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.


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