“Much of a song’s soul lies in the singer’s voice and how they tell the story through their singing.”
Words by Aldus Santos
There’s much to love in Panting Heart, the new EP by Vancouver-based Filipino songwriter Dey Rose, out via Lilystars Records today (September 30). The record’s unapologetic display of musicianship—secretly maligned by ironic types who are, ultimately, easy-to-please low-hanging fruit—is sorely missed in these shores and in these times. And it’s not flashy playing that conjures pyrotechnics either, but a more emphatic take on things. It’s for people who feel the fuck out of things, those of the heart-on-sleeve bent.
Dey Rose’s tribe, in a word.
“I’ve noticed that my music tends to be on the sad, melancholic, dark-but-hopeful side of the spectrum. Maybe it’s because I started writing when I was introduced to classic rock ballads, not just by my father but also my Lolo,” the songwriter hazards a guess. Glam and hair metal may seem like cartoony anachronisms now, but there is something in their blazing-guns bombast that roped Ms. Rose in. That she was partly named after Axl Rose is random coincidence at best; she was bound to embrace the form anyway. “As cheesy and irrelevant as some listeners find them nowadays, [they’ve always been] so real, raw, and beautifully dark in their sad and hopeful love songs, being shot at you straight from the heart,” she says of the tunes she embraced as a younger woman, from acts as disparate as Guns N’ Roses, Poison, Scorpions, Dire Straits, and Bon Jovi.
Shot straight to the heart. Like a sharpened arrow aimed with purpose.
Much of a song’s soul lies in the singer’s voice and how they tell the story through their singing. You can throw in any kind of backing music and instrumentation […] but if the singer doesn’t draw you in, it becomes hard to remember the music.
That quality certainly is a running thread in these songs, if not in sound then in spirit. But Dey isn’t belting out tunes like our jungle-welcoming, cycling-shorts-clad lad; she’s more steeped in the soul canon, and in this instance, it makes for a pretty interesting hybrid. Throw in great voices like Nina Simone, Etta James, and Ella Fitzgerald—even newer singers like Adele, Amy Winehouse, and Billie Eilish—in a strange vat with glam, classic rock, and R&B, and you’ve got Panting Heart. The chemistry may be dubious, but the alchemy is curious. “Much of a song’s soul lies in the singer’s voice and how they tell the story through their singing. You can throw in any kind of backing music and instrumentation […] but if the singer doesn’t draw you in, it becomes hard to remember the music,” she offers, posing a challenge if not to her vocal brethren then certainly to herself.
And she’s not backing down. Previous milestones tell us otherwise.
From Baguio to Pampanga to Vancouver, from hallowed church halls to concert stages, from manning the boards in studios to being behind the glass at the mic, it’s easy to see that Dey Rose has paid her dues. Raised in a musical family and naturally wired for performance, she first found success as a finalist for Wishcovery—a talent search that brought her to L.A., and later on Manila, in a much-buzzed-about appearance at the Araneta alongside Odette Quesada—but, if we’re being honest, it’s really her forays into penning original material that is, really, the bigger triumph.
Panting Heart is a treasure of contradictions: a lust-for-life vibrance countered by downtrodden poetry (“Puzzle Piece,” “Bad News”); a sunny optimism crossed with hands-up surrender (“Paulit-Ulit,” “Di Mo Lang Alam”); and easy-listening instrumentation with hard-ass chops (pretty much all of it, but most markedly on the blazing wind- and fretwork in select tracks). It’s also a great-sounding record, masterfully leveled and beautifully mixed, thanks in no small measure to her studio acumen. “I can be a little too picky and critical sometimes, but it’s definitely a good thing to know how you want to sound in a recording or in a live situation,” she admits. “It also makes the conversation easier between you and the sound engineer!”
Beyond the sonics, the EP is also a stunning bit of autobiography, a roadmap of bruises and failures and pleadings. It’s an auditory retelling of key vertices in Dey Rose’s geometry. There’s the bittersweet move from Squamish (“a beautiful small town which will always be my home here”) to Vancouver, and the resulting expansion of horizons. “I remember feeling very scared but extremely excited at the same time,” she recalls of the jump. Then there’s the Lost Year mired in rocky relationships, both with a partner and with music. “I wasn’t very sure if creating music was making me happy anymore, and if it was something I wanted to pursue in life,” she shares. And then there’s This Thing this writer refuses to name anymore—damn you, 2020, yadda yadda—which has made Dey Rose appreciate her position as a creator even more.
“When everything else around you and all the things that you’re used to slowly get stripped away, you’re left with the one thing that holds and keeps you together. And that’s music for me.”
And while we’re on the subject of getting used to things: The new EP by Dey Rose is available today wherever you stream music. It sounds simultaneously fresh and familiar, and that’s something a lot of us can only aspire to.