Your Universe (Rico Blanco, 2008)

AlbumArt_YUBefore we were re-introduced to the now solo Rico Blanco, the story went like this: the then-Rivermaya frontman went MIA; his former band, reduced to a trio, released the brilliant Bagong Liwanag, then staged an overblown TV search for a frontman, a new member. Meanwhile, some speculated Rico Blanco formed a new band and he’s called it Blanco.

Then came the signal fire: the five-minute plus “Yugto”, an anthemic folk-rocker replete with strings, tribal beats and horns; chorus that echoes Joey Ayala at Ang Bagong Lumad’s “Lumiyab Ka” and bridge that alludes to the Battle of Jericho. In short, it’s big, gigantic. A song one could easily put alongside the Eraserheads’ “Ang Huling El Bimbo”, “Center Of the Sun” from Wolfgang’s Acoustica, and Rivermaya’s “Alab Ng Puso” from Live & Acoustic or their live rendition of “You’ll Be Safe Here”, at the 2006 MTV Asia Awards in Thailand. We’re talking about epic numbers here.

After the ballsy first single, comes Your Universe, Rico Blanco’s first solo album. Contrary to what some fans have expected (myself included), Your Universe isn’t Magkabilaan with electric guitars, or something along the lines of Rivermaya’s punchier, darker oeuvre. Rivermaya’s version of “Ilog” and “Padayon” could have been the perfect jumping-off point for Blanco to get on full folk-rock mode; instead, the other nine songs in the album has Blanco exploring different avenues, revisiting past excursions while also charting new territories.

Your Universe marks a new chapter for Rico Blanco, but it also signifies the end, the closing of another. It neatly sums up Blanco’s past works, as both singer and main songwriter of Rivermaya, while also introducing his first solo output.

“Your Universe”, the second single, is like a 180-degree turn from the first. It’s a comely ballad that favors acoustic guitars and string orchestration over drums and distortion, and reveals Blanco’s singer-songwriter side (think about Aqualung circa Strange and Beautiful). “Your Universe”, together with “Restless” and “Start Again”, sound like the logical progression from “Balisong” and “Sunday Driving” (off Between the Stars and Waves) and hint at what the next Rivermaya songs might be like, had Blanco stayed with the band. “Say Forever”, on the other hand, was probably written after Blanco revisited the ’80s, for his last outing with Rivermaya; only this time, it’s more “Tupperware Party” than Joey Ayala. The cheesy keyboard lines, the angular guitars, the dance-y beats, and the friggin’ saxophone(!) at the break will get you all New Wave-y all over again.

While generally considered as a collaborative effort, with Blanco enlisting a number of well-known musicians and friends (Nathan Azarcon, Buddy Zabala, Sago‘s Pards Tupaz, among others), the songs on Your Universe range from something as grand as “Yugto”, the song with the most number of guest musicians, to something as minimal as “Para Di Ka Mawala”. In between, we got “Ayuz”, another full band set-up, highlighted by a festive horn section and a music video featuring Rico Blanco doing his best Fred Astaire impressions. There’s also “Antukin”, in which Blanco played all instruments, including drums. Aside from doing a terrific job behind the skins, there’s also a splendid piano solo, which he probably threw in just for fun—a playful throwback to his earlier days with Rivermaya. (The Southeast Asia version of the album available on Spotify features a different mix of “Antukin”, in which the said piano part is replaced by a guitar solo.)

If there are any weak points here, that would Blanco’s forays into electronic rock. “Outta This” and closer “Metropolis”, aren’t in any way bad, but would probably sound better in a more coherent-sounding record than here.

While his former record label put out a number of best-of compilations from Rivermaya over the years (Rivermaya: Greatest Hits (2006), Silver Series (2008), 18 Greatest Hits (2010))—an increasingly redundant way of re-introducing the band to old and younger audiences—Rico Blanco had another thing in mind. With Your Universe, what he offers is a mix-tape, a compilation of his best and latest, not necessarily hits. It is like a “greatest hits”—only there’s not a single old song in it.

roxnebres.deviantart.com

Live gig photo from roxnebres.deviantart.com.

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.

Have you ever wished you were a 90’s kid? FYI, the 2000’s was awesome too!

Note: This was originally written in September 2016, around the time everyone was going crazy over a TV ad featuring the Eraserheads.

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“We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever.”

