Sunday, December 19, 2010

Franco Reyes Online

Franco Reyes Online goes live:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Regina Spektor - Soviet Kitsch (2004) Album Review

I like Regina Spektor. Her voice blushes with versatility, and she has her own outlandish way of utilizing it. But regardless, she knows how to use it, no doubt about that. She plays a mean piano, and to top it all off, she's just utterly cute. Proof of cuteness come in little pieces. Her quirky live performance is a given, but let's dig a bit more. Say, a video footage from one of her concerts where she messes up Fidelity halfway through. But before that happens, everyone was singing along and having the time of their lives while she was playing the piano and singing to her heart's content. Then she stops singing, quickly fixates her eyes on the keyboard and realizes she has forgotten the notes. She tries to find the correct keys in a panic - like a little kid who desperately scours for a lost toy in the midst of bedroom clutter - but utterly fails, ultimately ruining the song. Everyone starts to laugh and she starts to laugh as well. Ashamed, she continues trying to find the right keys, but then decides to just finish the part by singing a-capella, now with the whole room singing with her. Ecstatic applause follows. Really, you just have to see it for yourself. Now, I don't know if this is just vendored naivete trying to win audiences over with oozing cuteness, but let's leave that particular train of thought to the "professionals".

Ts-tss-ts-ts-tss... stoyle.
What's this all got to do with this album - you might ask. Well, I am talking about her because listening to Regina Spektor really isn't just about the music. More importantly, it's about her. When you listen to her records for a bit, and when you get to know her a bit (her public persona, that is), you begin to adapt a habit of thinking of this sweet, coy, honest, humble, talented artist behind that peculiar wall of sound. In some cases, you'll probably forgive the excessive peculiarity only because it is she who's singing. I can't exactly pin-point which version of my "Spektor-liking" self is listening when her stuff is playing. But damn, she sure is a delight.

I don't think I've ever heard a voice with this much personality before. It's as if you can see the fibers of her being in all its eccentricities. And perhaps you'll find it less and less spontaneous with each listen (most notably Carbon Monoxide's "walk-a walk-a walk-a" gimmick), but there's actually another barrier to break, one with no vocal surprises but with profundity, or perhaps vagueness masked in profundity, whichever floats your boat. But it's evident that she's a gifted writer and poet.

In Ode To Divorce, she pictures being stuck inside her ex-boyfriend's mouth who engages in a passionate "killer" lip-locking with his new girlfriend, but then proceeds to do something as unflattering as begging for money right afterwards. Way to throw everyone off the mood, Spektor. But clever, I must say you... I can say the same for Chemo Limo, which espouses dying in style, hence the limo, rather than try grueling chemo for chances of a cure. Having "crispy crispy Benjamin Franklin" synonymous to money is also a nice touch. Most of the poetry is subjective and open to individual perception, but not overly vague for everyone to develop a deep liking for all things "Spektor". Just have the patience to keep an eye out for it, lest you end up with another female with a fancy way of singing about nothing.

My score:
7 out of 10

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Deftones Pacific Rim Dates

photo from
The Deftones happen to be one of the few surviving bands from the nu-metal era (late 90's to early 2000's) that I like. And I just found out that they will be visiting Manila on February 12th next year. Given that they've recently released a well-received record in Diamond Eyes earlier this year, one can imagine the excitement of fans in the region. I'm pretty excited about it as well.

This will be their first time around these parts (I think) and god knows when they'll be back, so I might as well hop on this rare opportunity. They're not particularly the first band I'd go see for a really tight live performance, but judging from recent videos on Youtube, they're improving. Not perfect, but it'll do. Plus, I've always wondered what a Deftones concert would be like in real life.

Tickets will go on sale December 1, according to their website.

Other dates:

Feb 12 - Manila, PHI - World Trade Centre (on-sale Dec 1)
Feb 15 - Bangkok, THA - Thunderdome (on-sale Nov 27)
Feb 16 - Singapore, SIN - Indoor Stadium (on-sale Dec 1)

Visit their website for more info.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

José González - In Our Nature (2007) Album Review

I was recommended to José González' In Our Nature no earlier than 2008, but I only got to listening to him quite recently. A long time coming, thanks to our not-so-harmonious first meeting. At the time of introduction, I thought the album was pretty lo-fi, and I've always been somewhat prejudiced to all things lo-fi. However, I did like it to a certain degree despite the "static hum" sonically plastered with the songs throughout the album, but I grew distracted with other music, other things shinier, other things more polished, and ultimately, things I probably didn't care enough to remember. I did set the record aside ever-so-gently (and by that I mean letting it get lost in my cluttered MP3 folder as opposed to being sent to the recycle bin) and off I went to greener pastures. That hiatus would end a few months ago, as I dug this record out. I've been listening since.

As an acoustic artist, he reminds me of Nick Drake - but not as gentle nor as pleasant. José González' music has this certain abrasiveness and rawness to it, and it gives the record its core appeal - nay - his greatest and most defining appeal, in fact. And I can imagine the luck of those dreamers and film-makers who happen to stumble upon his "dimension" of music and use it to amplify their own thoughts and imaginations. There's just an endless stream of profound imagery to be had - one seemingly inherent to great melodramatic motion pictures. The music just oozes with that 'it' factor - whether for film or dreams.

