January 11, 2013

The Best Filipino Albums of 2012

2012 will end up in history as the year when two conflicting sides of the spectrum debated about the fate of OPM. Is it dead? Is it pretty much alive and kicking? All these talks have bullshitted us with empty answers to the question, leaving us only half-baked assumptions measured at the impact and cultural relevance of the biggest band ever to conquer Filipino consciousness—yes, I’m talking about The Eraserheads, a band whose commercial and critical success remains unparalleled up to this day. 

“The times, they are a-changin,” as Dylan easily points it out. We live in the democratization of the internet, an era where we practically have a say on what we SHOULD listen to, and what we could dispose in the bins. Well, it’s not just the digital age that’s at work here, but the accessibility employed in this kind of venue. Same could not be said on the fate of physical CD sales, which Gartner estimated “to slide from approximately $15 billion in 2010 to about $10 billion in 2015.” Record labels have been struggling to press new CDs because aside from the fact that sales have been on a spiraling steep downwards, CDs cost more money to create, store and distribute.

Commercial slump all over the world aside, I’m glad that young, Filipino artists have the balls to showcase their albums through music sites such as Bandcamp and Soundcloud as well as in small, intimate gigs. More took risks and embraced DIY at heart, even exhausting the limitless possibilities of social media to promote and distribute their work. Some would even go to as far as making their album available for free, disregarding production costs in favor of getting as many heads to turn in their material. This time, it’s no longer just the majors or the small independent labels. Empowered by mouse clicks and internet connection, anyone can do multiple things all at the same time and be the system that he/she wants to be, blurring the line between amateur and professional. So should we still care about whether OPM is dead or not? Let these albums do the talking for you to find out:

20. THE CHARMES – The Charmes
Available at: Terno Inferno gigs, Fully Booked stores

The Charmes’ self-titled album wraps up a modern day version of garage rock with airtight austerity, its sheer energy apparent and solid right from the opening buzzsaw guitars of “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” to the angsty demeanor of “Plastic Scissors.” If this were early 2000s, it could have been gobbled up into a hypestorm, where they might be placed as top shelf guys responsible for the sudden resurgence of rock music filtered in fun, traditional style: stripped off synths and looping samples, no reverb-laden effects, zero laptop tricks. Just pure, dirty riffing monsters about to herald the second coming of Stones, Stooges and Velvet Underground.



19. HIDDEN NIKKI - Found
Available at: Terno Inferno gigs, Fully Booked stores

On first few spins, Hidden Nikki’s Found comes across as one of those pop-jazz records that appeal to a more contemporary crowd, a product tidied up on the edges, smoothened and manufactured for a potential crossover slant. But the more I engage myself to it, the more I end up discovering how good it actually is, and how little by little, it grows on you like an album grounded in sophistication and tender moments.



18. DIWA DE LEON – Memories On Two Strings
Available at: CD Baby online, Conspiracy Bar and Garden Cafe

Given his stature as one of the most respected musicians in the country, it’s amazing how acclaimed and classically trained multi-instrumentalist Diwa de Leon would rather make an effort promoting the indigenous, two-string guitar from South Cotabato known as the Hegalong and develop its rhythmic and tonal sound into something that could be mistaken as ideal fit for Western and contemporary music. It’s actually a risk on his part, a determined shot to reconnect with one’s ancestral roots while being naturally smug on what’s already been established this era of popular music. Diwa’s new album, Memories On Two Strings is his love letter to the traditional instrument. Not surprising in an album filled with jams and mood-trotting ambient pieces, the Hegalong instrument takes the center stage, revamped from its primitive, acoustic origins to a modern, electric-sounding musical tool that could be mistaken as an actual guitar. Diwa made it unusually captivating by cutting away from traditional song structure and experimenting with sampling technology, laptop music and raw, live instruments.



17. RBTO – Inverse
Available at: Bandcamp (free download)

RBTO’s Inverse is a moody, hazed-up record filled with philosophical musings that sift life questions at microscopic levels, a theme he’d often associate with Thomas Young’s concept of Wave Theory of Light. But this doesn't pose as the weird, geeky internet rap of Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 or just another all-star ensemble drowned in the excess of production. Surprisingly, RBTO has strong singles to boot in this quite eclectic hiphop compilation, from the casio-toned soulfulness of “Hermano” to the delicate environs of RH Xanders-assisted “Blue Light.” With the music so focused and constrained, Inverse shows a different side of RBTO, one that takes risks when everyone else is comfortable recycling composite, archaic shit.



