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 2013 to December 11, 2013. Add to the equation the total number of current releases from Soundcloud, Beatport, iTunes and various streaming and downloading sites (ndfy.me, 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. We haven’t even included artists who prefer producing physical releases peddled in gigs and record store racks. 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 where 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.
Check out our Top 100 Tracks of 2013 (#40-21):
20. WeRideDynamite- Different
Along the lines of The Stone Roses or maybe, Real Estate, WeRideDynamite’s “Different” evokes the nostalgic glow of lazy afternoons while moving in transit, in an imaginary but deserted open road leading to nowhere. In its subdued resignation, you can hear chiming, psychedelic guitars brush up with breezy and tranquil melodies, its loneliness masked with haunted and striking details that transcend limitations.
Listening to “Different” makes you want to get lost in its hazy sonic realm, and turn your world into a temporary dim tint.
19. KZ TANDINGAN – Un-love You
“There’s an angel whispering that it’s still worthwhile trying,” KZ Tandingan convinces herself that she’s willing to go out of her way to save the sinking relationship, monstrous it might have turned. But it gets gloomier from there: by the time the tantrum kicks in, we get to hear KZ finally exploding like a manic tornado, the crunched guitar riffs and strings resembling a war-torn infestation, almost ready to take an entire city down. The invisible wound, perhaps an acknowledgement to the infliction of an abusive past, is all that remains in this fuming pop-rock extravaganza. While love in all its barrenness leaves no trace, KZ ends her predicament with a sigh of relief; the static fuzz that follows, gives her resignation a resounding hint of misery or perhaps, hope.
18. POPULAR DAYS – December Song
Populardays’ “December Song” can go beyond the point of discomfiture, foam with the sparkle of cold Christmas and sentimental nostalgia, and still sound earnest in its hazy, drunken state. But beneath its understated eloquence and dreamy guitars, you can hear the vivid depiction of longing contained in a slow, shivering ache.
“I will remember you and all the things you do,” Erick Lucas sings as if it meant life or death, and in between. Staring glumly at the floor, with minds shut at the moment, the band makes an effort to shift from wistful introspection to warm, enveloping shoegaze noise towards the last minute, swelling to greater heights in ways that would knock you off your feet and still feel sad and bad about the person who wrote the song. Love, no matter how hopeless and doomed to fail, can still feel eternal. For the moment, in every swivel and movement of the song, it is. Boundless, lasting, a piece of heaven.
17. TIGER PUSSY – Mice
Behind the purrs and sneers, the brashness that comes out naturally in Tiger Pussy is something that’s rather different from the tough guy stomp of their contemporaries and peers. Riot grrrl tends to get dragged in too many conversations involving women in punk, so let’s start by defying the trope and letting go of any gender politics mention: these Cebuano punks deploy three chord menace that felt dug rut down deep, devoid of artifice or bravado, their only intention, to infest our ears with pure flaming rock n’ roll that kicks ass and tits.
Take “Mice” as an example. This messy sensual fury is every bit angry and fun as Flying Ipis or Tribal Fish, but the approach is invitingly imperfect, with chords bleeding in ecstatic jerks and the rhythms, assertively tight and rough on the edges. True to their punk rock spirit, the song captures adolescent angst way beyond their years; sugar-coating be damned. In its piercing groove, you can feel anger and frustration fleshed out before your ears. And it’s cathartic and liberating in a way, something that hits nostalgic home. You know, those teenage years spent on questioning the world order and getting real mad at pointless things; its’ all here, in all its naked glory.
16. SPAZZKID – Kokeshi Doll
Most of the time, electronic music comes out sounding mechanical and robotic. Making a track out of synthesized electro beats and digital textures that, as a whole, still sounds real is a rare skill usually found in only the best and most experienced musicians. Spazzkid shows off this expertise – and many others – on his new track “Kokeshi Doll.”
