Review: Blood by Lianne La Havas

Blood by Lianne La HavasIt wouldn’t be fair to call Blood, the second album from British songstress Lianne La Havas, the “pop record”. Sure, it is, by all means, much more accessible than her debut – Is Your Love Big Enough? may be evocative and enchanting, but it bordered on MOR gloop sometimes. This time she plays with an expanded sonic palette: the dance soul of “Unstoppable”, the irresistible doo-wop of “What You Don’t Do”, all more welcoming but without losing sight of what she does best. The tracks on Blood are still delicate: all the new layers just make it more so. You can still lose yourself into this. However, Blood is filled with experimentation: like in her first record, Lianne is still restless, and some of the risks she takes end up blowing you off (see the surprisingly glitchy “Never Get Enough”). Still, if you’re a fan of the first, you’ll like the second. And if you haven’t heard her before, this album offers something to get yourself lost in. [NB]4/5

Review: Screenburn by Never the Strangers

Screenburn by Never the StrangersI wasn’t much aware of when Never the Strangers was relatively ubiquitous, so I took listening to their second record, Screenburn, as an opportunity – the clean slate sort. Well, I don’t know where to begin. There are flashes of brilliance in the album – “Meant To Be”, “Sabay” – but the whole thing suffers from an inconsistency even I cannot ascribe to “intentional”. The record’s first half sounded like an attempt at an 80s vibe, full of tricks from the pop and new wave records of the era. It could’ve worked – I was ready to talk about how a Filipino band was actually taking on the earnestly gloopy sounds of 80s pop – but it sounded a bit all over the place. (Too bad for “Showbiz”, which actually is a good song.) The second half of the record sees the gang realize what they’ve done, and attempt to more familiar pop-rock territory. It does work, somewhat, but then that 80s monster pops up and derails things a bit. Screenburn‘s inability to stick to one lane has made Never the Strangers yet another victim of the sophomore slump. [NB]2/5

“Darating din ang umaga.”

Great Philippine Song Hits“Umagang Kay Ganda” by Ray-An Fuentes and Tillie Moreno | This is how we end a month of Filipino classics: back to the Metro Manila Popular Music Festival. This song was not in the top three of the 1979 contest – Cinderella’s Snaffu Rigor’s composition for Freddie Aguilar, “Bulag, Pipi, Bingi”, won that year; the Apo Hiking Society’s “Ewan” came in second – and yet it’s this song that people remember more. This was the hit. Again, it captures everything that’s good about Filipino music: the melody, the sentiment, and the way it cuts through every fragment you can think of, appealing to everyone rather than just a few. Personally, it also helps that there’s some marvelous 70s-era production here: the mix of orchestral arrangements and soul sensibilities (like “Kay Ganda Ng Ating Musika”, the song that kicked this series off), the proven partnership between Ray-An Fuentes and Tillie Moreno, and, well, the optimism. It’s not cheesy optimism, and it’s definitely not put on for show. It does remind me of innocent times. (But maybe not the cover being used as the theme to ABS-CBN’s morning show of the same name. I mean, all the news.) It does remind us that, yes, there’s always tomorrow, and it could be better, much better. [NB]

“Halina’t sumayaw sa ilalim ng araw.”

Great Philippine Song Hits“Kapayapaan” by Tropical Depression | The Philippines, of course, has a strong history of niche music, and it wasn’t always a modern day thing. There were always musicians who looked further out of the typical Western themes and tones, while others waved the flag of fringe affairs and brought them closer to the mainstream. Dominic “Papadom” Gamboa, who died in 2013 a day before he was to turn 48, was one of those figures: he began as one of the leaders of the burgeoning Manila punk scene in the early 1980s, later becoming the vocalist of iconic Filipino punk rockers Betrayed. Then the ska bug bit him, moving to front the Skavengers. But he is best known for his work with Tropical Depression, the biggest reggae band of his time. Throughout the 1990s their songs – this one, “Kapayapaan”, and another hit, “Bilog Na Naman Ang Buwan” – were all over the airwaves, bringing the band’s light-hearted yet rowdy sensibilities, and socially-conscious themes, to a wider audience. Papadom’s death was, indeed, a blow to the scene, but his work in expanding the oeuvre of the Philippine music scene cannot be denied. [NB]

“Isipin mo na kaya mong abutin ang iyong minimithi.”

Great Philippine Song Hits“Mga Kababayan” by Francis Magalona | Again, there are many Francis M. songs to choose from, but this was the one that got through the recommendations, perhaps solely because of the nationalism at hand. There are, of course, a lot of songs with such sentiments, and those songs manage to break through the charts despite how cheesy it can be. Be honest. This is cheesy, a bit cheesy. But then it also boils down to who delivers the message: Francis Magalona, a guy oozing with charisma and earnestness. He has always believed in the Filipino people; it’s been a theme of his music, and of his many other artistic ventures, throughout his sadly truncated career. His death in 2009 – he died of leukemia – was a blow not just to the music industry, who appreciated his cross-genre appeal, but also to the country as a whole. One of its biggest, loudest cheerleaders has been hushed. Temporarily, as it turns out. (Thanks to Jan for the recommendation.) [NB]