Sunday, September 1, 2013

Urbandub - Esoteric (2013) Album Review

Finally. The guys (and girl) are back. Make no mistake about it, this is Urbandub's heaviest and dreamiest album at the same time, and probably their most cohesive effort since 2005's Embrace. They haven't been around since 2009's The Apparition, but it feels like they've been gone for longer.

Their last two albums, The Apparition and Under Southern Lights, no doubt won them a slew of new fans, but it didn't quite appeal to some of their older fans (me) - old both in fandom tenure and actual age. For some reason, those albums sort of left a bad taste in my mouth no amount of toothpaste could cleanse (insert dramatic sound clip here). Interestingly, both albums were recorded at Tracks studios in Manila with the same producer - Angee Rozul. I haven't quite penetrated the production fabric that snugly wraps Esoteric, but it's quite obvious they decided to record elsewhere this time around - my guess is in Tower of Doom studios, after lead singer Gabby Alipe's successful stint with Franco's 2010 self-titled debut album which was recorded in the same studio. Switching studios was what exactly this band needs.

That said, it seems we've honed in to what probably was the problem with their past two releases. Esoteric boasts a far superior guitar mix compared to The Apparition and USL. The vocal mix is more layered, adding a much-needed anthemic sound to their choruses, and the drums pack more punch.

But then I noticed something else was different with this band. One being Alipe's singing. The vocal arrangement is more refined here than in any other Urbandub record. A good example is the stanza and chorus of the album opener, "Stars Have Aligned", especially when Alipe sings the line "...god, a little pity just a little" (?), exuding playful wordplay and confidence in Alipe's ability as a now veteran vocalist for a band that's been around for more than a decade. Another is the album's first single, "Never Will I Forget", paints dream-pop bliss as Alipe coaxes listeners to "reminisce". I'm not a fan of the screamed "long time no see" part though - it's weird picturing two friends screaming "long time no see!" into each other's ears. That's just not how those things go down, in my mind at least.

Sonically, the album starts heavy, slows down in the middle, and ends heavy. The heavy songs do well to bookend this concise 10-track album, featuring some of the most down-tuned, dynamic, and crunchiest riffs this band has ever put on record that I won't be surprised if they used 7-string guitars on some of them. The slower songs are, I would say, standard Urbandub fare - the most notable being "When Love Is Not An Answer" featuring a simple, but hastily finger-plucked bass line over a slow but deliberate drum tempo. There's something special about it - and the same can be said about the rest of the tracks. Definitely give this album a listen. You won't regret it.

- This is as heavy and dynamic as Urbandub can get
- Dreamy

- ...

9 out of 10

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Overrated Bands: Godspeed You! Black Emperor

So, I want to kick off this new series after having indulged in music discovery a few days ago. The theme was "post-rock" and I scoured the internet for recommendations from fans of the genre. If you're on the same journey like me, you will know that in a few clicks you will be overwhelmed with high praises for the aforementioned band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. From then on, there was no doubt in my mind these guys are considered one of the best post-rock bands in existence today.

But I don't get it.

To put it succinctly, they make near-inaccessible music that requires a very specific mood to get into - people say it goes best with acid (I don't do drugs), or while taking a stroll at night, or while sulking in the dark. The music just seems inflexible to me, is all. I want music that I can listen to and enjoy regardless of location, time of day, and level of sobriety I'm in. Having to subject yourself to such stringent requirements before you can enjoy a piece of music is no fun at all. I dunno. Maybe it works for you.

Friday, April 19, 2013

An exhaustive list of Mainstream/Party Hip-Hop and RnB songs from the mid 90's to the early 2000's

Ever felt nostalgic? Or looking to get any house party poppin? This is an exhaustive list of Mainstream/Party Hip-Hop and RnB songs from the mid 90's to the early 2000's hand-picked by yours truly - all in alphabetical order by artist. I will try to keep this list updated as I find more tracks. Enjoy.

