As part of our annual assessment, we rounded up Vandals On The Wall’s trusted pool of writers, contributors, partners and colleagues to come up with a list of the finest Filipino tracks of 2014. Resounding disagreements and individual differences aside, the task of listing down recent releases that have struck us in a profound and intimate way, is indeed a challenging effort. It requires an individual to sift through a goldmine of rarities and obscure finds, only to pick a few that stand out from the rest of the pack.
Special thanks to all the Shiny Happy People who took the challenge seriously despite their very busy schedule: Ian Urrutia (Vandals On The Wall), MC Galang (Vandals On The Wall/Amplify.ph), Itos Ledesma (Vandals On The Wall), Klaris Chua (Vandals On The Wall), Tomi Uysingco (Parallel Planets), Bonnapart Galeng (Yuckzine), Derwin Dexter Sy (Bomba Press), Derek Tvmala (Earphoria), Carlos Magno (Sari-sari Sounds/OPM World), Miao Olivar (Amplify.ph), Ren Aguila (GMA News/Vandals On The Wall), JB Balaquit (Doc Def Productions), and Ajie Recto (Green Apple Productions).
40. Kai Honasan – I Should’ve Left
237 points, 6 mentions
Kai Honasan’s “I Should’ve Left” seems intent on pursuing an emotional imprint that moves beyond the quirky, ukulele-driven confessionals that have always been her trademark. Few minutes into the song, Kai makes us curl up in a ball of agonizing regret, rendering a sentimental folk-pop ballad for anxious, sleepless nights spent trying to get over an ex-lover.
There’s no room for elaborate arrangements that call for attention, no hint of heavy-handed brood for the sake of drama. Even when Kai wants us to feel her pain, she carries in tow the laid-back airy vocals that complement the quiet, rainy-day mood served at the balcony of her window—subdued, minus the unnecessary sappiness. It’s a striptease of what to expect from someone ready to chop off her hair and try something new and vulnerably daring, if not a complete departure from her safety net. We’re definitely sold. (IECU)
39. Duster – Natives To Noise
240 points, 5 mentions
There’s no way you could push feisty feminist punk to the sidelines when you talk about Duster. Unlike the lipstick-smeared, riot grrrl inclinations carried on by Flying Ipis and Tiger Pussy at the moment, Duster covers a more accessible ground awash in gritty confidence and sultry intentions. They’re more Blondie and Elastica than Kathleen Hanna or Pussy Riot, but could care less of what other people might think about their music.
After a short hiatus, the all-star femme fatale returns with a new single called “Natives To Noise”—a straight-up wrecker of an energy that allows them to sound looser, louder, and more determined than ever. You can hear the feisty gang vocals explode before building to a beery spit of guitar distortions and gleeful fuzz. For a moment, it’s easy to assume that these lovely women are ready to wipe out the jerks in line if trouble comes in. In the service of badassery, at least, you know who to call. (IECU)
38. Jazz Nicolas – Tangerine
242 points, 6 mentions
Whatever you attribute it to—sunshine pop, exquisite melodies, lushly layered instrumentation—no one can deny the genius behind the songs produced by Jazz Nicolas. His deceptively simple but intricate touch on a handful of Ciudad, Kate Torralba, The Itchyworms and Boldstar tracks taught us that not anyone can do studio magic better than he does. When Jazz is on his own, he can still drive the same workmanlike quality with a great deal of excitement, finding his way around intelligible pop songcraft and broad appeal. His new track “Tangerine” proves that he still has it, and that he has no reason to feel any pressure to make good songs, because he is just capable of doing so at the drop of a hat. With remarkably crisp keyboards-and-guitars arrangements and pristine harmony vocals, Jazz handles an MOR song with rich emotion, and leaves behind excess for quiet introspection. “Tangerine”” can easily be mistaken for a Boldstar or The Itchyworms B-side, but in a lot of ways it has a distinct vibe that shows Jazz’s creative restlessness shining through. (IECU)
37. Farewell Fair Weather – What Lies Behind
245 points, 5 mentions
This is another demonstration of their ability to play interesting pop-jazz material reminiscent of Yosha’s work few years ago. The contrast between the previous song on the record, “Sakali,” a song about a budding relationship, and this tune about a troubled relationship could not be clearer.
