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.
80. Tramonto :: Quartered
Every time a discussion about the Davao independent music scene mushrooms out of nowhere, friends from the South would mention alt-rock veterans Tramonto without hesitation. The band has been around for more than 10 years, filling local music venues and writing new material. The lineup changes have been a deterrent factor in taking their creative pursuit to a more realized direction, the main reason why they have to put the recording in the back burner and focus more on playing live shows in the city.
Fast forward to 2016, Tramonto has found the missing piece to the lineup and started working on the final touches of their debut EP, Vespers. “Quartered” is serviced as the first single, funneling post-grunge sensibilities in the mold of The Smashing Pumpkins and Suede while showcasing their distinct craft in surprisingly delightful ways. The track strikes a chord with densely layered and fizzy guitar-rock sound, but refuses to succumb to what most de-facto ‘90s-inspired bands are doing at the moment. The chorus has that gritty, anthemic feel to it, exploding at the right moments and getting listeners instantly hooked. The energy hardly falters, and it’s what keeps the track from falling apart.
79. Mindless Pop :: Patience
Not so much has been said about Mindless Pop, except maybe for its association with Continent Records—a label known for curating reliably risk-taking records that fall under the indie, punk and hardcore subgenres. Hearing their debut single “Patience” for the first time somehow got me tucked into their narrative: a resounding personal statement that dares to wait for some answers, a gospel seeking for truth. “I’ll wait for you to answer my prayers, to send out a sign that will bury the worries I hide,” Jom sings shakily but seemingly genuine in his intent. The song paces nicely and gains momentum. You hear a sprawl of gang vocals trying to take over the space before halting to a cathartic hush. Everything sounds meticulously made here.
There is a particular spot where Mindless Pop could have aced its ambition to ceiling-punching heights, but decided to move forward with a steady but assured closer. Perhaps it would be best to hear it straightforward and clear: “But you know that I’ll lie here, still patient and waiting for you to come back,” Jom puts it. You believe it exactly as it is because it sounds so pure and raw and honest. It’s the sound of being finally home.
78. Encyclopedia Frown :: Dreamer’s Dream
If you follow Encyclopedia Frown on social media, you already know that there’s nothing much out there except for a few gigs and a recently released EP called Phantomwise. Dig deeper into their catalog, and you’ll hear an obscure little gem called “Dreamer’s Dream,” which sounds like a cross between The Cure and The Chameleons, but a little more punk in character. The track appropriates the grimy edges of post-punk and darkwave without pandering too much on stylistic indulgences. A must listen, if you ask me.
77. The Dropouts! :: Langit-Lupa
We first caught up with The Dropouts! four years ago with the glorious punk anthem Beef Tapa. Its music video was one of the most underrated gems of that year, unraveling as some kind of a “third world, sci-fi action wrapped in comedy gold.”
Dial forward to the present, the band has finally made a decision to release their much-anticipated self-titled album under Bomba Records, with the messy, soul-cleansing “Langit-Lupa” as its first single. It’s another unapologetic beast emboldened by gnashing riffs, sloppy tendencies and buried vocals. While their contemporaries in the genre cling to wasted juvenilia for comfort, they’re busy tearing down walls, singing post-apocalyptic mantras and twisting our brains out.
76. Skarm & Anitek :: Rock With You
Proof that hip-hop must make room for both elegance and restraint, Skarm and Anitek drop a cosmic joint called “Rock With You.” The latest single off their upcoming collab album defies conventional wisdom with its blend of avant-jazz rhythms, spacious serenity and ethereal production. Skarm is relentlessly aware of his capabilities, and when he abstains from shit-talking and braggadocio and digs sharp, personal narratives with ease, you get a sense of his massive potential shining through Anitek’s dusty, spatial beats. There’s a lot going on “Rock With You” that deserves a detail-per-detail account, but the level of commitment to the vision that the duo gives off is something that is worth celebrating. Pump up the volume and play this track with an open mind.
