Pavement – Shady Lane (Japan Tour Ed.) (1997)

R-837573-1497516330-6403.jpegJapan could be the last bastion of selling tangible music. Not only because Japanese people still love to buy CDs and LPs – but also because a lot of people from outside Japan go there just to buy these stuff and to see Ochanomizu‘s great collection of guitars. And the girls of AKB48 are cute. Maybe not all of the above are true, but I’m sure one thing is absolute – Shady Lane, the EP exclusively sold in Japan, is really awesome – it’s rad. It’s almost as good as the full length album that preceded it. There’s an alternate mix of “Stereo” (by Steve Fisk), just as awesome as the original, a pair of Meat Puppet-inspired numbers – “Slowly Typed” (countrified version of “Type Slowly”) and “Cherry Area” – and an instrumental number about an epileptic seizure – all rare materials every good boy like you and me deserves. And if you look really hard into the back cover, you’ll find an Easter egg, you’ll find a hidden EP, inside. Shady Lane EP in itself is already nice. But an EP within an EP? That’s Last Year at Marienbad! So, we got four more bonus tracks. The first about Salem Witch Trials isn’t that bad – it’s one of the best pop songs Pavement ever released – if only Malkmus could sing. Then we have the oddest of oddball oddities – “Gangsters and Pranksters” and “Saganaw” – the best freakout fillers outside of Wowee Zowee. And d’you know what’s not fair? That short sweet song about moving to Australia (“I Love Perth”) – they also gave it to Japan.

Tubero – Kupal Destroyer (2018)

821915No beating around the bush, no matter how thick the bush may be. They play hard, erect, direct to the point. With songs the starts and expires as fast as one can say “Mamatay Ka Na,” titles that could make blush even the likes of Boy Sullivan and Andrew E. (“Kevin Tuwad”, “Walang Panty”, the one that goes “Ja-ja-ja-ja-ja-kol!”, etc.), names that could make Marilyn Manson rethink his whole career (e.g., Birjin Pakir), Tubero’s Kupal Destroyer, is hands down the best (and only) kupal metal album of the year. Tubero plays their signature grind-kupal-core balls to wall. And they play harder, faster, hornier, vulgarer than any metal band I heard this year (only two as of last counting). Even though Tubero’s brand of heavy metal comedy works on so many levels–deadpan, innuendo, high brow, low brow, no brow, dry, wet, meta, mock, even Spinal Tap Level–their music ain’t just for laughs. Whether by intent or accident, they actually humanize heavy music. Their songs are about the daily struggles of an everyman, like dealing with questionable authority (i.e., the pesky guard, your asshole boss), sex or the lack thereof, and heavy music (i.e., headbanging, air guitaring, etc.) as a form of release, an outlet for the stress we get from our day jobs, the never ending traffic, incompetency of the gov’t, the rampant corruption, and every thing bad we see on our daily newsfeeds. *** 

This Band – ‘Kahit Ayaw Mo Na’ (2018)

kahitI first heard this song somewhere but the first time I really paid attention to it was when I heard a young girl sing the song on videoke in a birthday party. And even though the song starts off somewhat like a Moira copycat, even though what it is about, we already heard more than a dozen times before, the song’s build up and chorus pretty much made it what it is—a hit—it very much deserves all kinds of accolades, hit/like/views it gets. Whether it’s the miracle of engineering (i.e., mixing), each member’s restraint or both, you have to admire them for zeroing in on band dynamics, minimalist arrangements, and sounding like really tight band on an acoustic night open mic and nailing every breath, every note, every beat.