List starts here:

2Pac - Lost Souls
Aaliyah - More Than A Woman
Artful Dodger & Craig David - Re-Rewind (The Crowd Say Bo Selecta)
Artful Dodger & Craig David - Woman Trouble
Babyface & LL Cool J - This Is For The Lover In You
Lil Bow Wow & Ciara - Like You
Bubba Sparxxx - Ugly
Busta Rhymes - Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See
Camron - Hey Ma
Ciara - 1, 2, Step
Coolio - Too hot
Craig David - Fill Me In
Craig David - Last Night
Eve & Gwen Stefani - Let Me Blow Your Mind
Fabolous ft. Nate Dogg - Can't Deny It
Fabolous & Tamia - I'm So Into You
Fabolous, P. Diddy, & Jagged Edge - Trade It All (Part 2)
Fat Joe ft. Ja Rule, Ashanti - What's Luv?
G-Unit - I Wanna Get To Know You
Ja Rule ft. Vita - Put It On Me
Ja Rule & Ashanti - Mesmerize
Jagged Edge ft. Nelly - Where The Party At
Jermaine Dupri ft. Nate Dogg - Ballin' Out of Control
Joy Enriquez - Tell Me How You Feel
Juvenile - Slow Motion
Kanye West ft. Syleena Johnson - All Falls Down
LL Cool J - Hush
Ludacris - Southern Hospitality
Mase - Feels So Good
Missy Elliott - The Rain
Mystikal - Shake Ya Ass
Mystikal - Danger
Natalie - Energy
Nelly - Country Grammar
Nelly - E.I.
Nelly - Ride Wit Me
Nick Cannon ft. R. Kelly - Gigolo
Notorious B.I.G. - Sky's The Limit
Notorious B.I.G. ft. Puff Daddy, Mase - Mo Money Mo Problems
NSync ft. Nelly - Girlfriend
Puff Daddy & Mase - Can't Nobody Hold Me Down
R. Kelly - Ignition (Remix)
Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell - Beautiful
Snoop Dogg ft. Pharrell - Drop It Like It's Hot
Tamia - I'm So Into You
Tamia ft. Talib Kweli - Officially Missing You (Remix)
Thalia ft. Fat Joe - I Want You
The Game ft. 50 Cent - Hate It Or Love It
TQ - Daily
TQ - Westside
Twista - Sunshine
Twista - Overnight Celebrity
Twista ft. R. Kelly - So Sexy
Usher - You Make Me Wanna
Usher ft. Ludacris - U Dont Have To Call (Remix)
Usher - Nice & Slow

Don't hesitate to add more tracks in the comments below...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Top 5 Soundtracks for Romantic Comedies

It seems the best way to discover new music these days is to watch movies and hopefully stumble upon good music within the movie (at least for me). Strange enough, only romantic comedies do this for me. This list consists of movies that I have seen, so if you think I've missed a really good movie soundtrack, do say something in the comments.

Without further ado, here are my top 5 so far:

5. Silver Linings Playbook

I admit, the soundtrack is barely noticeable, except for its overwhelming love for Stevie Wonder.

Best musical moment: The scene outside the theater where Pat once again goes bonkers over "My Cheri Amor". The pleasant, jolly musical backdrop to Pat's inner turmoil is nothing short of genius, and in my experience, quite true in real life. Ever tried cheering yourself up with 'happy' music with a broken heart?

4. Garden State

This movie introduced me to The Shins, Zero 7, and Nick Drake, and I felt this movie would've sucked if it weren't for the great soundtrack (and Natalie Portman).

Best musical moment: The airport scene, with Frou Frou's "Let Go" in the background.

3. Crazy Stupid Love

This movie introduced me to The Middle East, and a really quirky, mexican-flavored reggae version of the song "Animal" by Miike Snow. Late Night Alumni is also here.

Best Musical Moment: Not surprisingly, the end scene with Middle East's "Blood". I guess I'm a sucker for songs that close a movie really well (see number 4).

2. 500 Days of Summer

This movie introduced me to The Smiths, Temper Trap, and Carla Bruni.

Best Musical Scene: It involves a song I don't even particularly like - it's the scene where ailing Tom distracts himself with architecture while Summer gets married, with Wolfmother's "Vagabond" in the background. It's the same concept used in Silver Linings Playbook - joyous, uplifting music masking inner turmoil.

1. Celeste and Jesse Forever

I have to admit - I really only made this stupid list just so I could have an excuse to heap praise over this movie's spectacular soundtrack. The movie itself isn't that good compared to the others on this list (except maybe for Garden State), but the music here is just fabulous. This is probably the only movie where the soundtrack literally jumped out of the screen and compelled me to go look for each and every song. It introduced me to a bevy of artists I've never heard of before (Vetiver, Sunny Levine, Mr. Little Jeans, Shabazz Palaces, Donnie & Joe Emerson, etc) and a couple of good oldies.

