Pastilan Dong! has a surprisingly rapid work rate. Only a little over a year after releasing their massive, self-titled debut album and becoming a fixture in the local gig circuit, they return with Every Step Is Backward, an album that does not feel like a step backward or a regression but an enlargement of their already expansive, ambitious repertoire. Their second release evades the snare of the sophomore slump by miles and miles, while bearing the weight of their previously established sound and carrying a little bag of brand new tricks.
Every Step Is Backward is less apparently forceful than their stellar debut record, but the storm still rages within. However, the attack this time around is insidious: vicious streaks of blinding light are concealed behind the fabric of familiarity; the sharp, angular edges of the feedback-laden guitars pierce through the veil at unpredictable intervals, revealing the secretly violent nature of the object draped in the deceptively supple cloth. What is abrasive is turned invisible, yet made all the more potent by its obfuscation.
The opening track, “Tantrum”, immediately establishes what the album is going to be. The introduction contains enough clues to set the general tone of the rest of the album, making use of a confident, anthemic ramp to propel the song into a zone of pure, chaotic noise. What follows is a formula that dictates the movement of the rest of the album. It is, however, necessary to put forward that the strictures placed by the band upon themselves never render any of the tracks in a drab light. The rigid structure makes no room for mistakes, and Pastilan Dong! exhibits their curiously enthralling mathematic computations. The calculations appear to yield similar results —entropy, disorder, distortion, and anarchy, but the stapes taken to arrive at the final answer are what matter most in this record; even the tiniest event in any of these songs is a gift in and of itself.
The album also appears to be delivered with a delightfully engaging sense of detachment: Pastilan Dong! appears to be floating in space, performing at a distance and reflecting upon the object of their woes and desires from a vantage point that lends a better view to each situation. Tracks like “Aphrodite” and “The Idol” call the bands Spacemen 3 and Mercury Rev to mind, and “Be Still” seems to draw its general sentiment from The Cure, yet unlike their predecessors, Kaloy Olavides and company no longer seem to be in the thick of things. The emotional crests and troughs, however, regain the weight they seem to be shedding over time, and satisfaction crawls toward the listener at its own delirious pace. Satisfaction, in the universe of Pastilan Dong!, turns out to be the result of repetition; each song presents itself as a present of a recapitulated present.
The scope of the album is also to be commended. It guides the vestiges of its own influences to sublime interaction, incorporating the swelling crescendos of My Bloody Valentine and juxtaposes them between the frenetic noise pop of artists like The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. and the elegiac, sprawling dirges of The Smashing Pumpkins, and this is perfectly embodied by “A Touch of Might”, the most intricate, meticulous, and ambitious song on the album. The song is the result of a unit that is tightly wound; the 9 minutes and 22 seconds takes the shape of a cavern from which Olavides may sound out his mellow drawl and hear the echoes ripple in the sonorous atmosphere.
Every Step Is Backward may seem to proclaim that the album is a step in the opposite direction of progress, but perhaps the album proves that is a step in the right direction, a step in the direction of an area where sound can be contemplated with both gravity and levity, two parts to the key that unlocks the door leading to the secret heart of this album. (Itos Ledesma)