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.
40. Oh, Flamingo! :: Inconsistencies
Oh, Flamingo’s self-titled EP is filled to the brim with sinfully infectious singles that thread the middle ground between indie-rock obscurity and chartpop sheen. Their third single “Inconsistencies” continues the winning streak of their previous releases “June” and “Reflections,” working their uncanny magic on songcraft without conforming to recent trends. But unlike the signature hits that catapulted the young band into the respected ranks, “Inconsistencies” shows their more vulnerable side: pop sensibilities front and center, earnestness on its sleeves, engine running high on feelings.
39. Mellow Fellow :: My World
It’s easy to dismiss Mellow Fellow as yet another bedroom-pop act trying to revitalize what’s left of Sarah Records’ remaining glory. While his music sounds too raw and afloat for artistic exploration, there’s something about his disarmingly simple approach to pop songcraft that wraps up naturally in the air and fills your heart with warmth. It’s the reason why “My World” is a good entry point to his catalog: a wistful twee-pop affair that reeks of various shades of ache. Here, Mellow Fellow makes no secret of sharing his anxieties and frustrations to the world, singing as if confiding his problems on a recorded tape, all alone and troubled. The languid introspection is to be expected, but it’s done with youthful amateurism, one that needs direction and more experience in order for it to be more cohesive and emotionally connecting. Laying everything to the ground, “My World” is a sign of bigger things to come for this alt-pop troubadour.
38. Knife :: Catacombs
We first came across Knife via $OUTH$IDE$WA666—a hazy cloud-rap mixtape that catapulted No Face Records to internet spotlight. His contribution was a haterade called “$tate of Mind,” a simple joy to listen to despite clocking short of 2 minutes. On this Skinxbones-produced track, we get to hear Knife blast opinionated fakers that rub him the wrong way, spitting “I don’t fuck with your kind.” It’s quite a bracing listen, but it’s also miserable and asphyxiating, as if struggling to get out of a frustrating daydream.
“Catacombs,” a track off his latest EP Leave Me Alone, expands on the pessimistic worldview set by his previous track “$tate of Mind.” He’s stuck there for some time, fed up about everything and anyone, uncontrollably losing his grip. Depression fumes in the background, and this smoked-out joint takes a jab at the brokenness around him, relying on the natural high to cover up uncomfortable truths. “Fuck you bitch you better leave me alone, I’d rather be left smoking in the shadows with my weed,” so goes the hook, repetitive and infectious, piercing through the druggy beats. He is obviously angry, but he’d rather light up the kush and wait for the clouds to part. At least that way, he can get away from his feelings and anger momentarily.
37. Apartel :: Is It Hip?
There seems to be a newfound appreciation for a mélange of throwback sounds: the funkadelic vibe of James Brown and George Clinton, the captivating spirit of Motown and old school soul, the cabaret-infused acid jazz of Brand New Heavies and Incognito. A lot of young, music-schooled bands have embraced such sonic stew and made it sound artificially syrupy and clean, more palatable to Millennial speak to a degree. Imagine hugot lyrics over a swinging, suwabe groove or sexual innuendos sung atop slickly produced, jukebox revival. Most, if not all who thread the same path, lack the courage to dive into murkier waters and explore bold, stylistic choices. Pleasing their demographic has become the top priority, leaving people who saw promise in their early material shaking their heads in disappointment.
It’s refreshing to hear a band like Apartel break out of the trend by association and conflate the best years of the ‘70s and early ‘80s music into seamless retro gold. Their latest single “Is It Hip?” mines past music forms with utmost respect for the tradition: keeping the funk dirty and smokin’, the singing rough but full of soul, the delivery playful but tight. Filled with irresistibly sensual moments and immaculate psychedelia, the song has everything that vintage music enthusiasts would definitely love, giving us the perfect throwback anthem to get wasted to and enjoy until the wee hours of the evening.