Best musical moment(s): This is a double whammy: The wedding scene with Sunny Levine's "No Other Plans" playing in the background; and the scene right after where Celeste is outside the tents drinking liquor and smoking a cigarette while watching the fireworks, with Donnie & Joe Emerson's "Baby" providing a nice musical backdrop. So much awesome music.

The Honorables:


Just because it had a very clever ending with the cut-out cartoons of Arthur and his lady accompanied by Daniel Merriweather's "Little Bit Better".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Weeks Later: Franco Reyes' Soul (Adventurer)

Photo by Mark Perez
It's been a couple of weeks since the release of "Soul Adventurer", and it still hasn't loosened its grip on a lot of people's ears (I know mine are still hooked). Yes, it's that awesome of an album it deserves another post in this blog. There are certainly a lot of areas the review failed to cover, something that has become apparent after numerous "tweaks" since it was published. This post aims to address all the pent-up compulsions once and for all.

As already stated, it's been several weeks, and any person who has consistently listened to the same album over and over will surely notice the bells and whistles, quirks, and the occasional dud. Speaking of duds, I have the same opinion of Razor since day one, that is - it's quite underwhelming considering it's surrounded by tracks that are above-average at the very least. This one is just plain average, reminiscent of the craft work of one Dave Grohl and company in the Foo Fighters' "One By One" album where most songs seem bored with themselves. It's a one off.

Then there's the overuse of "jah" in lieu of the more conventional "the" in the chorus of Uprising. One or two strategically placed jahs would have sufficed, any more seems like taking the rasta vibe a bit too seriously. Well, the song actually goes all-out rasta by the end so I guess all the left-handed passing of the doobie (or dutchie, or kouchie) was warranted.

Also, what's up with A Prayer? Was the line "then it just hit me" a conscious stylistic decision or a gaping deficiency in subject-verb agreement?

Nitpicking aside, yes, this is still quite the amazing album. Songs like Renewal have slowly risen from the rubble to become one of the top tracks, at first disguising itself as a mellow track with the signature reggae up-stroke over a rare Franco falsetto (a first), but halfway through, listeners are shown subtle signs of riffage that eventually explode into one of the heaviest, swirling riffs this album has to offer - all over the squeals of the lead guitar on wah. This particular section of the album is just pure zoned-out unadulterated rock paradise - something I always knew someone like Reyes is capable of with eyes closed. It's pretty hard to put on paper, but you can definitely feel it while listening to the song (go do it now if you haven't).

Blame is practically the musical representation of red wine, vastly improved after more than ten years since it first debuted as a "Frank!" song. Since its inception, the verses have been reprogrammed to sound starker than the original, giving off a sense of urgency over the original's slightly whiny grunge melancholy. Despite the changes, the chorus is fine untouched. It's as effective and catchy as it was, and could go down as one of the best choruses in the album, if not in Reyes' entire catalog. Hefty claims, yes. And it certainly gives Across The Milky Way a run for its money.

It's astonishing that no other Filipino rock musician could step up to the musical plate the way Reyes does, and it's been a long wait before he showed up. Sure, there are the greats and some others who have the potential, but they are nowhere near the same level of polish and sophistication as Reyes musically. He may not be a chart-topper like the Eraserheads once were, but he has already achieved what most musicians, including the Eraserheads, could only dream of.

Do you know of any Filipino musicians that could give Franco a run for his money? Post them in the comments.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Franco - Soul Adventurer (2013) Album Review

Album cover
Soul Adventurer is Franco Reyes' second major label release, unfortunately without most of the original Franco line-up that made the eponymous album in 2010 (I honestly don't care really). When the isolated corners of the internet were abuzz that production for Soul Adventurer was underway, I would hear Reyes played all the instruments in the record himself, with the exception of drums - which was done by Janjan Mendoza (ex-Franco / Urbandub drummer).

As production continued, he eventually recruited his long-time bandmate from Cebu, Paul Cañada (The Frank), to fill in the vacant ranks and to play guitar on some tracks. What tracks, I've no clue. This video suggests Cañada's guitar is present in "Renewal", but we won't know for sure until we see the liner notes of the album (still to be released on February 25, 2013 at the time of this writing).

