If you type the words “Bandcamp Philippines” in google and click it, you’ll find 400+ titles containing homegrown singles, EPs, and albums released within the time frame of February 2015 to December 2015. Add to the equation the total number of current releases from Soundcloud, Spotify.ph, Beatport, iTunes and various streaming and downloading sites (amplify.ph) that have mushroomed in recent years, you might get overwhelmed by how productive Filipinos are in terms of the stuff they put online, bare and subject to judgment. Everybody wants to rule the music world, apparently.
The internet is a landfill and a forest, depending on how you look at it. But the real challenge here is how to separate the trash from the decent, the decent from the good, the good from the gods—a common practice that most music blogs do in every waking day of their lives in the attempt to keep the interest burning. Come December, it’s culmination time—the last stretch of the year when we break down our coverage to the barest best, throwing accolades to the releases that left us in gleeful celebration and awe, all-year round. Given the overwhelming number of releases this year, it’s comforting to know that everyone is invested in the passion that is making music, and that no amount of criticisms or economic hindrances can take it away from them. We can toss around our favorites and shove it down your throats, but at the end of the day it’s the public that gets to decide what they want to listen to. Our lists are nothing but guides, not rules for you to follow and break.
Special thanks to our panelists who took the challenge seriously despite their very busy schedule: Ian Urrutia and Mary Christine Galang of The Rest Is Noise/Vandals On The Wall, Itos Ledesma and Klaris Chua of Vandals On The Wall, Mariusz Herma of beehy.pe, Camille Castillo of Bandwagon.asia, Roy Oliver Macasaet of Mow’s, Jeremy Lopez of Intramuros Rising, Jethro Sandico of Listen Baguio, Jam Lorenzo of Alternatrip, Milley Habito of Gabi Na Naman Productions, Ajie Recto of Green Apple Productions, Archie Del Mundo of Dlist.ph, Erick Antonio Fabian Sr. of TicTiger! Productions/Opinyon, Jay Rosas of New Durian Cinema, Ren Aguila of Art+Magazine, and Nestor Domingo of Slick Master Files.
40. Yurei – Waif
365 points, 7 mentions
A song like “Waif” requires unapologetic brashness that bleeds through every guitar punch. Yurei knocks out the familiar aesthetic with the insatiable drive and urgency of their previous material, pitting radio pop sensibility and lo-fi grit in a fuzzed-out tug of war. The new single sounds like the band’s entry point to a more accessible, a more melodic guitar-driven snarl, but Itos and gang are pretty good at making this kind of stuff. Calling it a “grower” would be accurate.
39. Clara Benin – Riverchild
366 points, 7 mentions
An understated opus that reveals a welcome intimacy.
38. Tether – Guni-guni
368.5 points, 6 mentions
“Guni Guni” is the latest in a string of noise-pop ditties from Tether. From this point on, Tether wears a sun-kissed sound drugged in fuzz and reverb, loosely capturing the feel of a hazy summer afternoon. While it’s tempting to point out how Tether evokes ghost of Velocity Girl and Yo La Tengo’s past with refreshing sweetness thanks to Gigi Lapid’s mint-fresh vocals, the track taps into a vein of aggression that’s enough to sink an island, with the guitars jangling and fuzzing over the swoony ground as soon as the chorus overlaps the verses. Glorious noise, anyone?
37. Birdforms – Locomotive
371 points, 8 mentions
It doesn’t take a genius to grasp the idea around Birdform’s latest track “Locomotive.” Producer/singer-songwriter Nicholas Lazaro ventures out of his cave by providing lead vocals on this laid-back, acoustic-driven electro-pop. The result is a jittery but impeccably produced material employed with Lazaro’s keen melodic sensibility. It doesn’t need any over-the-top flourishes really. Simplicity goes a long way, and this song captures such inherent quality effortlessly.
36. Kate Torralba – Drunk On Your Love
392.5 points, 8 mentions
At some point it became clear that Kate Torralba’s “Drunk On Your Love” will conquer the world without us knowing it and plumb the depths of our hopeless romanticism with a slow-motion strut. To the occasional miserablist who want their sonic fix a little heartbreaking, trying to figure out where it all went wrong, this song is for you—a somber piano ballad that soars even at its whispered moments, pulling off a drunken love song to drown the sorrow. Kate professes her love and affection, pleading desperately as she makes endless of promises, and it shows in her voice—mournful, begging, but full of hope. Beyond the affecting vocals, Kate has a strong propensity for inflection, for lush, jazzy pop arrangements that move from a slow, halting pace to a warm, intimate feelie that captures the sentiment of the lyrics. And as with all painful matters of the heart, its end is just the beginning: bittersweet memories that linger and keep you going, a song that celebrates heartbreak rather than eulogize it.
