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
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.
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
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:
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.
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.
“Wake up little darling, it’s Christmas morning,” begins the quiet track by Eraserheads at the end of their special Fruitcake album.
“Wake up little darling, it’s Christmas morning,” begins the quiet track by Eraserheads at the end of their special Fruitcake album. It is idyllic, serene, peaceful; it is the perfect melody for a cool December morning, for decked halls and sleepy wishes, for children looking forward to opening presents.
But behind the earnest, hopeful melody, we soon see an outlook that is world-weary. Ely Buendia sings to the beloved child,
You had been dreaming
Angels are singing
But now they’ve gone and once again
It’s time to go on with our lives
Christmas Morning, a deceptively sentimental tune, speaks not just of Christmas season’s occasional sorrow (which comes from its serenity), but also of its despair. Despair, as a holiday that merely holds harsh realities at bay, postponing their pain for a later time.
Maybe the time will come when we won’t need to pretend to be happy for just a while