                                                             – Lariat (Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, 2014)

Everyone wants to be a 90’s kid these days. Everyone wants to relive those times when “Pare Ko” hits the top of the charts; when “Alapaap”, “Banal Na Aso” and “Laklak” almost got banned; when Rivermaya premiered their music video for “Elesi”; and when the boys of Parokya Ni Edgar debuted on national TV, wearing skirts and dusters. Nostalgia moves in mysterious ways. There’s probably another Eraserheads reunion brewing around the corner (or maybe that’s just how a certain Telco giant wants us to think and feel). There’s also this rumor spreading around of the band re-recording Ultraelectromagneticpop. But the Eraserheads and their fans aren’t alone on the reunion bandwagon. Four out of five members of Rivermaya’s 1994 lineup had a one-night reunion last January. For some, it was a night to remember, with or without Bamboo; for the others, their wish remains the same – the reunion of the “original” Rivermaya.

We’re halfway past the 2010’s already. It makes me wonder. Are we gonna be nostalgic soon for the previous decade, as we were for the 90’s ten years ago? In case you forgot, Ultraelectromagneticjam came out in 2005, a few days before the 10th year anniversary of Cutterpillow. And if you want to gauge how nostalgic we were back then, just think about this – Ultraelectromagneticjam was a tribute album for a band that disbanded merely three years prior. Yeah, that’s how badly we missed the Eraserheads, specifically the Eraserheads of early-to-mid 90’s (the Eraserheads of late 90’s to early 2000’s? Not much, I guess).

How about the 2000’s? Doesn’t anyone want to go back to the early to mid-2000s? Are we not going to see our collective nostalgia snowball into a Sugarfree reunion? Or at least make the members of Orange & Lemons play together again? Would there be online petitions for the members of Bamboo and Rivermaya circa 2004, to double-bill one big concert?

Honestly, that would be awesome.

There’s no denying that the 90’s was great for local music, but I’m afraid that we’re very much inclined to overlook a lot of things – bands, music, albums – that came out after the 90’s. As far as I’m concerned, the 2000’s was just as good, if not better.

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Here’s a list of notable/favorite albums from the previous decade. And they are just as good and as interesting as the best albums from the 90’s. I think Peryodiko’s self-titled debut, which was produced by Robin Rivera (Eraserheads, Dong Abay, Sugarfree), is an underrated gem. Ditto with Archipelago’s one and only CD. Among the albums listed below, those from Ciudad, The Purplechickens and Narda are probably the hardest ones to find – which is quite sad because those are among the finest indie records from the last decade. If you don’t like MYMP because of their sappy acoustic covers, you’d be surprised that their debut album, has nine originals and only two covers (The Police’s “Every Little Thing” and Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain”). And Juana’s only album, which sounds very 90’s (think of Prettier Than Pink, only better) is actually fine.

A is for Alternative: Free (Rivermaya); Tuloy Ang Ligaya (Rivermaya); Live & Acoustic (Rivermaya); Bagong Liwanag (Rivermaya); Behold! Rejoice! Surfernando is Here Nah (Markus Highway); Travel Advisory (Archipelago); Peryodiko (Peryodiko); The Noontime Show (Itchyworms); Sa Wakas (Sugarfree); Flipino (Dong Abay); Beautiful Machines (Pupil); Wildlife (Pupil); Buddha’s Pest (The Mongols); Thanks to the Moon’s Gravitational Pull (Sandwich); Contra Tiempo (Sandwich); Bigotilyo (Parokya Ni Edgar); Your Universe (Rico Blanco)

Indie Darlings: Hello! How Are You, Mico the Happy Bear? (Ciudad); Is That Ciudad? Yes Son It’s Me (Ciudad); Formika (Narda); Discotillion (Narda); A Postcard From (Narda); Swerte (Narda); Rhomboids (Monsterbot); Here’s Plan B (The Purplechickens)

Jazz Folk & Funk: Urban Gulaman (Radioactive Sago Project); Rippingyarns (Cynthia Alexander); The Powder Room Stories (Skarlet); Is Love (Out Of Body Special)

Pop Princesses: Misbehavior (Juana); Suntok Sa Buwan (Session Road); Kitchie Nadal (Kitchie Nadal); Soulful Acoustic (MYMP); Todo Combo (Moonstar88)

Punk Post-Punk New Wave: Flowerfish (Sheila & The Insects); Guerrila Ballroom (Agaw Agimat); Bitch for Change (Reklamo); Nut House (Hilera); Strike Whilst The Iron Is Hot (Orange and Lemons)

(Photo of Narda’s Salaguinto’t Salagubang EP by Rain Contreras.)

