January 27, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Zia - Zia (2011)

I remember how refreshing it was listening to Zia Quizon’s “Ako Na Lang” on pop radio for the very first time. Unlike her contemporaries on the format, Zia brings authentic wistfulness in her vocal delivery, basked in a carefully arranged, jazz-pop slant that glides at its most breathtaking subtlety. When Zia breaks into hurtful pleading, asking for a chance at love, she actually sounds more like an adorable sweetheart rather than a wounded lady blinded by pathetic, one-sided love. “What are you waiting for? Call my number knock on the door. Andito lang ako, how I wish you let me know,” she beseeches, as defenseless and as honest as every women out there who might have experienced the same stuff puppy love is made of. It’s cute with teeth-mark of desperation and sadness in it, something that’s pretty much rare in pop music these days.

Unfortunately, that effortless charm in “Ako Na Lang” doesn’t transpire in most of the songs in Zia Quizon’s self-titled debut. In true record industry fashion, the talented Zia had to undergo image experiment—her label still unsure whether to market her as a soul sweetheart, a big band crooner, or a cover artist bound to sing the A-Z of the karaoke hit list. The covers range from interesting (the Sheena Easton original, “Simple Girl’) to coffee shop-boring (“Smile” and “Mambobola”), off-putting her potentials as a budding talent with so much to offer. “Dear Lonely” is an enjoyable pop-rock number with stirring orchestral ballast to complement it, but the song itself sounds like a complete left over from Pink’s catalogue. And then there’s the swingy ‘50s vibe in “Simple Girl,” which Zia penned herself. It’s overwrought and over-produced to an extent; an older lounge singer could do magic and ace it in a finger snap. Plus the fact that she’s too prim to carry the weight of the song.

I shouldn’t be giving unsolicited advice at this point. I just think Zia could do well with a more contemporary blend of pop/soul/jazz type of material or simply put it, better record producers to work with. Leaping towards the retro territory just doesn’t seem to fit her mold and cover songs only add insult to her capability as a promising singer-songwriter with a knack for emotional kick. Zia’s vocals have always been her biggest strength in the first place. And I hope in the next album, her production team would make proper use of it.   B- 

January 24, 2012

Bamboo jams with 1/2 of Rivermaya

In a house party hosted by the Elgars, a one-time band reunion happened much to the delight of ‘90s music fans. Bamboo Mañalac jammed with two of his former bandmates, Mike Elgar and newly married Mark Escueta for an intimate sing-along featuring some of the biggest Rivermaya hits such as “Elesi,” “Panahon Na Naman,” “Kisapmata,” and “Himala” just to name a few.

A brief rundown involving the three: over a decade of line-up changes, it was during Mañalac’s stint as resident vocalist that we saw Rivermaya at its career peak, releasing critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums like Rivermaya, Trip, and Atomic Bomb. Bamboo left the band in 1998 to stay in the US and was replaced by then keyboardist Rico Blanco. Still part of the current group line-up, Escueta replaced Rome Velayo in the mid ‘90s to take the drums/percussion duties. Elgar, on the other hand, joined the band in 2001 while working on the album Tuloy Ang Ligaya.

January 22, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Patience Dear Juggernaut - Girl The Impaler (2011)

There’s so much to love on Patience Dear Juggernaut’s debut album, Girl The Impaler. Mining geek cool through the confessional slang of Wes Anderson flicks and JD Salinger’s coming-of-age doldrums, it’s a record that pulls humor from the trickiest situations and tugs at your heartstrings from the zaniest spots. Also not to mention, it boasts songs that straddle in between twee and feverish romanticism, where our boy character shares his romantic encounters with the girls he has dated, and writes funny anecdotes that taught him to be the grown-up he is now. Familiar? Not really.

The main man behind this ribald eccentricity is Wincy Ong, resident guitarist-keyboardist of Us-2 Evil-0 and bassist of the now-defunct garage band, Narda. Wincy takes his cues from the likes of Ben Folds Five and Belle & Sebastian, making quirkiness briefly seem like a good thing again. With a goofy drawl, he wears fictitious mask to diss the ex-girlfriends that left him crying in the wee hours of the day (“You’re So Cool Stephanie,” “Volcanoes”) and makes time to enlist all the sweetest things to say to the woman he loves but can never be his (“Beta Male,” “Art School Lover,” and “Forget About Her”).

Sure, we get a rear-view mirror of 500 Days of Summer vibe on this, a musical equivalent of a dorky Sundance hit whose leads are more often than not, middleclass, art school geeks sobbing to the idea of odd romances. But Wincy’s trademark wit and twee makes for an entertaining gag rather than a shot at pretentious whimsy.

