever really, if you think about it. B+

Reviews: Introvoys

Back to the Roots (1991) “Calling All Nations” is like a late ’80s pre-internet “Pump Up Kicks” with a cliche positive vibes instead of a quiet kid with a gun. You know, the ’80s was so obsessed with ‘world peace.’ There’s ‘world peace,’ then there’s overt objectification in “Maynila.” The chorus goes “Sa Maynila ka makakahanap ng magagandang babae,” as if beautiful girls were cars, tall buildings, and every thing that screams Manila and not provincial. The whole thing isn’t worth your bandwidth, save for “However Which Way” which is good. C

Breaking New Grounds (1993) For the record, this broke no new grounds. Though this one at least makes a little more sense than them going back to the roots. It was their first outing so, back from where? “Stay” is catchy, like a synth pop Bon Jovi and “Are You Happy” is a passable hair metal ballad that isn’t hairy enough, ballsy or cocky enough. “Will I Ever Survive” is the first true winner here, this album’s “However Which Way,” a pop-metal ballad a la White Lion tho not as epic and memorable as Rockstar’s “Parting Time.” “Di Na Ko Aasa Pa” was also kinda big. C+

Line to Heaven (1994) “Kailanman,” “Line to Heaven,” and whatever’s the big deal with Geneva Cruz and Paco Arespacochaga. Well, there’s clearly no “Kailanman.” Just ask KC Montero. Like the previous albums, this is ripe with cliche, kind of (and I’m probably being generous here) generic sounding songs and a couple of passable radio singles. There’s probably more objectionable content in the lyrics (i.e., Maynila) in all these three albums but fortunately, you won’t care to listen any harder because the music, uh, kinda sucks, way waaay more often than not. C

Rivermaya – Free (2000)

Rivermaya.freeYears before leaking albums online became a trend, a few before online file sharing became the norm, and seven years before Radiohead sold their then new record In Rainbows thru pay-as-you-want at £ 0.00 minimum, Rivermaya self-produced and gave away their fifth album, aptly titled Free, not just online, not just digitally, but also in CD format, given to loyal fans thru mail and at their gigs. Yes, Rivermaya fucking did it first.

Free was released in “The Year Piracy Broke” and mainstream interest in local rock music reached ground zero. Again. Thus, you’d most likely learn about Free on the internet, than catch “Faithless” or “Ambulansya” on the radio—unless by radio, you mean NU107. And just in case you haven’t heard the album yet, do yourself a favor and check “Faithless” and “Ambulansya” on YouTube. The former is driven by Mark Escueta’s pounding rhythm and punctuated by Rico Blanco’s raspy, Kurt Cobain-like scream in the chorus. The latter is a piano-laden dirge about being caught in a causality loop of road accident and traffic jam (“Hindi na tayo gagalaw, hindi na tayo aabante,” Blanco sings on top of a looped ambulance siren).

Outside all the hype (or whether you consider it gimmick, commercial suicide or publicity stunt), Free is an exceptional rock record. It’s really good and by really good, I mean better than any of the first three Rivermaya albums. Imagine taking the best of late ’80s and ’90s guitar-rock (i.e., Nirvana, Pixies, Silkworm), Radiohead’s Kid A, some Chuck Palaniuk and mix them with the solid songwriting of Rico Blanco and Nathan Azarcon. That is, Rivermaya never rocked harder than with “Faithless”, “Serious Offender” and “Again” and they’ve never been as “out there” weird than in “Ambulansya” and “Steady” (Steady/ parang slowly/ na medyo relax/ pero hindi// Parang/ lumang free throw/ ni Bogs Adornado/ noong uso pa ang Afro… Ang gadget/ sarap tapakan/ ang chorus ay tubig/ delay kalangitan… Steady/ ang barbero/ may labahang bago’t/ kamay na pasmado).

Free‘s odd combination of the abrasive/aggressive and weird electronic psychedelia might have been Rivermaya’s response to the burgeoning new metal scene of the late ’90s (i.e., Greyhounds, Slapshock). Only, instead of adding a DJ to the line-up, they went deeper and turn the distortion and weirdness knobs to eleven. The result is more post-hardcore than post-grunge, more rock than hybrid metal.

Or maybe, this is just the natural progression from their last album, which alongside Teeth’s I Was A Teenage Tree and Sandwich’s Grip Stand Throw, is one of the best local guitar-rock albums of from the late ‘90s. Either way, Free contains songs that perfectly captures the raw power of late ’80s early ’90s rock in a bottle and mixed them with some of Radiohead’s early aughts electronic flavors without emulating Pixies or Nirvana or sounding like a Kid A-wannabe.


Just want to share this cool ‘baliktad’ version of “Steady”, the closing track of the album. Kudos to the uploader and whoever did this!

Rivermaya – It’s Not Easy Being Green (1999)

greenThe Rivermaya-Bamboo breakup in ’98 was such a bummer, it was a heartbreaker, that the band’s fourth LP, It’s Not Easy Being Green, features some of Rivermaya’s most personal songs—some about breakup, some about moving on. The album title itself is a reference to a specific song lamenting the state of “being green”, of being ordinary, of disappearing into the background—that without the rockstar vocalist, they’re just these three regular guys.

There’s “Shattered Like” implicitly referencing Bamboo leaving the group, the country-folk “May Kasalanan”, about being left behind, “Bagong Taon”, where Blanco compares his love life to an assortment of fireworks (baby rocket, trumpilyo, lucis), and “Never Been Better”, a song about having moved on or feigning it. All four highlight the album in varying level of cathartic phlebotomy before “Homecoming” closes the album with a teary-eyed “Lover come home, lover come home.”

But Rivermaya (this time just Mark, Nathan and Rico), bemoans “being green” much less than they embrace it. And totally embrace being green they did. As if the band said “Fuck it! We’ll just do what we want to do”, Rivermaya delivered their darnedest best with this album. Never before did a Rivermaya album sound this focused, this consistent. The songs just flow, fly and soar from start to end. Less of that faux experimental shit that littered their previous album (i.e., Atomic Bomb).

While the sad songs hit the sad notes where they need to, stompers like “Grounded Ang Girlfriend Ko”, “Nerbyoso”, and “Sorry” totally rocks. The epic “Bagong Taon”, with guitar pyrotechnics that reminds me of Radiohead’s “Creep” and Bush’s “Swallowed”, is as great as any of the best tracks from Free, Atomic Bomb or Trip.

Then, there’s “Rodeo”, a song about “a song about true love”, with Blanco’s perfectly faux cowboy twang, country-folk beat and honky keys, it’s just perfect. Most likely inspired by Beck’s Odelay (with both Beck and Odelay mentioned in the lyrics), “Rodeo” is album’s ultimate equalizer, balancing the heartbreak and sad songs, with bawdy humor and glee (What sweeter thing could happen to a boy and a girl / we gotta do it like mechanical rabbits from hell, yeah).

Is this album better than Free? Well, actually I won’t mind putting either ahead of the other. Free is more left-of-the-dial, more like In Utero than Nevermind while It’s Not Easy Being Green is more varied, more expansive. It covers more area, it’s more complete, y’know, from A to Zinc. And to these impaired ears, it’s the quintessential Rivermaya record.

