Song of the Year 2012

It took me a couple of weeks to think about the songs that have gone through my music player this year, particularly the ones that made the criteria I set earlier in July for what would be a good “Song of the Year.” The July preliminaries gave me three songs to work with–but only one of them survived to my December short-list, the rest being honorable mentions. (These are “Di Na Babalik” by Ang Bandang Shirley and “Lost Year” by Outerhope, both still memorable songs.)

The reason? Two new album releases. I wrote about Up Dharma Down’s album launch in late November. A few weeks later, I gave a review of Ang Bandang Shirley’s own second album. The latter album’s release means that I can include, officially, one of my favorite tunes from the band.

This is one of the oldest videos of them playing the song, a stripped-down version that I found moving when I discovered it. However, the final recorded version is quite different, as owners of the album can attest. Among others, composer Ean Aguila (a very distant relative from that side of my family who migrated north after the Philippine Revolution) does the opening solo, rather than a duet with the two lead singers (which is their usual performance practice).

This was the song that made me appreciate what Ang Bandang Shirley is able to do–to tell stories about those experiences that touch us in love and loss, and to tell them with a kind of moving simplicity. The way this is manifest depends on the lyrical voice of the song, and in this case, it is a voice that tells of the feeling of being home in the loved one’s company.

My choice from Capacities was a little more obvious–if there was a good call on the part of Terno and the band, it was to give “Turn It Well” both the first position on the album and the album’s first official single. This is one of the stronger tracks on the album. I disagree with the Katipunan reviewer who said that this was nothing extraordinary. To the contrary, I find it a memorable pop tune, and it has been a song that has gotten a lot of play while I was on the road–no thanks to this inspirational (but admittedly at times puzzling) video:

By the way, someone I knew from university is in this video.

In many ways, this is a good pop tune, with a great opening hook and a melody that can echo through one’s head in the oddest moments. There is a different kind of poetry at work here, though. (See here for the lyrics to “Turn It Well” and go up to the “Capacities” menu to see the other songs.) “Turn It Well” captures the cadences of Millare’s lyrics very well, as well as its emotional energy. I wanted to see how they got to where they are, and it is for this reason that a look back at the second album Bipolar (which my friend Erin reminded me hinted a bit at the musical moves made in this album) might be in order.

The only survivor from the July list is still “There’s a Lonely Road to Sunday Night.” At the time, we did not get to see this video, directed by What Isn’t There co-writer Ramon de Veyra.

Ciudad – There’s A Lonely Road To Sunday Night from Marie Jamora on Vimeo.

(Yes, I used the official international name of one of my favorite films of 2012.)

Apart from being a good example of an alternative pop tune (which the other two are, of course), there is also the reason that I found it still compelling. Looking back, I now see that the song seems to speak of a parting of the ways that might be averted, but the “darkness sets in around.” The song came out not long after one of these partings–nothing to do with the kind alluded to here, of course.

However, throughout December (and especially after the Shirley release), I found myself going back and forth between the first two songs. I must confess that I found myself stumped for a bit.

Is there a tie-breaker? Well, there is. Part of the reason I would say that a song was a “song of the year” was that it resonated with me as I looked back at 2012. This was the year of meetings and partings, and indeed, as I sometimes say here, surprises.

“Turn It Well” might very well be a song that will play in heavy rotation on my music player next year, and that I will periodically have to think about what it says and does not say. If readers have come this far, it might be obvious what I decided upon. It was very close, and I think I will stop here.

Finally, I am grateful to all the musicians whose work I’ve heard this year, both live, in videos, and in audio recordings. Last year, I said that hope is what made it possible for me to say that it was a very good year. Even if that hope was shaken, I still say that this year was a very good one, despite all that has been. And next year will hopefully be better.

If you’d like to hear the two albums from Shirley and UDD, both are now available at Fully Booked, especially at the Bonifacio High Street main branch. Shirley’s album is also available from Wide Eyed Records Manila and Up Dharma Down’s album is also available on iTunes. Ciudad’s most recent album Follow The Leader where “There’s a Lonely Road…” can be found is available from their Bandcamp site.


Movie, Millare, and mention

First, a big hand to Marie Jamora, Ramon de Veyra, and the team behind Ang Nawawala for making it to the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah! As Teddy Guinoo would say, “High five, motherf*****!”