Lead vocalist Mic-Mic Manalo’s work here is most notable in the second chorus, where she repeats the phrase “Let go” while letting her voice rise and fall, allowing us to hear the despair and anger of the troubled moment all at once. The instrumental arrangement complements her vocal by starting out in a very intimate mood and ends with an amplified, almost angry one. (Ren Aguila)
36. Shirebound and Busking – Waltz of Four Left Feet
251 points, 6 mentions
Next to The Purplechickens’ “Dayami” and Pastilan Dong’s “Bell Spell,” this is probably my favorite song of 2014—a marvel of pure pop songcraft loaded with heart, personality and talent. Great music carries with it memories that we feel most vulnerably attached, beautifully guarded moments that give wings to the imagination. Iego Tan taps into these small and fleeting sentiments– momentary it may seem to be, but event-like in its pursuit to find meaning in awkward glances and secret crushes, in the littlest and most mundane of things.
“Kung wala ka sa aking buhay, walang kakulangan,” Iego sings like that particular line means the world to him. He’s maybe right: we exist to get hurt, to feel rejected, to absorb pain, to find comfort in someone’s strangeness. But the earnestness he pulls in the songwriting, makes as much impact as the compellingly quiet folk instrumentation in the background. It’s a confession that cannot be silenced. (IECU)
35. Peso Movement – Bawal Simangot
252 points, 6 mentions
Fittingly for a band that has made a name for its burly, stomping anthems, “Bawal Simangot” came out at a time when majority of local rock releases have lost its steam. It’s the song that brought dirt and testosterone back to modern rock radio, arriving with a tenaciously forceful wrecking that tears through you like a razor cut. The riffs are loud, tasteful, brawling with cocksure confidence, and the song’s hallmarks ring with tantalizing danger. There’s no way of escaping this tune in your head, so grab a drink and just headbang to this for as long as you could. (IECU)
34. Hana ACBD – The Calm Before The Storm
257 points, 5 mentions
Following a solid bunch of singles last year, not to mention a strong debut album that documents the emotional rollercoaster of young romance, Hana ACBD is now ready for her breakout moment. On “The Calm Before The Storm” she provides a staggering vulnerability that conjures romantic desperation and hopelessness without the need to axe you over the head and realize it.
While in some aspects this seems pretty downbeat, the young female producer/singer-songwriter knows her way around a slow-burning glow even in the context of grief. Over meticulously honed electronic trinkets and icy beats, her R&B-laden voice stands out as the real star, the only thing that matters in the sea of sadness, the calm presence that fuels hope. “I still want you to stay,” Hana hangs on tight: teary-eyed, almost ready to give up. Relationships may crumble, but loneliness delivered this fine good, lays a sense of comfort and ease on those barren nights. More of this, please. (IECU)
33. Lustbass – XXX
262 points, 6 mentions
You might learn a thing or two about sensual seduction when you listen to Lustbass. The jazzy beats blend well with his mix of ‘90s R&B cocktail and lounge throb, it almost feels like the perfect musical accompaniment to a solo getaway in a bar filled with steamy hot men and women looking for the perfect fit to prey.
The video for “XXX” turns out to be a great introduction to Lustbass’ brand of smooth, laid-back bangers. The steamy black-and-white visuals feature models Kevin Zonnenberg and Lainara Araujo in a classy state of undress. The over-all vibe resembles a high-fashion TVC ad made groovy by way of Lustbass’ delightful instrumental erotica, but gets sparser and more intimate as it progresses. It’s enough to color your erotic longings—if ever you have one.