Reviews: Beabadoobee, The Buildings

Space Cadet EP | beabadoobee | 2019
Imagine if Reese Lansangan listened to Pavement. Filipino-British indie darling Beatrice a.k.a. beabadoobee released a whooping 5 EPs in 2019 (Space Cadet is EP #5) and she did what most Pavement lovers never thought of before (“I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus”). Of course being half-British she wants to see the “Sun More Often” and she says “often” with a “T”—unlike her American English-taught Filipino fans. B

Listen to: I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus

Cell-O-Phane | The Buildings | 2016
This doesn’t deadpan Pavement in the same way Yurei’s screams Nirvana. Maybe because they kept the Pavement signifiers on the periphery (the Bob Nastanovich narration buried near the end of “Sue Me Jack” is echoed in the opening track, the obvious “Shady Lane” MTV references in that “Lucid Sister” music video). And if you listen to them looking for that Pavement influence, which is somewhat hard to parse, don’t think Slanted & Enchanted or Brighten the Corners. Maybe Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain—but only because their best songs are infectiously melodic (“Different Shades of Blue”, “Lucid Sister”) and sometimes has the side effect of sounding like The Breeders (“Museum Tower”), which isn’t bad at all. Some of Wowee Zowee‘s laid back country vibes are here but that’s probably because they are indie-folk darlings Ourselves the Elves’ more indie-rock leaning sister. The surest point of reference then would be Spiral Stairs’ “Painted Soldiers” and its music video where Nina Gordon and Louise Post—after the “dissolution of the band”—took over Pavement. A-

Listen to: Different Shades of Blue

Reviews: Parokya ni Edgar

Khangkhungkherrnitz | Parokya Ni Edgar | 1996
TVJ’s Tough Hits is the blueprint they patterned this from. And anything by Yoyoy Villame. And since they’re three heads harder than TVJ, the goofs are sandwiched between originals and parodies come in full form. Radiohead’s first hit became “Trip”, a tale about addiction to siopao made in Shaolin House, one from The Clash became “The Crush”, and “Tatlong Araw” was supposedly borrowed from Yano’s “Mc Jo”. The originals are no less catchy and memorable (“Buloy”, “Maniwala Ka Sana”). If Stephen Malkmus and Spiral Stairs once made up a story about getting into a fight while auditioning for Beverly Hills, 90210, PNE has a song about trying it out for the Tuesday Edition of Kuya Germs’ That’s Entertainment. Up to this day, I’m still apprehensive about playing “Lutong Bahay” really loud, that my neighbors—elderly folks, mothers, from Batangas and elsewhere—would find the play on cuss words and innuendos offensive, disrespectful. That Darius Semana’s mother (they’re from Lipa Batangas) is probably cool with and even proud of it, I find a bit comforting. Still, a song about eating your girlfriend’s mother’s special pancake in the morning isn’t something your girlfriend and her mother would probably want to hear. A-

 

Buruguduystuntugudunstuy | Parokya Ni Edgar | 1997
It’s slightly less funny the second time around but you can always have a second helping. This has better packaging than the first. And I like it that they’re superheroes this time (probably a reference to Wilce Portacio’s work on Rivermaya’s Trip) and Chito Miranda’s superpowers is that of a metro aide. And much better title too—it sounds like a drum roll minus the cymbal crash at the end. With parodies reduced from three to one (“Alimango”, based on Pearl Jam’s “Animal”) one expects more of their own (“Sayang”, “Sampip”). Not all fillers are killers. Not all non-fillers are killers. But give ’em props for adding “tubal” and “walanjo” in the wiktionary and for giving their most earnest straight-faced ode to the bird without being too cocky or dicky about it. Have to thank them for salvaging “Harana” too, even though it is probably that one song that opened the doors to the sappy acoustic ballads that took over after (i.e., Aiza Seguerra, Paolo Santos). A- 

 

Gulong Itlog Gulong | Parokya Ni Edgar |1999
Their stab at sincerity is probably as worthwhile as their funniest gag yet, the non-song, non-filler “Cobra Bird”. Their parody of Cake’s cover of Gloria Gaynor’s disco hit is a winner but the non-killer fillers outnumber the killer non-fillers (“Saan Man Patungo”, “Inuman Na”). **

 

Bigotilyo | Parokya Ni Edgar | 2003
I remember listening to this on a bootleg tape a friend gave me, which was a bit weird at the time when pirated CDs come as cheap as 3-in-1 briefs from the baratilyo. IIRC this cassette has slightly different track sequence. It starts with “Mr. Suave”, then “The Yes Yes Show”, and so on. And I listened to this tape for weeks on end and was surprised to see a different track listing when I finally saw the CD. Surprisingly, there are only two fillers, which says a lot for a band who could probably put out a greatest hits fillers compilation. The parodies aren’t anywhere near as good as the old ones (“Chikinini”, parody of Yano’s “Banana Asshole, Suck on the pie Yo!” is OK, “Katawan”, possibly among their worst) but they have more songs than ever! And they’re all effing good (“Alumni Homecoming”, “Choco Latte”). Heck, even the deep cuts are hellishly gewd (“Absorbing Man”, “Ted Hannah”). And while their songs have always been varied as their antics (this has parodies of kundiman, hip-hop, bossanova, there’s even a Led Zeppelin-esque guitar solos near the end of Side A) this is slightly more varied than the usual. PNE shows noticeable growth and maturity here. That they’re sporting fake mustaches on the cover might be the most ingenious joke they ever thought up, or maybe, just pure coincidence. A  

Reviews: Hopia Mani Popcorn, Awit Ni Sampaguita

Bagong Banda… Awit Ni Sampaguita | Various Artists | 2008
Either you’re a curious Sampaguita fan or you just want to get that rare Sugar Hiccup or Session Road track that isn’t on any of their albums. This is for completists only. Covering Sampaguita is like doing The Beatles, except you don’t have tons of songs to choose from. You either get lucky in the lottery or try your very best not to fail. Most of these bands bungled it, with Paramita’s “Bongahan” probably the biggest dud. Little known band Lokal does a decent take on minor hit “Mahilig”. You could say Sugar Hiccup and Paraluman just got lucky “Tao” and “Ikaw Pa Rin” got assigned to them. Session Road, not so much. But thanks to Hannah Romawac, their cover of “Nosi Balasi” doesn’t suck. C

 

Hopia Mani Popcorn | Various Artists |2006
Not every artist could cover a Rico J. Puno hit and get away with it like Lourd De Veyra and Radioactive Sago did—the murderously drunk funny videoke sing-along “Kapalaran”. Didn’t like Kitchie Nadal’s “TL Ako Sa’Yo” when this came out. It actually sounds a LOT better now. Maybe it was ahead of its time. DRT’s hard-rock version of “Tao” is better than Sugar Hiccup’s version on that other tribute album. And props to Kapatid for shining a light on another classic (“Hanggang Magdamag”) and the usually forgotten funk bands of the ’70s (The Advisors, Soul Jugglers). I could do without Rocksteddy (“No Touch”), 6cyclemind (“Bonggahan”), Protein Shake (“Macho Gwapito”), and Sound’s soulless attempt at Rey Valera’s “Ako Si Superman”. Mayonnaise and Join the Club? They’re just OK. Soapdish’ sped-up version of Rey Valera/Rico J. Puno/Sharon Cuneta classic? Not bad. Up Dharma Down’s “Bitin Sa’Yo” is a miss. Medyo bitin. B+

 

Hopia Mani Popcorn 2 | Various Artists |2008
This has a better lineup than the first (no 6cyclemind, no Protein Shake). Giniling Festival have always been much much more fun than Rocksteddy. Surprise, surprise! Melany is actually fronted by a guy and they did a decent Soapdish-like job with “Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal”, a welcome alternative to the Ogie Alcasid remake. Brownman Revival’s “Binibini”? Way better than Janno Gibbs’. Pedicab’s “Awitin Mo…” is just OK but Diego Mapa making fun of his kuya (Jao Mapa), funny. Highlights? Kiko Machine’s piano ballad version of “Tayong Dalawa”, Juan Pablo Dream’s mod-ified “Bato Sa Buhangin”, Swissy’s minimalist take on another Cinderella hit. There’s also Imago. Except for that raised eyebrow, Aia de Leon perfectly updates the Dina Bonievie classic (“Bakit Ba Ganyan”). Color It Red? Chilitees? They’re fine. Cueshe? Again, not bad. Session Road’s “Kung Kailangan Mo Ako” doesn’t totally work tho. A- 

RSP artwork from this site.

