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.
60. Hidden Nikki – To Sleep
258.5 points, 5 mentions
It still baffles me how something as time-consuming and nitty-gritty as stop-motion animation still holds so much clout in music videos. A proof that this format is far from being dormant is the music video of Hidden Nikki’s dreamy jazz-pop confectioner “To Sleep.” Elegantly executed with ingenious miniature sets and handmade dolls, the vid follows the day in a life of a hardworking office girl struggling to keep up with her day job and sleep. She then discovers an alternate reality where sleep is not only a luxury, but an underwater dystopia where her fantasies of taking full control of her life without any pressure from her boss, seem possible enough. Needless to say, it makes absolute sense and matches the tone of the song perfectly.
59. Tradecraft – Binary
265.5 points, 5 mentions
There seems to be no shortage of buzz-beating new acts from Davao City, the kind that leaves music fans running in awe and creaming their pants in disbelief. Tradecraft, the latest band to instantly grab us by the collar, wondrously conjure the post-punk and Britpop of the ‘80s while hitting the glistening pop spots effortlessly, without resorting to gimmicks. Think of The Smiths or Echo & The Bunnymen, played out both understated and tailored, but its growing ambition disguised more as an ear candy. Exquisitely restrained, ominous and carefree as a breeze, their debut single “Image Binary” captures the essence of eternal summer with unmistakable charm. But beneath the surface sheen is a song that is capable of striking a chord, with the power to make you stop, listen and give in.
58. Dong Abay x Armi Millare – Prometheus Unbound
271.5 points, 5 mentions
Social unrest and oppression have always been a great driving force for artists of all kinds to unite against a common enemy and create a boundary-pushing work that exposes and criticizes social and political realities. What transpired during the years of injustice and grave human rights violation have awakened the artist’s creative vigor not by default, but by one’s responsibility for caustic change. One of the greatest poems written in the dark ages of Martial Law was Pete Lacaba’s Prometheus Unbound, published in 1973 under the pseudonym Ruben Cuevas. Renowned Filipino essayist Edgardo Maranan called it a “cause celebre” in his 1999 critique Against the Dying of the Light: The Filipino Writer and Martial Law, praising the literary opus for raising “the morale of all resistance writers, and of course ruffling a few feathers in the Palace.” Being a staunch critic of the Marcos regime, Pete, together with his brother Eman, was one of the many activists jailed and heavily tortured at the constabulary jail. Prometheus Unbound was his way of saying that his voice can never be silenced, and that no amount of censorship can unmask the wrongdoings of Marcos’ dictatorship.
43 years after the dreaded proclamation, Prometheus Unbound’s influence remains unparalleled. Esquire’s Erwin Romulo gathered his artist friends Dong Abay and Armi Millare, together with hip-hop producer Paolo Garcia and acclaimed electronic act Malek Lopez to reinterpret Lacaba’s acclaimed work into a subdued, yet supremely beautiful piece of pop music surrounded by quietude and warmth. The reimagining, like its source material, is nothing short of majestic—a song that for all its sonic conquest for the serene and the comforting, maintains the subversive tone of the material, the way Lacaba wants it to be. Here, Dong Abay tames his usual punk-rock furor for a more sophisticated, grown-man stride, a strength he once demonstrated in 2006’s excellent solo album, Flipino. Armi Millare’s arrangement hangs in the air like a ring of smoke plumes: bare and melancholic, somber and roomy. Her contribution, made more affecting by Paolo Garcia and Malek Lopez, is such a welcoming breather from her more experimental and intricate work with Up Dharma Down. All the elements in Prometheus Unbound blend together in a glorious retreat, sneaking up on you like a beautifully tragic marker of the dark ages that unintentionally, keep on coming back in different peaks and forms.
57. The Bernadettes – Nasty Pictures
272 points, 6 mentions
Unlike the younger batch of garage-rock blokes, The Bernadettes aren’t afraid to show their lack of sophistication and pop sheen. They understand very well their limitation and proudly dish out rock n’ roll anthems in dirty, sloppy fashion. Such attitude not only functions as their strongest suit, but also serves as their beer-hug of a swagger, a quality that helps music fans avoid compulsively thinking of what they sound like and instead focus on what the music can offer at the moment. The Bernadettes’ personalities are huge and likable, but they back it up with indelibly catchy power-pop glee that you’re left without a choice but sing along to every word you can’t even understand, while chugging a couple of drinks with your friends like tomorrow never happens.
