Matigas Paniwalaan

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Eraserheads’ Sticker Happy Turns 20

They called themselves Eraserheads. They took it from David Lynch’s surreal horror film, which was released in 1977, the same year Punk exploded. Eraserheads took off in 1993, two years after Nirvana and grunge broke into the mainstream. Apparently, Lynch’s film was still popular among late ’80s – early ’90s film school circles. Punk, on the other hand, was on the verge of another revival. The Eraserheads were never punk, though they flirted with punk and discord more than once (i.e., Insomya). What they surely had in abundance though, especially in their early days, was “punk attitude”. Twenty years after David Lynch’s film debut came Sticker Happy. And twenty years later, the girl in front of the upright piano still has her back on us, but that’s OK—the songs are still sticky, colorful. We, the fans, happy.

Wala lang. 20th anniversary kasi ng paborito kong album na Sticker Happy. Oo, tama yung may nakahubad na babae sa cover. Wala na sigurong mas iconic pa dito. Kahit yung cover na paborito kong Abbey Road (yung LP ha, at hindi yung EP na may “The” sa title)? Walang sinabi yun. Pero di tulad ng Pavement, Radiohead at Nirvana walang inilabas na re-issue o special edition ng Sticker Happy (ganun din naman yung mga naunang albums ng ‘Heads). Samakatuwid, walang Wowee Zowee: Sordid Sentinel Edition o Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe and Reduxe. Pero OK lang, pwede namang magpatugtog ng mga live recordings nila circa Sticker Happy mula sa baul ni Schizo (unfortunately, wala palang bootlegs sa mga panahong iyon).

Mahirap i-describe ang mga kanta ng Eraserheads. May mga kantang malungkot ang tema, pero masaya. Maganda ang melody pero maingay din kung minsan. Pangkaraniwan ang boses ni Ely, di tulad nina Bamboo o Axl Rose, pero kakaiba ang dating ng mga kanta nila. Hindi masyadong teknikal, pero magaling. Madaling sakyan pero hindi baduy. Pero ibang usapan na pagdating sa Sticker Happy. Mas mahirap i-describe. Lalo na yung sound nila. Heto lang masasabi ko: medyo bastos yung “Kaliwete”, wasak yung “Ha Ha Ha”, walang sense ang “Kananete”, at di pa rin ako sigurado kung 100% sincere si Ely sa “Para sa Masa”. Maganda yung “Milk and Money” at “Andalusian Dog”, parehong lumang kanta na binigyan nila ng panibagong areglo, pero ayoko nang himayin pa kung anong sinasabi nila sa kanta.

Sa kabila nito, may isang kanta dito na simple lang, pero malalim. Hindi sya maingay, walang masyadong gaheto—distortion man o sampler—pero mabigat. Tungkol ito sa love, tungkol sa faith. Tungkol sa mga bagay na akala natin ay totoo, pero malalaman natin na hindi pala. Mga bagay na pinaniwalaan natin dati. Napag-usapan namin dati yung line na “someone up there is waiting with arms open wide and smiling”. Sabi ko, ang pagkakaintindi ko, tungkol ito sa mga trapo, na tunay na tao lang pag malapit na ang eleksyon. Sabi ng kaibigan ko hindi, si Jesus ang tinutukoy sa kantang yun. Napaisip ako noon. Malalim pa sa balon. ‘Yung linyang “suffering is what you get for living” naman, nito ko rin lang lubos na naintindihan. May mga nabasa ako tungkol sa spirituality, sa Buddhism, sa Tuesdays with Morrie na parang umaayon dito. Ganun na din ang mga pagkahaba-habang pelikula ni Lav Diaz. Naalala ko tuloy nung minsang napanood ko yung Melancholia. Tapos kinabukasan umuwi ako sa amin. Habang nasa bus, narinig ko yung “Gusto Ko Lamang Sa Buhay” ng Itchyworms. Muntik na akong mapaluha. Sa unang pagkakataon matapos mapanood ang walong oras na pelikula ni Lav Diaz, nakaramdam ako ng tuwa. It’s hard to explain. Matigas ipaliwanag. Basta, maganda yung kanta.

 

Ang mga larawan ay hiniram lamang sa Facebook page ng ERASERHEADS : The Greatest Filipino Band Ever(Believe it or else.) na nilikha naman ni ACIII. This blog entry is brought to you by the numbers 6 and 9 and by the letter Ng.

Buddha’s Pest (The Mongols, 2004)

mongbudGot Buddha’s Pest few months ago—got it pre-loved, second-hand, from eBay. As advertised, it is in mint condition. The CD inserts, with production notes and lyrics, are still intact—means the previous owner really took good care of it. It’s quite amusing though, that the liner notes come with directions and precautions, warning about the dangers in playing it loud and listening closely. That at full volume, it is no different from the red pill that could lead you down the rabbit hole; that it’s as potent as any mind-altering substance that could trigger mental time travel or worse, disorient and fuck the brain.

Buddha’s Pest is Jesus “Dizzy” Ventura’s (a.k.a. Ely Buendia) first proper release, post-Eraserheads; The Mongols, his first formal band since “graduation”. Like the five-track EP Fraction of A Second, which was sold in their gigs in CD-R format, Buddha’s Pest is also self-produced by the band, released via their own Criminal Records, but under a major label imprint for wider distribution. Much like Teeth’s unintended swan song I Was A Teenage Tree, Buddha’s Pest  is criminally underrated.