Reviews: Juan Karlos, Unique

Pangalan | Unique Salonga | 2020
Shorter and more consistent than his debut with a few hooks poking through (“Bukod-Tangi”). None of the new songs are as memorable as “Ozone” (probably still his best, though I find it a bit exploitative and insensitive when I think about the families and victims of the tragedy). And no, “Delubyo” is neither dark nor disturbing. It’s a sound collage and anyone can make such. Eight cuts, six songs—that’s just slightly more than half of what’s in his debut. That’s good if it means we get less fillers and less of Unique telling us how the IVoS management robbed him of royalties (But where’s my money / Don’t waste my time) or why he left the group. But not really. Turns out, he can’t stop singing about himself (“Bukod-Tangi”, “Pahinga”), can’t stop bragging about, can’t stop trash-talking like he’s up against you-know-who in a FlipTop battle (“Dambuhala”, “Mga Katulad Mo”). Either he’s excessively self absorbed or he’s still hurting. Maybe both. Writing songs to exorcise his own demons? Maybe. C+

 

“Buwan” | Juan Karlos | 2018
Almost there but not quite. Either it makes you push replay or it leaves you wanting. I’d say it’s the latter. There’s enough anguish in Labajo’s singing but his lyrics needed work (“Halina tayo’s humiga”). Sure, he’s in love. Truly? Maybe. Madly? Yes. Deeply? Not, if you read the lyrics. And what’s with the moon? Is he going crazy? A lunatic? Is he gonna turn into a werewolf? More like he’s just plain horny.

 

Diwa | Juan Karlos | 2020
The refrain of “Sampaguita” sounds a bit odd the first time but it works, Gloc-9 makes it work. Gloc-9 paints a heartbreaking picture of OFW life and then somewhat ruins the song in the third verse with that ‘tragic’ ending. As if people having no choice but to work overseas isn’t tragic enough. As if unemployment and underemployment should be accepted as the norm. Don’t like it when this JK Labajo dude puts extra kinks to his singing. It pulls attention to itself and not in a good way. I’m talking about some Jeff Buckley-ish kinks here—some of them are, not all. All the ten cuts here sounds warm, live, sweaty and real, especially after listening to Unique’s self-indulgent, cold electro-psychedelia. Like Unique, JK Labajo has good pipes. Maybe Unique should take his cue from JK and get himself a backing band. In return, he could help JK fix some of his lyrics. Maybe Unique could also learn from JK how to write about things other than himself. Find himself someone/something to love, lust for or think about other than fame. B-

Reviews: Pop Machine, The Reunion, Ultraelectromagneticjam

Tribute Albums Galore

Ultraelectromagneticjam | Various Artists | 2005
That no one thought about making an Apo Hiking tribute until this came out probably tells the difference between love and respect. Or maybe it’s just that the Eraserheads are insanely more popular and there’s more demand. Tribute albums are usually reserved for die-hards but not this. Alternate versions of Ehead’s lesser hits are fun (Sugarfree, OnL, Imago). There are covers better than the original (e.g., The Man Who Sold the World) but not in this album. Barbie and Kitchie? Cute. Especially Kitchie’s half-giggle on that line about shaving. Cueshe’s “Hard to Believe” at x1.25 speed? Not bad. Sponge Cola’s “Pare Ko”? Just a little bit better than my neighbor singing it on videoke. And it’s fucking 6:02 long! Can’t really play this loud beyond 10 PM. Or expect stones raining on your roof (Magpatulog naman kayo)! There are a few unexpected but interesting left turns too (MYMP, South Border, Isha). I wonder if Isha changing Ely’s “beeper” to “cellphone” is already outdated—I’m still calling them “cellphones” and not “smartphones”. Didn’t really expect Ciudad or Narda to be in this album. But where the fuck are Kamikazee? Hilera? Itchyworms? Maybe, 6cyclemind aren’t really worthy to do “Alapaap”. And they even made it worse by making it sound like a 6cyclemind song. A-  

 

The Reunion: An Eraserheads Tribute Album | Various Artists | 2012
Aiza couldn’t ruin “With A Smile”, more so with Mike Villegas on her side. But Callalily definitely could. “Minsan” is probably the toughest Eheads song to cover and they should have given it to Vin Dancel. But only so that he wouldn’t have to re-do “Overdrive” because Barbie Almalbis’ cute version was more than enough. We all know Brownman Revival built a career out of their reggae-corrected version of “Maling Akala”. But it also sounds too close to the original. The better alternative then is Itchyworms’ country-fied version, which makes you wonder again why they were not included before. You probably never heard of Iwa Motors and Jennylyn Sucaldito but Tanya Markova’s “Hey Jay” is one of highlights here. Johnoy Danao and Razorback/Gloc9? Just OK. Though you have to wonder why ’90s dinosaurs like Razorback even bothered. We’ve finally got Hilera with “Kaliwete”, but they kind of overloaded it with rockabilly. They would’ve probably done better with a folk-rock “Poorman’s Grave”. Still, no Kamikazee. “Insomya” would’ve been a good fit for them. “Alkohol”, too. A naughty kupaw version of “Bogchi Hukbo” would probably work. And they could definitely do “Magasin” justice better than Chicosci (boobs mo’y gawa ni Belo). Again, 6cyclemind doing “Alapaap”? Fucking shameless. B-  

 

Pop Machine | Various Artists | 2019
Munimuni certainly did a better job than Callalily. But they covered the wrong song. Think they should’ve tried “Kailan” instead. Ciudad’s “Aling Nena” is just too clean, too precise, too close to the original (except for the hilarious spoken parts i.e., “ee-sang ae-raaw”), therefore totally defeating the purpose. There are nine cuts already (as of this writing) and most of which, recyclable. (Ask: why should I listen to this instead of the original?) Except for 1) The Borrachos’ raspy gin-fueled bluesy cover of “Poorman’s Grave”. Borracho as in drunk. (In Bicol, we call them burat. No, not that “burat”—put it back in—the other one.) And 2) Reese Lansangan’s transcendent version of “Huwag Kang Matakot”. Ely Buendia said he wrote the song for Eon. Reese Lansangan re-imagines it as a mother’s lullaby for her child. Vision, material, execution—all aligned to perfection. ** 

Awesome header art by Felix Taaka.

Reviews: Sugarfree, Cheats, Narda

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Before the Babies | Cheats | 2017
I’ll probably never look at this album the same way again. And not without thinking about Jim and Saab’s little angel. This has the sound of a band slowing things down a bit, turning reflective as if looking at the dawn thinking about settling down. Less dance-y headbanging music and more like songs to play when mapping out that 5-year plan (“Talk”, “Before the Babies”). A little more varied than their first yet still containing the same ingredients: twee pop-ish vocals, memorable guitar riffs, and the reasons kids love the Bilinda Butchers of the world. Less driving music, more like music for safe and defensive driving (“Melon”, “Crumble”). Go back to the debut if you miss the restless hooks and singalong choruses but play this one in the car when the babies are on board. A  

 

A Postcard From | Narda | 2002
Lo-fi and indie don’t mean much nowadays. Bedroom recordings could sound as good as studio ones. Not when A Postcard From Narda came out in 2002. This EP sounds like it was recorded on an 8-track tape, unproduced like early Pavement, only it’s indie-pop instead of post-punk. More than the sound, they have songs, each one as perfectly imperfect as the others. If I have to pick a favorite, it would be “Kusina”, written by Wincy Ong (Patience Dear Juggernaut, San Lazaro), a vividly cinematic work of fiction. “Tanong mo ay iyong sagutin”—tonight I’ll make a playlist with “Meron Ba?”, “Suntok Sa Buwan”, and “Wag Na Wag Mong Sasabihin” in it. I’m sure it’d be awesome. A-

 

Suwerte | Narda | 2002
More upbeat this time but still sporting that lo-fi indie sound. Another four track-EP that’d make you think that they could have waited a li’l bit and made a full length album instead. Except maybe they didn’t have the funding. Which is what going indie used to mean before Bandcamp and Spotify happened. At least they sound happy. Or maybe just foolish (“Tanga”, “Suwerte”). Let me play that opening riff again. A-