75. She’s Only Sixteen :: Sweden
Upon first contact, She’s Only Sixteen seemed like a bunch of garage-rock revivalists who have not minced words about their Alex Turner/Julian Casablancas worship. Then came last year’s “Just Another Face On The Wall”—a fascinating breakup anthem that kept their pop instincts at bay, breathing new life to the form with unexpected tenderness to it. From that point, we get to hear the band comfortable in mining uncharted sonic territories that were intriguing yet familiar. This is brilliantly showcased on their new single “Sweden,” drawing you in warm, spacious drift with surprising layers of detail. Beneath the dreamy exterior and wandering bass line lie an ultimate proof of She’s Only Sixteen’s maturity as songwriters capable of turning personal tirades into shiny hooks. When Seña sings, “Hanging on to nothing, leaving grudges with a broken stare,” he gives us what we want: the same old feeling of emptiness, that first flush of frustration. But he wants it done with a bed of hypnotic groove, with effortlessness, with the way “Just Another Face On The Wall” converted nonbelievers into fans. It’s worth losing one’s heart for, a song that tears you apart even as it continues to throb.
74. Asch :: Substance
Asch manages to surprise with randomness built right into the equation. He takes bigger chances, covers new sonic motifs, and knows when to play things quiet and subtle. “Substance,” with its openness and sense of imagination, is Asch at his best. The track strips it back to the basics with abstracted minimalism and finds grace in elusiveness. It rarely soars, but when it does, as evidenced in the jazzy piano chords inception that bubbles out of nowhere, mood lightens up and makes room for sunshine. Suddenly, everything becomes clearer now: Asch is the future of local electronic music, and you should all believe it by now.
73. Bugoy Na Koykoy :: Dealer of the Year
There’s more to Bugoy na Koykoy than being a product of Internet hype machine. Perhaps most impressive is the divisive and uncompromising content of their lyrics, one that occasionally baits for controversy and punk nihilism. “Dealer of the Year,” with its blippy trap production and hook-laden verses, is an honest, perverse look at underground hustling. At the fore of its starkly provocative subject matter is a brilliant, low-key video that addresses the issue of #cardboardjustice hounding the country these past few months. Other than BLKD’s game-changing “Taksil,” nobody dares to take aim at the unlawful killings that have become integral in the narrative of our country’s all-out war on drugs. Bugoy na Koykoy takes this challenge at the expense of being laughed at, unconsciously connecting the personal to the political.
72. Lindenwood :: Failure
How can a punk-rock anthem this unabashedly messy but unapologetic, slipped through cracks and not get noticed? Lindenwood’s “Failure” thrives in soaring, aching urgency. Its scrappy, pop-punk chords and intense energy are all that matters to induce a riotous but fun kind of mosh, but underneath its surface aggression lies a wounded heart trying to heal. “I tried to chase happiness, only find myself swimming in circles,” Jason Marquez struggles, slips through words and feels empty. Lindenwood writes a swan song to accompany that slit-wrist of a feeling, but it’s also a way to escape, an avenue to heal. The perfect time to let it all out.
71. BennyBunnyBand :: Pam ToGetHer
And here’s a living testament that ukulele and punk can get along harmoniously, given the right material and attitude. BennyBunnyBand’s “Pam ToGetHer” stands out from the pack with its unwavering confidence and earworm of a chorus. The energy doesn’t seem to lose momentum, letting you surrender everything in 3 minutes and 44 seconds, all for the sake of pure pop pleasure. Now I get it: BennyBunnyBand is that underrated overrated band that deserves some championing, and “Pam ToGetHer” is the fun, drunken number that will make even non-believers a convert.