16. ALESSANDRA DE ROSSI – Adrift
Available at: Last.fm (free download)

Loop after loop and layers of ambient minimalism in, it’s clear that Alessandra De Rossi wanted to encapsulate an imagery of dreams and poetic flutter on her solo music project, Adrift—a fine collection of vaguely airy, electro-pop songs built on homemade convenience. An inviting entrance to her world of sounds, Adrift is uniquely beautiful in conjuring womanly emotions and otherworldly frames, trading chilling artifice for something that’s flighty but organic, something that resembles the mechanical beat of breezy, midnight air and ocean waves.



15. J-HOON – Noodles
Available at: Pocket Universe, Vinyl On Vinyl, Capital G

Arranged on a sonic tableau that is dark, soulful and sensual, Noodles takes J-Hoon’s atmospheric, lingering hiphop compositions to a self-contained volume. Like intimate conversations in bed at 3’oclock in the morning, the minimal production and futurist beats complement J-Hoon’s small room aesthetics, fully committed to the idea that less is probably more. It seems to me that more than hatching creative run of impressive production work, J-Hoon is also receptive of unearthing sonic details outside his comfort zone, leaping from one genre to another as naturally as possible.



14. GLOC 9 – MKNM: Mga Kuwento Ng Makata
Available at: All record stores nationwide

Gloc 9 didn’t change the local hiphop landscape the way Francis and Andrew E did. He just made it more relevant and exciting, opening the doors for third world street poets and like-minded individuals to make socially relevant songs aimed at chart supremacy and still invoke public consciousness on matters that sought to elevate our understanding on the Filipino way of life. MKNM: Mga Kuwento Ng Makata, his sixth album to date, succeeds at tackling stories of the marginalized kind, getting people to think and hear what too often remains silent. As a storyteller with flair of immersing himself to the narrative, Gloc 9 for most of his part delivers spit-fire words that act upon life, viewed as the voice of the poor, urban Filipino youth whose lives are affected by limited economic means and social depravity. He acts as a unifying voice, a role he has taken upon since the release of his previous three albums.



13. LAMPARA – Lampara
Available at: Bandcamp

Copping post-punk feel with anthemic modern rock, Lampara’s self-titled debut album echoes ‘80s –era The Dawn and Joy Division with authentic pull of romantic angst and gloom. It’s sensitive enough to charm you, yet with songs that are as brash and immediate as your impulse, it aspires for something equally bigger as the band’s ambition, transcending their influences while recruiting everyone they find at the ballpark to mosh in their arena-sized mayhem. It may fit neatly with the current crop of new wave revivalists, even bearing the same slot of caffeinated lushness, but Lampara’s new album doesn't sound anything like a second-stringer. Not once does the album dip below electrifying. It’s a hard-rocking album worthy of the praise that it has received, and that’s all you need to know.



12. KIDSTUFF – Nothing But A Test
Available at: Cult Shit Media Blackout (free download)

Anyone who’s been following Francis Cabal’s solo work must know by now that he’s the type of guy whose fascination with lo-fi, fuzzy folk and intimate garage acoustics channel the ghost of Nick Cave and Nick Drake, and for all its worth, hearkens back to a time when music is equivalent of a memory you might have heard a long time ago, haunting you just as it was about to scream in warm fizz and reverb. His new solo record Nothing But A Test speaks volumes of his often conflicted and disconnected stories, an imperfect world wrapped in downtrodden blues and tragedies, only that it’s saved by melodies that pierce straight to the heart and frequencies that felt like distant radio signals beneath the surface. For both horror and hope, Francis makes music that howls of pervasive ease and lunacy. He keeps on going even if there’s no such thing as a finish line, because he knows that the world is a lonely place and that the only way to adapt is to write songs about it.



