Song of the Year 2012 – the preliminaries

I have decided to do something on this blog that I am sure will culminate in something at the end of the year: a feature on my favorite song of the year. I am limiting this to songs on albums released in 2012, mainly from the Philippines. For reasons which some friends will find obvious, I am leaning toward independently produced music here.

So far, I have three songs on my list. In no particular order, these are:

1. Ciudad, “There’s a Lonely Road to Sunday Night” – This is from their newly-released album Follow the Leader. 

There’s supposed to be a video, which was first seen by lucky Ciudad fans at the album launch, but it will be out in due time. For now, enjoy this lovely picture by Jazz Nicolas and sing along!

2. Outerhope, “Lost Year.” – This is from their new EP No End in Sightwhich was released online this May through Number Line Records. You can download it through the above link.

3. Ang Bandang Shirley, “Di Na Babalik.” – While this song has been around for quite some time (and there is even an English version they sang in Singapore), this song will appear on the much-anticipated Tama Na Ang Drama album which, a reliable source tells me, should be out by September 2012. It is memorable not only because of its use in the Ang Nawawala soundtrack, but also because a new friend from this year ended up playing this with them (after hearing them play it thrice during the film’s shooting).

I would really be cheating if I counted “Chosen Few” by Tarsius featuring Slow Hello because the Tarsius vinyl record came out this year. (It was first released in 2011.) But I prefer hearing them live, especially on this one. As a weekend treat, enjoy this video from Bel Certeza, taken earlier this year at one of the Wilderness fundraiser gigs for their recent and, I was told, successful Bandung trip.

By the way, the hard rock/metal band Kastigo is celebrating its anniversary tonight. I know the musicians, and I wish them well, but I will be continuing my Cinemalaya week with The Animals gala screening later. Have a good weekend everyone.

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Three things 22 – 26 July 2012

I was at Cinemalaya the last few days. My review of Ang Nawawala is still in preparation–having seen it again, I am prepared to call it a proper one. In the spirit of seeking improvement, of course, because all I can say now is that for a first-time film, it is indeed a milestone in terms of what it is trying to achieve. It deserves the widest possible audience.

1. Joel Shepard and I lucked out last Monday. Shepard, film curator of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, is very interested in Philippine cinema, and this is his third time here, I believe. However, why we lucked out was this. Nick Deocampo launched a retrospective of experimental film this week, and the first two films, apart from his short Let This Film be a Manifesto for a New Filipino Cinema, were not only good choices, but exceptional ones.

I did not know until Monday, for example, that Eric Torres, former curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery, wrote a documentary (directed by Bibsy Carballo, with cinematography by Romy Vitug) on Navotas in the late 1960s. Recuerdo of Two Sundays and Two Roads That Lead To The Sea is a very moving gem speaking of a place which once seemed idyllic and now, as at least one person told me, isn’t quite the same.

The real thrill was seeing Raymond Red’s newly-restored Ang Magpakailanman. Better yet, it was de-colorized from the original Super 8, so it is a black-and-white film that serves as a book-end to his entry this year, Kamera Obscura. It was brilliant. I cannot wait for him to release the DVD of some of his early work.

2. Speaking of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, I am going to defend Philbert Dy today. I have heard a recent comment by the girlfriend of the star of a recent film Dy did not like. Now I have known Dy since last year at least, when he hosted Joel, myself, and another friend at Cubao X for lunch. He is a very interesting person and I do disagree with some of his views on film. But I agree that he has the right to say what he said, and I am aware at least from where he is coming. More importantly, though, he and Joel made some good choices for the largest retrospective of recent Filipino cinema in the States so far. For promoting our film sector, both those working with and outside the current structures, Dy demands more respect than the bashing he is getting from writers who are mainly out to protect the interests of the “system.”

3. I end this with a pretty short note: I am going to do, instead of a review for The Animals, a series of reviews on that and two other films. I am going to have to catch up. Good luck to me.

Meanwhile, fans of Ang Nawawala and its music will be pleased to know that we will be back where it all started. On August 18, Mei Bastes confirmed that the film’s after-party will be at the Collective, where day one of filming was held. No matter what one has to say about the movie, you cannot fault Marie for the music. She is playing with her band, Boldstar, by the way.

Three things 21 – 22 July 2012

1. I will be writing an essay for my old online outfit–a return engagement if you will–about Ang Nawawala, so I will not write a review here about it. I re-posted Vinny Tagle’s review from We Talk About Movies on this blog a few moments ago, and I suggest reading that, along with Mara Coson’s own comments.

Needless to say, I have nothing but thanks for Marie Jamora, Ramon de Veyra, and the team behind the film.