Light Peace Love (Bamboo, 2005)

lightAs The Music Plays, more than anything else, was about how “ecstatic” the band was, that its principal songwriter’s friend, the rockstar vocalist had finally came back, after deserting them, some five years ago. It was good—that debut/comeback album—but not without its flaws. The lesser songs, I could barely remember now.

This rushed follow-up is a bit more ambitious, at times, more interesting; but fumbles on the attempt to produce a single that matches their previous hits. Much of their earthly charm (e.g., Hudas, Masaya) were gone, overtaken by swagger and the fast ballooning self-importance that seeps through its three-word title. As if between the lines, the liner notes read—Bono was here.

“Hallelujah” had (almost) everybody hail hallelujah to the GOAT—I thought the guitars could have been louder, fatter, thicker, or dirtier. “F.U.” was probably directed at their detractors, haters, who in turn found more reason to dis them after it was released as second single. (Who would’ve thought they were so environment-friendly, that they’re kind enough to recycle the melody from the first single). Luckily, there were still leftovers of the band magic they had on their first: “04”, “I-You”, “Peace Man” and “Truth”, the real winners here. The more interesting parts, like “Diner at 6”, are just that—interesting. “Much Has Been Said”, is soulful but also a bit boring, which also informs us where Bamboo would be headed, once he ditch his band-mates again.

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.

It’s Like A Magic (Ciudad, 2005)

ciudad-magicSadly, this would be the last of the fuzz/fun side of Ciudad. After this album, they got more sober, their lyrics started to make sense, and most of all, they seem to have lost most of the fun—and the fuzz. It’s Like A Magic is hardly on par with Ciudad’s first two albums, but when taken in this context – a collection of old songs that never made it to their first two albums, not so different from an outtakes or b-sides compilation – it’s actually up to snuff.

With lowered expectations already met, this shall surely delight all those who already love the band. For those who are new to the band, this is not the best place to start. That would be Hello! How Are You, Mico the Happy Bear? But since said LP is out of print and is not available on either Bandcamp or iTunes, one should check Is That Ciudad? Yes, Son, It’s Me instead, their equally superlative second album.

But that’s not to say “Cool Nerds”, “So?”, “Job Well Done, Wow!” and “Justin’s Saturday Night” aren’t worth a dime. Or that sifting thru the rubble just to get to “It’s Been Another Day” is more trouble than it’s worth. It is quite a bumpy ride (14 tracks, with roughly eight good ones), but also a fun-filled one. But if you really wanna become a fan with this album, then zoom in straight to the A-sides; dive into the mopey “Benny & Betty”, the freakishly juvenile “Escape”, twist ‘n turn with “Fixing The Radio” and savor the slacker-heaven beauty of “What A Girl”. Only then can you go down the rabbit hole, and listen to a song about a camera or the one that references Deadeye Dick’s “New Age Girl” – you know, that 90’s hit that goes “Mary Moon, she’s a vegetarian (Mary Moon, Mary Moon)…she don’t eat meat but she sure likes the bone”.

Ourselves the Elves, The Strange Creatures

Two excellent lovely twinkly EPs…

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It’ll Be Alright (Ourselves the Elves, 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. Or maybe it’s Kidlat Tahimik, who once asked why yellow is at the middle of the rainbow. Yes, I guess that’s the one.

the-strange-creaturesStargazer (The Strange Creatures, 2014) The title track, as beautiful as Van Gogh, gets me sick of long distance calls and makes me wish time travel, teleportation and magic are all not impossible, so we could just gaze at the stars instead. So I looked on the bright side to get some retro-hope despite everything and put the first single on repeat until I got hooked on it. Like a potent pharmacological substance, it gives me natural high and I can’t help but slyly smile every time they come to the lines, “step inside of my space ship, and give me a heeaad—trip”.

