Coasting

La Union, The Ransom Collective, and embracing my youth (before it’s too late).

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There’s a song that plays in my head when I think about my first visit to San Juan beach in La Union: Shelter (Oh No), by the happy little indie folk band named Ourselves the Elves. When I’m packing stuff for a trip it’s become my habit to load my phone with new music, which I would listen to on the bus (or plane), and in idle moments, as in that lazy hour before noon, before checking-out, while my travel companions mill around gathering their belongings. Pieces of music, once they imprint on a memory, can preserve moments in a way photos can’t. Pictures allow me to replay the visuals of a moment weeks, months, or years after it has passed, but they don’t always trigger the emotions. I have beautiful pictures from that trip to San Juan more than three years ago—sunset, waves, and lots of sand—but I can’t say that I truly remember that time, unless I hear Shelter, unless I feel the feelings only that song can stir in me.

It’s not that the words of the short but spirited song mean anything particular to me. The song is technically a duet, featuring Aki and Aly’s wonderful, interweaving boy-girl vocals, but I hesitate to call it one, because all the words seem to belong to the same persona—a character losing a metaphorical battle, and calling out to the listener to be her (or his) shelter and shield.

Well, I wasn’t quite feeling vulnerable when I listened to the song in a room by the sea, despite the relentless crash of waves resounding through the window shutters. I merely thought it a rather joyful song, in a swinging way, even if its somewhat foreign texture tinges it with melancholy. It was a great song, an appropriate addition to the soundtrack of my weekend in a carefree, blissful place.

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Taken by Cars’ ‘Plagues’: like diamonds from ashes

An understanding of the indie electro-rock outfit’s mellow third record, tracing through themes from ‘Dualist’.

The music of Taken by Cars has always been distant in its emotions, esoteric in its approach. The track that launched them into relative fame, ‘A Weeknight Memoir’, featured new wave inflections and Sarah Marco’s trademark androgynous vocals—an introduction that captured for them a loyal following, but probably alienated many casual listeners who would prefer instantly-delectable pop.

While the themes of their songs are certainly universal, the words are often enigmatic. ‘Quarter to Three’, a magnificent, driven piece from their 2011 sophomore album Dualist, contains these elegant albeit puzzling lines:

And if our machinations prove to be the blame
Let the freedom give me back and call your name
Obey your elders

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‘Umaapaw’ by Ang Bandang Shirley: singular feel, many possibilities

This music-video is Shirley at their heartstring-plucking best, visualized with sublime storytelling.

Awit, masaya ang mga tenga
Sa aking alaala ito nagsimula

In life, as with music, there is movement and then there is stillness. There is sound and then there is silence. When the action becomes too much, we leave the town looking for solitude.

We all have our own places where we turn to for comfort in loneliness. Sometimes it is an old, empty parking lot, at the fringes of the city, close to the forest and free for tired souls to inhabit. You would come there for solace, but what happens when someone else comes wandering into the space you would rather have all to yourself?

Panaginip ang dumalaw

You may choose to keep to yourself, retreat into your thoughts; or you may be enchanted by this other soul. You see her lost in smoke and clouds of thought, and you hear questions in your mind, prodding you to explore, to find out what it is that you share with her that drives both of you to seclusion. You may choose silence; or you may take a deep breath, and open a connection, offer a distant but firm handshake.

A man and a woman share a handshake in the Ang Bandang Shirley music video for Umaapaw, under handwritten lyrics, “Panaginip ang dumalaw.”
Screen capture from the Umaapaw music video, youtube.com/watch?v=9pXZCO3A_8w

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‘Malaya’ by Kitchie Nadal and The Stone Forest Ensemble

Kitchie Nadal blends sorrow and hope in this powerful ode to emancipation.

One could take a cursory listen to Malaya (meaning ‘free’) and quickly conclude that it is a song about a break-up. It is easy to see why; Kitchie Nadal reserves the most solemn section of the song for the following lines:

Malaya ka na sa aking piling
Magmahal nang walang
Pangangamba
Malayang-malaya ka na

The Tagalog of the first line is ambiguous. It could be interpreted either as “You are free from me,” which indeed sounds like a romantic letting go of a dying relationship, or it could be interpreted much-differently as “You are free with me.” The freedom referred to in this latter sense is not simply a lack of restrictions, but moreover a transcendent type of liberty that is made possible by something great—perhaps sacrificial love, or Providence itself.

Regardless of which interpretation is taken, the rest of the lines can be readily translated with greater certainty:

…Love without
fearing
You are now truly free

Yet, if one listens intently, and looks further into the story of the musician herself, then there would be no doubt left as to what this powerful piece of music really means.

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Review: ‘Dating Gawi’ by Rico Blanco

The brevity of Dating Gawi’s eight tracks disguises the variety of affections with which Rico Blanco explores the central theme of love.

Rico Blanco’s silhouette peers into what appears to be a doorway or window on the cover art of Dating Gawi. We could translate the record’s title in English as “Like the Old Times”. And the art is appropriate: we could imagine that Rico’s figure is looking beyond a scenery into a distant but bright past.

The entire package of the album is minimalist. Everything from liner notes to the lyrics sheet to the CD itself is just an all-caps typeface on solid white or gray. There is no imagery beyond the earlier-described cover art.

This is in harmony with the album’s sound, as we find out when we start spinning the disc. In Dating Gawi, Rico delves into the “back to basics” spirit of music-making that appears to be the current trend among mainstays of the Filipino alternative music scene: Sandwich went back to their heavy late ’90s sound with 2013’s Fat Salt & Flame, and continued the exercise with 2015’s Debris; Imago, following the departure of Aia de Leon, distanced themselves from the teeny-bopper-friendly tunes of Blush and revisited their resounding Take 2 palette with 2014’s Kapit (Hold On); and, perhaps most remarkably, Pupil paid homage to classic rock with 2015’s Zilch, wherein they dropped the fancy guitarwork and delivered anthems brimming with brash riffs.

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