High & Dry: My Top 5 Radiohead LPs

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“Hey, here’s the new Radiohead album”, a friend offered few months ago. I put it on, listened. So this is how they sound now. Interesting, I thought. But theirs is not the kind of music that I need. At least for now. Some people find meaning in lyrics that reflects the despairing things happening around the world. I already had enough of that—not from music, but from other things.

I need music to unwind, to unplugged myself from the system—by plugging in to another. I listen to songs that could remind me of things that “brighten up the corners“, not songs that reminds me of the opposite.

What is this called? Neo-classical-rock? Wikipedia says it’s considered art-rock. Art-rock, but not as in Mellon Collie and Infinite Sadness‘ prog-meets-jazz-meets-metal-meets-grunge art-rock. It’s just old Radiohead cut in half, then half of them replaced with strings, orchestrations and whatever. Which can also be said of their other albums starting with Hail to the Thief. Hail to the Thief is half electronic, half guitars; In Rainbows is half made with laptop, half made with live musical instrument; TKOL is half old Radiohead, half beats.

And no, I’m not trashing their newer albums in favor of the old ones. Unlike with Foo Fighters, I just cannot dismiss the last three albums just because I didn’t like them. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands too, and “interesting” is probably the worst I could say of their last two or three releases. And this isn’t rare—that I like OK Computer but not In Rainbows or The King Of Limbs. Some people I know started liking the band with In Rainbows and finds anything before it inaccessible. Some even went as far as saying that Pablo Honey is the only decent Radiohead album, that all the rest reeks of arena-rock grandiosity.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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.