“Kokeshi Doll” starts off very delicately, with its ethereal samples and spacey synth lines drawing you in. You detect several familiar sounds – traces of hip-hop in the beat, experimental riffs, pitch bending, and even a faintly oriental-sounding hook – but are aware that the song is unlike anything you’ve heard before. The track is decidedly electronic, but with all the necessary elements stitched together in a way that makes it sound and feel organic. The best kind of electronic musician is one who can, even with hardware that is cold and supposedly lifeless, make you feel the music in all its living beauty. In this regard, Spazzkid is a natural. (Joey Gutierrez)
15. SLOW HELLO – You Know It’s You
Against the acoustic, lackadaisical backdrop of “You Know It’s You”, Selena Salang takes a great deal of pride for being hopeful and in love while turning these life-size gestures into something casual and pure, intimate yet straightforward. Given the group’s penchant for laid-back comfort and conventional indie-pop strums, there’s an effort to rewrite the formula with heavy focus on earnestness and what the song intends to be outside its cutesy appeal.
And you can still hear the simple pleasures of pop music captured in its glaring beauty, the feeling of young love stored in a tape recorder played over again and again until you fall asleep dreaming about it. But this time, Slow Hello serenade these sentiments with every bit of minimalist backing that they could ever muster, armed only with just a song that hopefully, will leave a sweet smile that could last for days and even weeks.
14. THE RINGMASTER FEAT. SKYMARINES – RED LIGHTED
The Ringmaster-Skymarines’ collab track “Red Lighted” is elaborately stunning for many reasons—the deft piano arrangements and the wide variety of electronic textures meet in between sand and sea, moving away from abstraction as it slowly shapes up into real, actual feelings. But mostly, it’s stunning because it touches on an emotional baseline that leaves little space between the listener and the music makers.
Intimacy here tends to work in deep code, with Francis and Isa breaking down the walls to unveil a world that’s easy to get lost in, albeit temporarily. It’s as if two souls haunted by the past suddenly found itself accidentally tangled in similar circumstances, with nothing to lean on but each other at the darkest hours of their lives.
13. NO ROME – Dance With Me
No Rome, Number Line Records’ latest prodigy, has spurted out a neon-disco anthem with a warm synth palette stripped from the Toro Y Moi playbook. His new single “Dance With Me” rolls out a summery, chilled out vibe that’s hard not to jam along to.
With such natural ease and charisma, 17-year old Rome Gomez was able to produce a clubby, pulsating pop music that could very well put you into a joyful mood, casting an often dismissed sound in a positive light. And yeah, we’re seriously rooting for this particular single to soundtrack a lot of barbeque parties this year. Count the clubs in, my friend, to take hold of this brimming crossover.
12. PERYODIKO – Ayoko Na Ng Drama
It’s kind of dumbfounding to think that Peryodiko have only released one album and yet, for all the grizzled brand of empowering alt anthems, these guys remain to be an influential touchstone for so many Filipino bands of today. Their music was never tied to a particular era or movement. Neither did they aspire to hold something back and keep the confessionals to themselves and a few chosen folks. They made real music that touches real people, stunning in its persistence to instill understated intimacy with pure sonic melodrama.
But unlike their previous releases, it seems that they’re ready to crash out of the gate and try something more aggressive, something more compellingly ambitious, but still underpinned by grace in terms how the narrative is being told. Their new single “Ayoko Na Ng Drama” may very well be the beast that basks in the glow of their full-grown potential. The song is full of tension and energy, heightened by this unlikely admission of one’s personal struggle.
For music that chugs the hell out of thunder, this arena filler shows how a band can be so vulnerable and emotionally tender without losing its signature grit and fire. The subliminal arrangements stomp in sensitive, hard-rocking fashion, but never treated in a heavy-handed way. The musical conceit, on the other hand, serves more as a confrontational mask than an art-rock aesthete. Considering their enviable place in the local rock firmament, Peryodiko are not contented to pull it off safe and comfortable. If anything else, “Ayoko Na Ng Drama” is the start of many unpredictably great things to come.
