Words by Ian Urrutia
Header Art by MC Galang
Some of the most heartrending music is borne out of loss, when grief is processed in silence and pain, and delivering eulogies is considered part of healing, of remembering; or to some extent, of surviving. As a listener who’s gone through the difficulty of coping with the death of a close friend or a loved one, this is exactly the moment that we’ve been avoiding, but helplessly drawn into for some reason: The shared space that left many of us ruined into pieces, the lyrics that recall our darkest, longest hours, the overcast melodies that bear semblance to the grey skies the once hung over our heads.
These songs are what church is to our feelings. It allows us to mourn and seek comfort in vivid, living memories. For a time, it’s our home away from home. As music writer Robert Ham puts it: “Art’s ability to heal and offer catharsis in our darkest times is one that has always been a thematic mainstay across popular culture. It’s why music fans seek out these kinds of songs and albums: We need to feel our pain reflected back to us as a reminder that we’re not alone.”
This is exactly why Skymarines’ “Dear Moon” matters to people who may not have a chance to bid their proper goodbye. As you may know, we want our final words to echo in the hallways and outdoors, hoping that the soul who deserves to hear it is just around the corner, waiting. We want to memorialize the regret of not having said anything at all, the need to address closure, and the guilt that emanates from how fate may have played out differently if we only exerted effort to make our presence felt.
“Dear Moon” embodies yearning for the dead whose absence is someone else’s emptiness. To a degree, it resonates with the pain of losing someone important in our life that is no longer with us, but hinting at a much-deserved awakening. Isa Añiga shares her side of the story, wounded and emotionally shattered, and you can feel the insistence to humanize the person who has moved mountains for her even as it hurt along the course. By default, the track functions more as a tribute than a personal recollection, a way for her to say good night one last time. The Davao-based electro-pop singer-songwriter recounts, “‘Dear Moon’ is a personal love letter that I wrote for someone on my birthday this year. It was inspired by a story I formed in my head, based on experience, of a solitary traveler who fell in love with the moon, and believed for a long time that they were destined to be together because the moon was their only companion in the dark; when all along, the moon was actually guiding said traveler towards daybreak. So, said traveler is completely blindsided but left with no choice but to accept one’s fate.”
Isa penned the first draft of “Dear Moon” with that visual in mind, when the subject was just miles and seas away from where she lives. However, the song had to go through a few changes as the acclaimed producer-songwriter felt torn with the idea of having the traveler finally let go of her feelings or persuade the moon to stay. “When I finally made a decision to take it somewhere in between as I almost always do with all my songs, I sent all the stems to similarobjects,” she recalls. “I had no idea that the person I thought of as the moon, passed away on the same day. I found out five days later. I was thinking of changing the lyrics to maybe make a better tribute for him, but when I was reflecting on this, I remembered telling him the Mexican version of the legend about the rabbit on the moon which was his favorite story from me, and how similar it was to the original inspiration behind dear moon. So I kept the lyrics.”
Having known Isa personally for years, I knew from the moment I heard the latest single that it was all about Rain—the guy she wrote the songs “Eveningson,” “Stars,” and “July” for, and for a time, joined Skymarines as part of the duo when the music project was still in its Soundcloud infancy. Before signing to Terno Recordings and moving to Manila for work, Isa has been making her own music from the confines of her home in Davao City since 2010, back when women in the local electronic music scene were relegated as either a muse or a vessel to channel someone else’s egoistic pursuits. Rain came to the picture and helped her perform in a few gigs and co-produced a few tracks, notable of which is the dreamy pop confection “Zach Balloons,” which later on made the cut in her debut album, Flight, and was remixed/remastered by The Ringmaster. But everything was Skymarines’ lyrics and production from scratch, a musical gift that paved way for other young electronic musicians like BP Valenzuela, Hana ACBD, Paola Mauricio, and Valiant Vermin to follow suit and carve their own special space in a male-dominated scene.
As their personal and professional relationship drifted apart, little was heard about Rain, who for a time, pursued other musical ventures via relatively obscure Echo-fi and and continued to be part of a dancehall-inspired project called Royal South Sound. Then came the news of his untimely passing, in such an unfortunate time when we’re experiencing the worst of pandemic uncertainty, and having difficulty adjusting with the new normal brought about by COVID-19.
“Oh it was lost on me that healing meant leaving you behind / Was I only dreaming you were mine when you knew you were leading me to this sunrise / Good night” so goes the lyrics, poignantly captured in its bittersweet longing and rendered like a confessional outburst that is more Tori Amos and Regina Spektor than The xx. Thanks to similarobjects’ stripped-down production and minimal synth work, you can hear the richness and details of Isa’s storytelling front and center, while the sonic touches reveal a layer of melancholic balm. “Jorge [similarobjects] and I always talked about wanting to work with each other, and I contacted him in April to ask if he’s free to work on my second album,” the Dreamer artist tells The Rest Is Noise. “We originally planned on happier songs after I sent him ‘Dear Moon.’ But in light of recent events, I sent him ‘Rain’s Prelude’ a day after he worked on the track. It’s a short ballad version of the song.”
Where most of the songs in her debut record, Flight, chronicles her inability to move on from a previous relationship, “Dear Moon” and “Rain’s Prelude” lead to new beginnings, albeit marching to a slow start. Mourning as an enveloping theme, to quote Lisa Marder, is “always there, shifting forward, retreating, always growing,” but Isa seems to have found a way to conclude one of the most heartbreaking chapters in her life with a song that considers remembering as a form of therapy. On her latest single, she’s finally acknowledged that there is a silver lining at the end of a journey, even if it means letting go of that special person one lifetime after.
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