35. Reese Lansangan – Grammar Nazi
393 points, 6 mentions
On “Grammar Nazi,” Reese Lansangan runs the risk of being compared to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s sleeper hit “Word Crimes.” Both are entertaining odes to misuse of proper English grammar, throwing some wicked jabs at perpetrators with quick-witted lines and inescapable hooks. But Reese comes into her own as a brand capable of writing fun, catchy guitar-pop that doesn’t try hard to be critic-bait. In fact, “Grammar Nazi” functions more like a representation of Reese as a person who “was so enamored by this guy who was rather stupid” because he can’t differentiate the usage of ‘lose’ from ‘loose’ or couldn’t “put apostrophes on his possessives.” It might sound superficial on a surface level, but Reese doesn’t seem to take things too seriously. She assumes the cranky tone of a grammar snob while also making fun of it, even injecting a silly rap verse that makes for a great communal listening. It’s refreshing to hear someone full of vibrant humor yet has that authentic artistic value that’s far from being glossed out. Reese’s first proper single hints at her potential to making universal pop songs with a sharp, nuanced perspective. And for now, we’re definitely sold.
34. Paolo Arciga – In My Blood (Love Is True)
397 points, 7 mentions
The melancholic lyrics of Paolo Arciga’s “In My Blood Love is True” aren’t the only thing about this track that catches your attention. Its fragile, lonesome melody, coupled with lilting guitar strums and retro-folk vocals leave you at ease yet wistful at the same time. When Paolo sings, “I wrote my pen dry every feeling for you,” you can feel him plumbing the depths of his soul with rock-solid earnestness, like an old man trapped in a young man’s body. The song’s unapologetic simplicity is what merits it repeated listens. Being easy on the ears, it categorically deserves a spot in your “road trip” or “alone time” playlist. (IR)
33. Thyro and Yumi – Triangulo (Feat. Jeric Medina)
400.5 points, 6 mentions
A decade or two from now, we’ll probably look back at how prolific singer-songwriter tandem Thyro and Yumi challenged pop music convention with an expansive body of work that accurately addresses the pulse of this generation. At their commercial and creative peak as composers, they’ve made a number of mega-hits for Sarah Geronimo, James Reid, Nadine Lustre, Donnalyn Bartolome and Sam Concepcion, unlocking the halls of tradition with meticulously crafted lyrics and universal appeal.
Just when you thought they’ve peaked with Sarah Geronimo’s “Kilometro” and James Reid’s “Huwag Ka Nang Humirit,” the duo releases what could be another risk-taking effort in the form of “Triangulo”—another edgy R&B single that showcases how their pop-cultural antennae have remained consistently attuned to the landscape of contemporary radio all these years. But make no mistake: “Triangulo” is more than just a clever exercise on portmanteau, combining words “tri” (read: three) and “anggulo” to describe how rocky, miserable and destructive a romantic relationship involving three people, can be. It’s a stroke of genius, really. Their vast flood of ideas—from the infectious wordplay down to the introspective intensity of the song—offer a commitment to explore the grittier and more compelling margins of songwriting this side of charts-pop. Leave it to Thyro and Yumi to brush familiar tropes aside and come up with something that consistently ups their ante as artists.
32. Cheats – Again, Professor Manny?
404.5 points, 8 mentions
For an alt powerhouse who’s perhaps best known for their engaging live performances and crowd-pleasing blueprint, Cheats’ self-titled debut album brims with lofty, widescreen ambition. Their songs are expertly crafted, power-pop boosters laden with catchy hooks, rousing harmonies, thundering drums and sweeping arrangements. With producer Ely Buendia at the center of creative synergy making sure to keep the group’s stylistic range managed at a significant pace, Cheats reassert just how important a studio record is with someone treating it as an artisanal work that requires procedural care rather than a raw project birthed out of independence and passion.
Their new single “Again, Professor Manny” finds Cheats making better use of their resources, while putting a lot of effort in delivering another enjoyable indie-rock anthem that balances meticulous production with unhinged, chaotic impulse. It’s a sprawling affair that thrusts you into a completely pleasurable stadium experience: the feeling of euphoric high coming at you from all sides, the urgency that heightens the celebratory mood of the song, the collective sound of youth roaring for an endless summer. If you have a grand desire to capture the world with this 3-minute pop song as your soundtrack, then this might be the perfect opportunity to do it. Timing is the key.
