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.