Sa Wakas | Sugarfree | 2003
Can’t think of any other song that starts and sounds like “white lace and promises” then puts a dagger into your heart right on the third line and then totally drowns you in the chorus. That vaguely optimistic, vaguely in denial “Ito ang unang araw na wala ka na”, reminds me of another break-up song, Beck’s “Guess I’m Doing Fine”, though it doesn’t quite reach the same level of tonal ambiguity as “Unang Araw”. There’s also this “Monkey Wrench” kind of break-up catharsis in there but it’s more sad/re-assuring than angry. It’s like remembering your first day together and then realizing this is the first day after your last. Sugarfree write songs about love that would make you swear never to fall again. And yet also tells you how sad it is to be alone (“Mariposa”), among other things (“Insomya”, “Fade Away”). Years before Junot Diaz’s The Cheater’s Guide to Love, Ebe Dancel sings about love that would linger on long after the relationship ended. With a simple last-minute switch from past to future tense, Ebe gave us that immortal the half-life of love is forever (“Burnout”). A  

 

Burador | Narda | 2003
While they’ve always been a bit rough around the edges, the songs here neither sound like demos nor drafts. Rumour has it that the band’s drummer sold his drum set only so they could make this record. After which, they’re left with nothing but guitars and so they went acoustic and gathered themselves around the campfire (“Another Day”, “Ang Gabi”). A- 

 

Salaguinto’t Salagubang | Narda | 2003
Smart Tagalog lyrics, one fan noted. That it’s easier to write songs in English may not be always true; that it’s easier to spot cheesy Tagalog lyrics is. And that’s one reason why Narda have always been a notch higher than other indie bands in the local scene who sound more British or Swedish. Time and time again, they’ve written indie-pop gems laced with memorable riffs, it also sounds good when they slap distortion on it (“Liwanag”). This more or less wraps up the songs and sounds of their three previous EPs. After “Meron Ba?” comes “Saan Na?” while “Jaywalker” recalls the vintage sound of Suwerte. A-

narda salaguinto

Narda photos by Rain Contreras.

Reviews: Cheats, Maude, December Avenue

Mozzarella Cheats!

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Cheats | Cheats | 2015 
Keyboards and female vocal harmonies to enliven old guitar pop/rock; grunge repurposed as rocking party music. Imagine life before Girls. Then, Girls entered the scene. Life became more complicated but also happier, more colorful, fun. Imagine Ernville, a generic sounding band with a generic sounding name. Then, Saab and Candy entered the scene. And then we got Cheats, probably the most exciting 7-piece band of the 2010s. And this debut, probably the greatest thing since pizza came sliced (“Newspaper Girl”, “Summer”, “Headfoam”). It’s meaty, tasty, maybe a few pineapple bits in there (depends on your tolerance for the Hawaiian variety—me I like ’em fine) but HOLY MOZZARELLA! it’s bursting with cheese! Heat this up in the oven whenever you’re “Drunk”, feel like a loser (“Acumen”), wish to take a day off and just sleep (“Sleepist”) or want to call out the animal inside of you (“Accidents”).

 

Pelota Court | Maude | 2014 
“Great for chill-out kind of road trip in the car with the windows rolled down” probably speaks of this album’s limited appeal—not good enough for singing along while/or washing dishes or doing the laundry—except maybe when you’re not really paying attention to it and thinking about the monthly bills. Or maybe this is supposed to be unobtrusive music for undistracted driving. Or maybe not. The stories are there. It’s just that the songs and the hooks aren’t there yet (“Takda”). B- 

 

Aurora | Maude | 2018 
Maybe it’s this: Maude’s supposed Manila Sound-inspired pop-rock is just a little too clean a little too straight for me. The good news is, it’s better than the first. Sometimes it’s the stories (“Lagnat”, “Baso”), sometimes it’s the songs (“Brownout”, “Will”). Sometimes it’s just chill-out unobtrusive music for undistracted browsing. Sure, theatrics could could get tiring in no time  (i.e., December Avenue). But so is unimpassioned storysinging—especially if your usual M.O. is embitterment. True stories, fiction, or both, don’t just tell ’em. You also have to give ’em the feels. B  

 

Langit Mong Bughaw | December Avenue | 2019
Is it just me, or the album cover of December Avenue’s Langit Mong Bughaw really looks like that of a worship album—or worse, songs for funeral services? Listen to “Intro” and tell me if it doesn’t feel like riding really slow and heavenly and cold at the same time. It may surprise some that this band has been around for more than a decade already. It took them five years to release their debut, which houses the lone Tagalog title “Eroplanong Papel”, which I deservedly dismissed—it’s not Sugarfree nor Typecast nor Silent Sanctuary (ca. Fuchsiang Pag-ibig). A competent emo-pop bar band, nothing more. Decent musicians, you’d wish they invest more on the songs than whatever tricks they have up their sleeves. Then, they actually did. Invest on the writing that is. And like the boy-best friend who’s always there, the less popular girl who got ditched for the prom queen, or the nerdy teen you never gave a chance, the band just move along until they finally find their darling listeners. Not the third gen emo crowd but YouTube/Spotify/WishFM one. “Kung ‘Di Rin Lang Ikaw” may be their most viewed hit but my vote goes to the song they released in 2017. And while I prefer the alternate title over the official one, I’m relieved that with YouTube/Google, no one’s going to get lost looking for “Hanggang Sa Dulo Ng Walang Hanggan”. So, you take it all, cheesy title included and immerse yourself in love/pain/whatever. Maybe someday, you’ll get sick of it all and finally learn to let go. This could definitely use a little more variation, something light, different (e.g., “Pink 5ive”, “Summer Song”), otherwise this would be of little use once you’ve finally moved on. B  

Reviews: Unique, Yurei, Ben&Ben, IV of Spades

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Grandma | Unique Salonga | 2018
Unique may have drawn first blood but this is hardly a win. Too early for him to brag about ‘money in the bag’ (“M”, “Cha-ching!”), for which the IVoS gave him the dreaded slow clap. Nothing here comes close to “Mundo”, nothing remotely as catchy as “Hey Barbara”. But that’s probably the point—he wants to burn ‘old disco’ (“Ozone”), cut any association with his former band. So, this has to be different, which doesn’t mean it’s good. He’s probably slightly better with lyrics than his ex-bandmates but this is also wanting. Whatever this lacks, without Zild on his side, he overcompensates—with synths. With no Blaster to provide him the funk, he wisely slows down the tempo, goes for quiet acoustic numbers. If only he could reach the depth he’s trying to reach (IVoS’s “I Ain’t Perfect” beats his “Midnight Sky” by a few inches). Emulations abound, with Beatles being the most obvious, probably late Arctic Monkeys too. But we only make do with emulations when we can’t afford or access what’s being emulated, which is nearly impossible to be impossible when you have a data plan. I’m sure my grandmother didn’t listen to this type of thing. And you don’t have to over-analyze his lyrics to find meanings which aren’t there. He’s just turned eighteen–as in legal–is all he’s really trying to say. C+

 

ClapClapClap! | IV of Spades | 2019
Unique leaving IVoS wasn’t probably as big as Ely Buendia ‘graduating’ from the Eraserheads though it also broke fans, like when Rivermaya lost Bamboo. The more accurate comparison I guess, is when Dennis split up with his brothers Jimmy and Vinggo and christened himself April Boy Regino (the other two continued as April Boys). Unlike the April Boys, IVoS didn’t even have an album yet before the split up. While Unique’s Grandma could be likened to Bamboo Manalac’s debut after he left Bamboo (No Water, No Moon: eclectic, boring), ClapClapClap! is hardly comparable to what Rivermaya had each time they were reduced to a trio (It’s Not Easy Being Green in ’99, Bagong Liwanag in ’07). The more accurate comparison would be Buhay, their first full length album with Jason Fernandez—scattershot but not without a few bright spots (“Come Inside of My heart”, “Dulo Ng Hangganan”). They may have lost the ‘old disco’ but with rehashed early 2k’s garage-funk (“Take That Man”) and new wave revival (“In My Prison”) you can still grind. All in all, the songs rise and fall with tempos, falsettos, and styles. There’s just too much here to wade through, too much to weed out. But not enough weed. B-

PS. If it’s true that it was the Autotelic/December Avenue fans who started the hate bandwagon online, I would also understand.