Sugarfree – Sa Wakas (2003)

artworks-000136099968-274vu8-t500x500Can’t think of any other song that starts and sounds like ‘white lace and promises’ then puts a dagger into your heart right on the third line and then totally drowns you in the chorus. That vaguely optimistic, vaguely in denial “Ito ang unang araw na wala ka na”, reminds me of another break-up song, Beck’s “Guess I’m Doing Fine”, though it doesn’t quite reach the same level of tonal ambiguity as “Unang Araw.” There’s also this “Monkey Wrench” kind of break-up catharsis in there but it’s more sad/re-assuring than angry. It’s like remembering your first day together and then realizing this is the first day after your last. Sugarfree wrote songs about love that would make you swear never to fall again. And yet also tells you how sad it is to be alone (“Mariposa”), among other things (“Insomya”, “Fade Away”). Years before Junot Diaz’s The Cheater’s Guide to Love, Ebe Dancel sings about love that would linger on long after the relationship ended (“Burnout”). With a simple last-minute switch from past to future tense, Ebe gave us that immortal ‘the half-life of love is forever.’

Tiger Pussy – People You Hate (2013)

a3361513058_10You thought Oh, Flamingo! narrows the gender gap. Though the boys play guitars and the girls, backbeat and rhythm. As the old adage goes, no one comes to shows for the drummer, much less the bass player (except maybe if they’re girls and one of them is Pat Sarabia). Well, wait till you see/hear Tiger Pussy because Jan Sunday doesn’t like relegating women to the back. And if you’re thinking you heard it all before—no, NOT exactly, the “drums are punchier, the structures trickier” (Christgau) and the songs are twenty-fold punkier than what’s in Dookie 20 years ago. Despite the genre’s supposed familiarity, this four-piece punk rock band from Cebu keeps you at your toes, keeps it interesting. Yes, they’re from Cebu, home to Urbandub, Sheila & the Insects and… that famous lechon (no, I wasn’t gonna say Cueshe but that’s also true). And having withdrawn from this type of music for quite a long time now (and lechon as well — yes, I turned semi-vegan almost a year ago), Tiger Pussy’s People You Hate comes as a forceful, refreshing re-introduction to the loud, fast and spunky — that I’m tempted to, and therefore might as well, eat lechon again — if I’m given another crunchy tasty roasted chance. Jan Sunday and co. keep the ‘grrr’ and the ‘riot’ in their riot grrrl punk.

Maude – Pelota Court (2014)

pelota“Great for chill-out kind of road trip in the car with the windows rolled down” probably speaks of this album’s limited appeal—not good enough for singing along while/or washing dishes or doing the laundry—except maybe when you’re not really paying attention to it and thinking about the monthly bills. Or maybe this is supposed to be unobtrusive music for undistracted driving. Or maybe not. The stories are there. It’s just that the songs and the hooks aren’t there yet (“Takda”). B-  

Maude – Aurora (2018)

auroraMaybe it’s this: Maude’s supposed Manila Sound-inspired pop-rock is just a little too clean a little too straight for me. Good news is, it’s better than the first. Sometimes it’s the stories (“Lagnat”, “Baso”), sometimes it’s the songs (“Brownout”, “Will”). Sometimes it’s just chill-out unobtrusive music for undistracted browsing. Sure, theatrics could could get tiring in no time (i.e., December Avenue). But so is unimpassioned storysinging—especially if your usual M.O. is embitterment. True stories, fiction, or both, don’t just tell ’em. You also have to give ’em the feels.

Ben&Ben – Limasawa Street (2019)

limasawaA track or two could be played at a wedding. And they do dress and look like a wedding band. But the best songs here are those which doesn’t say “happily ever after”. It sounded fresh when Up Dharma Down did something like this years ago. With Ben&Ben, it just sounds like the 2010’s version of the ’80s or early ’90s pre-Ultraelectromaneticpop (see: Bodjie’s Law of Gravity)—just with less synths, more strings, acoustic guitars. Great musicians no doubt, they’re reportedly great live, but one song featuring Ebe Dancel suspiciously sounds like one of the hits of the latter’s former band. They’re a decent singles band (“Kathang-Isip”, “Leaves”). And on this album they have few decent ‘single’ songs as well—songs specifically written for those who want to move on (“Mitsa”, “Tala-arawan”). B+