José González
I actually see José González as some kind of disciplinarian here. The songs are about human nature - in all its meanderings and irrationalities (hence the album title), and it scolds you for being so damn... uh... "human". Ironically, he doesn't sound like some douchebag when he does it. It's cleverly veiled with the gentle plucks of the acoustic guitar, and the strangely "prophetic" sound of his voice. The whole ensemble is pretty effective and I can't help but take heed.

In How Low, he sings about selfishness and how someday "you'll end up to your knees in the shit you seed". That's an album opener for you. In Killing For Love, he proclaims "what's the point of a love that makes you hate and kill for?". Kind of reminds you of some religious sect doesn't it? And in Cycling Trivialities, he talks time and how much of it people waste on petty stuff on a day to day basis - stuff that probably won't matter in a couple of years. Like he says, it's in our nature. But nonetheless, the song proclaims a resounding "reassess! reassess! reassess!", an implorement for one's desire for self-improvement - as has always been for people who are motivated enough to be better than their current selves, even if it only exists in their minds. Also check out his cover of Teardrop by Massive Attack, quite magnificent, I must say.

This is an album you will want to continually play over and over again, if you give it a chance and if you're not previously being too rigid like I was. As of today, I can't count the times my iPod reverted back to the intro riff of How Low without feeling I've had enough.

My score:
8 out of 10

Other stuff:
Down The Line Music Video

Thursday, November 11, 2010

5 Reasons Why Black/Death Metal Sucks

The thing that is pretentious, and subsequently a turn off, about black/death metal is that it's not really just about the music. First and foremost, it's a scene. This list was painstakingly borne out of a friendly discussion on an internet forum, and is somewhat a compact, visual version of the case that I was trying to push:

1. Hairdo Prerequisites

0% "blackmetal coolness"
The famous "Metallica has lost 'it' the moment
they cut their hair" internet forum blabbery.

60% "blackmetal coolness"
Bowling-ball-shiny bald: 40% + 20% for the magnificent goatee
(forget this is Jens Kidman for the sake of this list)

100% COOLNESS!!!
(+++Bonus points for inverted crucifix)

2. Overly Dramatic Band Logos


OMG, super kewl for my t-shirt!!!

Wait, what band is this again?

3. Shock Value Overuse

Demons - check. Inverted star - check. Diabolic pitchfork -  check. People/angels scrambling for their lives - check. Goat head - check (+5 to magic resistance for taking the form of the inverted star). Mock crucifixion of Jesus - check (+10 to energy for uber coolness).

I realize there are probably more 'unnerving' artworks floating around, but this'll do.

4. Lyrics

Limiting much? Apparently, you can only write about isolation, madness, darkness, desperation, suffering, etc. Basically, all things "dark" and the like. If you really want to expand, you can venture into Scandinavian black/death metal lyrical themes if you fancy that. Here's a taste:
We're the guardians of Asgaard! We have faced our enemies a thousand times or even more; still they cannot make us kneel. One thousand years of constant war; the giants look for any chance to bring down Asgaard's mighty walls. No matter what they send at us, we will never let it fall 'cause we are! WE'RE THE GUARDIANS OF ASGAARD!
That's "Guardians of Asgaard" by Amon Amarth.

There's a how-to guide down at WikiHow enumerating the different kinds of black/death metal lyrics if you want to know more.

5. The Worst Kind Of Fans

Black metal fans

Lastly, and most importantly- the fans. You don't want to be lumped with these kids. Not to mention most of them are probably deluded music elitists, angry nerds thinking everything else besides "true" metal (and its variants) is bad music. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but they're the most staunch, bigoted, narrow-minded fans you'll ever meet. The next time you talk about other music in front of these kids, be warned. They'll talk your head off about how metal is better than other genres, and if you'll stick long enough they'll begin yapping about "true" metal and how other bands are phonies and copycats, so on and so forth.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Animals As Leaders (2009) Album Review

Reviewing a metal artist proves to be a headache. First, I'm no metal expert at all. Second, this genre has probably the most strict sub-genre classification on this planet that is carefully guarded by passionate metalhead conservatives who won't blink about calling you out on misuse and "ignorance". You have to be on your toes when you opine about the genres. Third, I can't tell where to start, how to do my supposed 'benchmarking', when to or not to compare bands, etc. The pressure is quite daunting, albeit in my case, imagined. But, yes, it's not as easy as picking a pebble and saying it is better than all the other pebbles in the beach. No, that's not how you should do it. You have to examine the other pebbles- its texture, its color- does it have odd shapes? Is it found in an area with more sand or more neighboring pebbles? Group them according to those characteristics, and after you do, there is absolutely no crossing lines, blabadabada, etc, and other stuff that requires you to be a tight ass.

So, to get away from all that stuff, I will just share my story about how I ended up listening to this band. For me, it started with a craving for more Meshuggah. I've always been fascinated with odd time signatures and polyrhythms, and there are a whole bunch of other bands who have employed various forms of it one way or the other. Meshuggah seems to be at the top of that list. They are just downright obsessed with it, and I find myself scratching my head in disbelief upon hearing sequence after sequence of their music with this obsession in full form - unflinching and relentless - pushing you to the edge until you can no longer follow the beat. And if you could do follow the count/time/beat or whatever, it is extremely satisfying. You can now brag that at a certain moment, your minds were at par! But I fail most of the time. So, yeah, with my jaw still agape, I went in search for other bands who were just as obsessed "playing with time".