On to business. My GMA News Online article on Up Dharma Down was published today. As I advised Armi Millare, I promised to print her email interview, because I found this fascinating enough to note in full. Armi’s answers are in italics. I did not edit her answers (and there’s a passage below I did find a little vague: points for spotting it!). I will also add a disclaimer: the email was received at around 5 in the morning, according to my mail inbox interface.

1. From what I heard last night, the band has taken a different direction in terms of sound from the last album four years ago–most notably in a more electronica-oriented direction. What prompted this shift? Would you agree that fans have been very receptive towards the new material?

It’s too early to tell whether or not the people have received the music well, but to be very honest, I think it matters much less. We have created what we think to be good, and only those who like it will. Synth pop is the kind of genre that most of us have been exposed to when we were young being born around the 80’s and we just wanted something nostalgic — something that the listeners could grow old with. I like the way we, as a group feel about certain acts or songs — its as if we did not expect ourselves to like them all along but lo and behold they have been underneath this skin and a lot harder to shake off.

2. Is there a particular song from the album that gives an idea of the new sound you are pursuing? Can you discuss some of the creative decisions made in the making of the album?

I could cite a lot of other songs but it’s kind of a mixed reaction depending on the days and how I personally feel about the songs. “Parks” (which we almost had left to be called Capacities) is the sound that I suppose would describe who we have become after all these years. But then there’s “Luna” and there’s “Kulang,” where there’s a lot more going on even in the way it’s a bit sparse. During live shows, the boys tend to change instruments and play the keyboards or the drum pads and to me, that’s a sign that we’re a group that’s very open to change. Im quite sure that in the years to come a lot of changes will take place. That’s our common ground, we all have a penchant for change. Stagnation is not welcome in this group.

3. What was most challenging part about making this album, and what was the least challenging?

To me, the most challenging part was to write the material. I did not realize that I had written a total of 14 songs until I had been interviewed about the exact number. And I don’t see anything easy in producing this record. It’s not easy to put oneself out there about the experiences that you’ve gone through as an individual and to let people know how you are at your most vulnerable moments is something rather more personal to me. And it’s conflicting for the most part. I want to keep them to myself, but I fear I might erupt. Like a volcano. I know I need to express these feelings and instead create something than implode which is the only other option for me to survive.

4. Following the launch, does the band have plans to promote the record “on the road”?

It’s always been a part of the plan. For the last 8 years we have been gigging and traveling together. I for one have not caught a break all this time — my first was when I took a trip to Australia for 3 weeks and that was it. I did write something but it didn’t make the album. And that’s how dedicated we have been to the music. To a fault. It gets in the way of life to write about life. How ironic, isn’t it? But I can’t complain, I’m no better doing anything but getting things wrong and just writing about them. 

5. A common trope in talking about Up Dharma Down is that it would be one of the Philippine bands to break out internationally. Do you believe that this album would help to keep the band on the music radar outside the country?

I think it’s great that people think that. But as much as I’d love for that to happen, I’m also fine with being here. My roots say I’m a quarter Filipino, but I was born and raised here and I am more than willing to be a hundred percent Filipino heritage-wise. Songs written by a Filipino, for the Filipinos in Filipino is most definitely going to attract only Filipinos. While part of the bonus is being bilingual, and how much I love traveling and learning other cultures, there is that tiny pinprick of light that shines and says hey, we might make it somewhere else, but there’s no place like home. 

Thank you to Armi Millare for the interview, and to the people at the Up Dharma Down Community page for their invaluable contributions to the piece.

Before I go, I must clarify something. A certain band founder named your correspondent on stage at the launch of his band‘s new album–just as memorable as the last one we attended–and disclosed the contents of a conversation we had before even the sound-check began. Actually, we did not talk about how people come together to form a scene. It was a slightly broader discussion about the Wes Andersonian-way in which the subtleties of style and manner were useful in producing the clustering of people around certain works of art, including performance pieces. It is incidental really that a scene develops around such works of art.

Have a good week everyone!


Ang Nawawala (which will be called “What Isn’t There” internationally from now on) is in SLAMDANCE Film Fest! We’re one of the 12 films competing for Best Narrative Feature. We are so happy because Slamdance is a fest that showcases first features and is programmed entirely by filmmakers. They also were the ones to feature the first films of Christopher Nolan, Mark Forster, Lynn Shelton, and Greg Mottola!

Check out the site for more details.

IT IS TIME TO CELEBRATE!! INUMAN TAYO SA BANDANG SHIRLEY’s Tama Na Ang Drama album launch, B-Side, The Collective, this Saturday night!!!