December Avenue – Langit Mong Bughaw (2019)

decemberIs it just me, or the album cover of December Avenue’s Langit Mong Bughaw really looks like that of a worship album—or worse, songs for funeral services? Listen to “Intro” and tell me if it doesn’t feel like riding really slow and heavenly and cold at the same time. It may surprise some that this band has been around for more than a decade already. It took them five years to release their debut, which houses the lone Tagalog title “Eroplanong Papel”, which I deservedly dismissed—it’s not Sugarfree nor Typecast nor Silent Sanctuary (ca. Fuchsiang Pag-ibig). A competent emo-pop bar band, nothing more. Decent musicians, you’d wish they invest more on the songs than whatever tricks they have up their sleeves. Then, they actually did. Invest on the writing that is. And like the boy-best friend who’s always there, the less popular girl who got ditched for the prom queen, or the nerdy teen you never gave a chance, the band just move along until they finally find their darling listeners. Not the third gen emo crowd but YouTube/Spotify/WishFM one. “Kung ‘Di Rin Lang Ikaw” may be their most viewed hit but my vote goes to the song they released in 2017. And while I prefer the alternate title over the official one, I’m relieved that with YouTube/Google, no one’s going to get lost looking for “Hanggang Sa Dulo Ng Walang Hanggan”. So, you take it all, cheesy title included and immerse yourself in love/pain/whatever. Maybe someday, you’ll get sick of it all and finally learn to let go. This could definitely use a little more variation, something light, different (e.g., “Pink 5ive”, “Summer Song”), otherwise this would be of little use once you’ve finally moved on. B  

Shirebound & Busking – For Princesses, By Thieves (O Mga Awit ng Hiraya Para sa Guni-guning Sinta) (2019)

shireNo ‘Lloydy’ here and he’s no Frodo either. And if you’d ask a Star Wars die-hard fan, there’s only one “Return.” The opening track put a smile on my face like in some deleted scene from Avengers: Infinity War—I thought The Mountain Goats—almost. That smile didn’t last long unfortunately, as I waited for the next winner (“Miss Mosh”, “Waltz of Four Left Feet”). C+

Cheats – Cheats (2015)

cheatsKeyboards and female vocal harmonies to enliven old guitar pop/rock; grunge repurposed as rocking party music. Imagine life before Girls. Then, Girls entered the scene. Life became more complicated but also happier, more colorful, fun. Imagine Ernville, a generic sounding band with a generic sounding name. Then, Saab and Candy entered the scene. And then we got Cheats, probably the most exciting 7-piece band of the 2010s. And this debut, probably the greatest thing since pizza came sliced (“Newspaper Girl”, “Summer”, “Headfoam”). It’s meaty, tasty, maybe a few pineapple bits in there (depends on your tolerance for the Hawaiian variety—me I like ’em fine) but HOLY MOZZARELLA — it’s bursting with CHEESE!!! Heat this up in the oven whenever you’re “Drunk”, feel like a loser (“Acumen”), wish to take a day off and just sleep (“Sleepist”) or want to call out the animal inside of you (“Accidents”).

Cheats – Before the Babies (2017)

babiesI’ll probably never look at this album the same way again. And not without thinking about Jim and Saab’s little angel. This has the sound of a band slowing things down a bit, turning reflective as if looking at the dawn thinking about settling down. Less dance-y headbanging music and more like songs to play when mapping out that 5-year plan (“Talk”, “Before the Babies”). A little more varied than their first yet still containing the same ingredients: twee pop-ish vocals, memorable guitar riffs, and the reasons kids love the Bilinda Butchers of the world. Less driving music, more like music for safe and defensive driving (“Melon”, “Crumble”). Go back to the debut if you miss the restless hooks and singalong choruses but play this one in the car when the babies are on board. A

Various Artists – The Best of Manila Sound: Hopia Mani Popcorn (2006)