31. Tandems’91 – All This Time (First and Last)
404.5 points, 8 mentions
Tandems’91 has built a reputation on the strength of rubbery, post-disco singles circulating the internet underground last year. The sophisticated craftsmanship found in his production style sometimes echo the timeless groove of Giorgio Moroder or Chic, but Aaron carries the tradition with high regard for contemporary pop sensibilities, using modern technology to bridge generational gaps. But unlike the dominant aesthetic that you can hear on his previous singles, “All This Time (First and Last)” allows the Filipino producer to play the role of someone his age. It may not hint at greater depths in terms of harnessing new and old sounds, but it is still an impressive and enjoyable track. Here, Tandems accomplishes the feat of maintaining a balance between pop frivolity and floor-filler expertise. It’s the most radio-friendly he has ever sounded so far, but it’s still lovingly stuffed with sonic ideas that are just as passionate, groovy and warm as his previous material.
30. Hannah+Gabi – It Sucks To Be Away
422 points, 8 mentions
The less-is-more principle has always been Hanna+Gabi’s modus operandi. Against all odds, Mikey Amistoso’s other music project has an eye for sophisticatedly refined anthems that capture the feelings of uncertainty, sadness and romantic disaffection. There’s little to no regard for ambition or sweeping, boundary-defining sonic strokes, only for simple, unequivocally lush details that fit right in his low-key alley. “Sucks To Be Away” is built on this engaging tradition: a melancholic, ‘60s pop-inspired song whose knack for breezy, memorable melodies and quietly sublime ideas are perhaps obviously more apparent now. Summer may be over, but Amistoso knows when to extend the season in 3 minutes and 27 seconds of unadulterated breeze—the kind that you listen to during afternoon drives through green aisles or while spacing out on your lawn missing your lover who hasn’t returned home.
29. Musical O – WGDTB
425 points, 7 mentions
Musical O benefits from traversing beyond the scope of genre expectations. They weave in and out of emo, indie-rock, math rock, and shoegaze influences, but never come across as messily overstuffed or hybridized. Their work on “WGDTB” in particular, shows that they’re more than just a niche act. The guitar lines bleed, glide, build, and triumph in joy; while the arrangements are melodic and instrumentally tight, pushing for ambition in a pretty nuanced statement. But at the core of the warm, inviting sound is a modern rock band that struck an emotional chord to many listeners because of how they bleed beauty and ache seamlessly in their performances. “WGDTB” emits such glowing familiarity, proving to be every bit as resonant as their important releases in the past.
28. Rusty Machines - Trying Too Hard
436.5 points, 7 mentions
Rusty Machines’ music appears to be molded from Phoenix and The Strokes school of indie rock. Despite being riddled with the same understated, pattern-oriented guitar work and cool, collected vocal delivery, their latest track “Trying Too Hard” never falls into the snare of redundancy. It never sounds like it came from elsewhere either. In fact, the band seems to have mastered the musical idiom of the perpetually chill, and their latest single is a proof of this expertise. (Itos Ledesma)
27. Miles and Mot – Steering
444.5 points, 9 mentions
On “Steering”, Miles and Mot take their lo-fi indie-pop leanings to a more confident place without the need to completely alter their sound. Camera Obscura comparisons are inevitable, given the band’s affection for bright, wide-eyed melodies in incredibly assured fashion. But “Steering” is comfortable in its own direction: the wistful lyrical content makes for some swoony listening experience, and the chemistry between Miles and Mot says a lot about the glistening effect its music brings even in its bedroom production origins. Do yourself a favor and play this song on repeat. You might not find any clear-cut gem as magnificent as this anywhere else.
26. Asch x Clara Benin – Some Kind of Magic
457 points, 8 mentions
There is something about Clara Benin’s syrupy voice that lures upcoming producers to give her a special spot in their personal sonic space. Her voice is whispery and soulful, but delicate enough to highlight the wide-reaching production touches of the songs she’s seeking comfort to. “Some Kind of Magic” continues this symbiotic relationship between Clara, the singer and her latest collaborator Asch, the producer responsible for drenching soundscapes in chilled ambient-pop surface. Asch has a short history of making colorful bits of sound that attract listeners who are into trippy but head-bobbing music, and on “Some Kind of Magic,” he envelopes this familiarity with a more engaging undercut. By recruiting Clara Benin, a singer-songwriter with a sizable following in the indie circuit, Asch opens up to a more accessible sound, while granting offbeat catchiness that has always been his stamp.