11. CIUDAD – Follow The Leader
Available at: Gigs, Amazon (online)

It’s different yes it’s different… It’s not the same old shit you know,” Amistoso shares on “You Know The Answer, Just Follow The Leader”. Everything about it reeks of maturity, heading towards a more studio-disciplined direction that might alienate old fans who adore their raw and carefree aesthetics. With the help of Jazz Nicholas, himself a self-confessed maximalist who made a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band out of The Itchyworms’ Noontime Show, Mikey and the rest of the gang shows that they’ve finally come of age, offering love homilies and wisdom nuggets through the most basic pop syntax. Follow The Leader, Ciudad’s fifth studio album clings to a musical ambition that soars in twinkly bursts. Obviously it’s not my favorite Ciudad record, but Follow The Leader‘s approach of conveying timelessness and ambition, echoing familiar song forms of yesteryear’s golden age pop with unusual turns and quirks, ups the ante of Filipino music in terms of production style and musicality, a feat that makes this album a definite listen.



10. SWISSY– One Hour By The Bed, The Rest In My Head
Available at: Fully Booked stores

Following the 2008 debut release She Smiles which perfected her style to charismatic, jazzy pop-folk inflections, Swissy returns with a more confident rainy-day offering, a new album that lifts off on vanilla-lilt arrangements and late-night ambience. One Hour By The Bed, The Rest In My Head, a collection of heartfelt songs that took a really long time to make, contains evocative lyrics of nostalgia and young love, retaining the blissful confusion of her debut with moments lush and beautiful, but never less than daring. At its finest, One Hour By The Bed, The Rest In My Head shows Swissy picking her way carefully through the puzzles of relationships, as viewed through her soul and lens.



9. SIMILAR OBJECTS – OverSoulUrgy
Available at: Bandcamp (online)

Whatever’s going inside Jorge Wieneke’s mind is none of our business, but for sure, it’s something that would blow minds and woofers. OverSoulUrgy, another great addition to his ever-expanding discography, works like an abstract conquest to possibilities outside our emotional limits. This time, Jorge builds pastel-painted soundscapes in the sky, only to get shattered into crystal pieces that fall in agitating spirals and spikes. He deconstructs the very sonic fiber that defined his previous releases, twisting it into something that’s hardly grounded by words and social constructs. OverSoulUrgy leaves a lot of room for listeners to think about, a feeling that’s best approached in meditative doses.



8. DONG ABAY – Rebulto
Available at: Team Manila stores

Backed with skittering synthwork and subtle electronic flourishes that strike in between the ‘80s futurism of New Order and Kraftwerk and the cognitive-social poetic readings of Joey Ayala, Dong Abay teams up with studio producer Shinji Tanaka and esteemed musicians Raymond Marasigan and Buddy Zabala on a concept album that pays tribute to Jose Rizal. Straight and simple, Dong thought of how in a fictional account, the beloved historical figure would rise one day from its Luneta monument stillness and start giving his piece of mind on the country’s current social, cultural and political landscape. Fittingly titled Rebulto, Dong Abay takes his cue from where Jose Rizal’s renowned essay The Philippines, A Century Hence left off, presenting both a critique and homage on the National hero’s vision of the country after 100 years. “Matuto tayong magka-kalayaan,” he repeats in as many times as he could on the near end of “Rizal Day.” He does it with a mantra-like grind that questions how we Filipinos have lived a life of liberty clothed in neo-colonialism and globalization, compromising our unique indigenous culture to keep up with the pace of modernity. It’s in this fulcrum that he lays the foundation of Rebulto as red-printed afterthoughts pondering on the real essence of freedom, its strength tearing up the stereo with words that razor across critical thinking.



7. DASH CALZADO – Return of The Phunky Juan
Available at: OPM2go (online)

At its most sun-worshipping fun, Return of the Phunky Juan pulls off something that other local hiphop releases haven’t been able to do for a long time: create a living, breathing piece of urban oeuvre that is super funky fresh as it is restrained. Dash of Legit Misfitz returns with a solo album that isn’t about braggadocio or street mofo cred, expressing his craft instead with across-the-board appeal through catchy songs that mixes timeless soul with contemporary hiphop values, pattering an overwhelming sonic force that takes pride on Filipino culture and identity without the overbearing corniness that seemed to hound most records sharing the same vibe. Yes it reeks of artful ambition filled with a palette of delightful beats, soul-charged sonic struts, and samples that reference everything from New Orleans funk to Francis M, but Dash’s rap delivery offers something refreshing for both the ass and the mind, going worlds beyond words in a loosely fun way.