Manila_soundNot every artist could cover a Rico J. Puno hit and get away with it like Lourd De Veyra and Radioactive Sago did—the murderously drunk funny videoke sing-along “Kapalaran”. Didn’t like Kitchie Nadal’s “TL Ako Sa’Yo” when this came out. It actually sounds a LOT better now. Maybe it was ahead of its time. DRT’s hard-rock version of “Tao” is better than Sugar Hiccup’s version on that other tribute album. And props to Kapatid for shining a light on another classic (“Hanggang Magdamag”) and the usually forgotten funk bands of the ’70s (The Advisors, Soul Jugglers). I could do without Rocksteddy (“No Touch”), 6cyclemind (“Bonggahan”), Protein Shake (“Macho Gwapito”), and Sound’s soulless attempt at Rey Valera’s “Ako Si Superman”. Mayonnaise and Join the Club? They’re just OK. Soapdish’ sped-up version of Rey Valera/Rico J. Puno/Sharon Cuneta classic? Not bad. Up Dharma Down’s “Bitin Sa’Yo” is a miss. B+

Various Artists – The Best of Manila Sound: Hopia Mani Popcorn 2 (2008)

hopiaThis has a better lineup than the first (no 6cyclemind, no Protein Shake). Giniling Festival have always been much much more fun than Rocksteddy. Surprise, surprise! Melany is actually fronted by a guy and they did a decent Soapdish-like job with “Bakit Labis Kitang Mahal”, a welcome alternative to the Ogie Alcasid remake. Brownman Revival’s “Binibini”? Way better than Janno Gibbs’. Pedicab’s “Awitin Mo…” is just OK but Diego Mapa making fun of his kuya (Jao Mapa), funny. Highlights? Kiko Machine’s piano ballad version of “Tayong Dalawa”, Juan Pablo Dream’s mod-ified “Bato Sa Buhangin”, Swissy’s minimalist take on another Cinderella hit. There’s also Imago. Except for that raised eyebrow, Aia de Leon perfectly updates the Dina Bonievie classic (“Bakit Ba Ganyan”). Color It Red? Chilitees? They’re fine. Cueshe? Again, not bad. Session Road’s “Kung Kailangan Mo Ako” doesn’t totally work tho. A- 

Various Artists – Bagong Banda… Awit ni Sampaguita (2008)

bagongEither you’re a curious Sampaguita fan or you just want to get that rare Sugar Hiccup or Session Road track that isn’t on any of their albums. This is for completists only. Covering Sampaguita is like doing The Beatles, except you don’t have tons of songs to choose from. You either get lucky in the lottery or try your very best not to fail. Most of these bands bungled it, with Paramita’s “Bongahan” probably the biggest dud. Little known band Lokal does a decent take on minor hit “Mahilig”. You could say Sugar Hiccup and Paraluman just got lucky “Tao” and “Ikaw Pa Rin” got assigned to them. Session Road, not so much. But thanks to Hannah Romawac, their cover of “Nosi Balasi” doesn’t suck. C

Various Artists – Ultraelectromagneticjam: The Music of the Eraserheads (2005)

jamThat no one thought about making an Apo Hiking tribute until this came out probably tells the difference between love and respect. Or maybe it’s just that the Eraserheads are insanely more popular and there’s more demand. Tribute albums are usually reserved for die-hards but not this. Alternate versions of Ehead’s lesser hits are fun (Sugarfree, OnL, Imago). There are covers better than the original (e.g., The Man Who Sold the World) but not in this album. Barbie and Kitchie? Cute. Especially how Kitchie Nadal titters on that line about shaving. Cueshe’s “Hard to Believe” at x1.25 speed? Not bad. Sponge Cola’s “Pare Ko”? Just a little bit better than my neighbor singing it on videoke. And it’s fucking 6:02 long! Can’t really play this loud beyond 10 PM. Or expect stones raining on your roof (Magpatulog naman kayo)! There are a few unexpected but interesting left turns too (MYMP, South Border, Isha). I wonder if Isha changing Ely’s “beeper” to “cellphone” is already outdated—I’m still calling them “cellphones” and not “smartphones”. Didn’t really expect Ciudad or Narda to be in this album. But where the fuck are Kamikazee? Hilera? Itchyworms? Maybe, 6cyclemind aren’t really worthy to do “Alapaap”. And they even made it worse by making it sound like a 6cyclemind song. A-