70. Nights of Rizal :: Penelope
Unlike many artists of his position, Nights of Rizal confidently aligns his affinity for bedroom indie with club culture. He strikes a balance between accessibility and introverted calm, leaning towards the groove-based eccentricity of midnight R&B and UK dance music. The guy’s clearly got chops as demonstrated on his 2013 record Karma Zero—a record that shows Migi’s “unyielding foothold on innovation and expansive emotional details.” The appeal of his previous EP somehow rubs off on his comeback single “Penelope,” and its pulse-quickening vibe lusts through the textures and layers with a particular brand of suave only a voice like Migi’s can pull off. As expected, it’s a meticulously crafted dance-pop affair that rarely loses its grip. The production thrives on small details, mixed with obscuring, hard-hitting beats and bass throbs to give off a heart-on-sleeve intimacy. No matter how imperfect the singing is, it is Migi’s vocal performance that turns what could be grating in other hands so distinctly special. Stripped off from the infectious electronics, you’ll hear a heart beating, yearning, fighting for space. We’ve waited long for this.
69. Half Lit :: Benjamin
Two introspective, electro-pop albums into her career, BP Valenzuela remains prolific as ever. This doesn’t even count her solo releases under the low-key guitar-pop project Half-Lit, which features online cuts “Say So,” “The Great Divide” and “Backspace Me.” Unlike her more polished self-titled moniker, Half-lit approaches songwriting with much regard for subtlety and comforting rawness, painting an image of an adolescent who is constantly battling with her personal issues on love, life and adulthood.
A few days ago, BP dropped “Benjamin” under her alias Half-Lit. What she does with her acoustic guitar and voice is hauntingly beautiful, but hearing her gain confidence at convey delicate, guarded emotions makes the listening experience even more interesting—calming, even. When she sings about her favorite guitar, her “fleeting summer fuck up,” it doesn’t hurt that she sounds fully invested in the process, professing admiration without the need to amplify everything into full-on drama. BP keeps the embellishments at bay with sparse guitar effects, but her lyrics manage to pull the listener’s heartstrings in the most intimate of ways.
68. College Friends :: No Colony
“No Colony” has that innocent charm that caters to a particular segment of listenership. Its scrappy, lo-fi vibe quite registers as its sonic focal point, wringing heartfelt ruminations out of washed-out textures, digital drums and sunny synths. His cues here all appear to be captured on a doodly time of the day, in his bedroom, with noise and dust gobbled up in the recording. It’s not an easy listen, but it’s difficult not to get smitten by its off-kilter strangeness and pop sensibility.
67. Hey It’s Your Birthday :: Hey Buddy
Fresh off a successful album launch, Hey It’s Your Birthday gives off another unfamiliar jolt with the release of their new single “Hey Buddy.” The Cebu-based band makes hazy, lo-fi pop music their therapy couch, hanging on to the comforts of adolescent ennui, feeling fucking invincible. “I wish you’d see what I saw / crooked stars on the wall and a purple swirly silver moon,” Anne Amores sings in her ethereal register, trying to contain the moment that truly matters to her. The music goes on to melt in a misty dream. The atmosphere drips with laid-back temperament, swirling endlessly into a brooding, downtempo groove. “Hey Buddy” allows such vision to linger and repeat, but with conscious regard for a more discerning pop audience.
66. Conscious and the Goodness :: Lights Out
Mike Constantino recognizes the nuances of seduction on “Lights Out,” for its main appeal is sophistication, the need to translate primacy of pleasure into art. This is clear at the onset, the moment where the brass section and keys render groove with collected ease and calm. Hearing Mike sing like a pillow-talker, the kind with masterful grasp on restraint, is quite a revelation. His sultry vocals float weightlessly above an instrumental cushion, smooth-talking his way out of a midnight reverie while getting away with lines that would make you feel sexy and cringe at the same time. One way of listening to “Lights Out” is letting yourself melt in a silky stack of ‘60s soul: lusty guitars ripple; bass holds the groove to its feet; trumpet, sax and trombone brim with beautiful surprises. It’s a great feeling to have on a chill night: lights dim and hearts locked tight.
