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-
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-
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-
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-
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 released each time they were reduced to a trio (It’s Not Easy Being Green in ’99, Bagong Liwanag in ’07). Maybe, the more precise comparison would be Buhay, Maya’s first full length album with Jason Fernandez—scattershot but not without a few bright spots (“Come Inside of My heart”, “Dulo Ng Hangganan”). And though they lost the ‘old disco’ fans can still grind with rehashed early 2k’s garage-funk (“Take That Man”) and a few other rehashed stuff. 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.
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’y 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.
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
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. Emulations abound, the Beatles obviously, 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 kind of stuff. 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. B-
Shorter, more coherent 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. B-
Kamikazee – Kamikazee (2002) Buruguduystun minus the funny fillers–that’s OK, the gags are in the songs (Susuntukin ko ang kili-kili mo). Parokya Ni Edgar only punkier, heavier, ballsier, more profane: PU–tangina nasan ang chinelas ko? Ballsy enough to make fun of and at the same time celebrate angry nu metal (“Chinelas,” “Turon”). You don’t have to take it too seriously, they seem to say. What separates them from the pack of angsty bands with downtuned guitars? They’re self-aware. They also know fortune and fame isn’t all (“Lucky”). Their melodic-hardcore/pop-punk doesn’t suck either (“Mmm Sarap”, “Girlfriend”). That insufferable Ariel Rivera ballad we all thought was beyond redemption? Salvaged with a rollicking cover. A-
Kamikazee – Maharot (2006) Just when I thought they knew when to trim that which needs trimming — the length of their songs, the number of tracks — they got overly cocky. Maybe because they knew they got surefire hits long before this CD hits the record store. That is, months before Eula Valdez grace the cover of Maharot, and before the band would complain that they always use up all their load to vote for their own songs to push them up the radio/music channel charts, some of these songs (“Narda,” “Chiksilog,” and “Sobrang Init”) were already crowd favorites, partly because Angel Locsin plays sexy superheroine on GMA7, partly because the kids play Ragnarok, but mainly because these songs were catchy as hell. With 14 cuts and an hour long (excluding bonus materials), this is more padded than their debut, and definitely could use a trim. But in an industry that doesn’t allow for B-sides to exist, can’t really blame them if they insist in putting in every inch of their, um, this whatever they are offering here. B+
Kamikazee – Long Time Noisy (2014) Paulit-ulit man, ‘di ka pagsasawaan — in love, um, relationship, yes. In punk/rock, not all the time (see [late] Ramones, Rancid, RHCP, or Parokya Ni Edgar — those who made the same album over and over). Small changes, little variations, some innovations are welcome, though not always to be expected. So, is this more of the same? Yes, but they’re still good at what they do best (“Ikaw,” “Unang Tikim,” “4:20,” “Hot Mami”), and they even came up with with bad-ass tribute to FrancisM. And? They’re still bad at trimming that which needs trimming — the long noisy non-killers and fillers. B+
Sugarfree – Sa Wakas (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 fourth line. And then mercilessly 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. It’s like cycling thru the five stages of grief, but you’re stuck between acceptance and denial for the most part. Sugarfree write songs about love that will make you swear never to fall ever again. And yet also tells you how sad it is to be alone (“Mariposa”) — among other things: depression (“Insomya”), growing old (“Fade Away”), and the glory days of pre-videocall telebabad (“Telepono”), which also tells us incidentally, how technology can connect and disconenct us — from other people, from reality. Years before Junot Diaz’s The Cheater’s Guide to Love, Ebe Dancel sings about love that would linger on long after it ended (“Burnout”). With a simple last-minute switch from past to future tense, Ebe gave us that immortal the half-life of love is forever. A
Sugarfree – Dramachine (2004) How’s this different from their first? Ebe wrote more distorted riffs into his Dramachine, which Mitch Singson answered with prolly his best works on drums yet. Or ever. Including his works with Ciudad, yes. And the best songs here are punchier, maybe more immediate for a wider audience (“Sinta,” “Tulog Na”). Ebe’s self deprecating humor (“Hari Ng Sablay”) works better here than in the one about cheating on the first album. There’s nothing here that matches the heartaches of “Unang Araw” and “Burnout,” but there’s one about moving on (“Kwarto”) and finding what makes one truly happy (Natagpuan ko na ang tunay kong papaya). And it also have that giddy as first date “Prom.” A–
Sugarfree – Tala-Arawan (2006) Sugarfree returns with a more restraint third album. With less distorted guitars, slower tempos, more silence and spaces and more introspection. Older, wiser. “Dear Kuya” is the perfect AT&T jingle it never was. “Kung Ayaw Mo Na Sa Akin” is “Burnout” for the mid-aughts irony; “Huling Gabi” is Before Sunrise to “Unang Araw.” There’s probably little here that they haven’t covered before, but they sure could write about them again. Some deeper, some at least as good as before. Ebe cycles thru losing, finding, pining, searching, waiting, to finally finding that someone (“Kailan Ka Ba?” “Ikaw Pala”). And I swear it’s way way way way way way way way way way way way way way better than that duet by Bryan Adams and Barbra Streisand. Btw, “Barbra Streisand” is a good song. A
Sugarfree – Mornings & Airports (2009) This is Sugarfree’s Sticker Happy. Not only that the songs sound and feel more varied/different/adventurous than before, but also in that the songs aren’t about things easily relatable to teens and twenty-somethings anymore. These songs are about mornings, airports, twin beds, being hungry, sleepy, the life on the road, the constant gigging, the demands of being in a successful band. Even “Wala Nang Hihilingin” hints on an intermittent LDR due to out of town gigs. Well, not all the songs are, really. Some songs are still about heartbreaks and stuff. It’s just that, whenever Ebe threads the same old narratives, it takes a little longer to get there this time. Side A is as solid as on any of their previous outings (“Feels Like”, “Patawad”) but Side B is kinda meh, save for “Form Factor.” B+
Sugarfree – 100% Greatest Hits (2011) I remember calling the label’s (office?) number once, asked if there were still remaining copies of the repackaged second album, and the person on the line told me that initially, there were plans to reissue the band’s albums, in time for the band’s farewell tour. But since that would take more time, effort, money — y’know, reprinting CDs, sleeves, etc. — they ended up going for this. Which is very much worth it if you don’t own all their albums, especially the first three, but pretty worthless if you do. Hastily, lazily, thrown together for the sole reason of you-know-what — this is a prime example of that. I can do without the overly sentimental “Makita Kang Muli,” one of the two songs here not penned by the band. And I can forgive the lack of imagination (the brown envelop cover art, the title) but not the obvious lack of love and care. If they bothered to include the Apo cover, why not their cover of Eraserheads’ “Tikman”? Why not include those rare tracks they used to insert back when repackaging was a hot trend? Why not include that rare gem “Cuida”? Or the alternate/live versions of “Burnout” and “Mariposa”? Sure, this has all of their best-known hits, but a lot of their best songs are also missing: “Fade Away”, “Ikaw Pala”, “Kailan Ka Ba?” “Patawad,” just to name a few. 100% Greatest Hits? More like 100% Cash Grab is what it is.