Various Artists – The Reunion: An Eraserheads Tribute Album (2012)

reunionAiza couldn’t ruin “With A Smile”, more so with Mike Villegas on her side. But Callalily definitely could. “Minsan” is probably the toughest Eheads song to cover and they should have given it to Vin Dancel. But only so that he wouldn’t have to re-do “Overdrive” because Barbie Almalbis’ cute version was more than enough. We all know Brownman Revival built a career out of their reggae-corrected version of “Maling Akala”. But it also sounds too close to the original. The better alternative then is Itchyworms’ country-fied version, which makes you wonder again why they were not included before. You probably never heard of Iwa Motors and Jennylyn Sucaldito but Tanya Markova’s “Hey Jay” is one of highlights here. Johnoy Danao and Razorback/Gloc9? Just OK. Though you have to wonder why ’90s dinosaurs like Razorback even bothered. We’ve finally got Hilera with “Kaliwete”, but they kind of overloaded it with rockabilly. They would’ve probably done better with a folk-rock “Poorman’s Grave”. Still, no Kamikazee. “Insomya” would’ve been a good fit for them. “Alkohol”, too. A naughty kupaw version of “Bogchi Hukbo” would probably work. And they could definitely do “Magasin” justice better than Chicosci (boobs mo’y gawa ni Belo). Again, 6cyclemind doing “Alapaap”? Fucking shameless. B-

Various Artists – Pop Machine (2020)

cs4366581-02a-bigMunimuni certainly did a better job than Callalily. But they covered the wrong song. Think they should’ve tried “Kailan” instead. Ciudad’s “Aling Nena” is just too clean, too precise, too close to the original (except for the hilarious spoken parts i.e., “ee-sang ae-raaw”), therefore totally defeating the purpose. There are nine cuts already (as of this writing) and most of which, recyclable. (Ask: why should I listen to this instead of the original?) Except for 1) The Borrachos’ raspy gin-fueled bluesy cover of “Poorman’s Grave”. Borracho as in drunk. (In Bicol, we call them burat. No, not that “burat”—put it back in—the other one.) And 2) Reese Lansangan’s transcendent version of “Huwag Kang Matakot”. Ely Buendia said he wrote the song for Eon. Reese Lansangan re-imagines it as a mother’s lullaby for her child. Vision, material, execution—all aligned to perfection. **

She’s Only Sixteen – She’s Only Sixteen (2012)

sixteenWhatever happened to these buzzworthy garage/punk bands of the early 2010s. The ButcherCons, She’s Only Sixteen, the relatively lesser known Rebelle Fleur. Okay, we got one full length album (Coalesce), another EP, and this. Four cuts plus a bonus acoustic version of the first single. “Nothing to Say” would have made this even better. Like The ButcherCons before them, She’s Only Sixteen demonstrates the credo other startups should adhere to—take something and make it your own—at least with the A-sides (“Amygdala”, “Dying to Meet You”). Which makes the Arctic Monkeys-The Strokes influence/comparison the B-sides seem to have made more obvious, easier to ignore. B+  

She’s Only Sixteen – Whatever That Was (2017)

shesonlyIn some alternate timeline, this is already full-length album number 2. But in our timeline, this is the full-length debut. Five years is a long time. And their former label “shelving” them for the same length of time effectively prevented them from releasing that (alternate timeline) first album that would connect the dots between Whatever That Was and their eponymous EP. Sure that first album would have sounded different than this. But then again, if this is album number 2, this would probably sound different too. The long wait and disappointments that comes with it seem to have turned the once sweet into sour, slowed down their tempos, sucked out the fun. This has none of what little lighting in a bottle the first EP had. I liked them better back when they had more energy to spare, even when they had nothing really meaningful to say, back when they’re dying to date underage girls—roughly same age as them I suppose—instead of wanting to be left alone, back when they thought they had this “can’t get you out of my head” effect on them girls, who go to their gigs and love them. B- 

beabadoobee – Space Cadet (2019)

beabadoobeeImagine if Reese Lansangan listened to Pavement. Filipino-British indie darling Beatrice a.k.a. beabadoobee released a whooping 5 EP’s in 2019 (Space Cadet is EP #5) and she did what most Pavement lovers never thought of before (“I Wish I Was Stephen Malkmus”). Of course being half-British she wants to see the “Sun More Often” and she says “often” with a “T”—unlike her American English-taught Filipino fans. B

