The Local Outsider #26: Mandaue Nights, Room 14 and Syd Hartha

You know I’m going to start this column with more talk about how I’m cramming this because of how busy I’ve been. And yes, that is still the case. But then, on the other side of the equation, local music has been pretty intense this past month, whether it be because of intrigue, or because of celebrations. Sandwich is twenty years old! It’s not at all obvious! I have not had the chance to listen to their first two albums (and I still don’t have the chance because they’re not on the streaming channels) but I listened to “2 Trick Pony” a few weeks ago and it still sounds as potent as it was when it was released over a decade ago. Those immortal vampires. I wonder if any of the acts I’m writing about this month will last twenty years, or at least ten. Tall order? Different times. Still worth a shot, I guess.

 

I’d like to say I’m sort of making an effort to listen to more acts from Cebu, because my increasingly frequent visits to the city means I’m starting to feel more of an affinity to the place. (I mean, I went up Tops! At one in the morning! On a motorbike!) Sadly, the whole “Manila people are stupid and look down on those from the province” narrative still stands, whether it’s totally true or just partly. But I’m pretty sure I’ve heard a few more songs in Visayan (or is it Cebuano? I can’t tell, sorry) on the radio here in the “imperial” capital. All we need is a bit more exposure and the ability to enjoy something despite not understanding the language. But then, we like K-pop, so… anyway, I have not heard of Mandaue Nights until they were announced as part of the Summer Noise line-up (that’s next month) and I’m enjoying the track despite not understanding a word. (There are Filipino subtitles on the video up top.) Perhaps it’s because of good timing: their glistening electropop somewhat dovetails with this apparent trend of music inspired by the 1975. Is it the allure of a western style clashing nicely with something more, err, native? I’m being an asshole, overthinking this. But it’s nice that they’re getting a bigger venue; it’s also nice that we get another reminder to get out of our bubbles and, more importantly, redress the balance.

 

Still on the synthpop lane – although of a different kind, arguably – is Room 14, who apparently has been around for a few years (they got together while students at Adamson) but has only released their first single, “Empty Hearts, Empty Homes”, last month. I appreciate the humor in this lyric video. Jazz intensifies. Millennial AF. Yes, I know the whole whoa-oh bit is, err, millennial AF – or maybe post-millennial, come to think of it – but it never struck me that way. This song is jubilant but of a different time. Or maybe it’s just me? I’m actually reminded of the Guillemots, one of my favorite British bands from when I was just starting to be properly obsessed with music, back when I was a student in La Salle thirteen years ago. (Or maybe it is millennial. I supposedly call in that category.) Particularly, I’m thinking of “Who Left The Lights On, Baby?” from their debut album, which rises to a crescendo with a set of seemingly spare toy instruments. Room 14’s debut isn’t exactly whimsical in the way we so-called critics like to see it, but it is filled with wonder. It feels good.

 

Finally, this column has been partial towards singer-songwriters, so here’s another one. I’ve had my eyes on Syd Hartha for a while now, but only in the past week have I listened to her single “Tila Tala”, which instantly makes an impression thanks to the little bit of lush reverb at the very beginning of the track. It’s a little trick, but it makes this song stand out from all the other young kids picking up a guitar and brushing up on the word “aesthetic” as an adjective. This sounds a little more considered, a little more loved, and I like it as a result. Also, Syd floats. Not literally, but there’s an ethereal quality to her that somehow manages to be both grounded and free at the same time. It must be the reverb. It must be the reverb. No, it’s the lilt in the way the words bounce out of her mouth; it’s in the discerning you can hear even if you don’t pay attention. It’s in the storytelling. More, please. [NB]

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