Juana – Misbehavior (2005) I would’ve seen them live one time they opened for Rivermaya — had I come early. But I was late, always late to the party. Late to seek this underappreciated mid-aughts little gem. Late to catch this “Reyna Ng Quezon City” back when she was still queen. By the time I got into them, the band wasn’t Juana anymore — the singer left, their name changed, etc. By the time I looked for their CD, I had to do search & rescue in the remaining record stalls in the malls, meet scalpers, join online second-hand CD groups. What did I miss to have on CD? Turns out, plenty. The minor hits “Ikaw Pa Rin,” “Goodbye,” “Pansinin Mo,” and more. “Connected” is your lost ’90s teenage anthem (I am a lost cause I am a zero / Always the victim and never the hero). “Jealous,” another upbeat number, about a bitchy coworker. In “This Year,” Shirley de Guzman does better than Chantal Kreviazuk, whose earlier version of the song appeared on the Serendipity OST. Whether it’s anticipation, yearning or maybe even desperation — mas ramdam mo ‘yung kanta sa version ng Juana. Mas may gigil din ‘yung tugtugan nila. ‘Yung kay Chantal parang medyo tinatamad pa s’ya eh. A-
Kitchie Nadal – Kitchie Nadal (2004) See how a single song, a Koreanovela, massive airplay, and poster girl for-cover art helped this turn “megaplatinum” — though probably not in a Nina Live! sort of way. Or see how its success made the label execs/artist management finally realize how to market female rockers: relaunch their careers as solo acts, double-bill ex-Band X and ex-Band Y in concert, and expect windfall from the huge amount of goodwill. Because everybody loves female rockers/singers/songwriters/bandleaders — except when you’re jealous, or just a hater. We’re not even talking about the product endorsements and TV ads that followed. But but but the rest of this album rarely inspire nor evoke the same energy as the famous Koreanovela/radio hit — yes, the one with Onemig Bondoc cameo in the MV. “Run” and “Same Ground” do suffice respectively, as the forgotten first single and obligatory but solid follow-up, but the rest don’t quite stir up as much. Don’t like it when she gets preachy (“Bulong”) but I do like that she strains her cords in the final track, “Fire” — something this album could definitely use a little more of. B
Session Road – Suntok Sa Buwan (2004) Competent bar band with a few songs to show for (“Suntok Sa Buwan,” “Cool Off”) and at least a couple of cuts, betraying their influences. Regretfully theirs or not, “Leaving You” borrows not only its I-ii-iii-IV from “Garmonbozia” (the song, not the creamed corn from Twin Peaks), but also its hook. Sure, it is its own thing, as with the rest. But the whole LP also kind of drags, esp. after blasting your speakers with Superdrag. B-
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. A
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
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-
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+
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
Years 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!
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 wrote 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 (“Burnout”). With a simple last-minute switch from past to future tense, Ebe gave us that immortal ‘the half-life of love is forever.’ A
You 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 20 years ago. Despite the genre’s supposed familiarity, 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 a 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 ‘grrr’ and the ‘riot’ in their riot grrrl punk. A
The 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.
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 band. The surest point of reference then would be Spiral Stairs “Painted Soldiers” and its music video where Nina Gordon and Louise Post took over Pavement after the dissolution of the band. A-
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 narrowing the gender gap among other things (i.e., they got a cute girl drummer). You thought Two Feet was that good? Idk, I liked Go F*ck Yourself better. **
“Under a Bluer Sky” reminds me of Cynthia Alexander. But it’s not the real highlight in Coeli’s 4-track EP Here Today. It’s the nearly six-minute “Magkaibigan o Magka-ibigan”, a modern kundiman about, well, read the title again. Despite clocking at 5:50, which makes it the second longest song in the EP (the shortest is 4-minute plus btw), the song has an LSS-inducing chorus that just gets more LSS-inducing with repeated listening. A-
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+
“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 song I still can’t put a finger on. B+
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
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-
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
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-
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-
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. **