36. Earl of Manila :: Catching Feelings
Earl of Manila has recently dropped his debut EP, Stranger—an arrestingly smooth record that paints a picture of the R&B singer-songwriter/producer and his romantic laments. One of the standout tracks, and most likely to crossover is “Catching Feelings.” Earl’s firm sense of substance and style is apparent here, capturing nostalgic ‘90s vibe with electro-soul grooves, seductive beats and silky textures. While it sounds too close for comfort, especially on how it lingers on the familiar sonic palette embraced by his previous releases, it’s difficult not to be swept away by its tricks and details. “Catching Feelings” wraps its arms around you, gently and carefully, and sometimes, that’s all you need to know.
35. Up Dharma Down :: Just A Smile (Barbie Almalbis Cover)
There’s no secret recipe to a great cover song, but you can spot brilliance easily when the material is taken to a whole new level of ownership and artistry, sometimes blurring the original’s influence and exploring the outer edges of the song to create something unique and compelling. Up Dharma Down, the prolific experimentalists that they are, work on such peripheral vision, rendering Barbie Almalbis’ signature hit with crisp, shimmery pulses of ‘80s pop in the Hall and Oates/The Blue Nile/Kraftwerk blueprint. Their version has the design of Capacities’ minimalist grandeur and none of Barbie’s anthemic twee, with Ean Mayor’s production touches soaring highest when it struts underneath the shadows of a mirror ball.
34. Grows :: Mind Glue
Grows’ debut record, Go Glow Grows borrows from accessible “canon” albums that have defined and shaped noise-pop in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. You can hear bits and pieces of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, Sebadoh’s Bakesale and Nirvana’s Bleach in the influence, where noise and fuzz drip over saccharine pop melodies and aching intimacy. One of the standout tracks in the record is “Mind Glue,” a track that grows increasingly withdrawn as it progresses, representing the high points of the album with its loving attention to details and simplicity. While the track might pass off as a Pastilan Dong b-side given its sonic affinity with Kaloy Olavides’ other band, “Mind Glue” operates through self-consciousness and pop sensibility. It’s cautious enough not to sacrifice any shades of melodic sweetness in the mix, but in its own efforts, manages to color outside the lines of its form for a grittier appeal. Stream:
33. Raw Meta Fuego :: Be Wid You
“Be Wid You” finds a new way forward by employing ‘70s soul samples and smooth-sounding jazzy beats to ethereal effect. The music itself is bent on evoking all of the lilting ecstasy that comes with Justin de Guzman’s signature production, but it’s Raw Meta Fuego’s laid-back rap-sung style that stretches the championship streak as far as it can—his voice proven to be an efficient suite to JDG’s cosmic instrumentals. Whether it’s a song about marijuana disguised as a romantic ode or just a random musing from a bored island nomad, “Be Wid You” succeeds by conquering our inner chill with a glimpse to the sonic yesteryears. And yes, that sample of Angela Bofill’s underrated classic “The Only Thing I Would Wish For” just makes it all the more brilliant.
32. The Buildings :: Manila’s A Trap
“Manila’s a Trap” lures us into the lair of The Buildings’ surfside fuzz-pop, a song that is good enough to disarm any skeptics. A few spins of this carefree, instantly likable track would make anyone want to set their hearts on fire in the parking lot and scream their apprehensions about city life. “Why do you make me feel so bad if you want me to comeback,” Mariah Reodica sings over a propulsive guitar slosh and a pounding bassline, capturing the frustrated spirit of someone who has spent few years living on disappointments and heartaches. Like “Different Shades of Blue,” it’s an anthem that never distances itself from listeners, the kind that raises its glass to the moment feeling invincible. Youth is not wasted on the young, and The Buildings are a living proof of this counter-wisdom.
