MUSIC

The best local albums of 2016

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This year has faced a flourishing of local electronic acts of all forms and genres. Analog and digital approaches to making music as well as divisions among music scenes converge, and new sounds rise anew.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — It’s been said that hip-hop and R&B took hold of the reins in music this year, with year end lists highlighting rap albums that break boundaries and transcend the ways of hip-hop “OGs” and right-wingers. Manila’s own contribution to this generalized and vaguely subjective impression is a flourishing of more electronic acts (albeit not necessarily with a hip-hop DNA), whether exposed or obscure, anonymous or flamboyant, honest or controversial, existing on URL or IRL, cliche or avant garde, palatable or seditious.

But 2016 is not the year of dualities, even if it may seem so. Divisions between music “scenes” are becoming irrelevant. The boundary between the analog and the digital is becoming nearly indistinguishable. This is most apparent in the way local recording artists interact with each other and utilize technology to release their music and get their message across, to the public, and to one another. You have the older, analog-bred bands who toy with electronic ways of making music, and you have internet-inhabiting bedroom musicians incorporating analog approaches to creating their songs. Most of all, there is the modern artist’s need to expand to digital platforms while still retaining warmth and the fingerprints on a fresh album (whether on the surface of a vinyl or a CD case) by scrambling to CD printing presses, now an endangered species in the country. Talk of technology is becoming more relevant than the blurring of the indie and the mainstream in music — with big shot artists now employing the methods of DIY acts and vice versa — which is supposed to be old news by now, and something that 2016 can move on from.

Despite the conflict faced by the medium, there is no threat to the multitude of genres local artists have churned out — and continue to churn out — as we dive right into 2017. It’s an exciting momentum, and everyday, everywhere, new musical projects rise up without any notice, nor any care, about conformities to pop, shoegaze, grunge, punk, soul, rap, vaporwave, etc. In 2016, the essence of these words have been diluted and experimented with so much so that they mean almost nothing, and new sounds rise from the ashes. So it’s not just the year of “hip-hop” after all.

The following list was also informed by a survey conducted among several local artists, record labels, productions, and music fans — all from different genres and circles.

Calix — “Breakout Satirist”

Calix has mostly been gaining traction on the online world of underground rap, and the first time he came out to play live in a small bar-cafe on a corner street, hip-hop kids filled the room and caused a rumpus. Ditching swag for lyrical substance, his album “Breakout Satirist” is as unglamorous as it’s supposed to be — what with the pitched-down, almost jarring vocals — but whatever it lacks, it makes up for with conviction within political anti-government throw-downs, and the aspirations to reach out to and incite a larger audience.

Beast Jesus — “In Various States of Disassembly”

The brutal music of Beast Jesus seems to hail from the bowels of a dystopian metropolis, but they have a soft spot, and they’re willing to show it. In “In Various States of Disassembly,” the band’s lighter shoegaze rock leanings allow them to express the more atmospheric and reverberating emotions hiding underneath the pain and anger. Warm and gritty, serious and slightly taunting — the album is what metal sounds like and should sound like today.

Tom’s Story — “Tom’s Story”

Instrumental band Tom’s Story is known for its stunning live performances, with intelligent guitar lines and sophisticated song arrangements. The band’s self-titled album is just as sublime, with all the songs weaving together like an intricate piece of cloth — a testament to their fine-tuned musicianship.

John Pope — “Halocline”

A series of violent pulses, bursts of chops and screws, and intense palpitations, “Halocline” has a tendency to intimidate with its well-crafted, ostensibly maximalist approach to experimental electronic music. But the precision of percussion and the orchestration of vibrations, colored with sporadic bouts of structural deviance, allow the listener to pierce through the record and see the ordered chaos that lies beneath.

Similarobjects — “Rara Avis”

“Rara Avis,” both an album and a 3D interactive game slash virtual art gallery, displays oddly shaped metaphorical birds as symbols for each of the songs on the record. For Similarobjects, setting them free means letting go of inhibitions, fears, and insecurities. Emotions indeed are relayed best when deeply integrated into a full audiovisual experience, and interactive at that. Listeners may not get the same corporeal encounter as in a physical gallery space, but that was the point of the album, as well as of many of today’s attempts to encapsulate reality in a virtual or digital space. Music is ephemeral, after all, which is exactly why it goes perfectly with the fleeting tendencies of the “unreal,” or the “surreal.”

The Buildings — “Cell-O-Phane”

The Buildings' debut album might make one's head tilt a little, upon recognizing a plethora of '90s influences unabashedly incorporated and reappropriated into their sound. In a time where music with heavy reliance on electronics is going through some type of renaissance, the warm fuzz of dirty guitars is a welcome surprise.

Yūrei — “Random Schizoid Godhead Generator”

“Random Schizoid Godhead Generator” is an embodiment of Yūrei’s growing self-consciousness when it comes to “wearing their influences on their sleeve.” The album employs their collective taste that teeters among many genres both heavy and light sounding, and rethinks “the problem of grunge” both genuinely and in a tongue-in-cheek way. The songs are accentuated by a natural vocal rasp that can be found little elsewhere, and the lyrical profundity allows the listener to swim both lavishly and agonizingly in existential dread. With the ability to evoke pleasure and pain simultaneously, the album is scrumptious overall.

Get a physical copy of "Random Schizoid Godhead Generator" by messaging Yūrei through their Facebook page.

Identikit — “Soundproof Wall”

Identikit has taken its soundscape-shaping abilities to a higher level with “Soundproof Wall.” Each song is a cloud of pleasant noises, led to a structure by the lethargic vocals, that at the same time melts into the haze of the reverberating room created by the record, where almost no sound can escape, and echoes feedback into empty, deadpan words of regret.

Copies of "Soundproof Wall" are available by contacting Identikit through [email protected] or their Facebook page.

Apartel — “Inner Play”

In the spirit of the soul movement and the ‘70s vinyl heyday, Ely Buendia and Jay Ortega leaped in the dark and formed the supergroup, Apartel. Despite its intentions not to recreate a period kind of sound, “Inner Play” conjures a specific era — to boot, the record is released on vinyl — because of the band’s ‘60s and ‘70s soul inspirations as well as the nostalgic big band setup. Nevertheless, the record still sounds fresh, amid post-rock n’ roll mindsets and sensibilities.

Copies of "Inner Play" are available at Satchmi, SM Megamall.

Eggboy — “Spotlight Effect”

In “Spotlight Effect,” Eggboy, Diego Mapa’s 4-track home recording persona, has singlehandedly encapsulated both wisdom and innocence through poignant professions of love and intimacy. The album reeks of the same brand of boyish naivety Eggboy is known for — both captivating and haunting, with a flair for profound spontaneity, within the playful twirling of mono synthesizers and acoustic guitar lines.

Special mentions

Encyclopedia Frown — “Phantomwise”

Moonmask — “Irreversible”

Grows — “Go Glow Grows”

Local Disk (C:) — “System”

Escuri — “Orbit21”

Den Sy Ty — “#ManilaCircleJerk”