The Buildings – Cell-O-Phane (2016)

buildingsThis doesn’t deadpan Pavement in the same way Yurei’s screams Nirvana. Maybe because they kept the Pavement signifiers on the periphery (the Bob Nastanovich narration buried near the end of “Sue Me Jack” is echoed in the opening track, the obvious “Shady Lane” MTV references in that “Lucid Sister” music video). And if you listen to them looking for that Pavement influence, which is somewhat hard to parse, don’t think Slanted & Enchanted or Brighten the Corners. Maybe Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain—but only because their best songs are infectiously melodic (“Different Shades of Blue”, “Lucid Sister”) and sometimes has the side effect of sounding like The Breeders (“Museum Tower”), which isn’t bad at all. Some of Wowee Zowee‘s laid back country vibes are here but that’s probably because they are indie-folk darlings Ourselves the Elves’ more indie-rock leaning sister band. The surest point of reference then would be Spiral Stairs “Painted Soldiers” and its music video where Nina Gordon and Louise Post took over Pavement after the dissolution of the band. A-

Yurei – The Problem of Grunge… (2015)

yureiThe Problem of Grunge in 2015, or How to Deal with Boredom and Other Stories, or Memoirs of My Nervous Condition, or The Navel-Gazer’s Guide to Confronting the Self, or Meditations On Life and Death in Metro Manila. That’s not the review yet, that’s just the title. Five long titles for an EP containing five short songs with one-word titles delivered at 320 kilobits per second. Possible problems with Windows: ‘file name is too long’, ‘the path is too long’. They don’t sound like Nirvana, I SWEAR! But their vocalist looks like a Japanese Kult Cobain. B

Oh, Flamingo! – Oh, Flamingo! (2015)

Oh-Flamingo-EP-English-2015-500x500They have some really nifty guitar-indie pop, with some odd, maybe not African-inspired beats (maybe) that you’d wish they have something more interesting to say. Or at least, interesting way(s) to say them. Maybe their latest, “Parara”, “Naubos Na” were attempts in trying to do that. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking because, here’s a band narrowing the gender gap among other things (i.e., they got a cute girl drummer). You thought Two Feet was that good? Idk, I liked Go F*ck Yourself better. **

Coeli – Here Today (2018)

coeli“Under a Bluer Sky” reminds me of Cynthia Alexander. But it’s not the real highlight in Coeli’s 4-track EP Here Today. It’s the nearly six-minute “Magkaibigan o Magka-ibigan”, a modern kundiman about, well, read the title again. Despite clocking at 5:50, which makes it the second longest song in the EP (the shortest is 4-minute plus btw), the song has an LSS-inducing chorus that just gets more LSS-inducing with repeated listening. A-

Munimuni – Simula (2017)

simulaSelf-proclaimed poets playing indie-folk with “deep, poetic lyrics” having people Brazilian-wax poetic over songs they themselves branded with their own genre “makata pop”. Self-limiting as promotion, niche marketing as label. What’s next – poems without words? Now that would be math-folk. Bullish or not, they have songs to show for it. And maybe you could give them a pass—these self-proclaimed poets who probably never read Bukowski—simply because they have a flutician, which is like having a DJ in the mix when your band plays nu-metal (“Bukang-Liwayway”, “Tanikala”). B+