31. Twin Lobster :: Don’t Argue
Twin Lobster has always been an essential part of the local indie-rock canon, a band that managed to turn the trappings and sentiments of youth into something exquisite but relatable. Their work explores just how delicate and playful guitar chords can be, how sturdy song structures and accessibility can meet in the middle and still exhibit quiet confidence, how Nick Lazaro employ introspective lyricism that look at familiar stories from a different angle. Their timely comeback via new single “Don’t Argue” displays such strength without looking back. The band hasn’t lost its touch for blending deceptively simple melodies with sonic surprises, but this time, the guitars are more subdued and distinctly tasteful, the production brighter and more nuanced. Lazaro steers the wheels on a slightly different direction that is both familiar and alien to longtime fans, delivering a thoughtfully crafted comeback that serves as signal to a newfound level of inspiration. We can’t wait to hear the new album!
30. Munrö :: Take Me
Munrö’s “Take Me” is more than just a pristine experiment that chronicles some grand unrealized possibility. The song glides in the form of a ghosted memory, fleeting and ringing in smokes. There’s something about the song that turns brokenness into something that can help us heal.
“Take my love wherever you go,” sings Munrö in an affecting and almost serene tone, rendering it personal but also universal. The subdued a Capella performance unfurls stylistically into an exquisite masterwork backed by koto and native percussions. It breaks away from the quiet to deliver a compelling theatrical showcase, a swan finale that aims right for the heart.
29. Emar Industriya :: Sinopsis (Feat. Calix)
A new wave of dark, confrontational, socially conscious releases have invaded local hip-hop this year, with Calix and Emar Industriya leading the pack to represent the voice of ordinary people the world has chosen to ignore. Their collab track “Sinopsis” illustrates the true power of pure, undiluted, urban poetry—the kind honed in the streets, but one whose sensibilities mirror the aggressiveness of the hip-hop internet underground.
28. Chairman Mouse :: Tell Me When To Stop The Car
Heartbreak lingers on the opening chords of “Tell Me When To Stop The Car,” stripping things down even further with sentiments of a haunted past. “Drove past the movie house where we met,” Jerome Exmundo reminisces, and you can feel the mourning in his whiny singing, finding it hard to believe that everything has come to an end. Chairman Mouse gets by on the strength of Exmundo’s contemplative sentiments, writing from a confessional standpoint where his peers prefer to be bland and safe. “Tell Me When To Stop The Car” is easily the band’s strongest work to date, offering a satisfying glimpse of what they are capable of making in their most vulnerable state of being.
27. Peryodiko :: Headrush
“Headrush” is Peryodiko at its prime. Dancel’s skillful showcase of anthemic songwriting is on full display here, seeping down into every nook and cranny with a slashing, straightforward assault. Nicholas Lazaro turns out to be a great match for the band in this particular project, capturing the visceral intensity of the rhythm section while giving the world a chance to hear the more nuanced side of Peryodiko. It also adds that Kris Gorra-Dancel is an adept guitar player whose presence is vital in redressing “Headrush” with yearning romantic punch.
26. Coeli :: Magkaibigan O Magka-ibigan (Feat. Miguel Guico)
“Magkaibigan o Magka-ibigan,” as we’ve come to expect from Coeli, is a sprawling piece of work that takes an intimate look at the possibility and impossibility of romantic relationship between two people who are aware of their mutual fondness for each other. There’s something primal about Coeli’s singing that gets more exquisite and intense as it reaches for the final bow, and with collaborator Miguel complementing that sheer breadth with suave and delicate falsetto, the result can be pretty riveting.
The arrangements, heavy and haunted in most parts, draw less to themselves. But the beauty of “Magkaibigan o Magka-ibigan” is that it isn’t afraid to show its naked imperfection—be it the piercing, string-laden intro that echoes an elegiac backdrop or the acrobatic vocal turns that serve as assertion of defiance. Those elements add up to the resonant charm in which Coeli and Miguel’s voices thrive, building into an epic folk-pop sing-along about would-be lovers waiting for greater things to come.
