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.

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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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‘Christmas Morning’ by Eraserheads

“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

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Compact discs

A large skull partly made of recycled CDs on display in front of Albert Hall, UP Diliman, Quezon City
A skull of CDs in front of the Archaeological Studies Program building (Albert Hall) in UP Diliman. Probably created for the 2014 UP Lantern Parade.

Some time ago, Sandwich shared an article entitled “When CDs Were Precious Objects” on their Facebook page with the caption “A younger generation’s Betamax.” It made me wax nostalgic about my own relationship with these shiny, delicate discs.

About a decade ago when I was a high school freshman, a band called Hale was terribly popular and one of my classmates received a copy of their debut album as a birthday gift. I liked “The Day You Said Goodnight” so I was curious about the entire album—and when I learned that my classmate already had a copy of the CD, I bugged him all day to donate the extra one to me, which he did.

Why didn’t you just download the music, kids these days might ask. Because 56-kbps dial-up was all I had then for an Internet connection, and downloading an entire album’s worth of high-quality audio was an all-week, all-night affair. (And it cost 100 pesos per 20 hours.) Besides, Hale’s album is a beautiful artifact. Its album sleeve is a work of art—full of sepia photography alternating with lyrics written in fine calligraphy on translucent paper. A few months later at a gig in Siena College, I was able to get that album signed by Hale themselves, and they wrote the email address for their Yahoo! Groups site on the cover.

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The scene

There is music as most people know it: catchy, powerful, or moving, but also canned, repetitive, and disposable. A kind of Pareto principle is at work here: majority of the people appreciate only a fraction of all the aural creations available out there. But an important difference emerges from the fact that unlike the Pareto principle in economics, where the important few deserves a proportionally greater regard, in music anyone has a lot to gain by daring to go beyond the popular few, and attempt to explore the alternative lands. Because there is also music as only a few people would care to experience it.

When music lovers talk of a music “scene”, I’ve realized that they are invoking a sense of community, a tangible one, in fact. I experienced it first-hand when last weekend I finally found a perfect time to enter the hallowed, and admittedly cramped, hall(s) of Saguijo Bar. It’s the place mentioned in passing in the obscure Sandwich track, Her Favorite Band:

Video games killed the video star
YouTube the gig in Saguijo Bar
I was really there
With my girlfriend, yeah

And, as if I were following the lines of this allusion-indulgent song, I actually brought my girlfriend with me there. But unlike the song, Saguijo should not be obscure at all to anyone who has listened with a non-negligible amount of interest to artists such as Sandwich. Saguijo in Makati is, after all, perhaps the most exalted of all the alternative music meccas in the metropolis still opening their bars after dark these days. Its sister acts include Route 196 in Quezon City and 19 East in Parañaque, just to name a few.

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Funhouse

funhouseAlong a highway flowing from downtown, still within the shadows of the city but just out of reach of sober business, there is an obscure cradle of a spot. By day it is a sleepy, dark and dusty place, hardly notable, but resilient. Pass by at night, however, and you will witness its glowing signs hinting at the happening within.

Come inside. Welcome to my favorite place, a funhouse. Meet the crowd of intoxicated animals, poisoned, perhaps dying. Hold the bottles in their hands and listen to them shouting at each others’ ears. You can always share a light, too. The vices seem essential.

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