Free Download/Streaming: It’ll Be Alright (Bandcamp), Stargazer (Bandcamp, Soundcloud)

 

Sila (Sud, 2015)

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Found this music video last night. Couldn’t remember if it was the recent controversy or something else that made me click on it. The song is fine, suave, horn-y (or make that sax-y) and reminds me of pop songs from the pre-Ultraelectromagneticpop days – something like Bodjie’s Law of Gravity’s “Sana Dalawa Ang Puso Ko”, though the vibe is probably more like I-Axe’s “Ako’y Sa’yo at Ika’y Akin Lamang”, with less cheese. And yeah, that line “Walang sagot sa tanong kung bakit ka mahalaga” is a keeper.

sudsilaMore intriguing than the song itself, is the music video – a well made short film that could have a life of its own outside of the song. I like how the characters knew that they have crossed certain boundaries and that it’s probably wrong; yet they couldn’t stop seeing each other. I like how the last few scenes they were together were framed like they were being spied on. I like how it made me think that there won’t be a happy ending. And I like it that I didn’t get the ending until I read the comments and re-played the video a few more times.

The local music scene is a field full of landmines. You’ll never know it from afar, but you’ll surely know when you step on one. La la la la, whatever.

Baby I’m-A Want You

Screenshot_2016-08-11-16-48-26Not All Songs with the Word Baby Are Wussy

The word baby, like love, is one of the most frequently abused words in popular music. From Peter Frampton’s 1975 single “Baby I Love Your Way”, to the annoyingly ubiquitous Big Mountain cover of the same in the mid-90’s, to Ed Sheeran’s 2014 hit “Thinking Out Loud”, there have been countless times the word appeared in songs’ lyrics and titles. Needless to say, the word has been used and abused by singers and songwriters, especially in the pop and R&B genre. So that when someone posted a question on the internet, asking about songs that have the word baby in the lyrics, someone answered that it’s probably easier to list down songs that don’t contain that word.

Overusing the word in songs surely cheapens its meaning and intended impact. The good news is, creativity knows no boundaries. Yes, there are countless forgettable songs with the word baby in them, but there are also songs that made use of the word in ways more imaginative than just rehashing same old variations of “baby, I love you”.

Below is a list of songs that use the word baby, but not in a way most songwriters have used them. This list will not include songs that go along lines of Bon Jovi’s “Always” or Guns & Roses’ “Patience”. So, songs like Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss”, a straight-ahead cover of an old 1961 non-hit that eventually became the Pearl Jam’s highest charting single; 3 Doors Down’s maudlin and watered-down post grunge ballad “Here Without You”; and Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby”, which is actually fine, will not be included. And definitely not “Thinking Out Loud” – because even at its best, Mr.Nice Guy’s song sounds like a low-rent version of Van Morrison’s “Crazy Love”.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-26-14“Can’t Lose You”, F4

That one song that has a chorus that sticks to your head like glue – even if you don’t understand the lyrics except for the words, my and baby. Forget about what they’re actually singing in it. In the years before Google Translate and smartphones – good looks, hair mousse, catchy chorus and the lines “Oh baby, baby, baby/my baby, baby” were enough to make a hit as big as this Mandopop meteorite.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-16-59-02 “…Baby One More Time”, Britney Spears/Travis

Britney Spears’ 1999 hit made the cut mainly for Travis’ sort of impromptu and knowing cover version of it. On second thought, the original gets half a point for having the words hit me and baby in the same line – undeniably, an artistic achievement in teen pop music. Some people mistook it for S&M, some, misogyny. Turns out the guys behind the hit only meant “call me”. So, despite all the suggestive dance routines in a school girl outfit, it’s actually quite harmless. But Travis’ version is hilarious, and probably the best version there is. Like the audience in that concert, I had good laugh the first few times I heard it.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-29-01“Tender”, Blur

Before Vampire Weekend, Mumford & Sons, and [insert recent cool indie band here], there was Blur. And before Blur, there were Faces, The Kinks, and well, The Beatles. “Beetlebum” and “Song2” may be their most recognizable songs, especially in the US, but the band is way much more than the noise-guitar band that they were in 1997; as can be heard on their previous singles like “The Universal” and “Girls and Boys”, and on this first single off their 1999 album 13. “Tender” was a departure from the sound of Blur (the album that houses “Beetlebum” and “Song2”), and features both Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon on vocals (with Coxon singing the “oh my baby”-part) backed by the London Community Gospel Choir. With all the aggression that dominated rock in the late nineties, this break-up tune with the line “Love is the greatest thing (that we had)” was like a beacon of hope shining across the dark Nu Metal-infested landscape.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-03-07“Antukin”, Rico Blanco