32. The Ringmaster x Similarobjects – Drinks By The Riverbend
264 points, 5 mentions
When two of the country’s premier sound-makers collaborate, expectations of something brilliant immediately shoot through the roof; the persistent buzz of the hype machine could drown out the sounds emanating from the music itself, but The Ringmaster and Similarobjects found a way to thwart the audience’s expectations while remaining true to their individual aesthetics and concurrently finding ways to complement each other. “Drinks by the Riverbend” feels like two geniuses at play, enticing, entreating, and entertaining the audience with glimpses into their laboratories. (Itos Ledesma)
31. BP Valenzuela – The General Scheme of Things
264 points, 6 mentions
As outlandish her champion can be on overtly narrating the physical ways of expressing romance, BP Valenzuela’s music is more taciturn but still maintains an impressionistic approach; like a timid woman who fills notebooks upon notebooks of poems and confessions she dare not utter with an audience. But that’s how the quality of her work shines: in its uncompromised honesty. After all, she chose to probe into the core of music’s lifeblood: the state of being. Being in love, specifically. In “The General Scheme of Things”, a personal favorite, she examines the larger picture. Not in the manner of demystifying the unknown, but almost like sitting down under a tree, alone, and just mull life in general without any pressure. (MC Galang)
30. Maude – Ride Your Car
273 points, 6 mentions
Every once in a while, you stumble across a song that zeroes in on your senses and reminds you of all the aspirations you had in your youth. “Ride Your Car,” Maude’s charming single from their debut album Pelota Court, is dripping with bliss and brimming with a healthy assortment of riffs apt for unplanned jaunts in the countryside, late-night drunken drives around empty city streets, and maybe a bit of fooling around. The simple lyrics backed by tidy and cautious beats all make for a meticulously crafted affair that provides the perfect glimpse to what the up-and-coming band has to offer. (Klaris Chua)
29. Basement Lung – Tanong
285 points, 6 mentions
If poring over Vandals On The Wall’s midyear list was the closest to examining the best and brightest of present-day Pinoy indie, then one can immediately make out an unsettling pattern. The scene is obviously awash in electronica – no shocker there – but it’s one thing to be vaguely aware of this and quite another to listen to dozens of these songs consecutively. The experience produces a trance that leads to visions of a software where all of these sounds exist, chosen in varying sequences, as if Lego blocks, reducing song production into mere engineering. They take bits and pieces from the past – a little house here, a little 70s disco there, a dash of classic R&B all over – but very few ever achieve nostalgia. Nostalgia is a primal itch that can never be engineered. Nostalgia is Basement Lung’s “Tanong,” which stands out on this list like a monsoon of guitar white noise interrupting the harshness of summer. “Tanong” is my favorite OPM song of 2014 so far. (Alex Almario)
28. Jireh Calo – Stay
290 points, 6 mentions
It’s impossible not to root for Jireh Calo. Her music explores the sultry quality of a ‘70s jazz record while brewing it with whatever else that strikes her fancy: from neo-soul to standards, from pop to world music. “Stay,” a new track off her debut album, Jireh is a living testament to her good-natured candor and talent, a trademark coolness that plays to her strength as an artist. With assistance from top sessionists Nicole Calo on back-up vocals, Nikki Cabardo on keyboards, Chuck Menor on drums, and Bergan Nunez on upright bass, the soul-tinged number produced by Pasta Groove’s Paolo Garcia finds a way to highlight sophisticated and show-stopping moments brought in by the rhythm section and Calo’s emotionally bare singing. Rather than pander to something nostalgic and reverent, “Stay” ultimately serves as a framework of fearless creativity bound with focus and discipline. And at the heart of it, Calo allows herself to be vulnerable on the sweet spots and expresses her affection for music that speaks straight to the soul. (IECU)
27. Halik Ni Gringo – NASA, I Have A Problem
292 points, 7 mentions
Halik Ni Gringo are always at their finest when they test the limits of classic goof-rock template with a healthy balance of adult silliness and exaggerated drama. It’s impossible not to crack up and lose it when you hear this bunch of oddballs deface cultural pretensions and machismo while enjoying every bit of the act. They’re sadomasochists, circus jugglers, sex therapists, comic book crusaders, Judd Apatow fellows— you name it. All in the spirit of fun, they thrive and bring on the rock n’ roll fag.
On their new single “NASA, I Have A Problem”, they take on the role of space troubadours spinning tales of sci-fi romance through a superfluous mesh of progressive rock, post-punk, and glam. It’s a refreshingly undemanding listen, a more introspective diversion from the stoner humor that boxed them into the more sophisticated brew of Giniling Festival and Tenacious D. Still, this tendency towards sentimental earnestness proves that while they may be funnier than ever, it’s worth every risk to hear Halik Ni Gringo churn out a different flavor once in a while. (IECU)
26. Sandwich – New Romancer
293 points, 5 mentions
“New Romancer” has an accompanying music video that features Sandwich committing various acts of destruction from shattering glass to setting things on fire. It’s shot in glorious slow-motion, which is fitting because the song sounds like the aftermath of a storm, as the dust begins to settle and the idea of the aftermath starts to sink in. The midtempo song begins with underlying riptide of drums and bass above which a guitar hypnotically rises and falls, and suddenly vanishes like mist when Myrene Academia’s voice makes her entrance. The song’s tension rises with each succeeding verse, and in the center of it all is Academia who repeatedly asks, “What are we trying to mend?” to which, the foremost response that she gets is the hook: “no shame, no shame, no shame.” It’s a fascinating shapeshifter of a song that proves that fifteen years after they started, Sandwich is definitely still on top of their game. (Mariah Reodica)
25. Library Kids – Epilogue
300 points, 7 mentions
The narrative of the Library Kids is a fascinating one. The introspective, ambient-folk duo emerged ex nihilo and exploded into a scene populated by extroverted indie pop bands who seemed destined to drown the comparatively quiet in a sea of instrumentation. The difference is, Library Kids made everyone listen. They began to make a name for themselves by releasing a spectacular EP last year and playing a handful of show. And then they played their farewell gig, and the world wanted more.
