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100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2016 (#20 – 1)

January 2, 2017 4:18 am by: Category: Features, Lists Leave a comment

2016 is the year local hip-hop marked its artistic renaissance and bred generation-defining, underground anthems that garnered critical acclaim. It’s also the year that paved way for new acts like Beast Jesus, Calix, Manila Magic, Ninno, and Memory Drawers, the year that reaffirmed Ang Bandang Shirley and The Itchyworms’ place in the pantheon of OG greats, the year that legitimized Logiclub Collective as the group to beat, and the year that landed Sud at the top of controversy and made them instant crossover stars with millions of Youtube and Spotify streams—for better or worse.

For what it’s worth, 2016 is a great year to discover the wealth that is homegrown music. From digital obscurities to ubiquitous pop hits, we honor the best releases of the past 12 months with our year-end list tradition. From an initial tally of 500+ songs that made it in our radar, we trimmed it down to 100 tracks that push for bold, creative statements, regardless of genres and production differences.

Side note: Beast Jesus’ 16-minute opus “Eros Obfuscate” and Ang Bandang Shirley’s indie-rock sing-along “Siberia” were released last week, the very same week we finalized our list. Both songs are eligible for 2017’s year-end list for Top 100 Tracks, and not this year.

20. Ankhten Brown x Alex Omiunu :: Catch ‘Em All

Riding in the coattails of Pokémon Go’s massive popularity, Ankhten Brown and Alex Omiunu sneakily lays a ratchet anthem that sifts through riddle, innuendo and sex. Very few songs have a sense of urgency and playfulness as this track, and thanks to the duo’s freewheeling punches of a verse and Yung Bawal’s insanely addictive beats, Pokémon Go must have found its national anthem in “Catch ‘Em All.”

19. Disquiet Apartment :: Everything Will Go Wrong

Put together by their shared affinity for noisy but saccharine indie-pop, Mirror Mask’s Angie Pablo and Beast Jesus’ Josh Crae recently collaborated on a new music project called Disquiet Apartment. Their debut single “Everything Will Go Wrong” isn’t steeped in sepia tones or lilting, folksy aesthetic. It thrives on thick layers of jangly guitars, scuzzy atmospherics and manic drums, punctuated by a driving rhythm that takes the melody to skyscraping heights. The production does a great job of capturing the swoon-worthy vocals of Angie Pablo despite the intense instrumental build underneath. Exciting and moving, sweet and gauzy, “Everything Will Go Wrong” is the sound of letdown done right.

18. Moonmask :: Again (Feat. Teenage Granny)

“Again” feels like that warm ray of sunshine brushing against your face: a near-perfect electro-pop opus whose slinky synth chords and endearingly carefree melodies bubble to the surface with summery goodness. Outside of its form is a different matter: a sad breakup song wrapped in earwormy prettiness. Zion and Aly seem drawn to the melancholic sentiments of the song, allowing their personalities to blend and get lost in the shuffle. “All over again we’re breaking our hearts,” the two sing with understated shimmer. This time, they’re not seeking escape from the outside world. Pain is real, inevitable, and lingering; and we feel every words they sing.

17. Yūrei :: Everything Visible Is Made of Gold

“Everything Visible Is Made of Gold” operates in a universe of seemingly endless drifting. Its easygoing guitar flourishes and catchy basslines seem to find acquiescence in sepia-toned nostalgia, begging you to close your eyes and let your mind stray for a moment. Far from the post-grunge hysterics of their previous releases, “Everything Visible Is Made of Gold” marvels in its significant shift in sound. The melodies are warm and transluscent, awash in subtle intricacies. The mood captures a lightweight and joyful vibe—not flashy, not complicated, but just enough to stir up good old memories of your laid-back summer. This is probably the closest thing Yurei has done to sound pop without going full-on pop.

16. Ely Buendia x The Itchyworms :: Pariwara

“Pariwara” started out as an unfinished Eraserheads song, a rarity latched into the backburner of Ely Buendia’s pop-gold archive. It could have been an interesting addition to Natin99 or 2001’s Carbon Stereoxide—a brilliant albeit underappreciated record that occupies an important place in Eheads’ discography. Denying its charm as a stand-alone piece should be a criminal offense because clearly, in its flawed, raw beauty, “Pariwara” illustrates Buendia’s gift for intelligible songcraft. The track remains untouched until this year when The Itchyworms’ Jugs Jugueta and Jazz Nicholas took interest in reworking the partially completed Eheads song dusting in its demo iteration. Buendia gave them the go signal to use the verse and chorus he’s written in the early conception of the song, and allowed them to add more lyrics to make it an entirely different beast. The rest, as they say, is history.