There’s a very thin line between clever and lame and Rico Blanco probably crossed it more than once on one of the best tracks off his debut Your Universe. This is one of those where he played all the instruments (and he was splendid on drums!) And whether the lines “Gumawa na lang tayo ng paraan/Gumawa na lang tayo ng (baby)” is clever or not, this remains as one of his all-time bests – a hopeful love song that acknowledges his keyboard-man role in Rivermaya and pays homage to his namesake thru its Tag-lish lyrics and one off-color joke.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-09-02“Radiation Vibe”, Fountains of Wayne

You probably knew them for “Stacy’s Mom”, a.k.a. the MILF song, which is also their most popular hit. The music video for which, pays homage to Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Outside of the said song, Fountains of Wayne is hardly the type of band that thrives on peddling sophomoric jokes, as one might assume based on that song. Most of their songs tell stories (i.e., Leave the Biker, Hackensack (yes, the one covered by Katy Perry)), but Fountain of Wayne’s first single “Radiation Vibe” is lyrically ambiguous. And that’s probably the reason it was a minor hit, despite the ear-worm melodies and knockout musicianship. The lines “Baby, baby, baby/Come on, what’s wrong?” aren’t really the most ingenious part of this song – it’s the melody with which Chris Collingwood sing those lines. It’s the way the song transitioned from the seemingly bottled up verses then burst into the chorus like an exploding bottle of soda. Sounds exactly like the kind of vibe the song is referring to.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-18-28-03“Kaliwete”, Eraserheads

Here’s another song that pays tribute to the one and only Rico J. Puno. The inspiration for the song came one time the Eraserheads did a show with him. The lines “Mag-ayos lang daw ng upo”, according to them, came from one of Rico’s joke that night. Whether the joke was about sitting in general or specifically about sitting on the toilet, we don’t know. What I know is that the word baby is uttered somewhere in this song. And I didn’t catch it until about…a few months ago? Sticker Happy came out in 1997 and I’ve been listening to this song sporadically for almost twenty years. (Damn, I really need to quit on loud music now and go visit an ENT specialist before I totally lose my ears.)

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-12-47“Superstar”, Carpenters/Sonic Youth

Whether it’s the 1971 Carpenters version or Sonic Youth’s fuzzed up tribute to the former, one can never go wrong with this classic. Written and first recorded in 1969 (by a bunch of musicians who were so in loved with themselves that they had to write a song about a groupie longing for someone who’s really good with guitars – someone like Eric Clapton), Richard Carpenter took the song and turned it into what is now the most popular version of it. One might think that this made use of the common “baby, I love you” line and does not belong in the list. But it’s not a cutesy boy-who-plays-guitar-meets-girl kind of story. More like rockstar-meets-groupie-had-one-night-stand-and-then-goodbye. Of course, I don’t hear it that way. What I hear is just a good schmaltzy song – a bit naïve, romantic and sweet. And that’s the kind of magic only Karen Carpenter could make. The same magic Sonic Youth destroyed and reconstructed in the 1994 version.

Screenshot_2016-08-11-17-34-06“Stereo”, Pavement

The most sentimental song on the list, Pavement’s “Stereo” is actually the long lost answer to the previous song – the Carpenters classic. “Hey, listen to me! I’m on the stereo! Stereo-oh!” is definitely about a guitarist addressing someone who’s listening on the radio (i.e., the groupie). And on the next line, Stephen Malkmus appropriated Karen Carpenter’s “Baby, baby, baby…” line, before shouting “Give me malaria! Hysteria!”

Wait, that didn’t sound right.

Okay, maybe this isn’t really the answer to “Superstar”, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is one of the greatest slacker songs ever—not to mention having the balls to make fun of Geddy Lee’s impossibly high register. Which isn’t really surprising given that they once dissed both The Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots before, in one of their songs. Which only proves that, Pavement is ultimately, definitely, and absolutely rad.

Sticker Happy (Eraserheads, 1997)

PhotoGrid_1463325775784A few of my favorite records came out in 1997. Pavement’s fourth “masterpiece” Brighten the Corners was released that year. Ditto with Radiohead’s critically acclaimed OK Computer and Foo Fighters’ The Colour and the Shape. In the same year, Teeth returned with Bum Squad EP and a healthier Glenn Jacinto. Then the Eraserheads, fresh from their first US gig, surprised us with Bananatype, a five-track prelude to their most perfectly imperfect fifth album – Sticker Happy – which also came out that year.

