December 27, 2012

The Best Filipino Tracks of 2012 (#40 - 21)

Coming up with a year-end music list is always exhausting. You scour the dusting archives and recount the experience you had with the 8-month single. You skip meals and do some hefty amount of research just to check on accuracy and background info. You play the music again and again, until you absorb detail by detail, the impact it had on you, the way it accompanied you on your long walks and commute, and the killer hooks that made you tap your foot without missing a beat. Then you compare. Contrast. Rub out some excess. And to some point, add the overlooked ones. Voila! There goes the top 10.

Below is a list of the Best Filipino tracks of 2012, this blog’s very own tribute to a successful year in music. And before anything else, I just want to clear that this doesn't affirm any sweeping statements, claims or whatsoever unbearable bragging of expertise that some might point out. These are just personal thoughts. I could be wrong. I might be right. It's just a space anyway. And I’m sure you have yours to use.

40. Outerhope – “Hear The Days Go” [ free download ]
No End In Sight

Trading dreamy, lo-fi pop for a synth-churning charmer straight from a China Crisis/Prefab Sprout scuffle, the Benedicto siblings are up to the challenge of surprising long-time fans and listeners with their new sound. “Hear The Days Go,” the first single off their new EP No End In Sight, tackles the passing of days in fringes of nostalgia. It’s inescapably cold and distant, tangled in all its lushness at 3 AM in the morning.

39. Skymarines – “Dreamer” [ free download ]

Skymarines makes the kind of small, intimate bedroom music that you want to cuddle up with. Encrusted with downtempo sparkles and synthetic beats, her track “Dreamer” sounds like nocturnal dream-pop filtered through the wistful lens of a foggy romance. Isa Belle AƱiga’s lilting, lighter-than-clouds coos recall the pangs of a hopeless romantic. She intones the sugary chorus: “Coz I’m a dreamer baby, I’m a dreamer baby…” And you realize you sing and share the same sentiment too.

38. Chocolate Grass – “Roots” [ stream ]

Imagine Jill Scott or Erykah Badu trekking the tropical mountains for spiritual conquest, and you’re pretty close to listening to Chocolate Grass’ “Roots”—a slow-burning, neo-soul jam that immerses you to a sensual and otherworldly experience. Soul diva August Wahh captures the joys and pathos of an Earth woman, singing about the fulfilment of connecting to her ancestral roots and finally coming to full circle, spiritually. Her backing band on the other hand, crafts a beautifully woven tapestry of languid, smooth beats and esoteric rhythms—shaping the music into a mythical ornament.

37. Your Imaginary Friends – “Your Silence Is The Villain” [ stream ]

Taking cues from bands such as Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Yuck, Your Imaginary Friends unabashedly show their love for crossover alt-rock, aiming for a chorus that gets stuck in your head for weeks while taking its already swoony, melodic rush to a higher plateau. There’s no escaping it, really. From the casually thrilling girl-boy harmonies that accompany their mesmeric homage to the decade that birthed us Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins and Lemonheads to Ahmad’s hurtful words of goodbye, their new single “Your Silence Is A Villain” clearly shoots up for perfect pop ambition, a bigger crest of sound that’s bolder, brighter and more accessible—without even having to sell their souls to the public. But even with their shiny makeover, Your Imaginary Friends remain as low-profile and fuzzed out as possible, passing the torch of that glorious ‘90s sound with a refined edge rather than embracing it fully.

36. Sinyma – “Breath Away” [ free download ]
Libre Download

EDM heads, better get your groove on this. “Breath Away,” Sinyma’s lead single smothers the soft edges and bohemian vibe of Nyko Maca + Playground band with pulsating, chill-out beats and improvisational stomps, transforming it into a clubby electro thumper that relocates summer at the middle of a strobe-lavished night.