And with a song like “Nasty Pictures” getting them back on track, The Bernadettes maintains interest in keeping us drunk, rowdy and giddy, which is precisely the very point of their existence. The song doesn’t head them in a new direction, but it lives up to the excitement brought by their alt-rock smash “Let’s Make Babies,” fleshing its rawness in fully realized form. While “Nasty Pictures” reeks of unapologetic kick in the arse, it also wallows in scorned self-pity as it reaches its finale, with lyrics “I can’t let you go, I can’t let you go, I’m not hurting anymore,” making sense of the emotional guise.
56. Maya’s Anklet – Kung Alam Ko Lang
It’s impossible not to peel your eyes away from the way Denise Parungao glides in the floor with her ethereal but subtly graceful movements—a ballerina showmanship that elevates Maya’s Anklet’s “Kung Alam Ko Lang” to new soaring heights. Music video director AJ Orlina and acclaimed choreographer Gia Gequinto make use of this finesse to depict a relationship fallout; albeit in slow, crushing drama. Not only does the video make the song so much better. It highlights the track’s romantic foibles in full-on dance extravaganza, taking its sentiments to a beautifully executed meltdown of some sorts.
55. Love In Athens – Primary Debridement
282.5 points, 5 mentions
Love In Athens packs a massive sonic punch with an dance-oriented shoegaze banger that overwhelms the senses. The track is called “Primary Debridement” and its gorgeous pop melodies, though covered in swathes of noise and fuzz, blur the boundaries between accessibility and experimental form. You can barely make out what Francis Maria Regalado is saying, but this washed-out haze of a song feels like blissful warmth in the middle of city life chaos. It entices you to dance alone and stare off into space, exhausting every possible means to savor the moment—the quiet, meaningful ones that we held dear and near.
54. Three.! – Efrafax
There’s nothing like wading through a tumultuous breakup to bring out the artist’s nakedly emotional side. “Effrafax”, the single that dream-pop outfit Three released a few days ago, tackles the frustrations of going through an emotional open wound and accepting the end result of the relationship crumble. There’s no attempt to blow it up to dramatic scale and excise any possible mean to wreck full-blown aggression. Instead, “Effrafax” is tastefully done: hazy electronic textures and a calm guitar solo accompanying Sassja in the downer, hopeful that despite the ill feelings, the memories will rise to the occasion and prevail. “Nothing can be destroyed,” she repeats on a glorious note. The purest kind of pain is both a thing of beauty and misery, and “Effrafax” captures these feelings naturally.
53. Small Hands – Clasped Hands, Timid Hearts
293 points, 6 mentions
I don’t know about everyone else, but judging from their debut single alone, Small Hands seem bound for greater heights. “Clasped Hands, Timid Hearts” is an inscrutable, fascinating work that runs for a little under three minutes. What immediately strikes me about this song is that it isn’t afraid to itch its way out of punk rock’s constricted confines, but still remains faithful to its roots. You can hear unbridled aggression and boy-girl vocals collide on top of an intricate guitarwork, as if done with keen but calculated sense of dynamics. While only a few have vouched for their throne in the supergroup ranks, “Clasped hands, Timid Hearts” is a ringing announcement of a band with promising longevity, standing a head taller than the rest of their peers.
52. Jeebus – Christian Boy Goes To Hell
295 points, 5 mentions
There’s nothing else out there that sounds quite like Jeebus. While their instrumental counterparts aim for sundown escapism and tranquil guitar-rock jams, Jeebus seems more comfortable surrendering to urban white noise, the chaos and unpredictability that it brings. As nurtured on new single “Christian Boy Goes To Hell,” the post-metal outfit revels and delights in chugging riffs and sweeping, cinematic impulses. But in its unpredictable recklessness, there is still room for both exploration and depth. “Christian Boy Goes To Hell,” turns out, is a face-melting listen. Its aggression feels out of step in a way that can be inviting, even to music enthusiasts who aren’t really into anything post-metal.