Quite interesting that The Mongols open the album with repeated sampled noises (which echoes, whether intentional or not, the electronic beats and loops from the Heads’ last outing), before kicking the flood gates open with “The Keeper”. What follows is a string of tunes that not only recalls the early ’90s—particularly shoegaze and grunge—but also reminds of Ely Buendia’s witticisms and penchant for melody—with the latter having gone a bit suspect on Carbon Stereoxide.

The Mongols mine old gold, both tuneful and mouthful: whether it’s the fragmented lyricism of “Bulakbol”, Buendia’s internal monologues in “Bakit Nga Ba?”, or his parade of comic-book characters in both the Billy Corgan-esque “Wig Out” (a troglodyte, a silent sentry, the Minotaur) and the impossibly sublime “Irish Spring” (the dragon-slayer, his lady fair, and the little monster). The words aren’t just sounds that flows with the tunes. There are stories in there, floating in a whirl of fuzz and distortion. Needless to say, this is easily Buendia’s best set of songs since Sticker Happy.

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Complementing Buendia’s full-on comeback is Teeth’s Jerome Velasco. Velasco’s guitars provide grit and nuances, shifting between chunky distorted riffs and dreamy soundscapes between and within songs while the band flies high on intricately layered song constructs and simple chord progressions.

But to credit everything to guitarists Buendia and Velasco would be harshly unfair to the rest of the gang. There’s the dreamy “Pony”, a song about a girl who loves to tell stories about girls and bands, penned by Yan Yuzon and Bogs Jugo—the other half of the band, relatively newcomers whose names suspiciously sound like they were lifted from comic books. Then there’s “It’s Over”, another solid contribution from Yuzon, which is not really for the embittered Eheads’ fans (So hold my hand/ We’ll take a bow/ The world can do without us now).

This album has plenty of highlights, but for me, “Heroine”, a song credited to all members of the band, takes the cake. This is where all hell breaks loose. Mid-song, there’s a campy exchange between GOD (played by Buendia’s muse, Diane Ventura) and Satan that sounds like a scene straight out of the first Heavy Metal movie—it’s hilariously grungy and head-bangingly cool. But what sets this apart is the chorus; it is heavenly—like the whole band speaking in tongues—a modern haiku for the ages.

I promise you my heart/ we’ll never be apart/ I’m gonna fuck you like there’s no tomorrow.

No other band—not the Radioactive Sago Project, not Wolfgang, not the Eraserheads, not even the Urban Bandits—has ever gone this pure. This magical. This visceral.

“Heroine” is its fuckin’ nirvana and Buddha’s Pest is bliss.

 

*Album inlay from Schizo Archives.

Ultraelectromagneticpop! (Eraserheads, 1993)

eraserheads-ultraelectromagneticpop-20130824Simply put, this is the local equivalent of Nevermind. Instead of a nude baby in the pool, we got these four flaming lads gracing the cover, chill as fuck and wearing chucks, with two of them holding what appear like rolled-up joints. Like Nirvana, the Eraserheads toiled the underground, signed to a major label, hit big and made a whole lot of impact in the music scene.

Musically though, chuck-sporting lads is just a very different album from little baby blue. Nevermind is a hurtling punk-rock album, while Ultra is an unabashed pop record, though one that is hardly representative of pop music of the early ‘90s, local or otherwise. The former helped popularize rock music with loud distorted guitars. On Ultra, however, one gets the nagging feeling—which the band themselves pointed out and griped about—that the guitars could have been louder.

Guitar mixing and other recording/production issues aside, the tunes flow from start to finish. Whether they take their cue from Manila Sound (“Easy Ka Lang”, the glorious “Ligaya”), Motown (“Shake Yer Head”), try and fail to make 100% reggae (“Maling Akala”), graft both Nat King Cole and Paul McCartney into a sped-up reggae folk number (“Toyang”) or do punkish take on a straight pop song (“Shirley”), the results were no less than perfect. And when delivered with such verve, one tends to overlook that production-wise, it’s got nothing on the aforementioned album that bears the name Butch Vig. Purists and fans alike described its sound as “tinny”. But whether this “tinny” sound diminishes the bands outstanding song-craft, creative sheen and the songs’ ultra-magnetic appeal, is surely up for debates. Me, I say tinny sound my ass! Ultra is a lo-fi pop masterpiece, its lack of polish being incidental notwithstanding.

The word Beatles-esque has been attached to Eraserheads’ music since the time they knocked Jose Mari Chan off the top of the charts. But there’s nothing anglophilic about the timeless post-basted, group support therapy (a.k.a binge drinking) session of “Pare Ko”, or in the cutesy, t-shirt parading, thesis-making love song “Ligaya”. “Tindahan Ni Aleng Nena”, the one song they deliberately tried to channel the Beatles is very much Pinoy at heart—its story revolves around a sari-sari store and migration to Canada. There’s no fake Brit accent on “Shake Yer Head” either. And despite referencing “Silly Love Songs”, “Toyang” is unassailably Pinoy; with bitso-bitso, Coke 500, Sky Flakes, and “Bahay Kubo”, all in a song about true love.

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Looking past its cultural impact and significance, Ultraelectromagneticpop! isn’t so much groundbreaking as it is an excellent pop record. The songs may sound pretty dated by now, but back in 1993, they did sound unlike anything else. Thanks mainly to the local mainstream music, which back in 1993, sounded like it was still 1983. The Apo Hiking Society, Gary Valenciano, Smokey Mountain, Donna Cruz, Regine Velasquez, and the Introvoys—they were all stuck in the ’80s, sleeping for so long with their hair rollers on, only to be awaken by the noise from an underground scene, already bursting at the seams.