The title of their newest release seems to indicate an attempt to placate the audience and function as a final farewell, but the song is interesting even when cut off from the rest of their story; the terse lyrics and meditative guitar-work call attention unto themselves and weave a tapestry of their own. There is no closure here; if this is the epilogue, the sequel remains highly anticipated. (Itos Ledesma)
24. June Marieezy – Fly
310 points, 5 mentions
June Marieezy’s “Fly” could easily pass off as a tropical slice of narco-soul jam, and in its floaty wooziness, you can catch yourself feeling the vibe while immersing in an out-of-body dream sequence. Miguel Aragon’s visual treatment captures the bohemian paradise that June finds herself intimately attached to, seamlessly merging psychedelic colors and filters with shots of June Marieezy comfortably at home with nature. It is a beautifully photographed look at a lost soul trying to cultivate a meaningful life away from the bustling noise of the Metropolis, and with June Marieezy carrying free-spirited optimism so naturally, everything just looks perfect. (IECU)
23. Pastilan Dong – Bell Spell
219 points, 6 mentions
Indie Rock has gone softer during the past decade or so, channeling songs into quiet little odes. But not Pastilan Dong! No matter how delicately spun their song “Bell Spell” is, the band still finds a way to give it a set of balls. A wall of sound and feedback has never been put into good use since Sonic Youth, that is until Pastilan Dong! got a hold of it and shaped it into their own. (Tomi Uysingco)
22. Chocolate Grass – Testify
219 points, 7 mentions
In between the DIY bedroom recordings and the overproduced, effects-laden material that overwhelms the local scene nowadays lies a well-defined niche eager to return OPM to its roots — something mainstream-friendly yet classy and distinct, always expressive and pleasant to the ears. This also happens to describe the same vibe rising neo-soul band Chocolate Grass brings to the table with “Testify,” part of their four-track, self-titled EP available digitally.
“I testify that life is good,” sings the sultry vocalist Abs Haw in the most pristine, poetic way she can. At times, she tends to sound like the enchantress Erykah Badu, but there are also key moments throughout the song where she drops her lines with the same licentious funk as Lauryn Hill. There are even traces of Sia Furler in her voice that make her soar like an organic synthesizer from a bygone era. She has this come-hither sexytime voice which unflinchingly tells every listener to just take a bite and have a taste of Chocolate Grass.
The song in itself offers a refreshing take on simple yet universal themes that, oftentimes, don’t need a lot of explaining from anyone. Through the positive perspective it presents plus the garnished lyricism carefully woven into its sweet, soulful soundbed, “Testify” is able to give off an articulate and spacey feel that’s both balanced and enduring. It’s a telling example that dope groove and good vibes will never fail to appeal to the auditory senses, and must therefore always go hand-in-hand. (Klaris Chua)
21. C R W N – Under Blankets (Feat. Jessica Connelly)
320 points, 6 mentions
“Bedroom groove” – the first words that came to my mind when I first heard of “Under Blankets,” or CRWN in general. CRWN’s trademark nu-RnB beats are addicting and one listen is never enough. Though it’s really a sexy song, it only teases at its seams. Definitely fits Ladies’ Night playlists for sure, yet it’s feminine vibe is balanced by CRWN’s alluring nifty beats. I love how the breaks blend gently with Jess’s vocals, it’s like having a perfectly poached egg benedicts for breakfast! And man, Jess Connelly’s voice is such a tease, it makes you wanna…rape that repeat button. (Derek Tvmala)
Other Year-End Lists for 2014:
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2014, #20-1
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2014, #40-21
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2014, #60-41
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2014, #80-61
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2014, #100-81
20 Essential Filipino EPs of 2014
30 Essential Filipino Music Videos of 2014
30 Essential Filipino Album Covers of 2014
20 Essential Homegrown Remixes of 2014
Photo used in the banner c/o Karen De La Fuente.