51. Milesexperience – Silakbo
301 points, 6 mentions
MilesExperience’s music operates on a physiological level. Their sly, sophisticated grooves have an immediate effect on the body, and their most recent release, “Silakbo” works because it thickens with texture and curve, palpable enough to infiltrate the listener’s body. Featuring musicianship far beyond rudimentary, an infectious guitar work, and lyrical content ambiguous enough to be both heart-rending and sexy, “Silakbo” is intense, refined, and powerful. It demands attention and burrows deep beneath the skin. (Itos Ledesma)
50. Loop – Lost
302 points, 7 mentions
“Lost” is the latest in a string of compelling alt-rock singles from Loop’s debut album, Flirting With The Universe. Blending dreamy, instantly memorable melodies with intricate guitar work, the new single coasts through brazenly romantic lyrics with a more mature outlook. More tellingly, the Iligan-based band has found a sweet spot between the light and the heavy in “Lost,” fleshing out an infectious sound that is uniquely theirs from the get-go.
49. Slow Hello – Decidedly Weird
306.5 points, 6 mentions
It looks like Slow Hello have spent a great deal of time horsing around in Cebu as documented in the music video for “Decidedly Weird.” The song, a melancholic pulse of indie-pop goodness, is matched with a vid that sees the band’s comedic chops in action—an odd diversion that partly works because it adds personality to the music’s somewhat pensive nature. Mikey Amistoso of Ciudad also joins the Slow Hello in this goofball riot, where fun sounds second nature to those involved in the shoot. Watch it below and laugh with us.
48. Read Between The Lions – Parallax
309 points, 6 mentions
There’s a reason why we’ve waited three years to get the proper Read Between The Lions single we deserve. Released in 2012, the fiery pop-rock churner “This Boy Is On Fire” embraced the whole ‘90s revival stuff with unadorned resignation of bands such as Lemonheads and Gin Blossoms, but there’s rawness in the production that functions more as an aesthetic preference rather than a lack of vision. Flash forward to 2015, we hear a catchy, emotionally evocative song like “Parallax.” There’s no coincidental change of musical direction or gimmicks presented here. But the mix sounds crystalline and cleaned up, reflecting at once its confidence in terms of musicality. Despite the noticeable shift to a more polished production, Read Between The Lions are still capable of throwing knockout punch in the air. “Parallax” is the call-to-arms anthem that demands appreciation for pure, melodic pop songcraft of the mope kind.
47. June Marieezy – Blasé (Feat. Justin de Guzman)
319.5 points, 6 mentions
June Marieezy is not aiming straight for crossover radio, but “Blasé” is the closest she could get after 2012’s flawless urban-street jam “Sometimes”—irresistible hooks circling around a jazzy R&B groove, her voice painting Justin de Guzman’s production with a seductive smear, front and back. There’s lady-like restraint in the way Marieezy handles the sonic direction of “Blasé,” taking time to drop the bohemian princess persona in exchange of a star-making return to form. The result is a poised work from two of the best musical pairs in the indie-R&B intersection, a testament to Marieezy and de Guzman’s unwavering chemistry ala Aaliyah and Timbaland or Kelis and Neptunes.
46. Beast Jesus – Scoliosis Backbrace
326.5 points, 5 mentions
Beast Jesus doesn’t break down any walls with its dense, multi-layered approach to guitar-centered rock music. Instead, they’re all about occupying uncharted territories without surrendering to stylistic shifts, without the need to flaunt their range and bask in its incapacitating nature. “Scoliosis Backbrace,” their debut single, evokes tectonic movements of sprawling proportions. It’s dense, loud, and rebellious in its breathtakingly beautiful imperfection, marrying crystalline guitar work with a warm blur of noise and heaviness.
A little ambition goes a long way, and Beast Jesus treats it as a holy experience, an opportunity to disarm and dismantle conventions and turn the swooping intensity into revelation. It pushes the direction as far as it can go, but with a twist: it leads you to the dark side, and you might end up loving the whole thing.
