December 30, 2011

Best OPM Tracks of 2011

As a tribute to a great year in OPM that was 2011, I made a best-of list that showcases only the most beguiling singles I’ve gushed over for the last 12 months. As expected, the results vary: a mix of the low-key and the ambitious, the intimate and the cosmopolitan, the indie and the mainstream. But like every other year-end list, it’s a culmination of effort that draws its strength from pure love. More than anything, I think that’s the reason lists are made, the unrelenting transparency of having to show everyone, unashamed, a love that goes beyond a good word or hype. Let there be rank, as someone obsessed with making lists says it. (Blog entry also appears in Pulse, an online music magazine based in the Philippines)


15. Bambu: “Something”
(…Exact Change…, Community Kitchen Recordings)

Few people look to hip-hop music for commentary on pressing issues such as domestic violence, given its long history of misogynist biases. But Los Angeles-based Fil-Am rapper Bambu took time to inject verses that trace the trajectory of his life in the hood, struggling amidst a backdrop of familial violence and disarray. Over a flipped sampling of a ubiquitous Adele track, Bambu busts the perfect antithesis to Eminem’s “Love the Way You Lie,” armed with spit-fire rhymes that knuckles the hard knock of urban life.




14. Japsuki: “Hits and Misses”
(Monologue Whispers, D Chord Records)

Japs Sergio’s solo project reminds me a bit of Washed Out and Neon Indian. The misty, lo-fi aesthetics reverberating in “Hits and Misses” sound like an offshoot of chillwave-era bedroom pop, with a sparkly whimsy that recalls some of his best work with Daydream Cycle.



13. The Butchercons: “Medicine”
(Coalesce, independently released)

Clocking short of three minutes, “Medicine” is a fun garage-rock stomper that pays homage to bands such as The Stooges, The Clash, and Television as if the last four decades never happened. Combining frantic energy with buzz-saw guitar riffs and solid, driving rhythms, The Butchercons’ lead single brings back the rawness in DIY-style rock, with a less-is-more production style infused in its primal fit.




12. The Camerawalls: “A Gentle Persuasion”
(Bread and Circuses EP, Lilystars Records)

“A Gentle Persuasion” hits home like no other in the list. This song makes you want to rest your head on someone else’s bare chest and whisper words of fuming sweetness. It’s mood music at its most laidback form, inviting joy and sun-soaked bliss right at your comfort. Clem De Castro’s flamboyantly sexy lyrics and whimsical melodies are to blame for all of this—his romantic stamp, so to speak.




11. Taken by Cars: “This is Our City”
(Dualist, Party Bear Records)

“This is Our City” opens big and shapes up to be a textbook anthem on optimism and morning bliss. Gone are the nightclub feel of Endings of a New Kind and its flirtations with laser-bombed, raver-punk shtick that once floored the local indie scene. In its place, we get to hear Sarah Marco coo out a stadium-sized blare, while allowing massive drums and guitars to kick in mercilessly, sweetly. And then there’s the awesome synth pulse breakdown somewhere in the middle of the song, providing a throwback to the classic TBC style we know by heart. Pure eargasm, it lingers just as that.



10. Chelo Aestrid: “Pinays Rise”
(Love, Life & D’Light, Muse-ic Productions & Homeworkz)

It’s refreshing to hear that reigning ambition in Chelo Aestrid’s “Pinays Rise,” a catchy, funk-pop romp that pays tribute to Filipina pride and Filipinas’ collective aspirations. Produced by The Philippine All-Stars’ very own Q-York, Chelo’s debut single has that Janelle Monae vibe all over, only made distinct by the sampled “Hey Mickey” drums, funky basslines and subtle horn stabs. Its indelible hooks recall a campy, ‘80s-inflected track that could easily pass for Prince and Michael Jackson B-sides, but Chelo’s sass gives the track an entire new character that shrugs off all the comparisons being thrown at her. Listening to the song alone, you could quite simply smell a confident star, a scent that unfortunately belongs to a chosen few.



9. Multo: “In Sum of the Sacred”
(Footnote to Youth EP, Number Line Records)

Lemonheads. Teenage Fanclub. Pavement. Superchunk. I could drop hints as to what Allan Lumba is trying to pull off in his depiction of a summer anthem. Propelled by jangly guitars and fanciful melodies that you hate not to love, Multo’s “In Sum of the Sacred” has nostalgia painted all over it, and reminds us that once in a while, we need that ‘90s indie-rock vibe in our lives. It’s a pretty song washed in dreamy simmer, and, as all good pop music should be, it stays in you for as long as bittersweet memories usually do.



8. Zia Quizon: “Ako na Lang”
(Simple Girl, PolyEast Records/EMI Philippines)

Zia knocks out every local mainstream single released this year with the tender “Ako na Lang,” a rant that more than anything begs for some love and romantic exclusivity. This theme, grated, has been overused in OPM for ages, from Rey Valera’s beloved ballads to Up Dharma Down’s similarly-veined jazz-pop classic “Oo,” but Zia ties the familiarity with unabashed straightforwardness and a soul-crushing delivery that will make you bend down on your knees and listen to it intently. Girl’s got a voice that crackles of heartbreak and restraint, miles better than what her famous sister and mom could offer even at the rallying peak of their music careers.