 

Limasawa Street | Ben&Ben | 2019 
A track or two could be played at a wedding. And they do dress look like a wedding band. But the best songs here are those which doesn’t say “happily ever after”. It sounded fresh when Up Dharma Down did something like this almost a decade ago. With Ben&Ben, it just sounds like the 2010’s version of the ’80s or early ’90s pre-Ultraelectromaneticpop (see: Bodjie’s Law of Gravity)—just with less synths, more strings, acoustic guitars. Great musicians no doubt, they’re reportedly great live, but one song featuring Ebe Dancel suspiciously sounds like one of the hits of the latter’s former band. They’re a decent singles band (“Kathang-Isip”, “Leaves”). And on this album they have few decent ‘single’ songs as well—songs specifically written for those who want to move on (“Mitsa”, “Tala-arawan”). B+ 

 

The Problem of Grunge in 2015, or How to Deal with Boredom and Other Stories, or Memoirs of My Nervous Condition, or The Navel-Gazer’s Guide to Confronting the Self, or Meditations On Life and Death in Metro Manila | Yurei | 2015 
That’s not the review yet, that’s just the title. Five long titles for an EP containing five short songs with one-word titles delivered at 320 kilobits per second. Possible problems with Windows: ‘file name is too long’, ‘the path is too long’. They don’t sound like Nirvana, I SWEAR! But their vocalist looks like a Japanese Kult Cobain. B  

Reviews: Megumi Acorda, Munimuni, Tiger Pussy, etc.

Roasted Tasty Crunchy

Unexpectedly | Megumi Acorda | 2018
“The sadder I get, the faster I drive”, sings Yan Yuzon on “Lost Guide”. If you don’t go by this rule, by which, I mean your speed isn’t directly proportional to your loneliness, then Megumi Acorda’s Unexpectedly might be a welcome company. At 17 minutes, this EP could be perfect for long drives for someone who has nothing to think about – on repeat (you could also add some of Megumi’s vaporwave tracks from YouTube or Soundcloud). Acorda’s ethereal voice melds with waves of guitars and echoes that you don’t have to learn every word – the songs conceal her lyrics’ sad simplicity. She’s in love in the first and unexpectedly or rather expectedly, heartbroken for the rest of the EP. In love or heartbroken, really makes no difference for the unrequited. She gives the feels, music provides the medium. Sad shoegaze music for long drives or wallpaper bedroom music that has actual songs in it. Well, I’m just happy the opening bars of “Ghost” remind of an old Crazy Horse song and that the song itself reminds of an old sad song I still can’t put a finger on. B+  

 

Norman Fucking Rockwell! | Lana Del Rey | 2019
Goddamn, man child / You fucked me so good that I almost said, “I love you”—is how you open a good soft rock record. A fucking good soft rock record. Was listening to this album in a while and at one point I thought if she’s gonna say ‘fuck’ two more times it’s gonna turn into Chocolate Starfish and Hotdog Flavored Water. *** 

 

People You Hate | Tiger Pussy | 2013
I thought Oh, Flamingo! narrows the gender gap. Though the boys play guitars and the girls, backbeat and rhythm. As the old adage goes, no one comes to shows for the drummer, much less the bass player (except maybe if they’re girls and one of them is Pat Sarabia). Well, wait till you see/hear Tiger Pussy because Jan Sunday doesn’t like relegating women to the back. And if you’re thinking you heard it all before—no, NOT exactly, the “drums are punchier, the structures trickier” (Christgau) and the songs are twenty-fold punkier than what’s in Dookie twenty years ago. Despite the genre’s supposed familiarity (three-chord, angst-ridden), this four-piece punk rock band from Cebu keeps you at your toes, keeps it interesting. Yes, they’re from Cebu, home to Urbandub, Sheila & the Insects and… that famous lechon (no, I wasn’t gonna say Cueshe but that’s also true). And having withdrawn from this type of music for quite long time now (and lechon as well–yes, I turned semi-vegan almost a year ago), Tiger Pussy’s People You Hate comes as a forceful, refreshing re-introduction to the loud, fast and spunky—that I’m tempted to, and therefore might as well, eat lechon again—if I’m given another crunchy tasty roasted chance. Jan Sunday and co. keep the ‘riot’ and the ‘grrr’ in their riot grrrl punk. A  

 

Simula | Munimuni | 2017
Self-proclaimed poets playing indie-folk with “deep, poetic lyrics” having people Brazilian-wax poetic over songs they themselves branded with their own genre “makata pop”. Self-limiting as promotion, niche marketing as label. What’s next–poems without words? Now that would be math-folk. Bullish or not, they have songs to show for it. And maybe you could give them a pass—these self-proclaimed poets who probably never read Bukowski—simply because they have a flutician, which is like having a DJ in the mix when your band plays nu-metal (“Bukang-Liwayway”, “Tanikala”). B+ 

 

For Princesses, By Thieves (O Mga Awit ng Hiraya Para sa Guni-guning Sinta) | Shirebound & Busking | 2019
No ‘Lloydy’. He’s no Frodo either. And if you’d ask a Star Wars die-hard, there’s only one “Return”. The opening track put a smile on my face like in some deleted scene from Avengers: Infinity War—I thought The Mountain Goats, almost. That smile didn’t last long unfortunately, as I waited for the next winner (“Miss Mosh”, “Waltz of Four Left Feet”). C+

Reviews: Oh, Flamingo!, Coeli, December Avenue, UDD, Cheats

2010’s stuff I missed

Oh, Flamingo! | Oh, Flamingo! | 2015
They have some really nifty guitar-indie pop, with some odd, maybe not African-inspired beats (maybe) that you’d wish they have something more interesting to say. Or at least, interesting way(s) to say them. Maybe their latest, “Parara”, “Naubos Na” were attempts in trying to do that. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking because, here’s a band Continue reading “Reviews: Oh, Flamingo!, Coeli, December Avenue, UDD, Cheats”

Eraserheads – Carbon Stereoxide (2001)

Eheads_carbonstereoxidecoverCarbon Stereoxide, Eraserheads’ last studio album, came out almost two years since their previous record—less than a year before Ely Buendia unceremoniously announced his “graduation”. For a band that put out new materials year in, year out, from 1993 to 1999, that twenty-two month gap and the resulting album was more or less telling, indicative of things to come.

It wasn’t really like they ran out of gas. Or fresh ideas. But harness them and produce something surprising and cohesive was something they weren’t able to do this time. It wasn’t like they’ve reach the end of the road either. They’re just not sure which way to go. The resulting album is decidedly difficult, dark, anticlimactic. At times, Carbon Stereoxide is more like a pilot episode for three upcoming acts: Ely Buendia’s The Mongols/Pupil, Marcus Adoro’s Surfernando/Markus Highway and Raymund Marasigan’s Squid9.

Maybe, Raymund and Buddy tried to keep things together. And wrote the hit Ely wouldn’t want to write anymore (“How Far Will U Go”). Buendia wanted guitar-rock and probably, less drum machine, less electronic bleeps. More specifically, Ely wanted “Teeth’s early Smashing Pumpkins guitars” (the best iteration of which, could be found on The Mongols’ Buddha’s Pest). Still, little new things sprung up here and there. Marcus Adoro’s Pink Floyd plug “Wala” and “Pula”, at least, offers something different. So do Squid9 guest-appearances every two or three songs.

Marcus finally had proper songs on this album; not just token noise-rock blargh (“Southsuperhighway”), fillers (“Punk Zappa”), or a weak album opener (“Bato”). Marasigan, who also wanted the ‘Heads to make electronic-rock album, like Kid A, guests as pre-Ink Jet Squid9. And he did what the band wouldn’t do full-time, did it on the side, the fillers (“Bloodtest”, “Ok Comprende”). They were slight detours, maybe stellar as parts, but detract from the whole. Of course, there’s Buendia’s “Outside” to make up for the whole album’s apparent lack of hooks.

