In pop music, sadness perhaps is the easiest emotional cloak to wear. It’s abused and crushed to the ground, sold in bargaining numbers to a crowd that chips on its every chunk and bits. It’s easy to see why it has become a diamond of commodities for the last few decades. People relate to heartbreaks, almost everyone has felt the ruins of a bad breakup holding onto pain for months and years; some, even got stuck to it for as long as cavemen were with their eating habits.
But there are only few records that could translate the purest of emotional scars in a beautifully executed, deeply moving package that rings any truer to that of a real human experience. Sugarfree’s breakup opus, Sa Wakas was an ode to desolation, one that occupies a painfully specific spot in our collective memories. Music junkies like us who grew up listening to Sugarfree understand that at one point in our lives, we’ve memorized every lines by their songbook, moshed in hysteria every time we hear the songs get played on the radio or in some cramped outdoor gig, and at the dimmest part of our existence, screamed “Ayoko nang mag-isa, ayoko nang mag-isa” in endless, rapturous loop—teary-eyed, lost for words. This, and maybe Beck’s Sea Change, Bon Iver’s For Emma Forever Ago, and Adele’s 21 managed to embrace solitude and despair with soaring wings flapped high and proud, crafting a hard sell therapy for those who refused to move on with their exes.
Bagetsafonik’s self-titled sophomore album follows the emotional blueprint of Sugarfree’s Sa Wakas, swaddling the hurt in a lush assortment of morose guitar-rock now made niftier with striking pop sensibilities and intimate songwriting right up the alley. While the band's debut album Travelogue is at its best, more experimental and sonically adventurous in terms of production style, the follow-up album Bagetsafonik tends to lean more on a straight-up conceptual album that showcases confessional tales of farewell and heartbreak depicted at its most harrowing, carefully sequenced like a total cinematic experience for those who loved breakup Hollywood classics in the High Fidelity/Blue Valentine vein. Also, it’s ten-times more thematically consistent as compared to the debut record, even more emotionally resonant, serving as the best possible portrait of a person who experienced the blunt side of love, that there is indeed beauty in finding meaning out of “passing hours and days” and “sweet delusion.” Infectious, delightful and soaring, the songs in Bagetsafonik drift in bittersweet melodies and dreamlike coating with Ace Cada’s vocals playing a clean, deep instrument that wounds the cut even deeper.
Opener “Curtain Call” sets the tone of the album, that bickering rant of loneliness ricocheting in four minutes of psych-pop meltdown and misty cocktail lament. It is then followed by the head bopping, alt-pop ringer “Asterisk” and album highlight “Airports,” with Ace’s lyrics turning into an imagist direction that punctuates even the most indescribable of emotions. In what could be a heartbreaking soundtrack to parting ways in of all places, the airport, Ace sings, “Falling in transient states, a discourse through faulty lines. Blank stares come in pairs” as probably his own take on the difficulty of bidding farewell at the very last minute.
“Disguised Compromise” and “4:24 PM” comes off as continuation to the saga that is “Airports”, casting a helplessly heartbroken dude that pleads for his girl to stay in his arms for the longest grasp of time that he could, even if he has to “pause the world for a moment.” It felt like the songs were written for a particular scene in a movie, a cringe-worthy scope of all things romantic and heartbreaking. While they’re at it, it’s quite a noble, tough act for Ace Cada, Bagetsafonik’s chief songwriter to be able to understand the idiosyncrasies of a man who chased the odds of love, like the protagonists in Nick Hornby novels. He’s miserablist a writer as Ebe Dancel, Mikey Amistoso, or even Gab Alipe to some extent, illustrating the push-pull dynamics of relationship with sympathetic cool or in the case of “Radio Silence,” a mere admission of love falling apart with balls taken away from the man, himself.
Placed strategically at the centerpiece is “Pyromaniac,” this album’s “Mariposa,” “Endless A Silent Whisper,” “Patlang,” “Oo”—yes, that relatable, self-deprecating anthem that sums up why unrequited love can be a terribly painful matter to deal with. It’s stoked with unadulterated adolescent angst wrapped in soaring choruses and sapped down instrumentations, and a kind of song that might just get some cross-over success if handled very well by the team. “Word For Word” makes up for a smooth transition to yet another catchy number with a memorable hook built around melodica lines. “Silverstar” on the other hand, is unmistakably the best Ciudad song not written by Mikey Amistoso and company.
And there goes the transition to what could be the best troika of songs ever put in an OPM record for the last five years. “Ang Buhay Natin Ay…” is not an actual track, but a Danny Zialcita-inspired movie dialogue turned interlude that serves as introduction to the bitter pill cosmos of “Parang Pelikula,” a track that blurs the line between fiction and reality, reel and real-life endings. The band’s resident keyboardist/beatmaker Marcushiro Nada wrote this sentimental ditty that plunges into how romance is portrayed in the movies and why it causes some people to leave the cinemas quite reasonably lonely, upon watching the last few scenes. The song then breaks into silence and segues into the hushed, mawkish lullaby, “Despedida” where Ace gets to sing in an emotionally honest stride, backed by mesmerizing vocal harmonies, delicate guitars, and finger snaps. As soon as it hits the 4-minute mark, a lovely synthesizer breakdown just steals the show, lingering in and out like the sound of hopelessness and closure about to erupt in fanciful fireworks display. I love the quiet, resigned wisdom that it gives, beautiful in its ugliness to show a love that ended in terminal decay. Reality, you may call it, but to some, it’s an insightful way on how we look at relationships gone astray—that it doesn’t always have to be all about happy endings. Sometimes the resolution is in the acceptance, it’s the major facet that drives us to love, get bruised again, and remain graceful amidst the cyclic process. And that’s what Bagetsafonik brings to the table, a heartbreaking experience that leaves an aftertaste too strong to be washed away. A-