Tosin Abasi
In comes Animals As Leaders, an instrumental prog-metal band. Though definitely not as heavy, or as obsessed with polyrhythms, but they do open the door for other activities like guitar wanking and plucking, and more melodic playing. The guitarist himself, a guy named Tosin Abasi, rocks an 8-string guitar and is certainly no pushover. This guy is, by all means, a guitar prodigy. The fact that he wrote and recorded both guitar and bass on the album is astonishing! He has since recruited two other members to tour with.

The use of odd time signatures are minimal, and often unnoticable. But they are there. Some tracks more than others. CAFO, for example, makes abundant use of it- which unsurprisingly ends up being one of my favorite tracks. That guitar intro riff is just orgasmic- all the more when the other instruments melds in to form this really rich heavy metal groove. There are a bunch of relaxed tracks sprinkled throughout too, at times hearkening to Tosin's obvious jazz roots. One track in particular, On Impulse, begins unassumingly with simple guitar plucking- slowly building up until it crescendoes into its true heavy form. If this album has a "landmark" track, On Impulse would be it. I think it best represents the album, appropriately tying its light and heavy moments together.

Light and heavy. Yep. That's where most of my complaints would be. It's a bit disconcerting to have really light tracks (almost undistorted) and extremely heavy tracks in the same album. It confuses me, and I won't be surprised if Tosin is confused either. In the end, the album forms its own uniquely diverse identity, and in effect, making it not an instant go-to for people looking solely for an aggressive fix.

My score:
7 out of 10

Music clips:
On Impulse

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jamiroquai - Rock Dust Light Star (2010) Album Review

I have to admit that I'm only a recent convert to all sounds Jamiro. Apart from their biggest hits, my first real encounter with a Jam album would be "A Funk Odyssey", which was on cassette- a record I got some time in college. The next one would be "High Times: Singles", on mp3. And it was probably only three years ago that I seriously listened to the rest of Jamiroquai's moderate catalog. My fingers would eventually keep "Return Of The Space Cowboy" constantly on the ready, whenever I needed to bob my head to that StuZender-flavored funky bass, and yeah, the rest is history. That album completely turned me into a fan.

Now that Jay Kay and company have arrived with the new and shiny Rock Dust Light Star, and with that "White Knuckle Ride" teaser video on Youtube constantly reminding me that this should be a pretty sick record, I was hella excited to load the tracks up on the Winamp, once I got a-hold o' 'em, *ahem*, and watch the new music unfold...

Wait... these other tracks don't sound like "White Knuckle Ride".

What I heard was an actual band playing - something we all probably forgot Jamiroquai was. As I went on to listen to the rest of the tracks, I realize that these supposed "electro converts" are damn serious about returning to analog. With the sole exception of "White Knuckle Ride", this is probably the most stripped-down they have sounded since, umm, Return Of The Space Cowboy. That doesn't necessarily mean they've returned to their old sound, by the way. It just means they - whoever calls the shots (I bet my ass it's Jay Kay), are actually allowing themselves to play straight out of their instruments seemingly without any kind of digital rendering to boost bass or add synths, effects, or whatever, to make it sound more electronica. They are, once again, effectively a live band, everyone. Bra Vo.

I'm the one riding the fancy cars, therefore I
call the shots, mmk?
Despite that though, I hate to say that the record feels uninspired and a bit trite at certain points. Maybe it is the prevalence of downtempo songs- the type of songs one would expect to appear at least once or twice in a typical Jamiroquai album, songs this band certainly did NOT build its career and reputation upon. Well, apparently this one is crawling with slow songs, like it or not. Once upon a time, Jay Kay described his band's music "punchy" in an interview. He did not lie. And I liked their music that way.

Is this the best Jamiroquai album? No. But if you're asking if this album has any good songs at all- the answer is yes. Are there good downtempo and "punchy" tracks? Yes. The dreamy or should I say spellbinding title track, "Rock Dust Light Star", calmly and gently soothes you in a confetti-like fashion, sets the stage and promises a more relaxing Jamiroquai experience than usual. "White Knuckle Ride"'s big beats and signature bass lines will leave you stomping your feet and bobbing your head as usual. And my favorite, and probably the closest they'll ever get to their acid jazz sound, "She's A Fast Persuader" - whips up a sleek and clever bass line over a fast beat (that, in my mind, quaintly reminds me of "Eye Of The Tiger"). I won't be surprised if the "she" in that song was another one of Jay Kay's absurd vehicles. Don't miss the magnificent bass break near the end, by the way. As for the other tracks, there's not much good to say about them, really. If I must, I would say "Never Gonna Be Another", besides having the keys as its only redeeming quality, feels like it was specifically written to be sung by some cheesy pop star, crooning to some kind of Rapunzel at the balcony.