35. RBTO – “Bloom” [ free download ]

Well, it’s happened. RBTO finally fulfils our craving for some kick-ass summer swagu. His new song, “Bloom” off the 2012 album Inverse features a triumphal opening verse that rhymes kung fu with Sun Tzu, greasing everything together with soul-snaring, laid-back beats from JedLi and Justin de Guzman. Three minutes short, RBTO leaves an indelible smear on your consciousness, mining gold out of word play while “instead of lying, buying mad supplies of irony,” reaching for something that passes off as twistedly ‘macho’ and cool.

34. Outcasts of The Universe – “One Little Bomb” [ free download ]

In just a span of two years, Outcasts Of The Universe has mastered the art of harnessing emotionally captivating songs layered with cold flowing beats, synths, and downtempo electronics that satisfy a need for solitude and introspection. So it only makes sense that director Zoraya Lua would turn the video for their song “One Little Bomb” into a twee My Blue Valentine that nobody anticipated: a time-clutching story of a relationship gone astray amid open boxes and found secrets.

33. The Camerawalls – “Wanderlust” [ stream ]

The Camerawalls remains to be one of the primary movers of the independent music scene, releasing consistently stellar singles that trail into modern indie classic territory. Their 2012 single “Wanderlust” brims with inexplicable charm that reeks of pastoral beauty and warmth, pretty much a return to good old, Rondalla-inflected folk-pop that we’ve fallen in love with. In the band’s official site, they describe the track as “a downtempo tune that prompts the listener to sigh for the nomad's life, if not immediately bring out the backpack and slip on a pair of walking shoes.” But it’s more than just that: “Wanderlust” finds Clem’s vocals in a monastic calm, ratcheting up the drama without even having to resort to some form of heavy-handed delivery. All it takes is to sing his heart out, the old fashioned way.

32. Tarsius – “Deathless Gods” [ free download ]

As part of the Ang Nawawala OST, Tarsius collaborated with acclaimed music video director Marie Jamora on the live performance video of “Deathless Gods”—a banging, laptop-and-drums IDM jam that unites danceheads, indie kids, and scenesters in one heck of a mosh roll. The rotating, one-take clip shows Diego looking damn serious and busy tweaking his electronic gears while allowing the spotlight to take over Jay pounding the skins like a vicious pro. The simple but neat video treatment is what keeps all those elements so expertly balance, but it’s the improvisational charm that makes it sound more organic that any local electronic releases this year.

31. The Ringmaster – “Lady of all Rung Evenings” [ stream ]

The Ringmaster’s “Lady of All Rung Evenings” echoes the quiet intimacy that Francis Lorenzo displayed on Sleepwalk Circus’ debut album, Great Secret Show. But instead of swathing in distortions and shoegaze-inflected swoons to capture the existential feelings of longing and frustration, Francis keeps things mellowed down and a little feminine, basking in heart-stabbing, downtempo pop that goes to as far as conquering all hell and mud in pursuit of love. This time, he’s restless not with himself, but with his art, his woman, and the need to express himself.

30. Fando and Lis – “Sapat Na”
Found and Lost [ video ]

Stripped off pretension and complexity, “Sapat Na” is a piano ballad that you would want to hear early in the morning regardless of any weather. It’s a rare kind of pure, after-cuddle joy that slowly fills up the spaces only occupied by love and two people who are in love, leaving a wonderful scent that one could only wish not to expire. Khavn has mastered this natural gift of sentimentality and words, a sincerity that rises above smoke, an emotional outpour shared by someone who never gets tired of repeating “I love you” day after day, even if the world has grown tired of it.

29. Duende – “Ugly” [ stream ]

Music critic/Vandals On The Wall contributor Richard Bolisay commended hiphop duo Duende for “the grim stories they tell rather than have them overshadowed by a quicksand of chorus and samples.” On his review of the track “Ugly,” Bolisay called it “a confessional of many unpleasant things about living in this country, but one that is soberly moving, its understated production values complementing it so well.” While others exhaust their energy on braggadocio and tired old gimmicks, Duende spins tales of third world angst with an eye of a street poet, outliving life by living within its violent means. Skarm’s cold, dramatic production adds a biting grim to the narrative, but careful not to overrun everything else in it.