Marie Jamora, director of Ang Nawawala, takes her picture which was taken by Wig Tysmans, at the opening of the Cinemalaya festival, 20 July 2012. Photo by Ren Aguila

I urge everyone to watch not only this film but the others in Cinemalaya. The films are worth supporting, but I do think that at some point the festival itself has to change. That point might very well be now. But the cultural, economic, and media status quo that we have makes this a Herculean task. (Preferably the one about clearing the Augean stables.)

2. Speaking of cultural agendas, one of the two things noteworthy about Raymond Red’s Kamera Obscura is its willingness to talk about the need to preserve our film heritage. To drive the point home, the film is book-ended by mock video footage featuring some of the country’s film historians, including Teddy Co. (His presence at arts events makes them, for me, less tedious than they sometimes are.) They claim to have discovered a hitherto unknown silent film of supposedly unknown origin–which is the film within the film.

The film itself is a technical marvel (which is the other noteworthy thing), and I agree that it took a while for technology to catch up with the high concept. I do admit I was a little unimpressed with the socio-political allegory, which was in some parts quite blatant, and I found the ending a little baffling at first. (It took me five minutes to figure out its meaning and the referent.)

I think Red was as much concerned about making a “love letter” to the craft of making movies as he was trying to drive home a point or two. The references to other films, most notably old silent pictures and even other film classics, would make for a good guessing-game for cinema buffs.

However, I do hope they get around to fixing the subtitles. Just a minor point, but since the festival circuit would be happy to have Red around….

3. This week, I will be at the festival to watch, among others, The Animals. I have read early feedback from other festival-goers and I am very curious as to why they viewed this film the way they did. I do intend to keep on writing throughout the week.

Incidentally, I fully expect The Animals to have a different soundtrack from Ang Nawawala. As much as these are two sides of the same social sphere, there are different musical worlds that emerge in these films. I hope I could say more about that in the full review.

Here is Vinny Tagle’s take on Ang Nawawala.

We Talk About Movies

If you ask me what I love the most about Ang Nawawala, I would have a hard time answering your question. Is it the way the movie captured the romance and heartbreaks of adolescence? Is it the emotional weight of the family drama that meditated on loss and letting go of the past? Is it the way the music became a distinct entity because of its overpowering presence, the way it occupied the interiors of those cramped bars and kept on expanding and expanding until it became utterly, beautifully uncontainable? It is definitely all of these, but I won’t ever be able to accurately and completely put into words what I loved about Marie Jamora’s film because its sum is infinitely greater than its well-crafted parts.

Part of why Ang Nawawala is able to achieve something special is because of the way it projects tiny, precious moments, like watching a…

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Arigato, Hato! – an appreciation

One year ago, Meiday’s first post-Cubao X staging was held to launch Heartsongs for Humans, an EP which was, it turns out, the culmination of the work of an ensemble called Arigato, Hato! The band, helmed by Cat Cortes, was known for their blend of electronica and rock elements and for catchy songs, all sung in Cortes’s distinctly mezzo-soprano soulful voice.

I first got to hear them in 2010, and their cover of Portishead’s “Glory Box” was what I could recall. But it was after a Big Sky Mind event where I got to meet them, and they eventually invited me to the EP launch.
The EP consists of four songs, including “The Scoundrel,” which is one of their more well-known tunes. Especially in the last part of 2011, the EP went into heavy rotation on my music player. It is my favorite late-night album, mainly because of the song “City Sleeping,” but I realize its value lies in a moderation I can appreciate–it’s not too heavy, and sometimes I am not willing to go for the easy listening stuff.

I published a best-of list elsewhere that didn’t include the EP–my criterion, which I realize is too limiting, had to do in part with the number of songs to make it qualify. By this reckoning, I would have excluded Outerhope’s No End in Sight EP if it was released in 2011, though it is so far one of the better new recordings I’ve heard in the first half of this year. In hindsight, Heartsongs deserves to be included.

Whether this would mean bumping off another album would be something I am unwilling to speak about now–but maybe I can expand the list rather than exclude. There are, however, a couple of things Arigato, Hato! have left me. First is an appreciation for ways one can blend electronic music with live instruments in our context. In other ways, Gentle Universe (with toy instruments) and Tarsius (with drums) have done their part as well. (Come to think of it, I did not include Tarsius, but mainly because I have come to the conclusion that they are amazing live. The new vinyl record, which I heard last night, is most interesting, and that could make me put them on my list too.)