25. Sandwich – Kagulo
464.5 points, 9 mentions
Sandwich knows how to drive a crowd wild. Even on record, you can feel the galloping sense of urgency, the slacker confidence that shines in the guitar playing, and the punchy hooks that go well with their brand of whip-smart punk. If anthems have a home, then it would lay perfectly safe in the band’s arms. Familiar to these claims, “Kagulo” seems to work as a great addition to Sandwich’s consistent run of enjoyable crossover singles. It’s visceral and loaded end to end with menacing sneer, but it dares you to feel something, to celebrate recklessness without the need to worry about the future, to seize the moment. The music video with Bianca King as a feisty heroine with grimly dark intentions, also gives the song a more twisted edge. True to its title, “Kagulo” invites you to unleash your inner crazy and witness the world break down in wooze for a little less than four minutes.
24. Glaiza De Castro – Dusk Til Dawn
475 points, 10 mentions
Glaiza De Castro’s “Dusk ‘til Dawn” at first sounds like a hallmark indie-pop song Cults or The Concretes would make at one point in their respectable careers. Except Glaiza doesn’t belong to a particular niche, or that the song is immediately loveable and fit for a summer release. Here, you embrace the liberation of knowing that a popular actress, completely freed from the expectations of celebritydom, has found a way to assert a sparkle of personality outside of commercial glamor. Glaiza is convincing in her charismatic low-key sweetness, capturing the carefree feeling of being lost in a daydream. It’s a driving force that makes “Dusk ‘til Dawn” work.
23. Run Dorothy – Ghosts
480 points, 9 mentions
A focal point to the new Run Dorothy track is the cohesion of the vocals to the unorthodox guitar work it so poignantly conveyed, layered carefully so as to create depth and dimension. Its fascination with atypical rhythms works peculiarly put-together, that one flimsy or out of place second will remarkably stand out. It is a song that can be liberally unforgiving to mistakes, but knows what it wants. The manner of its storytelling, lyrically and structurally, is significantly elated (and is particularly percussive), with well-placed dynamic turns and touches, which sonically expand beyond math rock category. (Mary Christine Galang)
22. Tide/edit – Eleven
490.5 points, 9 mentions
tide/edit is, evidently and something that you should know by now, a practical band: adept, industrious, and most of all, fully conscientious. They operate within today’s largely laissez-faire system wherein they know what they want and they take charge of that desire, steering it to the direction they have chosen, with the undue pressure that has been put on them, not coming from others, but from their own selves. That their competition comes from within, it bares their individual tenacious hunger to better their work and put it against their previous ones, at the expense of much improved material. The growth of tide/edit’s sound is attributed to this discipline, which is more of a conscious effort to maximize the development of their upcoming sophomore album, Lightfoot, and less of bonepicking former mistakes. Essentially, in their latest single, ‘Eleven’, they are outsmarting themselves with better production, allowing us listeners to enjoy the minute details and lavish in simultaneous tempos, tambourine claps, and trademark melodic shifts – all under 3 ½ minutes. Compared to (and vaguely similar in purpose) Foreign Languages’ ‘Ten’, which is the closest to an aircraft gaining altitude, ‘Eleven’ is a kaleidoscope of bursting rhythms that beckons welcome to tide/edit’s new era. (Mary Christine Galang)
21. Sud – Sila
491.5 points, 7 mentions
Sud’s “Sila” works because it doesn’t hide under the veil of pretentious cool. It’s a straightforward love song that speaks of world-tilting romantic experience, sung with earnestness and conviction. Jimbo Cuenco writes an anthem worthy of a crowd sing-along, a sensitive man delivering a message of stunning clarity—one that pierces as it touches your heart. Simplicity, as basic trope of pop music can be viewed as pleasurable and ephemeral, but when done right, could swoosh headlong into the eternity of a songbook classic. “Sila” has that potential, and with a powerful chorus to back it up, there’s no way for it not to get a decent landing on the upper reaches of the charts. Dial up the request line and vote for this song. Seriously, now.
Our 2015 Year-End Lists:
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2015 (#40 – 21)
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2015 (#60 – 41)
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2015 (#80 – 61)
100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2015 (#100 – 81)
20 Essential Filipino Music Videos of 2015
20 Essential Filipino EPs of 2015