45. Thea Pitogo – Shout of Hope
330 points, 6 mentions
Few songs have managed to daintily pique your interest and draw an indelible connection at first listen. Thea Pitogo’s “Shout of Hope” did that. Its soulfulness is not a forced affectation, but rather genuinely informed by the singer-songwriter’s personal struggles. You can hear her deliver an understated but gutsy number, a particular kind of sentiment that anyone can relate to but afraid to share in public, straying from comfort as it unravels itself from a vulnerable place. And when Thea lets go of her inhibitions and starts singing about her despair in front of the person with whom to share it, mask-free and emotionally naked, the results are astounding. The rewards of the accomplishments are all for Thea and the band to reap.
44. Similarobjects – Makemewhole
337.5 points, 7 mentions
Similarobjects reimagines Amel Larrieux’s hit slow jam into a disjointed patch of ghosted future-R&B, filtering it with smudgy sepia tones and pitched down vocals. What’s impressive about what the prolific producer is doing, and what’s represented on “Makemewhole”, is a familiar melodic structure skewed and distorted in a way that doesn’t dwarf the intentions of the original. Sure, it sounded so different, exposed to grime and smoke, but the immediacy and romantic accessibility we normally associate with Larrieux’s smooth R&B ballad are somewhat retained. Even if the words are somewhat difficult to make out, Jorge makes it a point to let you feel its intimacy, no matter how blurred and corroded the interpretation is.
43. The SunManager – Peaks and Tides
341 points, 7 mentions
Anyone who has heard of TheSunManager’s underrated self-titled EP can attest to the pristine beauty that emanates effortlessly after listening to the tracks in succession. The deceptively simple, yet carefully detailed arrangements not only highlight the naked fragility of her songwriting, but it also allows April Hernandez to translate the sentiment’s emotional honesty into soaring, anthemic indie-folk that you could sing guilt-free at the top of your lungs.
“Peaks and Tides” gives life to these moments of unfettered joy and comfort. It grows deeper with every listen, the old-timey melodies and soothing acoustic guitars ascending into an uplifting, big-tent bombast. There’s something about April’s crystal-clear voice that draws you near, that makes you enjoy the song despite the irony instilled in the lyrics. “Run back into the time,” April sings in a hopeful tone, with all the optimism she could muster. “When you held my heart in your hands,” she ends the song seemingly stuck in the past, masquerading the memories with a sunny, jovial tone that encloses the music from front to back. The ending hits a sweet spot, but the sentiment lingers. Sad songs don’t always have to be downers; sometimes, they’re made to make you feel you’re not alone, that you need a gleeful company to get you through the night.
42. Curtismith – Practice (Feat. CRWN)
355 points, 7 mentions
Just the thought of rookie rapper Curtismith hooking up on some CRWN joint makes me excited about the direction local hip-hop is taking. The former’s sad boy persona, which draws strength from his own unedited experiences, gives him a ticket pass to a more rewarding place—lyrically. His unswerving tenacity and charm connect with urban music listeners who are looking for a deviation outside of mainstream rap’s old fashioned braggadocio. With CRWN’s deep-funk minimalism at play, Curtismith turns “Practice” into a sly, smoldering track driven by startling frank talk. One verse, he spits confessional on the kind of troubling melancholy that deters him from keeping a fight, the second and third, he feels more determined to guard his dreams: “Life is like a cycle and I’m running laps so let me run it back,” he philosophizes. He may be young, but he lets his words do the heavy lifting.
41. The Geeks – I Want You To Stay
358.5 points, 6 mentions
If previous singles from slacker-rock outfit The Geeks proved anything, it’s that Jam Lorenzo is capable of showing melancholic sweetness without overdoing the cheese part. He might look like the nerdy guy who doesn’t take life seriously, but songs like “Something About You” and “Again” reveal earnestness peeking through breezy strums and low-key shamblings, capturing the unease that comes with the romantic proposition. Same goes with the sun-dappled jam “I Want You To Stay”—a song that succeeds in tapping to the brighter, more optimistic side of slackerdom. It’s a song of simple pleasures: ’60s pop obsessions, warm harmonies, jangly guitars, and a chorus that explodes in peanut butter jelly goodness. Jam’s introverted charisma shimmers with vibrancy, giving the song its character punch.
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