7. Pupil: “20/20”
(Limiters of the Infinity Pool, Sony-BMG)

For two decades, Ely Buendia has delivered opus after opus and hasn’t really lost his touch as a brilliant songwriter with a flair for random images that blend well in his manufactured universe. “I wish that I could see the world through your eyes/You zipped through the stars in a silver shopping cart,” he sneaks right through the dreamy, dance-punk intro with a hopeful tone, eliding verse after verse, his love letter to the Spiritual Being. It’s one of the best things he’d written for Pupil, and although we still miss his old band, Ely seems to be in the right company of post-punk dwellers churning out four-on-the-floor charmers in their continuing surge of greatness.




6. Loonie Feat. K.A. Antonio: “From Saudi with Love”
(Sony-BMG)

A great companion piece to Gloc 9’s “Walang Natira,” Loonie’s surprisingly engaging “From Saudi with Love” works as an impressive bust of desert diary anecdotes addressed to Susan, his lover from the Philippines. The love letter takes a grim and at times absurd look at his experiences in Saudi Arabia: the struggles, the emotionally draining workload, the abuse he has to face in the claws of his boss, and the loneliness that seemed to have consumed him in whole. It’s a stinging sentiment that resonates with most of our OFWs, but being the talented whacko Loonie is, he adds a certain level of goof in his chops, just to lighten things up.



5. Techy Romantics: “Escape”
(Escape, Party Bear Records)

“Escape” strikes me as spandex-variety pop that must have sprung from an accident. Think of Xanadu-era Olivia Newton John, or Lisa Stansfield at her fiercest. It’s a striking dance song embedded in full ‘80s bent, lost in what seems to be a rush of circling synths, house music-ready beats, and vintage glam. I myself don’t have a problem with the direction Techy Romantics is heading toward. In fact, I love every bit of its campiness with its rousing lines, “You are the fire in my life, keeping me burning deep inside”—a campiness that could floor even the most elitist of dance DJs—as well as its desire to take over the catwalk life with some heavy pounding.



4. Up Dharma Down: “Indak”
(Terno Recordings)

It must be tough to write a song that simultaneously tugs at your heartstrings and breaks your heart, and still sing it with the emotional drive it requires. Up Dharma Down’s Armi Millare is more than capable of pulling off such a stunt, conveying suffering and recovering from a heartbreak like a thespian. On the bruised ballad “Indak,” we see someone in the throes of emotional anxiety, confused as to whether she would continue the forbidden love affair or remain true to her principles. Armi wrote a flawless, meditative piece with pop sensibility written all over it, ranking among the most mesmerizing tracks in UDD’s ever-expanding body of work, as powerful and resonant as “Oo,” “Sana,” and “Tadhana.”



3. Fando & Lis: “What Time Is It There?”
(Found & Lost, Avant-Pop Music)

It’s becoming a habit I enjoy most: listening to downer ballads that leave a meaningful smile on the face. I love how bare and stripped of complexity some songs are, how gentle melodies and vocal harmonies connive to create unity or tension. “What Time Is It There?” gives me that exact feeling, that sense of seclusion and poignancy, gorgeously presented as a virtuosic piano-and-vocal performance that channels Elton John, Tori Amos, or probably both. Inspired by a Tsai Ming-liang film of the same title, it’s a song that features Khavn de la Cruz and sister Ledh on a call-and-response duet, forging the connection between time and distance and a love that knows no odds.



2. K-Jah Feat. Tala: “Hilamos”
(Karitela Production)

This is rap at its most cutting, a modern-life commentary that downplays the illusory benefits we get from materialism and modernity. Through a flag-bearing, youthful anthem, K-Jah skews words like an adept street poet. His observations, both urban-smart and hustler-like, take a dig at our inner slums and souls (“Panatilihin ang makalumang asal, sa panahong moderno. Disiplina, ang natural na magarbo”), all recited over an enthralling, jazz-funk sound-bed. And boy, does he sound like some messianic, second-coming of “What’s Going On?”-era Marvin Gaye. Or maybe I’m just exaggerating. Los Indios Bravos’ Tala also provides a worthy, no-nonsense verse, one that shows mad skills and restraint. Together, they display a compelling brand of social awareness in a time where mere flash, violence, and gang wars rule local hip-hop.


1. The Strangeness: “Being Sober is Such a Drag”
(Jesus Camp EP, Wide Eyed Records Manila)

The Strangeness was like the local equivalent of The Strokes when they first came out: a promising bandit of ‘70s garage-rock fetishists whose music, to borrow Joe Levi, is the stuff of which legends are made. I remember being blown away the first time I heard “Being Sober is Such a Drag,” which screams of ragged revolt and stoner-rock high, giving you some of the best four minutes of fun you could ask for. They sure brought back the fun in rock, that old-school, smashing-windshields vibe of yesteryears. But most of all, that song kicked ass like nobody this year did. Oh yes, that last bit remains to be contended with.




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