The final product fills the void of our collective yearning for new Eheads material, and it’s refreshing to hear how The Itchyworms preserve the familiar songwriting strokes with mastery of the form. “Pariwara” rewards listeners with infectious vocal harmonies, engaging pop-rock melodies, and captivating moments of sunshine glee. The collaboration shows the best of both worlds, but it also reminds us of the lasting and impactful influence of The Eraserheads on several bands of this generation—The Itchyworms being the best among the bunch.

15. The Strangeness :: Easy Boys and Easy Girls

It’s easy to understand why the music video of The Strangeness’ “Easy Boys and Easy Girls” sears into the cultural memory. Their parody of Jose Mari Chan’s “Beautiful Girl” video pulls off a genuinely effortless feat, reinterpreting the material with contemporary punch. Shinji Manlangit pushes the silliness to extremes. He comes up with fresh ideas that elicit nerd thrills: from casting Wide-Eyed Records Manager Kathy Gener as wild-haired Tetchie Agbayani to injecting an awkward dance sequence with the girls strutting their moves in a vacant basketball court.

But equally impressive is the song itself: a tribute to the middle-of-the-road balladry of Chan, written with utmost respect for the material and complete understanding of its timeless appeal. The Strangeness knows its way to pure perfect pop territory, and “Easy Boy and Easy Girls” is their ticket to achieving it this close, with their personality stamped all over the path.

14. Autotelic :: Laro

Anything Autotelic touches turns into a communal sing-along. They’re capable of narrating the trajectory and pitfalls of romantic love in the most skillful, imaginative and relatable way possible. But more importantly, the emotional anthems they churn out allow us to escape and seek refuge in the dance floor, making us cry and dance at the same time. “Laro,” just like “CLose Your Eyes” and “Gising” before it, doesn’t waste a second in giving us that synth-sparkly, wide-screen pop that we are familiar with, except that beneath the surface flourish is a heartbreak lament whose unique take on love and loss illuminates a sobering truth that a lot of people can relate to. Josh Villena as usual, pours his soul in the lyrics: “Puso natin ay patintero sa ulan, pagsasama natin ay tagu-taguan.” His work serves as contrast to the music’s bright-eyed optimism, but it’s also the cause for turning pain into something even bigger than the song.

13. Bubble Economy :: On A Rainy Day

You cannot discuss Bubble Economy’s “On A Rainy Day” without talking about soft-rock. Every corner of the song contains a frothy, melt-on-your-tongue groove that draws heavily from bands such as The Alan Parsons Project, Hall and Oates and Chicago. But there’s something about the songcraft that makes it stand out from the revival pack. What Bubble Economy has delivered is a straight-up confessional about being uncertain in life, about struggling to cope up with everyday changes, about being stuck in a rot. It wears its heart on the sleeves, no matter how flawed it may sound, how pessimist it is in tone and vibe. When Paolo Arciga sings, “Days went by and I haven’t changed at all / looking at the world with tired eyes,” you’re not only drawn to the sound of his wounded heart, but you also find an instant connection with the way it was sung—doomed, broken, cast with eerie serenity.

12. Skymarines :: Oasis

2012 was the year Skymarines broke the internet: a Davao-based singer-songwriter who happens to produce her own beats, hitting an early high with demos that combined dreamy, low-lit pop music with enveloping melancholy. Majority of women in the local electronic music scene were relegated as vocal muse back then, often denied due credit for their work. But Skymarines stood up for authorship and set an example by writing, composing and producing her own material with her own stylistic fingerprints, becoming an inspiration for self-made electro-pop producers like BP Valenzuela, Hana ACBD, and Valiant Vermin to come out in the open.

Fast forward to 2016, Skymarines returns after a three-year hiatus with “Oasis,” her first official single after being signed to Terno Recordings. Unlike the minimalist, apparition-like beauty of her early demos, her latest track feels more like a polished affair production-wise, yet there’s a pervading sense of elusiveness cutting through the background—enigmatic enough to turn curiosity into a pleasurable listening experience. Echoes of Portishead, Massive Attack and Banks can be heard through the track, but the electronic muse knows her territory too well, right in the clattering corners of her bedroom: dimmed, reduced to a sanctuary of no people, but an enclave where she can write down her frustrations in life and share her troubled days with fathomless, ethereal atmosphere in the background. “Oasis” gives her a sense of comfort, a song that played up to her confessional misery in a very primal way. And despite the immaculate touch in the production, a refinement of her early promises, Skymarines is still capable of weaving a spell that many are certain to fall under.

