Music to listen to now: Sobs, Ligaya Escueta, Oh Flamingo!, and more

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Oh Flamingo's latest release is the single "Anino." Photo from OH FLAMINGO!/FACEBOOK

As another year comes to a close, people are feeling a certain collective tendency to sink their teeth into the holiday blues. After all, the weather is colder, the traffic is worse, and inflation rises with no end in sight. You might want to rethink serving dishes dependent on white onions and garlic at dinner parties, while these are short in supply.

This year in particular is also ending on quite a different note compared to when it started, thanks to the ease on COVID-19-related travel restrictions. Yet for now, the holiday break is so close, yet so far away, which makes time seem to move slower.

However, if the year so far has been good to you, we’re vicariously happy for you. Musicians have a lot of releases to be proud of too, with plenty of contenders beating the deadline for 2022’s year-end lists. Here are a few of them for your consideration below.

“Air Guitar” by Sobs

Sobs are practically an honorary Filipino band, considering their strong local following that packs venues every time they fly over from Singapore. On “Air Guitar,” they’ve honed their irresistible pop hooks with higher fidelity than ever before. Raphael Ong and Jared Lim orchestrate masterfully crafted twists and turns, like ‘80s synthesizers popping out around corners and even a breakbeat detour into 8-bit ephemera. Yet the whole band also knows when to exercise restraint and let vocalist Celine Autumn’s earnest vocals shine.

The Spotify version of the album even has a bonus track covering “Cool” by Gwen Stefani. It’s refreshing to hear catchy music that proudly reps its guitar riffage dexterity and an appreciation of the magic that happens when a pop song hits an emotional bullseye. Here’s to hoping that Sobs come back to the Philippines to play again soon.

“Laughing in Milk” by Ligaya Escueta

Ligaya Escueta’s debut album was released last July, but it was remiss of me not to include it in that month’s round-up. I hope it’s not too late for me to make amends, because this album would probably be in my top three local releases of 2022.

Escueta isn’t in her twenties yet, but her songs already hint at a curious inner universe, singing about “dying, rolling, and dying again” in “12-Sided Die,” and “I’m holding on / I have gone / to 1965” (“1965”). To tell the truth, I was already sold by the song title “Living is a Dying Art.” When the indie garage rock kicked in, tinged with an Elliot Smith-esque sense of longing, it was too late to look back. She’s a songwriter to look out for in the coming years.

Filipino versions of tunes from “Encanto” (2021)

In the past decade, Disney has been drawing inspiration from Asian Pacific and Hispanic countries, and it’s about time they spoke our language. The film “Encanto” (2021) struck a chord with the Philippines even if it was set in Colombia, partly because of the linguistic kinship between Filipino and Spanish, partly also because intergenerational trauma and spiritualism resonate even across cultures. At the very least, it’s a novel experience to hear the songs thoughtfully translated and well-articulated in Filipino.

“2AM” by Jess Connelly

Filipina-Australian singer-songwriter Jess Connelly is back with a new album titled “Bittersweet,” expanding her soulful, RnB-infused pop. It features sophisticated, minimal production that tastefully complements her sultry vocals. Connelly’s vocals have always had a certain charming ease that has also drawn in listeners from foreign shores and given them a glimpse of underground music and fashion subcultures in Manila, and this is still evident on “2AM” and the rest of her album.

“Anino” by Oh, Flamingo!

A handful of Oh, Flamingo’s recent releases have had the band’s bassist Billie Dela Paz on mic duties, with her conversational singing adding a lush flavor to Oh Flamingo’s already expansive musical palette. For “Anino’s” upbeat strut, it’s a dark song reckoning with specters that trail a burdened psyche. Dela Paz’s songs also feature layered vocal harmonies that converge and diverge in a coordinated dance, toying with the idea of darkness. Maybe shadows never leave you alone, and learning to live with them is what it means to be whole.

“Christmas in our Hearts” (feat. Lea Salonga) by Pentatonix

Picture this: It’s 2010. “Glee” is the hot topic of high school hallways. “Don’t Stop Believing” returns from the ‘80s with a theatrical vengeance. Drama clubs mark a record high in a second wave after new recruits after “High School Musical” in 2006. Pentatonix, inspired by the show, are hard at work rehearsing Lady Gaga a capella, which they planned to enter in “The Sing-Off.” They’re eliminated from the competition, but they go viral on YouTube and build a career that also compels vocal-centric groups to get a beatboxer.

All the while, Lea Salonga continues to be a musical goddess, and a cornerstone of vocal gymnastics in the Philippine popular consciousness. While Ryan Cayabyab’s “One Christmas” remains the pinnacle of Philippine a capella and Christmas music, Pentatonix should feel lucky to share the stage with the Pride of the Philippines.