Sticker Happy is one helluva record; Eraserheads’ unheralded masterpiece – if there should be one. Not their best, but definitely their craziest; and one with the best damn cover art. It’s a cacophony of zany things; the Eraserheads both old and new, guitar pyrotechnics, pop songs, techno, sex, booze and rock & roll – a strange brew that spins violently and destroys everything along the way.

Looking back now, Sticker Happy may have been a bit too much for most fans to fully appreciate at the time. It was their least accessible album up to that point. It also marks the time when the band took away some of the things, fans love about their songs. No more silly love songs about Toyang, Shirley or Ligaya. Instead, we got “Kaliwete”, a song about a two-timing hottie and the band’s flippant tribute to Rico J. Instead of songs about things we could easily relate to, they gave us “Downtown” and “Balikbayan Box”.

Sticker Happy kicks things off with cartoon theme-like “Prologue”, and things go bonkers from there on. “Futuristic” is anything but. But just like “Kaliwete”, it’s built on an icky riff and sets the tone of the album; their modus operandi – in-jokes, guitars, loosely tied lyrics, melodies that stick and more guitars. Way before Hopia, Mani, Popcorn, Rico J. Puno – the mustachioed grandfather of OPM – gets the homage he rightfully deserves, via innuendos, catchy choruses, and spoken words.

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At the core of Side E, are songs that best exemplify the less popular side of Eraserheads, the deeper cuts in their catalog. Lyrically dark, witty and self-referential while loops, samples and drum machines meet interlacing guitars. There is “Maalalahanin”, where Raymund Marasigan lays down the grungiest pile of noise he could muster, on top of electronic and acoustic drums. Then, Ely Buendia takes a few bong hits, and ponders on the meaning of life and caressing the future on the brilliant dark comedy “Ha Ha Ha”. Then there’s “Balikbayan Box”, a song that perfectly captures the woes of living away from home and the excitement of going back. Discord and noise has been a hit and miss in Eheads’ past albums (i.e., Monovirus from Fruitcake, Bato and Insomya from Circus); but here, we have the Luis Bunuel film-inspired “Andalusian Dog”, one of their successful attempts in marrying melody with psychedelic overtones and noise.

Not Side E is more unwieldy, and opens with “Downtown”, Marasigan’s electro-dance-funk about his escapades in downtown LA, which is also the grandfather of all Squid9 songs. The lyrics on “Kananete”, part two of Buendia’s Hand Trilogy, are nonsensical at worst, but the lumbering guitars and driving basslines more than makes up for it. Buendia and Marcus Adoro then get rid of their fuzz boxes and let Buddy Zabala take over the drums, on a song about disbelief and love. It’s a well needed rest; a few minutes of lull. Then things get dark, drunk (“Spoliarium”), heavy and funky again (“Ambi Dextrose”), before they go for an early closing, with a sober sorry song – the piano ballad “Para Sa Masa”.

Sticker Happy isn’t perfect; almost, yes. I could do without “Everything They Say” and “Bogchi Hokbu” could have been a minute shorter. On some days, “Ambi Dextrose” is fine. On some days, it is like The Matrix Reloaded or Return of the Jedi – the weakest part of a trilogy. But these are minimal trade-offs, considering the extent to which the band tried to expand their sound on this album. Plus, the album cover is just fucking unreal – white skies, a red balloon, green grass, mountains and a beautiful piano undressed in stickers.

As The Music Plays (Bamboo, 2004)

PhotoGrid_1467121824568They caught and drowned the front man of the world’s worst rock and roll band. He was out of luck because nobody gave a fuck. The jury gathered all around the aqueduct, drinking and laughing and lighting up, reminiscing just how bad he sucked, singing “Throw him in the river, throw him in the river – throw the bastard in the river”.

And way up in the sky is the leader of the greatest band of all time. Blasted from a plane headed back home from the U-S-A. The people gathered all around the radio to hear the transmission from the devil’s soul. (They’re) locked and stung and sick and cold of toasting their bald hero, toasting their bald hero. A toast to their bald hero!

The underground is overcrowded. The underground is overcrowded. The underground is overcrowded. The underground is overcrowded.

(~Slightly modified lyrics from the Archers of Loaf’s Greatest of All Time.)