In a nutshell, the album starts off pretty well, but then muddles into downtempo mediocrity. I know I shouldn't, but that lack of experimentation and adventurism with the rest of the tracks makes you wish Stuart Zender was still behind that bass (Oh dear. Here comes that Stu-talk again. sheesh) - that's definitely someone who, in my recollection, would unabashedly slap the hell out of it, or wouldn't have second thoughts about melding extravagant bass licks into a bland track. When more appropriate than at a time they're finally loosening up with the fancy electronics? Ahh... dreams, dreams.

But in all honestly, I doubt a Stu reunion would save this band from what it has become. This Jamiroquai, whoever their current line up is (besides that dude who wears the funny hats and dances funny), sounds a bit too reserved. A bit too disciplined. And a bit too old. Even Jay Kay's voice rasps with the decay of age - struggling to break its ever-shrinking range and having to settle with less theatrics than it is usually known for. Oh well, we all grow old at some point - but it certainly doesn't mean we can no longer loosen up and have more fun.

My score:
6 out of 10

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz (2010) Album Review

If you happen to be situated somewhere far away from any kind of indie scene like myself, Sufjan Stevens proves to be quite the guilty pleasure.  You should never, by any means, play Sufjan tracks on your stereo when you have metal-head friends in the same room.  Doing so will warrant a disgusted look, followed by comments such as: "what the hell is that shit?".

For someone in my current geographical location, I would deem Sufjan Stevens music as strictly private - one that you should NOT recommend to just anyone, unless you're particularly sure that that someone is as elitist, indie, and as seemingly pretentious as yourself.  Neither should you play Sufjan at parties- though some of the music can be effectively used at parties aimed for children aged 5 and below, and, more appropriately, parties filled with wannabe hippies and supposed artsy people.

That said, and as much as I stubbornly refuse to be called pretentious, I did honestly enjoy Illinois.  I wasn't much into the story telling (although I found the homo-erotic ones worth gossiping about on the internet) but I did enjoy the music in some way.  A lasting memory transports me back to a time when I once longed for the American dream.  A time that I daydreamed about walking the streets of Chicago without having to worry about being stared at for wearing too much clothing (or, similarly, for looking really dope).  A time that I longed for more concrete and less dust, less heat, less beggars, and less abusive drivers. I walk the streets with an entourage, nay- a PARADE! And the centerpiece is me! Balloons balloons everywhere! And the camera frantically swirls around me as the music swells, and then... I orgasm. (Imagine the look on the faces of my metal-head friends.)

That is my definitive Sufjan Stevens experience. I can still force myself to have that experience every time I do listen to the record, but probably without the excessive drama (and the orgy).

As for The Age Of Adz, I am not quite sure where it wants to take me.  First impressions were not good, reminding me of this constant occurrence where I'm lying in bed and I leave the computer on, playing whatever music was on the playlist, while I tried to doze off.  I would then wake up in a panic- thanks to some "sonic jerk"* from some random song.  But the thing is, with this album, I get that same "sonic jerk" even when I'm wide awake.  Mr. Sufjan's new knack for SCATHINGLY LOUD electronics was just not naturally welcomed by my ears.

I want to reinvent myself. So bad.
Time would mildly change that.  It's like a horror movie actually - the more times you watch it, the more you'll get used to that scene where the idiot main character ventures into the attic and you jump out of your seat as the killer comes out of nowhere and shivs the guy repeatedly with a sharp knife.  Likewise, I wonder why Mr. Stevens does the same thing to his music.  He probably hated it so much that he thought he might as well make a mess of it, or maybe it's one of those gimmicks to give it some "abstract feel", like a painter would to a painting (and every other pretentious twat).  But all in all, I think it is deliberate.  He is deliberately destroying his "sound", probably in hopes to reinvent himself.  Commendable at least, but I still don't think it was a good idea.

How so? Simple. Imagine The Age Of Adz sans all the electronics. How much better would that sound? Mr. Stevens even gives us a taste of that momentarily near the end of Impossible Soul! Full band, full choir. That authentic Chicago-like feel that made Illinois extra special.  No wonder why so many people think it's the best track on the album.  But alas, the other songs did not receive the same treatment.

But hey, don't fret.  Ultimately, once you've grown acclimated to the spiking electronics, you'll inevitably begin to notice the many layers underneath it.  The wide array of organic instruments that flows to and fro- even the vocals seem less heavily rendered.  You'll notice that the main character wasn't just stupid- he also wanted to check if his old Nintendo was still in the attic- you just missed that bit the last time because you were covering your eyes.

My score:
5 out of 10

*get it?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Stone Temple Pilots (2010) Album Review

Album cover
May 2010 marked the release of Stone Temple Pilot's brand new eponymous album, and it comes almost 10 years after their last effort, Shangri-La Dee Da, which I'm still not fond of to this day.  And the fact that I haven't listened to an STP album in one sitting in a very long time doesn't bode well to any kind of "benchmarking" I was hoping to employ for this album.  But hey, it's been ten years- nay, almost ten years, and I'm sure they've grown out of their little pajamas and likewise I can say the same for their music- that any kind of "benchmarking" would be futile.

Obviously enough, this is a different band.  The edginess that was once prevalent in STP records is noticably missing here... well, there are traces of it from some of the tracks (i.e. Between the Lines), but it's clear they're opting for a more straightforward rock 'n roll sound, almost like cowboy rock 'n roll (if there's such a thing).