Megumi Acorda – Unexpectedly (2018)

megumi“The sadder I get, the faster I drive”, sings Yan Yuzon on “Lost Guide”. If you don’t go by this rule, by which, I mean your speed isn’t directly proportional to your loneliness, then Megumi Acorda’s Unexpectedly might be a welcome company. At 17 minutes, this EP could be perfect for long drives for someone who has nothing to think about – on repeat (you could also add some of Megumi’s vaporwave tracks from YouTube or Soundcloud). Acorda’s ethereal voice melds with waves of guitars and echoes that you don’t have to learn every word – the songs conceal her lyrics’ sad simplicity. She’s in love in the first and unexpectedly or rather expectedly, heartbroken for the rest of the EP. In love or heartbroken, really makes no difference for the unrequited. She gives the feels, music provides the medium. Sad shoegaze music for long drives or wallpaper bedroom music that has actual songs in it. Well, I’m just happy the opening bars of “Ghost” remind of an old Crazy Horse song and that the song itself reminds of an old song I still can’t put a finger on. B+

IV of Spades – ClapClapClap! (2019)

IV_of_Spades_-_ClapClapClap!Unique leaving IVoS wasn’t probably as big as Ely Buendia ‘graduating’ from the Eraserheads. Though it also broke fans, like when Rivermaya lost Bamboo. The more accurate comparison I guess, is when Dennis split up with his brothers Jimmy and Vinggo and christened himself April Boy Regino (the other two continued as April Boys). Unlike the April Boys, IVoS didn’t even have an album yet before the split up. While Unique’s Grandma could be likened to Bamboo Manalac’s debut after he left Bamboo (No Water, No Moon: eclectic, boring), ClapClapClap! is hardly comparable to what Rivermaya had each time they were reduced to a trio (It’s Not Easy Being Green in ’99, Bagong Liwanag in ’07). The more accurate comparison would be Buhay, their first full length album with Jason Fernandez—scattershot but not without a few bright spots (“Come Inside of My heart”, “Dulo Ng Hangganan”). They may have lost the ‘old disco’ but with rehashed early 2k’s garage-funk (“Take That Man”) and new wave revival (“In My Prison”) you can still grind. All in all, the songs rise and fall with tempos, falsettos, and styles. There’s just too much here to wade through, too much to weed out. But not enough weed. B-

PS. If it’s true that it was the Autotelic/December Avenue fans who started the hate bandwagon online, I would also understand.

The Strange Creatures – Stargazer (2014)

stargazerThe 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”. A-

Narda – A Postcard from (2002)

narda postLo-fi and indie don’t mean much nowadays. Bedroom recordings could sound as good as studio ones. Not when A Postcard From Narda came out in 2002. This EP sounds like it was recorded on an 8-track tape, unproduced like early Pavement, only it’s indie-pop instead of post-punk. More than the sound, they have songs, each one as perfectly imperfect as the others. If I have to pick a favorite, it would be “Kusina”, written by Wincy Ong (Patience Dear Juggernaut, San Lazaro), a vividly cinematic work of fiction. “Tanong mo ay iyong sagutin”—tonight I’ll make a playlist with “Meron Ba?”, “Suntok Sa Buwan”, and “Wag Na Wag Mong Sasabihin” in it. I’m sure it’d be awesome. A-

Narda – Suwerte (2002)

narda swrtMore upbeat this time but still sporting that lo-fi indie sound. Another four track-EP that’d make you think that they could have waited a li’l bit and made a full length album instead. Except maybe they didn’t have the funding. Which is what going indie used to mean before Bandcamp and Spotify happened. At least they sound happy. Or maybe just foolish (“Tanga”, “Suwerte”). Let me play that opening riff again. A-

Narda – Burador (2003)

narda brdrWhile they’ve always been a bit rough around the edges, the songs here neither sound like demos nor drafts. Rumour has it that the band’s drummer sold his drum set only so they could make this record. After which, they’re left with nothing but guitars and so they went acoustic and gathered themselves around the campfire (“Another Day”, “Ang Gabi”). A- 

Narda – Salaguinto’t Salagubang (2003)

narda slgntSmart Tagalog lyrics, one fan noted. That it’s easier to write songs in English may not be always true; that it’s easier to spot cheesy Tagalog lyrics is. And that’s one reason why Narda have always been a notch higher than other indie bands in the local scene who sound more British or Swedish. Time and time again, they’ve written indie-pop gems laced with memorable riffs, it also sounds good when they slap distortion on it (“Liwanag”). This more or less wraps up the songs and sounds of their three previous EPs. After “Meron Ba?” comes “Saan Na?” while “Jaywalker” recalls the vintage sound of Suwerte. A-