28. Pasta Groove Feat. Armi Millare – “Psilo” [ free download ]

Paolo Garcia a.k.a. Pasta Groove is back tossing and splicing samples from his old vinyl record collection, layering a beat-based, musical template with a meditative crosspiece that Erykah Badu would jam for. Such description captures the vibe on “Psilo”—a smooth slow-burner of a track that drifts, ebbs, and flows, moving in a gradual sonic muster that recalls some of Paolo’s finest works. It is ambient, chill-out and neo-soul music ambivalently lumped in together, sounding more like Badu/Aretha Franklin on acids. Armi Millare provides guest vocals on the track, and as usual, she kills it with melismatic singing that qualifies as smoldering lust to the ears.

27. The Strangeness – “Ramblin’ Man” [ stream ]

No. This isn’t a cover of a Hank Williams Sr. song bearing the same title, but more of an attempt to rewrite the good old Southern heartbreaker into something as equally honest and compelling as the point of reference. The Strangeness pays tribute to the stoner sentimentalist by way of lo-fi, mellowed-out guitar jammery in which Francis Cabal intones, “it’s a force of habit, when you want something you grab it” while pouring his soul with a dad-rock disguise. It’s an understatedly disarming performance that doesn’t really need any embellishment in it, because for all we know—a song this clear and simple, with a voice that’s just breathtaking in its most despairing moments—is more than enough to get you through your saddest days.

26. Alessandra De Rossi – “Make It Better” [ video ]

“Try to fix me, don’t make it better,” Alessandra sings on the first line of “Make It Better,” alluding it to her experience recording songs with a professional studio producer. Apparently, Alex wrote this song as a big ‘fuck you’ to the snooty musician who wanted to take full control of her music and reject her every imprint of creative decision. And like a real punk with heels, Alex took it on stride and hired Pat Tirano instead to co-produce majority of the tracks on her brilliant electro-pop debut Adrift.

The chemistry between Pat and Alex is undeniably tight and strong on “Make It Better.” Over chilling atmospherics and washes of echoes, Alessandra takes a bold plunge at how artists should take integrity and craft at heart, insisting on perfecting the kind of homemade art enhanced by music software and technology in her own terms. Pat on the other hand, lends his expertise on the mixing and production side, giving Alex’s sound a more polished direction.

25. DJ Arbie Won Feat. Katwo and Analog MC – “Trapper Keeper” [ video ]

DJ Arbie Won is all set to release his all-star bag of an album United Freestyles Volume 3, featuring guest vocals by Drip’s Beng Calma, Nyko Maca, and Nimbus 9 to name a few. This time, he’s gotten better and more interesting with his production style, nailing turntablist rhythms with kaleidoscopic, femme-fatale pop and streetwise funk, rabidly skewed in old school hiphop fashion. Such is the case of his new single “Trapper Keeper,” where he shares the spotlight with his new muse Katwo Puertollano –the feisty front woman of indie rock icons Duster and Narda—unclothing her with a big-tent personality that pinches a thing or two from M.I.A. to Azealia Banks, Santogold to our very own, Sampaguita. Not to be left out, Analog MC provides a tongue-in-cheek verse as support to Katwo’s fearless embodiment of the cool, not afraid to top some cheese on a straight-faced, urban swag that's bound to challenge the pop music landscape this side of the borough.

24. Rico Blanco – “Amats” [ video ]
Galactic Fiestamatik

Helmed with sinister sexiness and ‘80s brooding pop fetishism, Rico Blanco’s “Amats” takes us to his gauzy stalker world—dark and commanding, electric and spine-chilling, combining solid pop songcraft with layers of esoteric, computer world chaos only the Red Queen can read and decipher. It’s Kraftwerk meets Placebo meets Joey Ayala, filtered in a pop-friendly mash up for future chart smash reference: and Rico, the modern Ati-Atihan tribesman wants us to believe that he’s the link between the old and new world, modern technology and indigenous culture, combining two opposite forces to create an offspring he could call his own.