11. LIBRARY KIDS – Mountains
It won’t take a few seconds before you surrender to the sparse, intimate moments of Library Kids’ “Mountains.” There’s an effort to revive the bygone days of ‘60s pastoral folk by way of disarmingly quiet arrangements and choir-boy harmonies, but the lyrics paint an abstract mood, almost impressionistic in form that it washes over the canvass like blurred dreams.
If the intention is for us to get lost in its rustic paradise rather than settle comfortably, then it must have succeeded. “Mountains” draws us even further into the realm of mystery, with our eyes closed and our soul off to some place peaceful and ethereal. The possibility is endless in the 4-minute stretch. But once the song ends, and so is the journey. You might want to rewind it for the second and third time.
10. JOIN THE CLUB – Balewalang Pag-ibig
It’s too early to tell if Join The Club’s latest single “Balewalang Pag-ibig” would end up being a startling pop-rock masterpiece that would finally lay to rest whatever criticisms the band garnered in the past. But to be succinct and frank, they’ve managed to shed uncertainties hounding their previous material with washes of unflinching moodiness and ambition.
Bearing the bluest heartbreak ever confessed, “Balewalang Pag-ibig” feels like a product of diarist sentiments exposed in the most beautiful of ways. The banduria flourishes and introspective, lush arrangements exude timelessness that reverts back to the stylistic tendencies of John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band. But it’s the words behind the song, fleetingly alluring and captivating from start to finish, that holds everything together as it should be.
9. LOVE IN ATHENS – Skyscrapers Will Fall and Love Will Rise to Take Their Place
“If you’re sinking in a sea of suits, I’ll part the waves to save you,” Francis Maria Regalado croons in his fragile register, his sentiments drowned in the melting cacophony of shoegaze noise and swirling synth effects. This time, the all-enveloping sonics serve as nothing but the tides that carry the song’s soul. You can quickly get a clear sense that Francis is at his most inspired here, songwriting-wise, waxing romantic on a kind of love that exists amidst the unpleasantness of corporate life.
8. SARAH GERONIMO - Ikot-ikot
If there’s someone who can make any day an open-bar communal party, it would probably be Sarah Geronimo. Her squeaky-clean persona and bubbly charm are stuff of perpetual teen goodness, a somewhat flawed but winsome formula devised by her management to endear her to the public. Ditching the colorful, hyper-sexual antics of today’s pop star canon, Sarah G embraced wholesomeness and typical Filipina virtues while allowing the crazy-good talent to take over and shine. It felt like she’s packaged to be a younger, more polished version of Regine Velasquez, a total performer and a national sweetheart all rolled into one.
There’s a reason why we’ve stayed with her for 10 long years, followed her personal foibles and love life as if it were ours, and made her team-up with John Lloyd Cruz a phenomenal box office success that will go down in history as the most-loved movie pairing of this generation bar none. She’s the success story that mirrors the triumph we claim in the attempt to drown our personal crisis; her joys were ours to celebrate, her heartbreak, a depressing event we mourn.
But with this kind of convenience comes the artistic struggle, the inability to cut the puppet strings that maneuver her every move and direction. For almost 10 years, she has successfully positioned herself at the top of the pop game with all the manicured blandness she could muster, filling arenas and selling platinum records out of Vehnee Saturno power ballads and remakes. Sure, Sarah had a couple of brilliant pop hits for a more discerning audience, from the underrated dancefloor giddiness of “Record Breaker” to the fun and bubbly spirit of “Sa Iyo”, but majority of her songs belongs to the facsimile of typical OPM schmaltz, recycled and peddled with tweetums branding.