Coming from Eraserheads, the album’s title as well as its cover art, seem like a momentary lapse of judgment—the stereo in stereoxide, almost cliche by the Eheads standard. (Remember the color coded stems on Natin99? Or the nude chick on the piano on Sticker Happy? Did anyone bother to deliberate the choice of title and album art?) But to say the same about the songs would be a stretch for sure. Carbon Stereoxide isn’t a bad record. But it’s also lacking in that whatever elevated their previous works.

By the time they made Carbon Stereoxide, the Eraserheads—Ely, Marcus, Buddy, Raymund—were twice the musicians that they were back when they were just starting out, back when they recorded their debut. But they’re also less than the band they used to be. And in Carbon Stereoxide, one can finally see the cracks, the seams, the spaces between them.

Rico Blanco – Galactik Fiestamatik (2012)

AlbumArt_GFAt the center of Galactik Fiestamatik, is someone sweating it out on the floor. All eyes on her – she doesn’t mind. The beat isn’t catchy, it’s hardly Macarena or whatever’s the latest fad. There’s something primeval about this, this ritual – Blanco seems to be saying. And so, the songs takes a more primitive form – like a proto-EDM, if there is such a thing. More than entertainment, art, or culture, dancing as a way to survive.

Rico Blanco takes elements from synth-pop, New Order, Bjork, David Bowie (esp. the way he promoted and toured for the album) and made them into a stripped down synth-rock record. It’s just keyboards, beats (no acoustic drums, bar a couple of tracks), and Blanco’s “dry” vocals. Still, this takes a lot from the Rico Blanco we knew since his days with Rivermaya: his songwriting, his knack for catchy choruses and memorable turn of phrase (e.g., Chismis – ang pambansang marijuana / Chismis – sumampalataya).

Though it opens with the seductively dark “Amats” (the video for which features #1 Crush Megan Young) and the digitized ways of breaking up and moving on “Burado,” Galactik Fiestamatik is hardly one would call “uneasy listening”. After two “difficult” numbers, Blanco makes it clear that, no, he’s not trying to make his own Kid A or The Lemon of Pink. But that is not to say the rest are all radio-friendly stuff. Hardly. Though I don’t know what’s considered radio-friendly nowadays, much less what’s keeping the radio DJ’s busy. I’d say Blanco has a handful here for the faithful. Songs one wouldn’t get from, say, AM, FM or internet radio.

In “Lipat Bahay,” easily the best cut off the album, Blanco catalogs an assortment of ephemera, relics and soon-to-be garbage found in his apartment. And he puts them in neat carton boxes of sing-along verses and basic chord patterns. There are pop culture relics (Star Wars bedsheet, “family computer” cartridges), semi-obscure stuff (Dominique Wilkins poster), and antiquities (typewriter, encyclopedia), some or most of them, alien to today’s kids.

While “Lipat Bahay” is full of “things” – tangible stuff that can be packed and sealed in a box – the song is really about the intangible things attached to them. The Circus CD signed by the Eraserheads isn’t just about the physical disc, but the band and their music as well, the memories he had with them. And while some of the stuff tells more about fandom (i.e., a Dominique Wilkins poster for the avid basketball fan, Return of the Jedi bedsheet for the Star Wars fan, the Circus CD, for the Eheads fan), “Lipat-Bahay” is really about memories, events, experiences he had in that apartment signified by those things sealed inside the box.

The time he lived in it, the tears he shed in the bedroom, the dust on the floor, his friends’ and family’s laughter that echoed through the walls, the way the light reflects on the ceiling on a quiet night – he’s gonna miss all of them. And he wants to bring them all. If only he could.

Hindi ko yata kayang iwanan ka.


Featured image from this website.

Soccer Mommy – Clean (2018)

Soccer MommyShe goes by the uncoolest of names. And she sometimes sings like she’s just woken up, still in her bed, softly strumming. Yes, but Soccer Mommy’s Clean is one of the best of the year. In fact, it’s probably my favorite record from 2018, ahead of Parquet Courts’ vibrantly “produced” (I prefer their lo-fi past) Wide Awake (as in “woke”).

Sophie Allison brings about hummable, candy coated melodies that’s both sour and sweet—like gum that colors your mouth, tongue and lips. But this isn’t just Taylor Swift pap with high school diary lyrics. Allison pours her heart out, yes, but this has teeth, blood, viscera in it, some Liz Phair there, some Sebadoh here. And I like the little surprises she brings by doing away with the usual song structures (i.e., “Still Clean” has this defective tape effects, “Cool” ends mid guitar solo).

Highlights include a song that describes “predatory” relationship in vivid details (“Still Clean”),  Allison wanting to be someone who’s “Cool”, someone who has a heart of coal, yet she don’t want to be someone’s fuckin’ dog (“Your Dog”). She also wants to be as good as her boyfriend’s ex (“Last Girl), wants to be his stoner girl. The best cuts is where she finally learns that she doesn’t need to be someone else (“Scorpio Rising”), finally learns to let go (“Wildflower”) and that, according to Christgau, good sex won’t solve everything–but good sex is good. Well, this album, too.

Moira dela Torre – Malaya (2018)

download (2).jpgOne could probably understand why Regine Velasquez was seemingly annoyed that in one TV show where she’s judge, jury and executioner, so many aspiring singers try so hard to get that Moira effect, the kind of airy, whisper-y, sleep-inducing soothing voice, that makes insomnia-cure heaven out of soft-strummed guitar or ukulele. Everyone wants to be like Moira. She’s the flavor of the month. But given the decades she’s been in the industry, Regine should’ve understood, things like this happen all the time. In the 90s, bands and labels were after the Seattle sound: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, anything with distortion and teenage angst. Locally, it’s anything like Eraserheads (good luck with that), anything alternatib. In the 00s, it was The Strokes and the rest of the The The bands. Even during her prime, I’m sure a lot of aspiring singers wanted to be able to birit like Regine. Like it was some gold standard or something. But then maybe, part of her gripe isn’t just the fact the there are so many Moiras, perhaps it’s also that that Moira is a so-so artist for others to emulate—aside from being a so-so judge as some people say. Not sure about Moira being so-so. Maybe she’s like Yeng Constantino. Maybe not. That is, it’s too early to say. Too early to dismiss her. But this: Malaya, her full length debut is a so-so record. Containing 13 cuts, the best songs in Malaya are tucked in the end, treated as if they’re bonus tracks (Sundo, Torete, Titibo-tibo). And probably they are, since most people heard and knew them already, from the internet, radio or TV. Another highlight is “Tagpuan”, which you might probably first heard in a movie. Outside of the usual suspects, the album offers not so much. Moira is in her usual MO (We & Us, Tagu-taguan) more often than not (Before It Sinks In).

Ang Bandang Shirley – Themesongs (2008)

a0640265112_16Themesongs isn’t really as great, much less original, as all those millennial kids who raved about it before would have you believe. Musically, it’s mostly just second-hand twee. But the songs are playful, quirky, they’d make you wanna jump, dance or chase around your hun and give him/her your tweest embrace when you catch him/her. And the lyrics, the Tagalog lyrics, well, that’s what elevates this from all other local indie-pop peeps, and somehow justifies them using a name from a song by the Eraserheads.

I mean, Ciudad didn’t call themselves Torpedo or Butterscotch, Itchyworms didn’t call themselves Scorpio Rising, Orange & Lemons didn’t go by Milk & Money, and Ebe Dancel, even though a big Eheads fan, named his band so because he’s Diabetic. Oh, well, whatever. Only Owel Alvero, Selena Salang, et al had the gall. Anyways, what I’m trying to say is, attaching Eraserheads to their band name was a risky move. I know some people didn’t like it.

If I remember correctly, there were some dismissive comments on their music video for “Sa Madaling Salita” on YouPorn. Still, I think having “Shirley” in their name quite worked for them, Owel Alvero and rest of the gang. “Sa Madaling Salita” is also quite good. The music video, not much, though at least it’s not as off-putting as Up Dharma Down’s “Turn It Well.” Also, bonus points for the band for putting the words “dumadanak ng dugo” in a love song.