Anyway, when I'm listening to this album, this comes to mind:

A cadillac.  (And for some reason a disco ball).  I'm ridin' down the Hollywood strip with my huge aviators on.  And while I'm at it I'm wearing either a leather jacket or one of those driving scarfs those posh drivers like to wrap around their dirty old necks.  I'm headed to Las Vegas, and once I'm there, I keep my aviatored-eyes on the road, seemingly oblivious to all the neon lights that crowd the streets (I've never been to either Hollywood or Vegas, by the way).  I light a cigarette, keepin' it real like nobody's business, seen?

If you can't daydream about being said douchebag making his way from Hollywood to Vegas while listening to this album, then you must be listening to it wrong.

Or maybe you just don't like this album.

My score:
7 out of 10

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Miike Snow (2009) Album Review

I was familiar with this band's name long before I heard any of their music.  The first time I did though was in an unusual way for me - inside a video game.  That video game would be NBA 2K10, and the song would be "Black & Blue".

I've been listening to the album since.  So this is electro pop.  I actually expected something as fast-paced as "Black & Blue", or something I used to associate with the word.  ELECTRO... ELECTRO... I don't really follow the genre much, but when I think of that word "electro", I think electricity.  Heavy synths.  Huge beats.  Neural shocks.  Gigantic headaches.  I'm not even sure if this is any kind of electro at all.  While there's a fair amount of synths present on the album, there weren't any headaches whatsoever when listening to it, nor did I expect it to be the way it is.

This is a pretty chill record actually.

The songs have obvious pop sensibilities, songs that make you sing once you figure out what the singer is saying.  But what makes them shine so brightly are the subtle sounds sprinkled throughout the record, brilliantly added and placed in the songs.  I call these moments moments (pun).

Miike Snow (covered in snow)
An example would be the chimey keys to the intro of "Burial".  Another would be the nintendo-esque sounds that immediately follow after singer Andrew Wyatt's first "ssssiiiiillllvvvviaaaaa" in the final part of the song "Silvia".  Actually there are a couple of amazing moments to that song, and it's probably the best song on the album.

"Sans Soleil" is another of my favorites that has a kind of uniform samba or rhumba beat throughout (sorry if I'm wrong, but as a child they're the preset beats I recognize from an old Yamaha keyboard my father had).  The weaving in and out of the vocals is the final piece that makes this such a beautiful song to listen to.  "Hard. You make it hard. Hard."  Yep.  That's what she said.  But while it's kind of a humorous read, it's entirely magical when heard from the song.  Trust me.

Then there's "Cult Logic".  Downtempo disco updated and probably at its best, hearkening back to disco radio in the late 80s.  (Seriously, I do not know what the hell I'm talking about.  Just trying to pick up the pieces of what I thought I heard as a child).  It's one of those songs that make you smile while hearing it from afar- thinking "yep, that's my song.  And damn, does it sound so good".

A low point in the album for me would be "A Horse is not a Home".  There's something wrong with the title and the way the music was constructed in order for those words to be sung.  It just doesn't work.  It's a metaphor, alright.  But it still doesn't work.  Well, maybe for some people, but not for me.

All in all, it's the first album of its kind that I thoroughly enjoyed.  One thing is for sure- I won't back down from searching a remedy for the bones I broke.  Nyahaha.

My score:
8 out of 10

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Migrating and starting anew...

After trying to make something out of reviewing local artists (Philippines), I realized the hard truth that I'm not as dedicated as I thought I was.  I'm just too busy listening to other music (mostly originating from other parts of the world), and it turns out I want to talk about those too!  So here's to lumping all of my stuff together in one little blog, hoping this will finally turn into something that won't die as quickly due to no updates. *crosses fingers*

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Verdict: Bipolar by Up Dharma Down

So a few months have passed.  Not much of my early thoughts have changed, except that I did think this album needed repeated listening to be truly appreciated by anyone - after suspecting that my first few listens were just part of the 'getting to know' process, infantile opinions that would gradually change over time.


New thoughts however, there are certain parts where the music tries to sync itself with a certain emotion or 'feel', only to depart abruptly into quirky breaks or stop altogether.  If you like music with a healthy supply of  quirks, inconsistent feels, unpredictable endings, and incessant wailing by a seemingly drunken female, this album is for you.

My score:
4 out of 10

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

UDD Bipolar: '1st' thoughts

First and foremost, I know Up Dharma Down is well-respected among several circles. I even came upon American hippies who were familiar with them on some internet forums, and left me thinking their music must know no boundaries after the fact. I casually listened to Fragmented for a bit and thought it was okay, never really seriously dug into it, then I pulled my pants up and moved on to other music. When Bipolar came out, some reviews were just going crazy over how 'good' it is. So here I am- trying to find out once and for all what the 'buzz' was all about.

My first listen was a week ago, and decided right then and there that I needed to give this one a few more spins.  Definitely not impressive at first, but I told myself it's one of those albums where some mandatory "ear-grinding" was necessary to actually make sense out of the tracks. 

So as of now, I think I'm done with my 6th or 7th run. I decided to listen to the album once more and pretended it was my first time- all while writing my observations spontaneously.

I call this my "Bipolar Experiment", and these were what my 'notes' looked like (unedited):

Blessed - Haunting bass.  Break.  I love the explosion into a Mogwai-esque rock number at the end.