However, in lieu of the Popstar Princess’10th anniversary in the biz, Sarah G debuts as a record producer in her new album for the first time, maneuvering the direction of her sound with a feisty, 180-degree turn. “I know myself better now as an artist”, she claims in a recent interview with Philippine Daily Inquirer. “I’ve had a wonderful journey filled with achievements and challenges.” It’s somehow a fitting statement that serves as lifeblood to her new single “Ikot-Ikot”—an R&B-tinged slow burner wrung out of a breakup sandstorm, recognizing in barely 4 minutes, the struggles and public scrutinity entailed in the experience. Putting a revolver right where her heart bleeds, she delivers an immortal mantra that feels restless and powerful, connecting to the soul on a more intimate level.
Gifted with indelible hooks, singer-songwriter Thyro of the award-winning hitmaker duo, Thyro and Yumi lives under the wounds of Sarah’s past and rewrites the experience with no amount of tenderness, savoring and mashing the moment until it becomes a thing of the past. Then it becomes a private memoir dug in the open, with Sarah claiming it in such a way that’s more wounded than ever. Sarah Geronimo gives Thyro’s lyrics a brooding, adult contemporary spin: heavy on grit and rage, the now-indelible hook “Ikot-ikot lang, ikot-ikot-ikot lang, ikot-ikot lang, oh ikot ikot” provides the tabloid gist—her breakup, turned into an expression we could all relate and deliver with straight face.
It’s too real, that not even an inventive pop/urban producer Bojam could over-accentuate the details with overwrought melodramatic builds and gleaming polish in an attempt to control its state of being. Sarah’s delivery is all it takes to tell the story, rough and manic, and what Bojam rightfully did is to give her the space she needs: a room for actual, truthful feelings to seep in and razor its way through.
7. NOUVUL – TheyDreamLady
Emerging unscathed from the success of “Mimimomomumu”—a Mariah Carey-sampling, fractal-soul earworm that managed to gather 59,000 streaming views on Youtube in just 2 months of its release, Similar Objects returns to what he does best: exploring the nocturnal end of ‘90s R&B while weaving his way around a lightly syrupy, sensual production reminiscent of Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream. His new single “TheyDream” is a midnight jam drenched in smooth sex, with gorgeous soulful croon to back it up. Jorge’s vocals glide atop richly textured beats and intimate electronics, darting through comforting emotions of infatuation and sex, and everything in between. It’s erotic and dreamlike, you’re almost in for a fantasy ride.
6. OURSELVES THE ELVES – I Wouldn’t Mind
“I Wouldn’t Mind” is the stuff of perfect pop music: a sunny little ode to romantic martyrdom placed squarely between Rilo Kiley’s bratty sentiments and Taylor Swift’s air-brushed infectiousness, somehow converted into a lo-fi basement folk ditty you can groove along to quietly in the sofa while cuddling your loved one to sleep. It sounds deceptively simple and carefree at first few listens, but the moment the experience progresses, the lovely tune reveals its glowing skins and sheds—it would be difficult for you to grab hold on what the song is really all about in its bare essence. A romantic yearning? A stalker song? A rule book on how to please your lover? Everything boils down in a sugary emotional heaven that’s written with a refreshing angle on pleasure and quirk. Now if only people would dare listen and give this song the boost that it needs, the world will definitely be a better place.
5. LUCAS – Red Velvet
The most comforting thing about Lucas’ “Red Velvet”, besides the glacial distance that characterizes its core, is that it ventures toward uncomplicated beauty—awash in tender moments, left alone in some dark and cold alley. It feels like a bold statement of where these Davao alt boys are heading at: crammed, quiet spaces that favor gradual build and breathtaking instrumentation, a Drugs Don’t Work-like epicness that tears your heart out while leaving it in a state of frost. It’s the best thing that they’ve ever sounded; the track’s emotional nakedness serves to remind us that solitary confinement sometimes, cuts deeper than any form of art.