6. ENCOUNTERS WITH A YETI – Pilot
Available at: Terno Inferno gigs, Fully Booked stores

Encounters With A Yeti’s Pilot, their first record under Terno Recordings is anything but boundless and magical, an album constructed around a cinematic canvass that’s thoroughly unique even without words to paint them. At its best, Pilot throws some of the most beautiful post-rock moments I’ve heard in recent memory, sticking to lengthy instrumental compositions that wander into untapped realms and territories. With just a basic set-up—multiple guitars, drums, keyboards, and a bit of bass—they were able to create a singular sound that adjusts to emotional ambiguity, building into a marvelous swivel the vanishes in the horizon, only to come back with a rainbow drop that arcs from waterfalls to the other end of the city.



5. THE VENUS FLYTRAP COLLECTIVE – D’Wata
Available at: Bandcamp (online)

An album this wraithlike and powerful has to be doing something right. Under the guidance of Paolo Garcia a.k.a. Pasta Groove, D’Wata shapes up into ethereal experiments that make excellent use of soulful female voices and emotional strains stretched beyond limits. It’s a collage of kundiman sighs, world music murmurs, hiphop beats, electronic stomps, folk enigmas, record samples, and a tropical slur of soundscapes known and unknown to mankind, with Paolo stitching it together to form an earthy piece of sci-lab wonder rich with sybaritic images. While undeniably beautiful and weird, D’Wata designs a tribal feminine sound never before imagined, gorgeously orchestrated like a tribute to the women we all come to worship and love.



4. RICO BLANCO – Galactik Fiestamatik
Available at: All record stores nationwide

In his early years with Rivermaya, Rico Blanco was the introspective singer-songwriter who made bold pop hits that gush around Filipino sentimentality. Anthemic while carrying the tradition of touching many people’s lives, Rico tried to push the envelope of alternative rock to unimagined places. The songs he’s written were canonical additions to the OPM songbook, modern classics whose universal appeal bear semblance to The Eraserheads, only of the lesser wit and appeal. After a string of critical and commercial smashes, he left ‘Maya and released two solo efforts under his name. His latest experiment of some sorts,Galactik Fiestamatik showed what a wunderkind he is in terms of production and creative control. Bracing the sounds in his head with theatrical conceit, Rico explored uncertain futurism and indigenous culture, sometimes blurring the lines of these two opposites to come up with a Bowie-inspired zeitgeist that is both eclectic and puzzling. Here he tries to integrate martial beats of the Ati-Atihan kind with lush digital sounds and synth-pop, but he sticks to pop culture references when it comes to songwriting, a style that he’s never abandoned since the start of his career.

Galactik’s pan-global, genre-defying ambition says something about the direction Rico wants to pursue: a glittery stage persona dressed with vanguard reputation and mystique, not exactly in androgynous Ziggy bender, but more of a liberating force that represents the sillier end of art-pop. Sure it questions his relevance against trying times, but on Galactik Fiestamatik, Rico proves that he’s ready to drop everything in his closet and wear something that would shock us in the future, his music included.



3. BAGETSAFONIK – Bagetsafonik
Available at: Seventy7 Bar Timog, Vinyl On Vinyl

With its intelligible take on messed-up romance, Bagetsafonik’s sophomore album is a breakup diary at heart, showing how egos and insecurities could get in the way of relationships. Every song in the album deals with harrowing sadness, played like some sort of a mournful soundtrack about love won and lost. Ace Cada writes like the sensitive guy from that Gondry movie. It appears as if he scribbles sad bastard songs at the saddest time of the year, imposing self-exile in faraway place to get over an ex-lover. “Passing hours and days were written to be erased,” he confides in one of the songs in the album. Either he’s hell-bent on capturing our hearts while breaking it or he wants to convince us that nothing scars deeper than a love gone wrong.