Bananatype (Eraserheads, 1997)

Banana_TypeEPcoverBefore Sticker Happy came out late in 1997, Eraserheads released an EP called Bananatype. For a band that has released one LP every year since 1993, a stopgap midyear release was nothing short of surprising. They just have too many songs for the new album that they have to put away some of them, the band explained. But maybe airplay also came into play. Their label possibly wanted a radio single that has nothing to do with Frannie Wei – something not from the underpromoted Fruitcake. So, after the third single “Trip to Jerusalem” (the music video for which, is arguably the dopest of all Eheads music videos) didn’t fly as expected, the plan for a fourth single – which could have been “Lightyears” – was squashed, probably.

And so we got Bananatype, a five-track album that hardly connects the dots between Fruitcake and Sticker Happy. “Harana”, the lead single, or A-side, has all the trademarks of an Eheads hit – ingenious lyrics, melts in your mouth melodies, and the hookiest hooks one could ever ask for. It’s a song that retreats back to the catchy folk-pop of Ultra and yet, foreshadows the effects-heavy sound of Sticker Happy, through loud guitars and an extended outro.

Much like the Fruitcake EP, there are only two outstanding cuts here – the aforementioned “Harana” and the closing track, “Tikman”. The latter is a lo-fi quickie that leans toward the psych double-entendre side of Cutterpillow. It’s an underrated gem, a commercial jingle that could have easily been a hit single. (If you’re not convinced yet, you can watch an Eraserheads trio perform it live on this grainy video.) The other three songs – Police Woman, Bananatype and I Can’t Remember You – aren’t anywhere near bad, but would be best appreciated by diehard fans.

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P.S. What the fuck is a gaheto?

Dating Gawi (Rico Blanco, 2015)

IMG_20160521_221232This isn’t just fantasy superband come true. This is the superband that supersedes all other superbands in recent memory – Bamboo, Franco, Audioslave, Atoms for Peace, and even the Oktaves. I mean, c’mon, this is Rivermaya’s main man and one-half of the Eraserheads – two godhead bands from the 90’s – in one album.

Okay, maybe not really a superband, but Rico Blanco’s third studio output, is a superb band album. An album that thrives on Menshevist approach and recalls updates the sounds from Blanco’s former band (i.e., Trip, Free, Tuloy Ang Ligaya) and the more straightforward side of Your Universe (i.e., Antukin, Ayuz). Blanco will never make another It’s Not Easy Being Green or Free, but what we have here, is almost as good as those. Much like Joss Whedon’s superhero ensemble few years back, this one benefits from its bandleader/captain’s singular vision, the bang-up production, each member’s contribution and whatever is the equivalent of a well-balanced script. This is the sound of four distinct personalities contrasting and complementing each other; four guys hammering it on, delivering the goods.

Side A opens with “Parang Wala Na”, an upbeat new wave-y number about the slow death of a relationship, slows down a bit on “Sorry Naman”, then closes with “Videoke Queen” – the splendid first single about videoke singing that’s also perfect for, uhm, videoke singing. (The last time Rico Blanco went meta, he name-checks Odelay in a song that’s apparently inspired by Beck.) Side B continues the fading romance on “Wag Mong Aminin”, then fastforwards to the aftermath on “Umuwi Ka Na”, in which the beautiful arpeggiated guitars remind me of Radiohead, circa In Rainbows. Then, Blanco and Co. get all cranked up, distortion and all on the final track, where Blanco shares one painful truth about love – Hindi mo kayang umibig/ kung ayaw mong masaktan/ mag-chess ka na lang.

All in all, this is Rico Blanco and Co. bringing back the old and familiar – the alternative pop the Eraserheads and Rivermaya pioneered in the 90’s – with a new spin. It’s all killers, no fillers – an album for the Spotify generation, full of radio friendly unit shifters. One of the best from last year.

The Blashuvec (Rebelle Fleur, 2013)

a0517027165_10Like with any guitar-heavy rock band, one can namedrop the usual suspects with ease – Nirvana, Pavement, Husker Du – as usual. But one has to realize how tonally and aesthetically disparate those bands were and that their least common denominator is a RAT pedal. Yes, the singer strains his cords like Cobain and the guitars are dirty as fuck, but every time I listen, it seems to me, that they’re leaning more toward a The Strokes/The Vines/Arctic Monkeys kind of vibe than any of the aforementioned bands. And it only confirms my doubt that they’d get off to Karen O rather than Bikini Kill. But the guitars are loud alright, and the drums are forceful. Sometimes he sounds like Casablanca trying to outdo The Vines. That said, this gets a thumbs up nonetheless. Plus, they’re giving it away for free. So, I took a bite and it’s alright. You might also want to try.