Where was I? Yes, the lyrics. Ah, Patintero. Have you ever wonder before why the girls, when they started hitting puberty, they would stop playing games like Patintero (or anything that requires touching and running) or if they’d still do, their very strict lola or old maid tita would scold them and damn them to hell? Hmm… exactly. Kung ika’y aking mahuli, di ko kagad masasabi / kung ano ang una kong gagawin sa’yo. Well, he definitely knows what he’s going to do next, but it’s this kind of playfulness in the lyrics that makes the songs in Themesongs work.

Then, there’s the title track where the lovers wait for their would be theme song. Because, you know, it isn’t always like the movies, where the perfect love song plays in the background the moment the girl says “Oo.” That’s cute. But do girls still say “Oo” nowadays? I don’t know. Maybe they use some other phrases, slang or colloquial terms. Or maybe just plain lazy phrases like “wala lang” or “iyong”?

The best song here, “Tsuper Duper”, is probably the closest they have for a crossover hit. Y’know, like crossover from Nu107 to Love Radio, that kind of thing. (I know there’s a longer title but “Tsuper Duper” has better recall like ABBA’s “Super Trooper” and the best longest song title award is already taken.) And it’s probably the most Ely Buendia-ish and Stephen Malkmus-y song Owel Alvero has ever written. The moment they shouted “Solo na!” just before the guitar solo echoes Pavement’s “And they’re coming to the chorus now,” which, of course, Malkmus sings just before the song’s chorus.

There’s something in Themesongs—I don’t know—a kind of knowing or self-awareness that’s missing in their other albums. And you know what, second-hand twee or not, I’d give this one a blowjob just for this song title alone: “Kagabi Nanaginip Si Morrissey Na May Nagmamahal Sa Kanya.” It’s hardly album of the year material but it’s definitely worth a spin.

 

Ang Bandang Shirley – Tama Na Ang Drama (2012)

29784385_800_800Now this, is Album Of The Year material. Probably the most exciting local indie-rock record from the 2010’s. This sophomore effort is said to be more collegial, mature and sophisticated than the debut. The band, easily averting the proverbial sophomore slump—if there is still such a thing. All this, according to the fans, critics, and critics/fans.

The only problem is, I can’t find that same album the local tastemakers so raved about. Sure, there are hummable melodies in here, a few fuzzed and fast, if predictable tunes, and one sad song about a huge mass of slow moving river of snow. Compared with their debut, the songs on Tama Na Ang Drama are generally slower, longer, mellower, more polished—none of these, directly equates with, better. And between the strategically placed A-sides, are uninspired throwaways, redundant B-sides, and one remake that’s largely unnecessary (“Saan Na,” previously by Narda).

There are hummable melodies, LSS-inducing even, in the breezy, if lyrically-challenged “Wala Lang” and “Iyong.” There’s that, then there’s throwaway half-assery (“Distansya,” “Ewan Ko”). There’s also an irresistibly catchy chorus in “Nakauwi Na,” where the deceptively simple metaphor and sing-song quality makes up for the sleep-inducing opening verse, which reminds me of one of the best jokes in Erik Matti’s Pedro Penduko: The Return of the Comeback, the “Tabuknon” scene. Could they not get someone better for that part? Janno Gibbs would smirk and roll his eyes for sure.

Best song off the album award goes to “Glacier,” a mid-tempo miracle of a song that’s also moving. Like a sad romantic movie. And bittersweet, like shrapnel-coated chocolate. Consistent with the album’s boom and bust track sequence, the best song is followed by the worst (“Acid Reflux”), at least for its obvious lyrics (which makes one imagine and equate bad romance with peptic ulcer), second-hand Fatal Posporos vibe, and, uhm, acid reflux-inducing cheap Santana riff.

A couple more notable cuts: “Single Bed,” which should have followed “Glacier” for maximum effect, the line about “scratching one’s back” notwithstanding, and the Ang Nawawala crowd and fan-favorite “Di Na Babalik,” with its sad movie-ending feels. But before you get to them, you have to wade thru B-sides (“Baliktad”, “Pait,” “Taksil”) that are just redundant, if not obligatory, songs that don’t say any thing “Masamang Damo” or that Morrissey song haven’t said before.

Tama Na Ang Drama, despite its title being self-referential, isn’t really self-reflexive like Themesongs. The best tracks here, they’re probably more sincere than those in the first. But the whole album is also lacking a center, a unified sound or theme. It just alternates between good and bad, the mediocre and passable. You upvote the better tracks, downvote or skip the next fillers, or just pick a few choice cuts for your playlist.

Chumped – Teenage Retirement (2014)

teenageChumped’s Teenage Retirement is for the young and restless, even the young at heart, those who dance to punk, power pop, anything with fuzz as long as its fast, melodic, those who love getting drunk with friends, talk about their “shitty” lives, teenage woes. It’s an unhealthy mix of broken hearts, drunken nights, wasted time, melodic punk and emo. Perfect picture of bad health, according to one Green Day song. They may sound a bit like Paramore but they take much much more from their heroes—among them Weezer and Superchunk—more than they do second-hand post-hardcore stuff. And no, Anika Pyle doesn’t agonize and yells as much as Hayley girl does. And while Superchunk and Weezer may be their heroes, I guess this all goes back to Boston—Massachusetts, not the band (i.e., More Than A Feeling). Because every time I play “December…” I can’t help but hear Joey Santiago and Kim Deal. And whether it transcends emo-punk or not, “The Pains of Being…” with its sparse lyrics (We get older / Time moves faster / You stay the same) and intertwining guitars that echoes both Pavement and Built To Spill, is probably the album’s most repeat-worthy track. And it breaks my heart that they’ve already called it quits, in same way that my 16 year-old self bleeds a little bit every time she sings “I’m looking at you / You’re looking through me / I would wait for you all summer long and / you would turn me away.” I, WE all know how that feels.

Razorback – Hebigat Sounds Volume One (1995)

hebigatHebigat Sounds sounds fine–but Inuman Sessions Vol.1 would have been more apt for this debut from Razorback. From the opening motif of “Tabi Ng Bulkan” to that riff that’s played repeatedly and ends “Diwata,” Razorback delivers bad-ass goods—equal parts booze, rock & roll—but not much else. “Stand by…rolling.” Self-reflexivity: Check. I took one bottle, poured half in my glass. It’s bitter. And sweet. Kevin Roy started singing about stuff: misadventures, a drinking buddy of his, among other things. But the band kicked arse mainly via the one-two punch of David Aguirre and Tirso Ripoll. Riffs, motifs and licks, after, over, and within riffs, motifs and licks. Imagine that.

I emptied the bottle. Dumped two cubes on the head. Before he could finish his fifth song, Kevin Roy must’ve been drunk already. He sang the same verse over and over. I took another bottle. Then another. And another. The band played the same verse about three times, the same chorus, three times. They must’ve been smashed already. Man, that song would have been finished two minutes ago. Damn! Then, I reached the bucket for another. This bottle’s already warm. The ice bucket was empty. A girl in black shirt showed up and took it. Then, I went to the bath room, tried to keep my balance as I walk carefully past tables and chairs. My feet following the beat from Louie Talan’s bass and Miguel Ortigas’ pounding rhythm. I heard Kevin Roy talk about things again—beer, jazz, ganjazz, another friend—all shallow stuff, “coño stuff”, including his baño song. I’m not really complaining. You play this for the riffs, the guitars. If you want songs, you’re better off some place else. (There’s more songwriting involved in their sophomore effort Beggar’s Moon.)

I was already having tamang amats by the time I went home. Before I sleep that night, I remember that fair lady in black with a pretty smile. She took that ice bucket and never came back. Then, I woke up with a supermassive hangover. My head hurt and felt ten times heavier. Hebigat, indeed. Damn, never gonna drink again.