2. ANG BANDANG SHIRLEY – Tama Na Ang Drama
Available at: Fully Booked Bonifacio Highstreet, Wide Eyed Records Shop (online)

Tama Na Ang Drama owes much of its greatness to the transcendent pop charm and immaculate production that Shirley tries to flaunt in sunshine drip-dry, combining big whiplash of fuzzy guitar noise with bright, euphoric pop hooks that could disarm even the most aggressive among terrorists. In their attempt to push the potentials of indie rock further outside the buffer zone, Shirley writes glowing confessionals that explore the subtler dynamics of young love. They rewrite everyone’s romantic story with equal grasp of reckless joy and wisdom, dreamlike and infinite you almost forgot it’s a sad album that climbs from headphones to tear your heart apart. In a year when the greatest local albums seemed to capture the dying embers of romantic relationships played out before our eyes, Shirley stands at the center of the field to get our attention, making sure that everybody’s all ears to hear their heart-warming stories that alternate between moments of happiness and pain, memorable as it cuts around the edges of your heart.



1. UP DHARMA DOWN – Capacities
Available at: Fully Booked stores, iTunes

Exquisitely crafted into timeless pop tapestry, Capacities billows and surges on tender moments that tend to look at love in an emotionally honest stride. One can’t help but compare it to Adele’s 21 and Joni Mitchell’s Blue, two breakup classics suffused with melancholy and soul, trying to conceal emotions even as it wrenches in pain. Unlike Adele’s scorned woman balladry or Mitchell’s tear-stained blues, Armi Millare finds the place where her broken heart truly belongs, seeking refuge in cold mountaintops while she sings, eyes closed, as if whispering gently to the moon. Here, Armi neither screams in neo-soul panic attacks ala Erykah Badu nor conveys heartbreak and pain in blustery screwed lung power. Instead, she allows the stripped down instrumentation to take the lead, her voice reduced to a cool breeze.

Veering away from the tranquil tone of the record, songs like “Kulang” and “Night Drops” embrace the abstraction and complexity of great art-pop with intricate blend of synthesizers and electronic beats. Both clutches into novel sonic ideas without losing its flair for chart crossover. The former bleeds with globe-spanning scads of ‘80s pop, more in the Talking Heads realm, while the latter basks in breathtaking night-glo experiments—think of a cross between M83 and The xx, crafting slumber party soundtracks inside a spaceship. Don’t be fooled though; it’s part of what makes Capacities an emotionally claustrophobic drama. Strip off the colossal experiments of these two tracks, and what you have are strings that connect the whole, a conceptual album that serves as unrelenting glimpse into relationship heaven and hell.



BEST FILIPINO TRACKS OF 2012 (60 - 41)
BEST FILIPINO TRACKS OF 2012 (40 - 21)
BEST FILIPINO TRACKS OF 2012 (20 - 1)
BEST FILIPINO ALBUMS OF 2012 (20 - 1)
BEST FILIPINO EPs OF 2012 (10 - 1)
BEST COVERS OF 2012 (10 - 1)

11 comments:

  1. I think no.8 ruined your list men. I am a fan of Dong but the latest album is no less an exploitation of Dong encapsulated to fit the hipster crowd. C'mon!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dong should stick to his music. It's ok to experiment, but why experiment more if you're already established...

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    Replies
    1. obviously you don't understand how REAL artists work.

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    2. real artist work? it's a cruel exploitation of his genius. He should collab with some young folk rock bands instead of electronic epals who wants to dominate the scene. kawawa OPM--- lone ranger

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    3. Dong WANTED that sound? Electronic epals? You know who his producers are, right?

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  3. Kamikazee's "Romantico" is good

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    Replies
    1. men mali ka ata napasukan! yes radio websiteis here below (meaty gritty)

      http://www.yesfm.com.ph/

      Delete
    2. ibig sabihin kapag pinatugtog sa yes fm ang up dharma down ayomo na sa kanila? or kung patugtugin sa "alam mo na yan" si rico blanco at si gloc9 ay di na rin pasok. ang musika ay musika, malaya, at wala dapat stereotyping.

      ok din ang album ng "never the strangers". go, comment ka na chong.

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    3. hello, etong title nung article "The Best Filipino Albums of 2012"!

      Delete
  4. No. 5 (Pasta Groove) link's not working.

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  5. I'm so glad I found this blog! I'm glad you mentioned Night Drops on UDD's Capacities album because that is my favourite song from their album. There is something really organic about that track that captures my attention.

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