Fat Salt & Flame (Sandwich, 2013)

PhotoGrid_1463069239517Fat Salt & Flame opens with grinding of the axes that segues into a series of build up and release – a layer cake of feedback and guitar screech. Around the two minute mark, you start to wonder – either they forgot the lyrics or somebody forgot to switch on the mic. But it never overstays its welcome – it actually feels shorter than its actual length. Pretty much like the whole album.

Fat Salt & Flame marks Sandwich’s fifteen years as a band (or shall I say Sandwich S-marks their anniversary with a BBQ-flavored disc). It’s a celebration in a rock-band kind of way. And there’s no better way of celebrating fifteen years together, than going to the studio to bake your birthday cake.

After the raucous title track, comes Track No. 2, the first single that has a very important message to say – Sandwich is here to stay. Track No. 6 is, for better or worse, typical Sandwich on assault mode. The proceedings take a different turn on Track No. 8. Here, Mong Alcaraz and Myrene Academia take turns on the mic, delivering the sweetest bitter lines on top of Mike Dizon’s skipping rhythm – it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. Ultimately, Track No. 9 closes the album with an epic guitar solo that’s really effing good – they should actually do this kind of shit, more often.

Despite being another birthday bash of sorts, FS&F does not come off as mishmash of things we’ve come to love and expect from Sandwich. This might be intentional since they did that already with <S> Marks the Spot, their tenth-year album. <S> Marks was roller-coaster ride, with small and big surprises revealed in every twisted turn. FS&F, on the other hand, upholds the same narrowed scope and focus of their previous (and arguably best) outing, Contra Tiempo, with a dash of moon dust from Thanks To the Moon’s.

Zilch (Pupil, 2015)

PhotoGrid_1462695497194Three albums in and Pupil goes back to zero – a restart, a new beginning. Yan Yuzon’s out and erstwhile Mongol Jerome Velasco comes in. The angular riffs and dream-pop soundscapes are out – traded for the more compact ones. The alt-rock palette with strong post-punk leaning, they decided to explore no further. We saw the band’s sound evolve from Machines to the Infinity Pool – what we have here is the same sound overhauled. Forget about My Bloody Valentine and Interpol then, Zilch has Pupil defaulting to rock – with shades of Smashing Pumpkins, The Cult and Pixies, thrown in to thicken the mix. This time, arena-sized wails, metallic riffs and a drum kit straight out of ZoSo, are front and center.

The Ornussa Cadness starrer “Out of Control” is the funkiest of the lot – also contains Ely Buendia’s wittiest wordplay in a while. Second single “Why” faintly echoes the Pumpkins’ “Quiet” from Siamese Dream, but the chorus is totally Buendia’s – and it’s catchy as hell. Speaking of hell, “MNL” spells some irony about the titular city, a.k.a. the gates of hell, in between metallic riffs and furious pounding. Where Zilch falls short, is in providing breaks between the din, in the same way “Cheap Thrill” pours like ice water, on this hot hot summer. And this is where the rivets start falling. Compared to Buddha’s Pest, in which the dreamy shoe-gazers splinter the grungy ones, Zilch has lesser variations one can latch onto. Not a total loss, not remotely bad even. Yet somehow, it feels like this is where the winning streak ends.

P.S. The cover art is irresistibly hot, despite its black paint mud and cold metallic feel.

Pop U! (Eraserheads, 1991)

000 cover_popu - CopyNot the first ever indie, rather self-released cassette of dozen songs already worth a proper album. Some of which already recorded for what is now known as “garjam” demo, and half of which would later appear on their major label albums. Sound-wise, it’s a combination of pop, post-punk and whatever they heard inside their heads, muddled up ingeniously. Production-wise, it is akin to Slanted and Enchanted, albeit unintentionally. Aside from confirming that their strength is on song craft, more than studio cookery and technical cockiness, it also provides glimpse into the band’s early days. Not a masterpiece, but a rarity – the Holy Grail for the die-hards, a remarkable addition to any music fan’s collection.