Clockwork - I waited for something to happen.  There's the distorted bass break, but nothing special.  Still can't make out anything the singer says.

All Year Round - sweet downtempo track.  Singer sounds like she's suffering from stomach pains.  Still waiting for something to happen... track ends anyway.

Taya - finally the first song that actually sounds like a song.  'Kagabi' and 'Kakitiran' - the way she sings those words is really annoying.

Unspoken Definites - I have a feeling she's only jamming those words in just to say them.  Good song for night-driving in the city.  First song I can think of playing while doing something.  Track reminds me of Zero 7.

The Cold is Warmth - Thom Yorke-esque type of instrumental.  Tuned up the volume for this one.  Sounds good.  Ends without notice.  Filler.

Two - By this time I figured you need to turn up the volume to appreciate what the other band members are doing.  Of course, that would mean subjecting yourself to louder drunken singing, but she actually sounds a bit bearable in this song.  By the way, I have nothing against singing like you've just drank a whole bottle of Tanduay, but at least make an effort to let us understand what you're saying.  Song ends ubruptly- again.

Sana - sweet song.  I actually like this.  No surprises, straightforward track.  Finally.  The guitar plays the role of lead guitar with loud distortion.  Song ends after loud guitar. ? Okay, I like this.

Return, Saturn, Return- Intro sounds like Thom Yorke / Radiohead's Kid A yet again.  Nice guitar when the beat kicks in. Ends. Filler.

Every First Second - weird dynamic at play here.  I like its awkwardness.  The chorus finally rocks the open hihat.  I like the chorus.  Progresses into something else... breaks.  Back to chorus.
Note#2: Her sharp voice soars above the rest of the instruments, in such a way one can't help but notice.  And NOTICE I do. She minces words too much that they're barely recognizable.  I don't care if everyone calls it "artsy singing", it's just bad singing to me.

Furnace - Piano track.  I like it.  Reminds me of Olafur Arnalds.  OVer quickly.  Filler again.

Silid - Night-time electronic track.  Lonely track.  Changes tempo in the middle.  Okay, so it's a night-time DRIVING track.  Love the mood of this one.  ENDS???  too short, WTH. FILLER.
Note#3: It's becoming apparent this band likes ending songs without climaxing (pun!). Numerous times I waited for something to happen, and it just ends.

Sugarcoats and Heartbeats - stripped down track.  electronica again.  Bursts into drumming.  Well, what do you know?  A track that actually tells you that it will end any minute now!
Note#4: I feel this album only works when you're alone at nighttime, while driving your car or in your room perhaps, and perhaps best for people who have trouble sleeping (I meant that in a good and bad way).

Okay, I edited that a bit. I just added the note numbers.

The band is creative, no doubt about that. But my biggest gripe? Her singing. "It" seems completely independent from the songs. The songs change, the instrumentations change, but her singing remains the same. Not always annoying, but most of the time anyway. Her style is just, uhh, not my cup of tea.

Okay, imagine you're on a luxury tour around the world. The songs are the countries you go to, and her voice is like the annoying alcoholic grandma who tags along.

Good enough?  No? Okay, I'll shut up now.

(The album is looking grim, but I feel I still need to do more listening for my sake. Will let you know what I find.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

13 Seconds to Love by Kjwan (2009) Album Review

I feel I'm not qualified to comment on Kjwan since I barely keep the band in my consciousness.  For one, I've only heard one or two songs from their 2nd album, 2StepMarv.  And having listened to Kjwan's self-titled debut, I can't accurately say anything about the change in sound evident in 13 Seconds to Love.  If anything, however, it was for the better.

The album's name is supposedly inspired by the words of some producer from Malaysia that "he can tell whether a song is going to be a hit within the first 13 seconds". A hit, of course, is a song that is palatable to (or has the potential of being devoured by) the masses.  I'll give that Malaysian dude the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he can tell that a song's going to be a hit if it does backflips in the first 13 seconds.  But what does it say about Kjwan- the guys who made the 13-second thing a template for writing this album?  Hit-seekers, to put it accurately.  Not inherently a bad thing, but it is sort of limiting isn't it?

The band then chose love as the album's central theme, and there you have it- a supposedly clever album title that can easily be confused with 30 Seconds to Mars.  Anyway, true to its word, the album is indeed full of songs about love- not the stereotypical "love songs" per se, or anything as cheesy.  But that's to be expected from most of Kjwan's music.

I've always known them to be a band that unabashedly flaunts a dominant overdriven lead guitar, but this time around the guitars actually get comfy in the background, building up songs from the bottom up, at the same sonic level as the other instruments.  This "effort in restraint" actually pays off, resulting to stronger songs that remain focused on their individual 'feels', as opposed to employing a jack-in-the-box style of guitar playing to keep the listeners interested.  There is the exception in What About Us however, which showcases orgasmic and cacophonic guitar work as if to say they haven't forgotten their guitar chops.