11. Cheats :: Drunk

Never to be outdone, Cheats’ “Drunk” keeps you on your toes with its honeycombed harmonies and left-of-center midtempo ruminations, an aural ride so comfy you would think you’re in a cooled-down afterparty. The hooks give it life, but the deftly layered guitars, colorful arrangements, and understated yet triumphant performance serve as the omnipresent element that ties everything together, never failing to stir our hearts the way a Cheats song does. There is that electrifying infectiousness, that dramatic turn of the moment when the gang sings “I’ll change” in innovatively overlapped voices, and it’s off to a place where pop bliss is both a currency and an infinite feeling.

10. Ninno :: TCK

“TCK” surprises with a grand entrance. The manic beats and Oriental-sounding sample aim for something as massive and cutting as life, a device to stir one’s emotion. And truth be told, Ninno spits rapid-fire poetry that calls attention to itself. He keeps giving birth to one idea to another, and proceeds with setting expectations about himself, his work, his methodology as a rapper, producer and spoken-word artist. “TCK” teems with so much life and energy that even as it fizzles in its last few seconds, it still gives you room to warm up. Definitely one of the best album openers of 2016.

9. James Reid :: Randomantic

“Randomantic” has all the elements of what makes a great pop song, yet people fail to see how it raises the stakes of creative process with its deceptively simple melodies and soaring production. Here, James Reid finds gold in the track’s synthetic groove and injects his winsome personality in the mix.

But that’s not everything that makes the song a winner in our playbook. There’s the primal pleasure that comes with a well-constructed chorus, and “Randomantic,” as honed by prolific composers Thyro and Yumi, is no stranger to this pursuit. It comes off naturally, lighting up the floor and inviting you to immerse in Reid’s romantic journey.

8. Calix :: Mumunting Tala

We know precious little about Calix as an artist, but his online portfolio is filled to the brim with insightful details and contemplative, socially aware content. There is no excessive decadence in his façade, no filler of a jab. He manages to escape the trappings of hip-hop convention with a fluid and incisive material like “Mumunting Tala,” exploring filmic lyricism that refuses to get tied down by a formula. His latest ode to self-destruction by drugs is beautifully haunted poetry—street in form, esoteric to the core. There are moments here where he minces no words about the words he use: vulgar, blood and gore, high on psychedelia. He rhymes “higad” with “jihad” and proceeds to tell a story of drugged murder and sex. I can imagine a world grinding to a halt with this song being played on a background. It’s that good.

7. Tom’s Story :: Mugatu

It’s no pleasant surprise to see Tom’s Story’s self-titled album land an impressive spot at Arctic Drones’ 50 Best Post-Rock Releases of 2016. It marks a step forward in many ways, capturing the brilliance of their live shows into recording. Perhaps nothing hits harder on the album than “Mugatu”—a dynamic beast of an anthem that sounds like you’re embarking on an adventure into the urban wild. In less than 5 minutes, you’ll hear the band expand their twinkly, guitar-driven instrumental and push it into more rhythmically challenging places. There is a vocal hook somewhere near the tail end that is shouted with gusto, further amplifying the relentless nature of the track and coaxing the listeners to join the massive sing-along. I swear for less than a minute, I feel infinite. It doesn’t wear out easily given the infectiousness that brings to the table.

6. Beast Jesus :: Double Tuck

How do you follow up the astounding ambition of “Scoliosis Backbrace” and not make it sound like a failure or a poor copy? Enter “Double Tuck”—an aural curiosity built around the shadows of Kevin Shields. Another landmark is around the corner with this shoegaze affair that draws its strength from swaths of reverb and noise, yet insists on not forgoing the human element that makes the track otherworldly but relatable. Unlike “Scoliosis Backbrace,” Beast Jesus’ latest single finds them slowing down to the core to a possible new direction, tinkering for sonic perfectionism in the littlest of details, favoring mood over style, feeling over surface beauty. And that exertion is something that sets them apart from the rest of the pack: the willingness to amplify emotional possibilities at the expense of a screech or a guitar squall, the expressive power that comes from strange musical gestures. It’s a song that refuses to be pinned down, even when we try hard enough.