This album contains 12 tracks - well, there are exactly 17 tracks, but 5 of which are outros and little snippets. Right off the bat, the first track "To Survive" has "Janjan Mendoza" written all over it. If any of you have heard any recent Urbandub album, you'll learn Mendoza is quite the drum&bass connoisseur. Unfortunately, while he's one of the better hard-hitting Pinoy rock drummers today, his love for drum&bass is mostly at the expense of his strengths. Which leads us to the lowest point of this song (and this album, in fact) - the first stanza. Subpar, almost sloppy, drum&bass drumming strewn across 16 bars is a shame. Luckily this will be the first and last time anyone's going to hear this kind of drumming in this album. It almost ruined an otherwise really good album opener, to be honest, but the rest of the track more than makes up for it. Overall, the song is straightforward "Franco Rock", as most of you have come to know, with a crunchy and blazing middle eight. Reyes laments in the chorus, "We'll pick up all the pieces to survive; We'll learn from our mistakes to make it magical", as if to acknowledge the falling out of the original Franco line-up.

The early part of "Moonset" has a very strong Queens of the Stone Age vibe to it, but eventually settles into familiar Franco territory. The most notable part being when Reyes sings "I'll be fine... alone(?)" over an almost dream-like rhythm section. It drives me nuts when he sings the last word of that line down to F#3 but never goes further down to F3 - which is probably how most singers would bookend that section of the song. Reyes is different. He just lets F#3 ring out and I was half expecting him to go down to F3 the entire time. The first time I heard it, I was floored and thought it was genius.

"Better Days" is one of the first tracks I've heard from the album (thanks to some Youtube videos). It makes no reservations and jumps into a reggae beat right after a hard intro, proclaiming "Come hear jah sound; Spreading good vibrations all over this town". Positivity abound. It's Herbal Midikishan - as Reyes would put it. He is no stranger to reggae and his love for the genre oozes in this song. The transitions between the reggae beat to hard rock is slightly off-putting at first, but I got used to it. This song also has one of the coolest outros you'll ever hear.

One of the stand-out tracks for me is "Across The Milky Way", a slow-paced hard rock number reminscent of 90's grunge. It's a bit faster than Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun", but it delivers more or less the same punch. It's gritty, introspective, and quite high as a kite. I would not be surprised if this track became an anthem for future drinking (and other similar) sessions. There's nothing like being in the mountains with friends, beer in hand, with this track blaring on the stereo. Ahhh..... For all you corporate zombies out there, this track is a good reminder to take a break every now and then.

This guy.
Rock aside, Reyes dabbles with electronica in "Lover's Fire", a delectable amalgamation of soul and trip-hop music layered with hushed vocals. I welcomed the departure from rock with open arms. This guy. What can't he do? Unfortunately, this track highlights the production woes of this album, particularly how muffled and poor-sounding the drums are in the other tracks - particularly the snare drum. It's such a shame the digitally programmed drum track in this song sounds more organic than the actual drums used by Mendoza on this album.

"Blame" is apparently one of Reyes' older songs with his then-band The Frank in their Drink, Drama, Dream LP. Likewise, "Muse" is a re-hash of an old song by a now-defunct Cebuano band called Capsule. I'm not really sure how Reyes fits into the picture - maybe he helped write this song, or maybe he loved this song so much he had to cover it. Which brings me to a realization - some tracks on this album were probably written way before production began. And it's probably not just those two. Who knows? I'm not complaining by the way. If I had a huge back catalog before I hit it big, I'd slowly release it one song after another. That will keep the record label busy and leave me free to write new songs without ever being pressured by deadlines. That's the way to go.

Anyway, getting into the technical side of things for a bit, what this album clearly does better than the debut is the guitar sound. The latter had one of the most constipated-sounding, beefy, stacked-pork-chops-meaty guitar mixes I've heard from any band in recent memory, and thankfully it's gone in Soul Adventurer, replaced by a much leaner and cleaner sound. With the kind of material Reyes is writing, I've always thought three guitarists was redundant, and pretty much overkill, in my opinion. So I'm really glad it's back down to two.


Overall a bit more down-tempo and cleaner than the debut album, and apart from the somewhat muffled sound of the snare drum and that little DnB annoyance in "To Survive", this album is quite easily another solid outing by Franco Reyes. If any of you people are looking to hear some solid rock tunes, and I mean rock songs that actually rock, then it's impossible to go wrong with this guy. Go grab this album. Now.

9 out of 10