An old picture of the band as a complete 5-piece. 
(L-R): J-Hoon Balbuena, Boogie Romero, 
Kelly Mangahas, Marc Abaya, Jorel Corpus
There's also a new dynamic of extending sections of a song, oftentimes into climactic crescendos, usually towards the end.  It's both good and bad. Good because it sometimes contributes to the overall feel of the song, occasionally saving it from mediocrity, and bad because it's all too common throughout the album, not to mention these prolonged sections sometimes go on for too long.  At some points, the drums comes to the rescue and spices up these prolonged sections to keep things interesting.  At others, it adds to the annoyance of repetition.  Nevertheless, J-Hoon Balbuena's drumming is good and experimental, oftentimes coasting near the edge of overdoing it.  However, the drums themselves sound too 'treble-ish' for my taste.

The lyrics are plain and simple, and I have nothing to say about it.  Vocal duties are now divided between Mr. Marc Abaya and Mr. Boogie Romero.

Marc Abaya hasn't changed, still singing in his signature hushed voice.  He tends to sing the last word of a line by 'sliding' his voice down though- which I find annoying (a thing I cannot accurately put into words but I'll just point you to the stanzas of Lifeline).

Boogie Romero on the other hand, is a surprise.  He's got a small singing voice, that of a little shy kid.  It would really help if he loosens up a bit, belting the words out without having to worry about letting too much saliva out (or phlegm).

Kelly Mangahas plays the bass in such a way that you'll remember the songs by its bass lines.  Really great performance from the guy that I might consider giving this album to him.

The album was recorded in Kerplunk Studios in Manila I heard, and so far this is one of the better rock productions in the Philippines I've heard these days in terms of sound quality. I can totally see recommending the studio to other bands, Urbandub most especially.

Overall, an enjoyable album.

My score:
6 out of 10

Friday, June 4, 2010

Franco (2010) Album Review

Where to begin?

It's hard to believe Franco Reyes' existence in Cebu's music scene goes a long way back, but I was never really that fond of his early releases with his then-band Frank!.  I do remember first seeing them performing covers- that day me and my brother decided to see a random concert, and with luck, caught one headlined by Frank.  They performed a complete set, what songs- I'm not sure, but if my memory serves me right, I think they played STP's Piece of Pie and a solo acoustic version of Plush.  I remember turning to my brother and saying, "this guy's got a really good voice".  Frank became permanently etched on my 'good band' radar after that gig, and they were just that- nothing to get excited over, really.

Within a span of several years, they had apparently released an album with little fanfare from me--- well, my feelings were the same for most (if not all) local musicians.  I never really 'drooled' over local music so to speak, not believing local acts would ever create any 'noteworthy' original tunes.  My expectations were low, and always only limited to good cover songs of the music that I do love, if I'm lucky.  Nothing more nothing less

Frank with Janjan Mendoza drumming for Czar Delos Santos.
(L-R): Ritze Arriba, Janjan Mendoza, Paul Cañada, Franco Reyes

That mindset would change after the release of Urbandub's Influence (also reviewed by this site).  By that time, Frank have since disbanded, only reuniting every once in awhile if Mr. Franco was in the country and available.  I would later hear that he moved to St. Petersburg (USA) around the mid 00's, continuing to write music and forming a new band in InYo- with Mike Sylvia (drums), Tommy Jamin (bass), and Anton Cortes (guitars).  In 2007 or 2008, I would hear these new songs, which Franco called 'demos', on his Myspace and Imeem page.  With the help of some nifty audio-ripping software, I was able to further drool over the tracks without having to be in front of a computer.

InYo (L-R): Anton Cortes, Franco Reyes, Tommy Jamin, Mike Sylvia

I believe it was in 2009 that Franco came home and started jamming with Gabby and Janjan of Urbandub, Buwi of Parokya ni Edgar, and 8 of Queso- and so started Franco.  They would ultimately re-record most of the 'Inyo tracks' with 3 new additions:   

Seasons, arguably one of the faster tracks on the record with obvious influences from 311 during the breaks, is a great opener.  It's convenient to consider it a love song- especially when taken out of context, but given its position in the album, it's an obvious invitation to the listener (...I'll wait for you to be a part of me and I of you...), and together "forever spin in love".

Last Waltz seems to suggest the momentary longing of good memories that lasted, a lost love perhaps, in a stupor (...will you hear my ailing words, will you be my everything?...) and the subsequent battle of the mind to quash the daydreams ('s clear as sober- to me you're just a fairytale...), only to long for it again (...count to three, you're stuck with me forever...).  The irony (and brilliance) of this song is that the 'waltz' never 'lasts'.

For My Dearly Departed is a solo acoustic track played over the sound of the gentle surf, left as they were from the last chants of "We Are" in This Gathering, closing the album with a hush, and singing the listener to sleep.

The album cover.

Despite the quality of the songs, there are a few things that need to be addressed.  The biggest problem in particular is the songs themselves which are basically just carbon copies of their original InYo versions (with the exception of the 3 songs mentioned above).  With the prior knowledge of InYo, it's almost impossible not to pit both releases against each other.  Both concerned parties may be in agreement with the recording of this album- but credit has to be given, and through the eyes of the listeners- through my eyes, it should be given to Franco Reyes and the rest of the members of InYo, not the members of Franco.  Seems they're conscious about their decisions seeing they named their band "Franco" in the first place.

But really, the whole picture takes on a new shape considering the 3 new songs.  They're just so good that they are somehow enough to give this album its own identity, not just some downgraded version of the original.

