But there’s more to their revisionist take on contemporary music than meets the eye: these guys have embraced the mood of 21st century life and post-modern ennui with a kind of music that carves out spots in the lives of many Filipino people. The songwriting tandem alone of Paul Yap and Armi Millare spawned singles that nearly takes then rescues life. For the last 7 years, they’ve made us shout-along to the bitterness of “Oo,” fall in love over and over again with “Tadhana,” and run sobbing in daydream with “Indak,” while making our everyday life experiences and heartbreaks a part of theirs too. At their most engaging, Up Dharma Down wrote songs that are landmark of its time, pained and genuine, delivered as if it echoes the sentiment of someone who has gone through a lot in life.
Their new single “Turn It Well” off their highly anticipated third album, Capacities slightly veers away from the trajectory of all-heartbreak and soul that caught the world webbed in emotional tangles. Surprisingly, it falls headfirst into well-placed blasts of retro-cosmic fetishisms and hooky, New Order-inspired synthwork, cruising on some ‘80s throwback that’s unlikely stripped off from the pop thrills of a dance record. If that seems like a sort of bait and switch, then you must have underestimated Up Dharma Down’s change of sonic direction that early. Armi Millare gets pummeled by this newfound aesthetic, her voice now fogged up and processed in the cushiness of the production to make her sound like life’s depended on a bejeweled heart controlled by Nintendo gamers stuck in the ‘80s. Synthesizers and velvety electronic flourishes are also more upfront here, trying to control the over-all flow than hijacking it. But compared to anything that Up Dharma Down has released over the past few years, “Turn It Well” is more about shredding their emotional pop tropes for something more adventurous and stylish, dressing it up with straightforward new wave pulse that sounds way ahead of its time, even in its retro-fashion sense.