BY MC GALANG AND IAN URRUTIA
Every day of 2019—or at least the last three years—feels like a never-ending marathon of Survivor, vying not for prize money, but to get through the day unscathed and your sanity intact.
We chose 10 albums that articulate our collective state of mind, ones that identify our humanity, magnify our hopes and dreams, and make sense of a world that is literally under threat.
Philosopher Alain de Botton and art historian John Armstrong wrote in their book, Art as Therapy, that “Cheerfulness is an achievement, and hope is something to celebrate. If optimism is important, it’s because many outcomes are determined by how much of it we bring to the task. It is an important ingredient of success. This flies in the face of the elite view that talent is the primary requirement of a good life, but in many cases the difference between success and failure is determined by nothing more than our sense of what is possible and the energy we can muster to convince others of our due. We might be doomed not by a lack of skill, but by an absence of hope.”
And so we continue to hope.
BY IAN URRUTIA
An ethereal nightscape, a blurry dream building to a beautiful meltdown, a place of comforting abstraction—Polar Lows’ Hereafter explores a world outside of what we know and feel. And in its sheer beauty lies a feeling of attachment to the unfamiliar, strangely warming up to the idea that there’s so much out there to appreciate beneath the surface. Comparisons to Cocteau Twins are inevitable given that both acts share an aesthetic kinship that favors cinematic moodscapes over a structured songcraft. However, Polar Lows’ 3-track EP stakes a claim for a distinct take on otherworldly sounds. Despite having only three tracks, the shoegaze band’s work is a strong, solid debut that showcases eloquence in form and function.
Broken Beams of a Laser Dream
Broken Beams of a Laser Dream is unmistakably the work of someone who is afraid to leave his college life behind without getting into a fist fight or self-sabotaging in a path that is splendidly juvenile and reckless. Some may see it as fuzzy document of youthful exuberance in the mold of Wavves’ King of the Beach or Japandroids’ Celebration Rock, but I’m more inclined to believe that the debut release has more to give outside of its scrappy fury. For starters, in it, Parlor Parlor offers a tipsy toast to an adolescent life lived like the first weeks of a summer break: embracing a feeling of invincibility most of the time, and at some point, ceding to emptiness when you can no longer contain the weakness.
Save the trouble of looking for a record that actually rocks. This one’s a future cult favorite.
Taking a more expansive and scenic route, Munimuni’s Kulayan Natin refuses to serve the predictably palatable. Their latest full-length release is a lyrical and sonic masterpiece that stretches ambition to imaginative places, inhabiting a more impressionistic character while retaining the pop sensibilities that informed their debut EP, Simula. From the lush orchestration of “Solomon” to the impeccably arranged, ambient folk confessionals of “Tahanan,” Munimuni balances restraint and complexity with old-soul serenity. Their newest album contains some of the most captivating writing to date: a spectral beauty that pays tribute to life, spirituality and death.
Cleaner, sharper and definitely more sonically diverse than its debut EP City Lights—a fuzzy rock release that is clearly a product of its time, Rusty Machines’ Making Friends is remarkably consistent in terms of songwriting and production, taking a noticeable leap forward to overcome the problem of repeating past mistakes. Clearly, Iggy San Pablo has fleshed out his talent in writing catchy, emotionally evocative songs that turn heartbreak into a sing-along. The band, on the other hand, has such a knack for memorable melodies that shine as dusk sets in, and quite surprisingly, reveals a more nuanced tenderness even when escorting Iggy in his constant battle with anxiety, lyrics-wise. There’s more coming down the pipeline with this fascinating record that captures a lot of what is exciting in contemporary indie rock nowadays. Can’t wait for full-length album number two.
On Binibini, Pamcy expands her repertoire with bangers and deep cuts that take inspiration from house, techno, minimalism, IDM and pop music. Its unwavering commitment to the sunnier end of electronic music is on full display here, tapping into an endless reservoir of optimism and bliss. But more than the infectious energy and joyous moments that come with Pamcy’s swishing production, Binibini is a celebration of women empowerment and confidence. It’s a record that effortlessly flips the conventional while coming to terms with accepting one’s power to make an entire community dance—something that Pamcy is capable of, even in her sleep.
BY MC GALANG
BLKD x Calix, Sandata
The rap music of the last decade—which included other prominent releases such as Gatilyo (BLKD x UMPH), The Lesser of Your Greater Friends (Calix), #ManilaCircleJerk (Den Sy Ty), Third Culture Kid (NINNO), The Pharmer’s Guide To Higher Ground (The Pharm), The Distinktive Sounds of Pasta Groove (Pasta Groove), Circa91 (Ruby Ibarra), Assembly Generals (Assembly Generals), and Mind The Now (Mindanao Writers’ Block)—has publicly articulated the beliefs, ills, fears, frustrations, and essence of a society that painfully begets its failures of remembering. It has assumed the critical task of questioning and defining rap’s role and potential for social change as much as it is a cultural movement.
In KOLATERAL, a singular 12-track release in the tail end of the 2010s, hip-hop artists BLKD and Calix and their collaborators tell the story of the nation’s drug war’s dead and those who bury them. It is urgent and necessary, as it attempts to extract the motives and interests of the war’s architects, institutions and individuals alike, and equally examines the people who put them there in the first place. It’s a rare account that treads the fatal distance between poverty and privilege, confronting the latter at the bloody expense of the former.
U D D
UDD (Up Dharma Down) has made art of indelible quality beyond traditional musical craftsmanship. It has been, for almost 14 years now, an immaterial witness, a quiet companion through the best and worst of times. It is impossible to listen to a UDD record without inevitably dredging up the sharpest, most defined fragments from our past.
The band’s fourth album, U D D, dovetails the seven-year gap from their previous record, Capacities, with similar emotional infectiousness that manifests in grooves and rhythms (and occasional smooth jazz) as potent as it does lyrically. “Anino,” “Stolen,” and “Crying Season” were released simultaneously to mark the new year, both as a reminder and an announcement: the degree to which our most complex and complicated feelings are heightened or dulled are marked by time, which, more than anything, defines this record.
The effect of beatmaker and producer BABYBLUE’s (née Leone Requilman) full-length album, BWTTLO, an acronym for “Before We Turn the Lights Out,” is both isolated and intimate. It is a collection of sounds within sounds, centered within the self. BABYBLUE explains in the liner notes, “All of these were made to stabilize the emotion of the curator instead of spreading bad energy.”
That the producer’s explicit recommendation that we listen to his work before lights out carries in it an instruction to be participants, not mere spectators, allowing the dark to illuminate what is not visible during the day, during a time of bustling activity that permits many things to go unnoticed.
Read the full review here
crwn x August Wahh
Labyrinth embraces melancholy with grace and candor. For most part, it has the tempo of frothy soul and R&B stylings, injected with a blend of Latin and tropical lounge—the juxtaposition of melody and lyrics not immediately apparent. As a producer, crwn has both the instinct and proficiency of conveying intimate feelings and providing an accessible connection to the nuances and complexities of August Wahh’s reflective journey to rehabilitating herself from emotional wreckage. The result was radiant and devastatingly human.
The best way to experience this EP is to witness the “wannabe popstar” under the mononym Pikoy perform it live. Dwellers, Overthinkers harnesses severe, jarring textures to test the boundaries of pop. Original, dynamic, and innovative, Pikoy is a maximalist producer and composer whose greatest instrument is her voice. She decorates her songs with versatile vocal embellishments, fleshing out a concrete narrative with multiple characters (most evident in the standout track, “Dead Star”). This is a far cry from today’s trendy “indie girl voice,” and overall, makes a strong case for more than just an acquired taste.