5. Manila Magic :: In The Night

Filtered through the lens of nostalgia, Manila Magic’s debut single “In The Night” pushes forward with minimalist pop experiments that echo the soundtrack to an ‘80s prom night. There is an inherent danger in appropriating styles of the past without considering its history and primal feel. But these guys are committed to engage in the aesthetic on a more intimate level rather than just romanticize it out of interest. With every subsequent listen, you can feel their heart beating in the right place, with neon synths and insular psychedelics making every moment of the track worthwhile and engaging.

4. Musical O :: House Tea

There appears to be a consensus about the palpable influence of Musical O among the batch of post-millennial bands who have found refuge in blending twinkly, mathy pop-rock with indie sensibilities. Before Tom’s Story, Run Dorothy, or to an extent, Fools and Foes came to the fold, Marco Dinglasan and company are already breaking genre boundaries in their early years with Terno Recordings and digging deep into intricately placed guitar runs without diminishing the dreamlike quality of their songs. “House Tea,” their latest track, is a proof of this mastery in form. On surface, it sounds like a hushed meditation, pulling their weight to achieve a lightheartedness that doesn’t usually come with the kind of music they play. There’s something bold about the degree of restraint inscribed on Musical O’s musicality, and “House Tea” takes this principle to heart.

3. Memory Drawers :: Lovingly, Leaving Me

For a band who has quietly built its reputation with the release of enjoyable jangle-pop singles “Hart” and “For Any of This,” Memory Drawers remain relatively unknown in the local indie circles. I kind of expected their online tracks to spread like wildfire, but it didn’t. The enigma behind the project is pretty evident on the surface, an oddity that works best in the context of under-the-radar presence.

“Lovingly, Leaving Me,” their third single, offers a recommended dose of sunshine pop, but it’s Memory Drawers unlike you’ve never heard before: upbeat, exuberant, and sweet, with blissed-out guitars cutting through humid air. Effortless quirk comes in handy here, giving the song a chance to masterfully execute its pop ambition. At 3 minutes, “Lovingly, Leaving Me” feels like the perfect length of time to breeze through an anthem that’s more than just fluff and butter. And then it takes you there, somewhere between dreamy and nostalgic, like every great song that gets the feelies right.

2. BLKD x UMPH :: Taksil

Rather than submit to calculated hip-hop trends to land a crossover smash, BLKD stays true to his roots with “Taksil.” The incisive anthem finds the celebrated street poet at the peak of his creativity, penning an incisive observation on power struggle and backstabbing while taking us captives with a knife pointed at our heads. His commentary never runs the risk of suffocation, one whose idea of cautionary tale is slanted towards critical thinking: “Kaya kahit na ating hangad ay pagkakaisa / laging dapat mapagbantay sa pagkakaiba,” BLKD raps over nightmarish, minimalist beats. He burns us in our collective complacency, but he also invokes a sense of alarm that is somewhat triggered by the spate of killings hounding the country in the past few months. It’s precisely those confrontational sentiments that make listening to “Taksil” a game-changing experience: it unveils his understanding of the status quo, a lost cause that he’s up to reviving no matter how difficult it takes.

Check out the exquisitely crafted music video of “Taksil” below. It’s best viewed HD on your smartphones (vertical fullscreen):

1. Ang Bandang Shirley :: Umaapaw

Sometimes the most life-changing of love songs comes from small gestures of romantic intent, stripped down to the littlest of details, written with the barest of words. Ang Bandang Shirley’s latest single “Umaapaw” works under this premise: it understands that there is beauty in the moment, and that there is thrill in witnessing two strangers find comfort in small talks and unblinking gazes.

Ean Aguila, the chief songwriter behind “Umaapaw,” manages to pull off magic by paying tribute to the kind of romantic feelings people experience in real life. He relishes the simplicity of such feelings the same way a Rey Valera or George Canseco would in a 3-minute pop song, minus the dramatic flourishes and theatrical proclamations. “Pagkagising, panaginip ang dumalaw, damdamin ko’y umaapaw,” Aguila writes as if reliving that part of your memory filled with livid colors and energy. It’s hard not to feel anything after listening to the anthemic track, with confection taken away into the picture and replaced by palpable, tender emotions of the raw kind.

Same way applies with its music video helmed by the band’s manager, Kathy Gener and The Strangeness’ Shinji Manlangit. What these two bring to the fold is an unabashedly sincere take on the romantic form, built around delicately small moments and imbued with what feels like a recollection of young, ephemeral romance. It’s one that’s worth sharing to the rest of the world.

20 – 1 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2016
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41 – 60 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2016
61 – 80 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2016
81 – 100 Essential Filipino Tracks of 2016

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