23. Archaster – “Hometown” [ free download ]

Archaster’s new track “Hometown” finds Francis Yu contemplating on his decision to leave the town encrusted with memories of his friends and family, nothing coming out in his words but grieving from a distance. The music around him sways in between hopelessness and lament, chiming in the pangs of a brooding road-folk sentimentality reminiscent of The National’s work in High Violet and Alligator.

“Let’s take a walk down to the streets of Valenzuela, walk down with me,” he muses with a heavy heart, clouded with thoughts that it might be the last time he’ll get to experience walking on a late-night empty street with familiarity winding down in thick air. Archaster’s reputation for sad bastard melancholia is pretty evident in this track and a closer listen reveals big moments that get more affecting with more listens. What draws me into this emotional claustrophobia is the way the music gets into the layer of the storytelling, providing crack of light coming through darkness.

22. Julie Anne San Jose – “Enough” [ video ]
Julie Anne San Jose

Julie Anne San Jose was pretty much inescapable this year, her bubblegum personality matched with girl-next-door confidence and talent has the makings of the next Sarah Geronimo—the manufactured teen queen embodying the typical Filipina mold—morena, silent charmer, mahinhin, not exactly in that order. But there’s something refreshing in Julie Anne San Jose that sets her million miles apart from her less interesting contemporaries. Her voice, surprisingly an effective instrument that blends effortlessly in songs like “I’ll Be There” and her charming Youtube cover of “Super Bass,” straddles in between melismatic sweet tooth and big-lunged power, and doesn’t come off as too saccharine for an average pop listener’s taste. But aside from those things, she can rap, act and dance, working her onstage theatrics without having to turn base or crude to get there.

On the Toto Sorioso-assisted R&B jam “Enough,” Julie Anne San Jose connects to listeners on a very personal level, carving the track with her candid bite of personality, singing as if she was facing the mirror all along. There’s no pristine diva moment here or detailed histrionics, just confessional teenage issues that would make for a great ugly-cry. Part of its appeal might lie in the way Julie Anne carries herself, brash and confident, like a strong, young woman who’s had enough of life fuckeries and the consequences of adolescent love. Add to that the undeniable summer vibe and glossy production, and what you have now is one of the better slices of modern pop released this year.

21. Nemesis Q – “Doppel” [ stream ]

Not everyone’s a witness to the mammoth size of a genius that is Jayme Ancla. Outside his guitar duties for alt-psychedelia band The Strangeness, he turns to his hiphop alter-ego Nemesis Q for some bedroom comfort, lashing out on Tito Sotto and forgotten ‘80s tabloid drama over cluttered, funky beats and mellow jazz breaks. At the risk of being laughed at, he wears the mask of a noir storyteller that spins tales of cold violence and bloodied revenge, his fangs way too sharp that it cuts on steel egos and bikini tops with an easy nibble.On “Dopple,” Jayme pulls off a rehashed psychoanalytical thriller on record with an entirely refreshing take, spitting pig-sick venom one moment and humanly realizations the next. He battles with his mind like Norman Bates would on a regular day. Then he decides to torture the bitch that cheated on him, works his way to clean the crime scene after as if nothing happened, and drives to his ex’s house to destroy every pictures of them together with slanted rage.

He raps, “So, I drove into her house, breaking every picture of us being together like a fuckin earthmover. I tied her upside down then stab her fuckin neck. Then she looked at me "Who are you?" as she fuckin wept. “Jayme has a macabre imagination that could rival even the oddest of misogynistic morality tales, taking gruesome content to a heartbreaking art-form instead of just the usual grim. He’s Nick Cave trying to get through Childish Gambino’s soul with an effortless street cred, and when he completely immerses himself to the act, his schizoid panoply of words leaves you emptied and stunned. And worse, it gets you stoned for a day trying to figure out where that canned of a wisdom came from.

BEST FILIPINO EPs OF 2012 (10 - 1)
BEST COVERS OF 2012 (10 - 1)

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