Their other legacy was alluded to earlier–it was a sense of moderation I now realize, on hindsight, was more interesting. Even their extant live performance recordings show this–it was in the careful blend of instruments and voice that they shone. It is perhaps the same reason I appreciated Mikey Amistoso’s Hannah+Gabi project and recognized how its sound made its way to the “road to Sunday night.”

There is no accounting for taste. Sometimes I realize that music I became enamored with at one point becomes less palatable with time. So the true test for me, with this carefully-crafted EP, is the distance time brings about. There are no “instant classics.” Maybe that is why I am not an early adopter.

For now, though, I thank Arigato, Hato! for their little gift. It seems unsurprising that their name includes the Japanese for “Thank you.” It may have been an in-joke (a pun, I believe), but for me the name is a cue to express thanks for the way they made music. I hope that the gift can survive the test of time.

Three things 20 – 20 July 2012

The timing of this post is not coincidental.

1. Someone I know who is a film critic reminds me that it’s the films, and not the festival, we should be backing. Yes, I am talking about a festival whose opening happens tonight. I have yet to know whether there are opportunities for me to see the films at a very affordable rate, and if so, I will try to blog during the event.

Films I am watching will definitely include Raymond Red’s Kamera Obscura, which was very long in the making. The director told me at an exhibit opening-cum-music event (at Nova Gallery; yes, it was a dream evening) that it took a while to make–the technology caught up with what he had in mind since the Eighties.

Of course, the other film to watch is Marie Jamora’s Ang Nawawalaa film whose making I witnessed on two occasions–once at the last Meiday gig and a few weeks later at Route 196. Those who were at the last Meiday gig and who came early enough were lucky to catch Sandwich’s set–the production schedule necessitated it.

But enough about that. I am endorsing the film because this is the work of people I have come to know and appreciate over the years. I also have grown to appreciate many of the musicians whose work appears in the film. Notwithstanding the concern about what kind of music is prized in the film (something which I hope to discuss after seeing the movie), it is, as I pointed out in a recent (heavily edited) article, a selection Marie made based on the kind of music she likes. (I think any future reflection will be a gloss on de gustibus non est disputandum, or is it?) More importantly, I am glad that there is a candidate this year for the thoughtful film about the upper-class Filipino which the late Alexis Tioseco wanted to see.

The other film in that category would be The Animals, by new director Gino Santos. While I was told (and that has to be verified by the way) that a recent interview he gave seemed laughable, I had no such qualms when I spoke with him at the Cinemalaya launch. Marie Jamora herself mentioned that she was actually looking forward to seeing that film, and I am too.

2. I was at the rear of the UP Film Institute the night a past Cinemalaya entry (and critical favorite) Ang Sayaw ng Dalawang Kabilang Paa was showing, for a student video art exhibit that opened Wednesday evening. Titled Expectations, the exhibit is expected to run until early August, but one of the organizers of the show told me that this was not the last of the exhibits they were planning. Some artists have already expressed interest in the next leg, he tells me. It was a very interesting night for a couple of reasons, but “wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.” (Wittgenstein)

3. Click the link in item no. 1 to the Cinemalaya story to find out that there is more than just film at the CCP this week. I am particularly recommending the social realism retrospective on the third floor.

There are also three art exhibits opening this Saturday, at Manila Contemporary, DAGC, Secret Fresh, and Vinyl on Vinyl (at least among those I know). It will be a very interesting weekend, and I wish all of you the best of it!

A night for jazz

I am at a watering hole in Manila, which in a past life was an Italian restaurant. Its owner used to run a very popular cafe in the area, which happened to lend its name to a stage play before.

Tonight, I am listening to a jazz quintet. I am waiting for a musician-friend to arrive, and he’s supposed to be playing after them with another band. For a change, I am listening neither to indie rock, nor to folk, nor to electronica. Those are the kinds of music I’ve gotten used to hearing live over the last two years.

Maybe I need a break. Later in the year, I will be up in the mountains for a time of absolute silence again, but for now, I will give myself just this–the kind of music I never get to hear often. After all, there is a time for everything.

I have said here that whenever I wrote and got something published on anything, it reflects what I thought at the time. It may be, and it has, that my opinions on either the art or the artist have changed. But my first impressions remain–it’s part of my history as a writer and one who appreciates music. The key is that I learn, with each year that passes, to be more discerning about how I think and to be more wary of “falling in love” without understanding the emotional and professional consequences.

I can say that given this, there are some things I would have retracted had I known better then as I do now. But as a noted musician would tell me, it’s a “learning experience.” I am grateful to all the musicians I’ve gotten to know in my lifetime, no matter how our paths crossed or diverged. And I hope that, like these jazz musicians right before me, we can all find a way to play together while improvising in our own voices.