On “Ellen”, he agrees to meet up with his ex-girlfriend for a casual drink, and gets devastated after finding out about the ex’s sexuality. Over sunny melodies, slinky piano chords and jangly guitars, he was bemused at the revelation, and had a change of heart after the ex asks instead for a threesome with another hot girl around. Wincy quips, “And I was feeling really glum, I was reaching for a gun until the girls said, How about a threesome?” It is one of the best moments in the album, together with “Joan,” a track huffed in depressing tone where Wincy plays the boyfriend to the barely legal, manic-depressive Joan, contemplating on loneliness and the struggles of getting out of it.

Lest anyone suspect otherwise, I'm completely certain that Patience Dear Juggernaut’s Girl The Impaler will still be making rounds in my music library for years. It’s an album brimming with hooks and charms, rolling out bits and pieces of why I love music in the first place: the ability to throw out anthems that you’ll sing in the deepest, darkest corners of your existence or for the lack of it, something you won’t be ashamed of humming in your bathrooms while you wait for the sunshine outside to unfurl. And yes, it’s a funny record too that’s honest and deliberate in sending its message across. Who says tongue-in-the-cheek artists have such a shorter shelf-life?   A- 

January 14, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Similar Objects - Finding Astral Lovers (2011)

Similar Objects' experimental, IDM-flavored Finding Astral Lovers is a challenging record that fuses abstract sounds with the pulse of city life excesses, incorporating rich layers of disjointed beats, electronic textures, and samples that evoke everyday exploration of the unconscious. Listening to the album is an experience in itself as if you’re immersed to a Zen-like meditation in some zoned out place that you haven’t even seen before. It can be tad tiring, difficult to grasp at some point, but the reward is in the waiting—the attempt to see the beauty transform slowly from its alienating, psychedelic lushness.

Finding Astral Lovers, in its stirring moments, had some of the loveliest mood music this side of the world. There’s a slight cuff of ethnic music in the background which gives it a home-bound, Oriental feel. Jorge Wieneke, the man behind the ambient solo project, carves tunes from digital kulintangs, chimes, and tribal percussion midis with flair of an expert. He mixes it with the crackles of ambient noise and lingering rhythms, creating a world woven deftly on its own. The result is a warm, ethereal laptop experiment that sounds way ahead of its time, but is grounded in all its earthiness.

There are a couple of stand out in this album filled with fillers. “Black Out For A Second” plays with silence and unexpected blips to capture the feel of a memory relapse. “Buffeted and Jolted” is cinematic and haunting, like a score of some surrealist Lynchian movie. And then there’s the album closer, “A Small Chord Like A Spider’s Web”, with its gauzy breakbeats and electronic flourishes building up to a swell of sinister bale. Wieneke’s knack of collecting photographed feelings and nuances through maximalist, forward-leaning music, one that fleets in seconds and occasional outbursts, has always been the source of the album’s strength. He paints images in the abstraction of sounds, a touchstone that is evidently clear in most songs in the record. This gives Similar Objects'  Finding Astral Lovers its major creative step forward, and when it taps the unfamiliar and the Zen-like, it almost feels bigger than the moody electro music it makes. B+

January 13, 2012

NEW TRACK: The Strangeness - "Naglalakbay"

The Strangeness recently did an impressive reworking of an old Juan Dela Cruz band track called “Naglalakbay” as part of their up-and-coming mixtape, Outside Jesus Camp.

The original version by JDLC bears semblance to Elton John’s 1971 piano ballad “Tiny Dancer,” complete with a beautiful orchestral flourish smacked in the middle part of the song. The Strangeness on the other hand, made a slightly noticeable variation on the melody and added harmonicas, twangy guitars, and gang vocals soaked under a vintage ‘70s rock production to capture a whim of nostalgia. It’s a great cover that stands on its own, and I loved it to pieces. Listen to the track below.

January 12, 2012

NEW TRACK: June Marieezy - "Sometimes" and "Think About"

What a great opening salvo for 2012. Neo-soul newbie June Marieezy has just dropped the video for “Sometimes” featuring rap artist RBTO. Shot in lackadaisical colors, the MV shows June at her funkiest strut, walking around various spots in downtown Manila.

Another brand new track off her upcoming album is available for free download via Deeper Manila. The track is called “Think About,” a soothing, quiet storm jam that reminds us of the songs from Chillitees’ Extra Rice album. Download it here.

January 11, 2012

NEW TRACK: Pain-in-the-neck - "D.M.D."

Pain-in-the-neck kicks off the year with the video premiere of his latest single, “D.M.D.”

Pain, a pioneer member of veteran hiphop collective, Anthill Mobb is back with a rap anthem that shows him delivering verse trade-offs in his native Cebuano, with a surprisingly newfound confidence that we haven’t seen before. Dice, a reliable producer/MC responsible for some of the biggest urban hits in the Philippines from the last decade, helms this dope of a track. Watch the video below.


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