25. Pastilan Dong :: More of You
There’s a fair amount of interest surrounding Pastilan Dong’s new single “More of You,” at the heart of which is the kind of effortlessness you only get from bands who know their creative vision to the core. The song’s eventual drift to melodic accessibility was never a result of any exploratory eclecticism or stark pandering at alt radio. In Pastilan Dong’s universe, there’s more to their music than dissonant layers of sounds. They’re words, feelings, bigger things than the universe itself, expressed as it is in real life. It could be a song about drug dependence or simply a declaration of love in the most straightforward of ciphers. What makes it hard to pin down doesn’t affect how it cuts through in a relatable, emotional level. “More of You” doesn’t play so much on the polar extremes of Pastilan’s sound, but it leaves a lot up to the heart and imagination.
24. Jack Sikat Kombo :: Love Drug
Drifting past the waves in striking haze, “Love Drug” is a product of daydream on codeine trip. You can feel the full weight of white noise bearing down on your ears, sprawling in directionless but nourishing reverie. The sun hasn’t set on this sonic journey quite yet, but the track’s tranquil mood makes you believe that some days are better off without light. Its wallop of shoegaze guitars, night-drive rhythms and yearning vocals is enough to give hope out there for anyone looking for love in a hopelessly deserted place.
23. Nouvul :: Plié
Jorge Wieneke was already at the forefront of indie-R&B before everybody jumped on the soul train and claimed it cool. Released in 2012, his track “TheyDreamLady” offered mind-bending sounds of ‘90s slow jams with gurgling, futurist beats. It was the sonic blueprint that led to the creation of Nouvul—Wineke’s other project, which helped usher the growing popularity of bedroom music acts dabbling into urban music. After a few singles and intimate shows, Nouvul went on a hiatus, leaving a pile of unreleased tracks and rarities that don’t sound out of step with the times.
Now recharged for a comeback, Nouvul drops a new single called “Plié,” off his latest EP, This Quiet. Wieneke plumbs the virtual sadboy aesthetic here and strips things down with minimalist ambient electronics. The beats are lush and sparse, the singing less polished but more heartfelt. It felt like he was down inside his head, in some alternate digital space, whispering “coz I want you to want me, I’m tired of playing alone” to a significant part of his past. In some ways, it’s refreshing to hear Wieneke lay waste on the ground and share something personal and vulnerable even at the expense of sounding quivery. Buried deep in the consciousness is his desire to write a song that cuts through emotions and somehow, he makes it happen with “Plié.”
22. Johnoy Danao x Clara Benin :: Right Time
Sometimes, the quietest, most intimate recordings are also the most transcendent ones, a feat shared by some of the finest singer-songwriters in history, from Nick Drake to Joni Mitchell. Johnoy Danao takes the same page from these folk greats, willfully disassociating himself from contemporary drift to write hushed acoustic ballads that brim with universal appeal. “Right Time,” his best single since the tortured breakup anthem “Dapithapon,” is an effortless display of restraint: soothing vocal harmonies, hushed melodies, and lush but stripped-down guitar arrangements. His duet with Clara Benin transforms the quietly shared experience into a turning point, a way of making amends with romantic baggage and learning to move on, move forward. Danao writes like a curator of love songs, his wisdom a gift that keeps on giving, his words the feelings that we keep on hiding.
21. Identikit :: Sometimes
“Sometimes” arrives on our doorsteps with a wall-of-fuzz pronouncement: the heavy wash of guitars and distortions spinning into a heady sugar rush, while Sandy Buladaco’s delicate vocals linger in the mix like a beautiful but fading memory. The track marks an astounding return to form, a familiar style that captures the blurry facelessness of their early material.
Then again, this is Identikit we’re talking about. They are perfectionists of noise-pop imperfection, plumbing the depth and breadth of their shoegaze influences without drowning itself into a shadowy swamp. And unlike well-loved anthems “Peach” and “Me and My Japanese Bike,” Identikit’s latest single evades pandering to pop appeal. What Identikit lacks in accessibility they make up for swaggering sonic bombast.
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