February 6, 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: Hijo - Slow Rock Volume ½ (2011)

When Bamboo Mañalac left his own band to pursue a solo career in recording, we thought it was the right time for the remaining members to shine and form their own bands and respective side projects. It turns out such forecast never materialize as they decided to stick it through thick and thin, and continue making music using a different moniker. At the expense of being compared to their predecessor bands ‘Maya and Bamboo, the three stayed tight and remained unaffected by intrigues, soldiering on like true survivors of a shipwreck. Nathan Azarcon eventually took over the vocals and bass duties. The remaining two, Vic Mercado and Ira Cruz manned their respective tools like it was 2004—when they were first introduced as drummer and guitarist of the now-defunct supergroup. To complete the line-up and fill the sonic spaces, they recruited classically-trained guitarist Junji Lerma of Radioactive Sago Project fame and keyboardist Josiah Orduna. In just a span of months, they went to the studio to officially start their business, writing and recording new songs. Hijo came to life, and the rest as they say, is history.

Their debut EP, Slow Rock Volume ½ surprisingly deviates from the Bamboo sound that we’ve grown accustomed to. This time, they’ve softened a bit, learned to scrap the hard-hitting anthems of empowerment and socio-political sloganeering for a glaze that coats at a more personal level, perhaps a warmer, slyly intimate songcraft. Sure they’re still angry at the current system, still passionate about love as it was before, but they haven’t displayed a range of subtlety this vivid and widescreen at least when their previous work with Bamboo is concerned. Except for maybe, “Tamalee” which does sound like it was written for Bamboo Mañalac in the offshoot that were Bamboo’s previous hits “Hallelujah” and “Kalayaan.” Most of the songs in Hijo’s Slow Rock Volume ½ actually have a life of its own, each has a story to tell, a contrast to shade and differentiate. “Dahil Sayo” for example, starts with a tango beat and slowly morphs from a kundiman-inspired, prom dance song to a classic rock axiom that mashes glam guitar solos and grunge-lite instrumental breakdowns, all in delicate grit. It’s a love song declared in open arms stillness, but like everything that’s meant to be sad and draggy, it ends in painful pleading—allowing for somber piano notes to cascade and grow fainter the time it hits the final straw. “Di Mo Na Kaya” deploys good old fashioned rock with jazzy undertones and heavy rhythms gradually ascending in calculated chaos. From where it starts, a calm power ballad of some sorts, it quickly builds up and soars to a technical lunacy that displays their expansive musical chops— one that is propelled by chunky, big riffs and polished arrangements.

My only problem with Slow Rock Volume ½ is its inconsiderable length. With only four songs that left you hanging, you’d find yourself wanting for more of that propulsive energy, that ringing promise of intensity you haven’t heard in a rock record for the longest time. And to our surprise, Hijo marches on with a solid, highly listenable debut, strong enough for you to ditch the shadows of its past.  B 

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