Juan Karlos – ‘Buwan’ (2018)

81OBJGxpHoL._SS500_Almost there but not quite. Either it makes you push replay or it leaves you wanting. I’d say it’s the latter. There’s enough anguish in Labajo’s singing but his lyrics needed work (“Halina tayo’s humiga”). Sure, he’s in love. Truly? Maybe. Madly? Yes. Deeply? Not, if you read the lyrics. And what’s with the moon? Is he going crazy? A lunatic? Is he gonna turn into a werewolf? More like he’s just plain horny.

Juan Karlos – Diwa (2020)

diwaThe refrain of “Sampaguita” sounds a bit odd the first time but it works, Gloc-9 makes it work. Gloc-9 paints a heartbreaking picture of OFW life and then somewhat ruins the song in the third verse with that ‘tragic’ ending. As if people having no choice but to work overseas isn’t tragic enough. As if unemployment and underemployment should be accepted as the norm. Don’t like it when this JK Labajo dude puts extra kinks to his singing. It pulls attention to itself and not in a good way. I’m talking about some Jeff Buckley-ish kinks here—some of them are, not all. All the ten cuts here sounds warm, live, sweaty and real, especially after listening to Unique’s self-indulgent, cold electro-psychedelia. Like Unique, JK Labajo has good pipes. Maybe Unique should take his cue from JK and get himself a backing band. In return, he could help JK fix some of his lyrics. Maybe Unique could also learn from JK how to write about things other than himself. Find himself someone/something to love, lust for or think about other than fame. B-

Unique Salonga – Grandma (2018)

Grandma_by_Unique_album_artworkUnique may have drawn first blood but this is hardly a win. Too early for him to brag about ‘money in the bag’ (“M”, “Cha-ching!”), for which the IVoS gave him the dreaded slow clap. Nothing here comes close to “Mundo”, nothing remotely as catchy as “Hey Barbara”. But that’s probably the point—he wants to burn ‘old disco’ (“Ozone”), cut any association with his former band. So, this has to be different, which doesn’t mean it’s good. He’s probably slightly better with lyrics than his ex-bandmates but this is also wanting. Whatever this lacks, without Zild on his side, he overcompensates—with synths. With no Blaster to provide him the funk, he wisely slows down the tempo, goes for quiet acoustic numbers. If only he could reach the depth he’s trying to reach (IVoS’s “I Ain’t Perfect” beats his “Midnight Sky” by a few inches). Emulations abound, with Beatles being the most obvious, probably late Arctic Monkeys too. But we only make do with emulations when we can’t afford or access what’s being emulated, which is nearly impossible to be impossible when you have a data plan. I’m sure my grandmother didn’t listen to this type of thing. And you don’t have to over-analyze his lyrics to find meanings which aren’t there. He’s just turned eighteen–as in legal–is all he’s really trying to say. C+

Unique Salonga – Pangalan (2020)

unpShorter and more consistent than his debut with a few hooks poking through (“Bukod-Tangi”). None of the new songs are as memorable as “Ozone” (probably still his best, though I find it a bit exploitative and insensitive when I think about the families and victims of the tragedy). And no, “Delubyo” is neither dark nor disturbing. It’s a sound collage and anyone can make such. Eight cuts, six songs—that’s just slightly more than half of what’s in his debut. That’s good if it means we get less fillers and less of Unique telling us how the IVoS management robbed him of royalties (But where’s my money / Don’t waste my time) or why he left the group. But not really. Turns out, he can’t stop singing about himself (“Bukod-Tangi”, “Pahinga”), can’t stop bragging about, can’t stop trash-talking like he’s up against you-know-who in a FlipTop battle (“Dambuhala”, “Mga Katulad Mo”). Either he’s excessively self absorbed or he’s still hurting. Maybe both. Writing songs to exorcise his own demons? Maybe. C+