65. Junior Kilat :: Kawatan
Instead of pandering to the beat of island riddims tradition to welcome our collective thirst for summer, Junior Kilat returns with a third-world roll call that takes a swipe at the merciless institution known as the Philippine government. Over a reggae backbeat, a groovy bassline, and a dub sound bite, Budoy presents a more concrete social commentary on new single “Kawatan Ka,” committed to calling out the injustice served at the everyday Filipino people, particularly the issues of corruption, flawed taxation, and poverty. Budoy makes you want to jam your fist in the air right after the first few bars kick in, delivering tirades in his native Cebuano with muscular calm. Yes he sounds pissed, but Budoy is just simply echoing our sentiments in an art form that has always been a vehicle for genuine reforms and changes in the system. “Kawatan Ka” falls right into Junior Kilat’s wheelhouse, but it hasn’t been this razor-sharp, adventurous, and confrontational since “Ako si M-16.”
64. Squid9 :: Future Present
If you’re expecting Squid 9’s latest single to be in the same vein as his previous releases on 2014’s Origamidi, you’re going to be disappointed. “Future Present” feels like a throwback to the organic but gritty big-tent statements of 2004’s Kraken Modular, a glorious step back in form and aesthetic progression.
Given its loosened quality, Marasigan’s warehouse raver takes time to soar and build up, but it does not allow the sonic details to supersede the spectacle. You won’t hear Jesse Grinter’s space-disco vocals right after 2:35, but up to that moment, Squid 9 toys around the possibility of merging retro ‘80s synth-pop with his kitschy vision of futurism. Here, he makes use of analog synths and approaches the grab bag with just the right amount of mechanical precision and punk ethos. But it’s this rejection of electronic music trends that makes Marasigan such a delightful rediscovery, a Renaissance man who knows his sound by heart, who is compelled to chart his own revolution by walking backwards, against the currency of cool.
63. July XIV :: Revelations I
“Revelations I” isn’t much of a risky gamble, but it certainly nudges upcoming indie-rock outfit July XIV out of their sheltered territory. Doused in sun-drenched ecstasy and easygoing guitar flourishes, the track is impressive in the way that it operates within infinitely hummable hooks and low-key perfectionism: effortless and unblemished even on its small-scale ambition.
Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Best Coast and Dum Dum Girls come to mind after hearing July XIV’s debut single, which has its resonant ways of sneaking in past our consciousness. The guitars get the arena-shoegaze treatment minus the inherent gloom, and Eevee Simon’s lighthearted vocals are clearly more connected about feelings than style. But it’s when the song adjusts the gaze to the navel and goes on to add layers of sweetness to the crunch, that you feel music’s intangible moments turned into a blissful one. The joy it gives is difficult to deny. Embrace it, feel it.
62. Limbs :: Glass Cloak
Limbs are hardly the first local outfit to incorporate shoegaze and post-rock influences with metal and post-hardcore, but they push things subtly forward without fully giving in to a certain form or sensibility. It’s a breath of fresh air to hear them revel in the majesty of wide-open spaces with bracing unpredictability, and in the case of their new track “Glass Cloak,” explore the unknown with delicate moments brushing up with the bruising and loud. The triumphal builds, driving melodic punches, and swirling guitar layers echo Deafheaven and Beast Jesus at their prime, moving at a rate that is erratic and strikingly engaging, but also pointing to something unheard before. There’s no way around to ignore the capability of this anthem to get lost in your head and get stuck there for days.
61. Sour Cheeks :: Anymore
You don’t walk away from Sour Cheeks’ “Anymore” feeling fine. At face value, it’s a saccharine indie-pop track reminiscent of early Ourselves The Elves and Frankie Cosmos, painting a relatable picture of feverish summer trips at the countryside. The lyrics, however, offer glimpse to a relationship gone wrong: a story of lingering grief that serves as contrast to the music’s jovial disposition. “It happens all the time and you’ve got to make yourself feel fine,” Pauline Rana ends the song, clearing out to expose the residues of hurt that she’s been hiding all the time. Sometimes, the saddest songs are the ones wrapped in bright guitar chords and twee melodies. “Anymore” is one fine example.
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