Tubero – Kupal Destroyer (2018)

tubero

Tubero Brings Heavy Honest Pure Metal Music To The Fore

There’s no beating around the bush, no matter how thick the bush may be. They play hard, erect and direct. With songs the starts and expires as fast as one can say “Mamatay Ka Na,” titles that could make blush even the likes of Boy Sullivan and Andrew E. (“Kevin Tuwad,” “Makapal Ang Bulbol Mo,” “Walang Panty,” Continue reading “Tubero – Kupal Destroyer (2018)”

Moonstar88 – This Year (2012)

thisyearThis Year, Moonstar88’s answer to their fans, is either a long EP or a short LP. Or rather it’s more like a second disc to a repackaged Todo Combo. Only you don’t have to purchase the same album again (in case you already have) just to get the bonus disc. Nor their label needs to repackage that album to sell more, because it has already sold out. And while I initially thought of this as a teaser to their next full length, it is actually not. This is their new full length album, their first in five years. Reportedly, it took them two years to finish recording. Counting the songs, they came up with only half as much as those in its predecessor. Sound-wise, they just stuck with what works in Todo Combo. Some may call it staying in the comfort zone. But I think being a little too adventurous were among the pitfalls of their first two albums. Go check their songs “Gilid” and “Ligaw”, if you like what you hear, the rest of this mini-album would hardly disappoint. Mini-album—wow, that’s so K-Pop.

(Re-posted from my old blog.)

Kiko Machine – Kiko Machine (2004)

000 kikomachine - copyThe lads of Kiko Machine, indie/comedy/rock band composed of Fine Arts students from UP, aren’t very fine, to say the least. Not only do they idolize a second-rate moustachioed matinee, they also dream to be on the cover of Pulp magazine, and if all else fail, they’ll do everything to become boldstars. Musically, I’ll put them somewhere behind PNE, together with, though not as popular as Kamikazee. They’re funnier than Giniling Festival and definitely better than Rocksteddy. Their music maybe just as derivative as anyone mentioned above, but their gimmicks and ticks are definitely their own – from wearing costumes (their bassist dons a Spider-man costume), to rousing live performances (see their Youtube videos), to the wildly imaginative album cover and songs full of wry college humor and TV nostalgia. And underneath all the gimmickry and raucous live performances, are remarkably well-written songs. Songs that primarily evokes adolescent and post-adolescent memories spent in front of the boob tube – raving about and imitating those TV shows – be it an afternoon soap, Sunday morning cartoons or late night series. Theirs is a generation that grew-up watching Batibot, Aguila, McGyver, Takeshi’s Castle and WWF and they’re proud of it. No wonder that their best songs, aside from “Gabi”, are inspired by these TV shows. And that song about McGyver is definitely one funny gem (Suka at toyo, kayang gawing bomba / Lumang tubo, kayang gawing bazooka / Lumang bumbilya nagagawang granada).

Image taken from this blog.

tide/edit – All My Friends (2018)

Is this where it all starts to bleed together? Is this where it all starts to sound the same? I’m mean those towels hanging on the cover of IDEAS. Towels, ideas, songs—spin them thrice in the washing machine and colours will bleed for sure. Ditto with these tunes, tracks, songs.

After Lightfoot, I have little use for song titles. Without the lyrics, will I be able to easily tell Track 1 from Track 3? This one’s like a less catchy that. That, is a far superior version of this. This one doesn’t evoke Feeling A the same way Track X does in the first. The first one is X2, which is equal to A. The second is B – 1, which is 2X2 / 3 or less. What about strong melodies? Is there enough to carry on down to the twelfth track? But “strong” is subjective. What sound strong to others might still seem weak to me.

Strong powder detergents (i.e., Tide), however, could wear the colours of the fabric really fast. And by their third album, I found tide/edit’s sound kind of thinning out. The colours faded and the distinction between each track, somewhat as blurry as clothes—undies, socks, shirts—whirling inside the tub. I’d give Lightfoot A for effort and C for delivery. Early delivery. For All My Friends, I’d give it the benefit of the doubt and two and a half pouch of Ariel with fabric conditioner. ‘Cause every time I play it, it leads me to the band’s earlier stuff. And by earlier stuff, I mean Foreign Languages, the band’s evocative full-length debut. 

tide/edit – Foreign Languages (2014)

Math makes the intangible tangible, defines the imaginary, helps explain what seems to be, well, unexplainable—like our universe. With Foreign Languages, indie-rock quartet tide/edit does something—not exactly opposite—different. The tunes in Foreign Languages, they aren’t easy to describe or explain—not that one needs to—yet they could easily capture one’s attention and/or imagination.

tide/edit’s music has been labeled as post-rock, math-pop, indie-rock. The members of tide/edit just want to call it “happy music”—label that belies the songs’ complexity, the dexterity in which they are played. Also, “happy” is not just a bit reductive. Sure, most of the tracks are, particularly “Nicholas” and “Another Yes,” but not “HAIYAN” or “Odd & Even.” But we should all be happy for this singer-less, almost faceless band—their music has gained traction online and offline, their first full-length album Foreign Languages (ditto with their succeeding LPs) is also released overseas, via Japan’s Friends of Mine Records—not a minor achievement for this quartet from Manila.

tide/edit’s brand of instrumental rock, as on Foreign Languages, is probably best described with anecdotes, images, places. Sans lyrics, the listener is invited to fill the gaps—emotions, thoughts, scenic views, old photographs. It’s like watching the beautiful sunset on the way back home, or being stuck in traffic on the way to the airport, amidst a tropical storm. It’s like moments of hope, bliss, loneliness, nostalgia, longing, trapped between your ears, locked inside your headphones. Sometimes it’s sad, beautiful.

Parokya ni Edgar – Khangkhungkherrnitz (1996)

albumart_khangkhungkherrnitzBefore comedy bars became the favorite hangout of your wannabe-cool titas, who were never really into bands, frats or gangs (and therefore, were never really cool in the first place), the bar/band shenanigans were exclusively aimed for drunk and stoned college kids who were into bands, strippers, and booze. They’re the ones who’ll later turn into yuppies and sing-drunk to Radiohead’s “Creep” with Tagalog lyrics in company parties and karaoke bars.

The title alone is indicative enough how much veggie rolls this sextet has consumed. Of course, TVJ is one of their role models and Tough Hits is the blueprint they patterned this from. And since they’re three heads harder than the aforementioned trio, the goof numbers are sandwiched between original songs and the parodies come in full form.

Radiohead’s first hit became “Trip”, a tale about addiction to siopao made in Shaolin House, one less punky The Clash number became “The Crush”, and “Tatlong Araw” was supposedly borrowed from Yano’s “Mc Jo”. Sophomoric, here, is a compliment and if you want more proof, go to “Karaoke ni Edgar”, it’s killer-filler-fun (Sample lyrics: Okey ka sana, kaso lang, lalake ka).

And the originals are no less catchy and memorable (“Buloy”, “Maniwala Ka Sana”) since the other group they look up to is no other than the Eraserheads. If Stephen Malkmus and Spiral Stairs once made up a story about getting into a fight while auditioning for Beverly Hills, 90210, PNE made a song about trying it out for the Tuesday Edition of Kuya Germs’ That’s Entertainment.

Up to this day, I’m still apprehensive about playing “Lutong Bahay” really loud, that my neighbors, elderly folks, mothers, from Batangas and elsewhere, would find the play on cuss words (putang ina mo and puking ina mo) and innuendos offensive, disrespectful (Ako’s lalayas sa amin—upang makatikim—ng puta(heh) ng ina mo, cooking ng ina mo–oh). That Darius Semana’s mother, who hails from Lipa Batangas, is probably cool with and even proud of it, I find a bit comforting.

Still, a song about eating your girlfriend’s mother’s special pancake in the morning isn’t something your girlfriend and her mother would want to hear—in the car, in a party or in family gatherings—though they most probably wouldn’t mind if newer songs like “Peacock”, Flo Rida’s “Whistle” or “Versace on the Floor” are on your playlist. But that’s okay, you can always put your head-phones on, and LOL yourself into oblivion.