MTV Unplugged in New York. Thor, Norse god of thunder, once said that Asgard was just like Earth — only they didn’t have cable TV. Maybe we lived in Asgard then, ’cause we didn’t have cable as well. We only had either GMA (they used to air taped week-old shows) or the ABS provincial station, depending on the orientation of the antenna mounted Continue reading “10 Albums That Didn’t Change My Life”
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!
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.
Better Off / Guijo St. (Makes You Wonder) – Apartel (2016)
Apartel is Ely Buendia and the gang in full soul/funk/R&B mode. If I remember correctly, Ely once said that he can’t do R&B. Maybe, RnB or contemporary R&B (i.e., South Border, Freestyle, Beyonce, Rihanna) was what he meant because here he is doing exactly that, producing good, if not be for everyone, funky music. Continue reading “20 Songs from the 2010’s (Part Deux)”
Hindi ito tungkol sa bagong pelikula ni Nadine Lustre. Sobrang init lang talaga. Sobrang alinsangan. Maghapon na akong nakahubad. (Pero nagsusuot ako ng t-shirt tuwing lalabas ng bahay para di mapagkamalang tambay. Mamaya hulihin pa ako ng mga alipores ni Satanas.)
Sorry ha, ang hot ko kasi, eh.
I spoke too soon. I took this raw recording clip from YouTube as proof of an on-going recording session and joined the #ultrasecret bandwagon. Last week, Ely Buendia surprised us with (initially) semi-cryptic posts on Instagram, then an announcement: they’re releasing a remastered version of Ultraelectromagneticpop for its 25th Anniversary. Continue reading “Balikbayan Box: The 20 E-ssential Eraserheads Songs, Vol.2-Part 1”
Rivermaya never got rejected by record labels because their songs weren’t “pop enough.” They never experienced selling tickets only so they could play in Club Dredd. If there’s anything naysayers had to say about Rivermaya, it’s that they were manufactured (they were the brainchild of Chito Roño and Liza Nakpil), they never toiled the underground Continue reading “Rivermaya Albums Ranked From Worst To Best”
Took me a long time to fully appreciate Rivermaya’s third album. Yes, the title’s cliche and the album’s more obtuse than a solid bang, but that’s not it. Only lately did I realize what’s keeping me from really enjoying this album. It’s the track sequence.
Of course, it’s just probably me but I’m thinking about those who owned this album in cassette back then and the great deal of patience required (or maybe just plain wide-eyed curiosity) to listen to this album from end to end. Because, between “Elesi” and “Hinahanap-hanap Kita” and between the latter and “Kung Ayaw Mo, Huwag Mo”, feels like lots of B-sides and fillers. Continue reading “Rivermaya – Atomic Bomb (1997)”
Aside from the hits (e.g., 214), Rivermaya, with this debut, gave what fans couldn’t get from the Eraserheads: a pop-rock band with considerable skills and rockstars look and feel. (Though that’s not something they couldn’t get with either After Image or Alamid.) This idea of THE perfect band and the band’s five-hit-string that parallels that of Eheads’ Ultra (214, Bring Me Down, Ulan, Awit Ng Kabataan, 20 Million), make RiverMaya a popular choice among fans when asked about the band’s best album.
They got a rockstar vocalist with an angel’s voice and range, a kick-ass bassist, a geeky songwriter on keyboards, and a drummer who’s last name recalls the same province where the Heads’ drummer hails from. And the deciding factor it seems—since the Eraserheads sucked live and Wency Cornejo’s rock antics only reminded you of Mel Tiangco—was the addition of a virtuoso guitarist, the incidental fifth member whose contributions, including iconic guitar solos in “214” and “Awit Ng Kabataan” were never incidental. That is, later and first defector Perf de Castro puts the “original” in the “original Rivermaya”—at least according to those fans who endlessly clamor for their reunion in the comment sections.
They looked perfect together, the perfect band, partly because they were (rumored to be) factory assembled, handpicked by Chito Rono and Liza Nakpil, and partly because they weren’t, meaning they were a real band, even though they hardly toiled the underground together like the ‘Heads, After Image and other Club Dredd alums.
And the album itself? It’s hard to underrate an album that houses those aforementioned hits, but compared with Trip and other debut albums at the time (Teeth, Album Na Walang Pamagat, Ultraelectromagneticpop), RiverMaya is more like a dozen different things coming at you than a knockout punch. Outside of Bamboo’s voice and irresistible charisma, the band’s signature sound is that they don’t have one. RiverMaya is split between a band album and a really good bar band (i.e., “Gravity” is well-played but says next to nothing when compared with “Shake Yer Head”), split between blues, new wave, probably grunge, among other things.
But the band gelled really well, played really well. And the production’s really good (better than Rico Blanco’s uneven work on Trip). Which gave the songs a pinch of flow, even when the genres they take inspiration from don’t seem to mix well (i.e., imagine mixing New Wave and Razorback in one album). And that also makes it easier to let the album grow on you even if the riffs are just OK (“Revolution”) and the boogie somewhat generic (“Halik Sa Araw”), even if the lyrics, outside of the radio hits, are kind of cliche (“Revolution”, “Ground”, “Gravity”) if not downright cheesy (Daanin mo na lang sa konting rock n’ roll! Eww). Which is to say, the passable tracks are passable, because they’re interspersed with the hits—after “Revolution” comes “Bring Me Down”, after “Ground”, “20 Million” and so on.
“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. Continue reading “High & Dry: My Top 5 Radiohead LPs”
Before 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 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.
Live gig photo from roxnebres.deviantart.com.
“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. Continue reading “Have you ever wished you were a 90’s kid? FYI, the 2000’s was awesome too!”
This 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 back-to-basics 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 of the year.