4. ELY BUENDIA FEAT. DIEGO MAPA – Makeout Paradise
Beneath the languid exterior lies a sensuous romantic ode Ely Buendia is capable of giving life to, a gesture he does comfortably without breaking into full-blown theatrics. “Makeout Paradise” is Ely putting his untainted punk persona on hold in favor of a late-night, beat-driven cyborg that he, for a short time was, at least on his solo ambient-pop project, Wanted Bedspacer. Diego Mapa, on the other end of the spectrum assists in the balancing of things, making sure that the human element is still intact with each surge and flutter, the movements flowing at a controlled pace even as the gentle acoustic guitars and synths gravitate toward a narcotic sonic melt.
3. AUTOTELIC – Misteryoso
It’s difficult to find anyone who doesn’t harbor some affection for Autotelic, especially with their brand of heart-swelling synth pop that sounds comfortably familiar and close to home. Sure, they borrow heavily from bands like Tears For Fears and Pet Shop Boys, but they make it sound every inch and smell, Pinoy—digging more into local sensibilities meant to mirror who they actually are as a person, and how proud they are it.
It’s that odd twist that makes their debut single “Misteryoso” so relatable and easy to love. Rather than sporting weird 80’s ‘do with a slight edge of post-punk rebellion, they reinterpret retro gloss with an earthy, emotional shine—mining truthfulness in the way they write songs, leaving us nothing but soaring choruses, ringing guitar riffs, pulsating basslines, synth wails and a story about a man smitten by a lady’s charm.
Here, the synth-and-electro blocks buildup engage in long and fleeting valleys, tooting out blasts of romantic shimmer that gesture towards that thing called “heavenly feeling.” But it’s the earnest lyrics that soar above everything else; its inherent simplicity says something about what love can offer even at its most basic, purest form.
2. UP DHARMA DOWN – Luna
There is no doubt that “Luna” is a good song. It’s one of the numerous highlights on Capacities whose hardest challenge, aside from its own sentiment, is to carry the tone of the album from “Turn It Well,” considering that both songs are preoccupied by a contrasting attitude. But “good” doesn’t quite hit it. At this point, one may be compelled to ask: is it a great song? Greatness implies size and “Luna” is a song that speaks of smallness, of longing, of incidents in miniature form whose consequences are lasting and wounding.
Greatness is often comparative and “Luna” belongs to an album whose tracks defy comparison with each other, its arrangement complementary but never condescending, its melody sometimes louder than its words. But there is an abundance of greatness in small things and minor incidents, in the frequency of surrenders, in the modesty of defeat, and “Luna” arrives at an emotional peak when it hits the 3:05 mark and sends its consent, a closure without a door and key, a riff that accompanies Armi Millare after talking about the moon the way Dickinson, Hughes, and Shelley observed it ages ago, under the same sky and wishing it were closer to them. So yes, the answer to that question, in case it still needs an answer, is yes. (Richard Bolisay)
1. SKYMARINES – Glasshouse
Isa Aniga writes the saddest songs. Underneath the swirl of immaculately arranged electronics, there’s striking tenderness in how she blasts away from heartbreak, quietly reminiscing about a failed shared history that happened way down the line. Lights dim. Without a shoulder to cry on.
“The one I took the bullet for is the one holding the gun,” she sings with a hint of resignation on “Glasshouse.” The beats and lush melodies are all the company that Isa gets here, but her sentiments just grab hold of the past and won’t let go, still basking in the ineffable shadow even at her very last breath. Yet with this subdued display of melancholy comes the morning bloom: the little synth flutters suggest hope, and at the end of the tunnel, you can at least hear some signs of life. The operative word is moving on. And she’ll get there, somehow, in some place in time.
Our year-end list so far:
Top 100 Filipino Tracks of 20133 (#40 – 21)
Top 100 Filipino Tracks of 2013 (#60 – 41)
Top 100 Filipino Tracks of 2013 (#80 – 61)
Top 100 Filipino Tracks of 2013 (#100 – 81)
Top 20 Filipino EPs of 2013
Top 10 Filipino Music Videos of 2013