I would also have to say that the production values that went into the recording of InYo (US production) and Franco (PHILS production) vary greatly.  Though the tracks in the latter are more fleshed out and revitalized (since the band had ample time to further improve and tweak them), the audio quality still can't compare to the excellent production the InYo tracks got. Of course that would be the case. Recording studios in the Philippines have always had that major quality hiccup.

Franco (L-R): Gabby Alipe, 8 Toleran, Buwi Meneses
Janjan Mendoza, Franco Reyes

There's also the case of overdoing digital editing in some songs- most noticable in ones with quick "silent pauses" (Seasons- 1:04 to 1:16, A Mass...- 2:12 onwards).  Why bands opt to digitally clip these "silent pauses" instead of just doing it live/manually?  I don't know.  It only gives an awkward synthetic feel to a song, and damn them if they think they're fooling anybody into thinking it was all done "live".  Nevertheless, if they insisted on doing it, they should've made it so that it wasn't too obvious.

Lastly, one can also notice that the drumming is down a notch. Maybe it's directly related to the production woes or the fact that Janjan had to keep up with "already written" material, and it doesn't help he had to emulate someone who went to Berklee to learn his chops.

Despite these complaints, this album remains strong. At its core is great songwriting, and I'd go as far as recommending its quality from start to finish. It's about time the masses finally get a chance to hear one of the best Filipino rock singers to ever come out of the woodwork- who, by the way, not only sings with a convincing American tongue, but also sounds really good. It's safe to say Franco Reyes is definitely on a league of his own. You do not want to miss this album.

My score:
8 out of 10

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Influence by Urbandub (2003) Album Review

About two months ago, I attended a little concert dubbed Juan Tukar in a school here in Cebu (why it took me two months to write about it, I don't know). This band was “headlining” the concert (intentionally putting that in quotes since I believe bands that HEADLINE should play complete sets of 10 to 15 songs, whilst they only played a disappointing 5 songs). The show opened with 3-song performances from 5 or 6 bands that, as far as quality goes, were horrific (I'm talking about high school kids who sounded like they picked up their instruments yesterday). Tickets were free, so no big deal, thanks to my girlfriend. But it bothers me that people never really got their money's worth, only seeing a very short set from Urbandub, with an added bonus of painfully novice bands no one would ever pay to see.

 Urbandub (L-R): John Dinopol (guitars), Jerros Dolino (ex-drummer), Gabby
Alipe (vocals, guitar), Lalay Lim (bass).  Jerros Dolino played drums in the album.

Regardless, it was still a good night. The early parts were comedic, the last part- serious business. But this isn’t about the show per se. This story actually happened a few days before the show. Technically, I was a fan of the band, but after hearing their recent releases, I thought they had lost me. But, yes, I used to adore them. I even made a fansite which somehow grew and became their pseudo-official website for a brief period until I stopped updating (though I’ve recently delegated updating responsibilities to another person). I honestly did not “feel” their music anymore and eventually gave up on them.

Now, I cannot understand how I was able to “give up” on a band that immensely inspired and captivated me at some point. Most people would say that it is logical and often normal to “fall out of love” with a band because tastes are ever-changing, and I do believe that to a certain degree, but do tastes really change? Did my taste change? Maybe only when we are dishonest to begin with? Was I dishonest? With those questions in mind, I redownloaded their past albums, specifically Influence (2003), to see for myself. Did I change?

Naaah. And young as I was (maybe 7 to 8 years younger) I knew I was listening to a great record. Listening to it again makes me feel like it is probably the best OPM (Original Pinoy Music) album, and the guys at PULP magazine seem to agree, ranking it #4 in its “greatest local albums list” (link to follow). I still could not understand how quick I was to give up on this band!

Urbandub Influence
The cover art of Urbandub’s 2nd album, Influence.

I enjoyed Embrace (2005) a fair bit, making me feel unneeded angst at my age thanks to its more in-your-face brand of music, but the change in sound in Under Southern Lights (2007) put me off completely, though lately I’m slowly beginning to appreciate it. The new albums do have one thing in common- they seem desperate for attention, in a “look at me! look at me!” kind of way. And I believe that’s essentially what makes them sub par.

Influence is exactly the opposite.  This is an album for the underdogs, and much of its appeal stems from it. It was also appropriately produced during the years when the band was still itself an underdog. The song Versus accurately encapsulates the state of the band at the time (...standing on the back line but now I'm way ahead, couldn't believe it...).  That was when Manila was still figuring out if they should accept this little band from Cebu with open arms.  And open arms, they did.

Urbandub's current line-up (L-R): John Dinopol, Gabby Alipe, Janjan Mendoza, Lalay Lim

The album is not technically complicated compared to their later albums- which I think is largely due to the change of drummers.  Nevertheless, complexity is and was never a sure-fire guarantee to quality.  Only the best musicians get away with it.  But for most it's all a gimmick really - a chance to showcase and 'shine'. It's that lingering undisciplined feeding-of-the-ego that haunts all musicians, big and small, denying the people what could have been 'great music'. Most of Urbandub's later albums suffer from it, slightly at the least.  On the other hand, Influence feels content just being what it is, simple and not looking to impress, uncaring/nonchalant, and it emerges victorious without needing to perform.

My score:
9 out of 10