Friday, January 18, 2008

Maida's on his own...for now


Raine Maida
The Hunter’s Lullaby
(Kingnoise)
***½





Today I got to thinking the world's in a strange way
Feels like I'm in a 7-11 when a robbery takes place
Do I hide behind the counter
With my hands covering my face?

The Hunter’s Lullaby just goes to show that Raine Maida should forget Our Lady Peace and stay solo – or maybe just stick to his own label because when given the freedom to do his own thing, the man spouts off creativity in ways unseen since Our Lady Peace released Spiritual Machines.
Maida reveals that he’s been a closet fan of genres OLP wouldn’t even begin to touch including spoken word and hip hop. The experimentation is endless. Not only does Maida toy with different genres, he’s allowed his voice to wander. One minute, he’s rapping, the next, he’s singing, and the minute after that, he’s belting out nonsense syllables such as “la la la”s. At times, the experimentation fails. “Yellow Brick Road”, for instance, sounds like it was penned by a teenage boy out of some attempt at self-therapy. However, when Maida gets it right, he really gets it right. “The Less I Know” has catchy beats and lyrics that seem to unconsciously slide smoothly into place along with an equally catchy rap cameo by Jared Paul. The animated air of “Confessional” will have you picturing Maida dancing on the streets Broadway-style and such an image is indeed a strange one to imagine. “Rat Race” (aka the song that should have closed the album but didn’t) is the climax of the record’s innovative journey and includes an enchanting chorus by singer-songwriter wife, Chantal Kreviazuk, whose voice could essentially be the “lullaby” in The Hunter’s Lullaby.

I have a friend who thinks Maida put out a really good record here but finds it too depressing. This is true to some extent. Tracks like the “China Doll” hit you with its somber beauty but eventually, one can’t help but start to feel glum listening to it. No doubt that many will be quickly turned off by Maida’s constant spats at what he considers a jaded and ignorant world. Pretentious? Perhaps. But it’s difficult not to be impressed by the innovative melodies, beats, song structures, and instrumental mixtures that Maida comes up with.

Like a hunter who steps out into the wilderness for the first time, there are bound to be arrows that miss their targets. But for the time being, Maida’s aims aren’t too far off.


"The Less I Know" - Raine Maida feat. Jared Paul
"The Snake & the Crown" - Raine Maida
"Rat Race" - Raine Maida

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The end of a chapter


Rivermaya
Atomic Bomb (1997)
BMG Pilipinas

I meant to write this review way back in September but just kind of dropped the bomb...err, ball on completing it. Atomic Bomb is one of those successful albums you're excited to listen to in order to see what the big fuss was all about only to be slightly disappointed when you do finally get the chance to hear it in its entirety. Actually, Atomic Bomb could easily be renamed Trip: Part II except Rivermaya by then were completely swimming in Brit pop-rock waters whereas previously, they were just carefully treading in it.

If this record had done away with overdone, forgettable pop-rock tracks like "Elesi", "If", "Luha" (Tears) or "Fever", perhaps I might have enjoyed it more. It's unfortunate because this was probably Rivermaya's most coherent work to date. The band extended what they did on Trip with "Nerd Kills Goliath" by adding three instrumental tracks to help with song transitions. Songs like "Hangman (I Shot the Walrus)" showcased new approaches to writing. This song seems to be divided into three parts where the beginning sounds like post-grunge/90s alt rock, the middle is a clear ode to The Beatles, and the ending goes back to 90s alt rock with Rivermaya sounding a lot like Canada's own Moist and it worked. "Sunny Days" is another Beatle-esque song except the circus sonic instrumentals remind me of a Canadian indie band that I got to see live this past summer called The Hylozoists.

Rivermaya, however, didn't completely go British. "Mabuhay" (Live)and "Hinahanap-hanap Kita" (Always Looking for You) are classic Filipino pop - while somewhat catchy, they're not the kind of songs I desire to listen to over and over again.

I'm guessing the band played around with adding various sound effects to tracks in the studio but whatever that screeching playing near the end of "Hinahanap-hanap Kita" was just made my eardrums want to cry. Speaking of things tears-related, the violin part of "Luha" is rather wonderful despite what I said about this song earlier. "Tea for Two" is like Atomic Bomb's version of "Lost". Like the latter, there's "ooo"s here as well but instead of Bamboo's vocals rising an octave higher, they slip down an octave lower (the only contemporary vocalist I can think of who Bamboo sounds like is The Killer's Brandon Flowers but even that's not an accurate enough comparison).

Blanco provides catchy hooks galore but it's the most evident in the sensual "Ballroom Dancing" which also happens to contain some of my favourite lyrics in Atomic Bomb: "Don't tell me I'm crazy/I dreamt the sun was radiating blue/But doctors have cleared me/It's just a case of too much missing you". Yes, cheesy but strangely intelligent with the play on words.

Atomic Bomb was both a blessing and a curse. It gave the band a chance to play in the U.S. in 1998 but it was the last one with Bamboo Mañalac. During the U.S. tour, Bamboo remained in L.A. where he stayed for five years before returning to The Philippines to form his own band (named after himself). Even with only three Rivermaya albums in his repertoire, Bamboo had quickly gained recognition for his ability to mould his voice to sing songs of any genre effortlessly. Obviously, Rivermaya survived and remained just as successful without him for years to come but I can only imagine the heart-sinking feeling that the average Rivermaya fan who associated the band with Bamboo's voice felt at the time.


"Sunny Days" - Rivermaya
"Hangman (I Shot the Walrus)" - Rivermaya
"Inst.2: The Chase" - Rivermaya
"Ballroom Dancing" - Rivermaya

Sunday, October 07, 2007

This upcoming civil election will be a breeze

That's partly a lie. I have no freaking clue who I'm going to vote for mayor or public school trustee nor do I particularly care. For one thing, mayors always tend to focus on the central part of the city (ie. Downtown) more than anything else and as for school trustees...I'm no longer being educated under the public school system nor do I have children so I can't say I have time to waste on something that doesn't really affect me.

Up till this week, I had no idea what was going on with the city election. I had read The Gateway interviews with the Ward 5 councillor candidates but I don't live in Ward 5 (I'm in Ward 6) so those interviews, while somewhat interesting reads, aren't going to affect my vote.

The main issue I've cared about since I started going to university (and still live in the suburbs) is transportation and even more recently with the economic boom, traffic congestion caused by both inefficient public transportation and too much construction. Not surprisingly, people are going to talk about crime in Millwoods. Personally, I think it's more of an overhyped myth than actual reality (yes, shit happens here but just as long as you don't get involved in it in the first place, it most likely won't touch you).

Going through the list of Ward 6 councillor candidates, I immediately recognized three names: Chinwe Okelu, Amarjeet Sohi, and Dave Thiele - and that's due in part to the number of campaign signage they've sprinkled throughout Millwoods.

Thiele's currently a councillor. I'm not exactly sure what he's done but according to his site, he supported the U-Pass and supports the idea of public transportation as the primary choice for urban mobility. He also wants to get rid of vehicle idling. The site overall isn't very informative. Issues are listed but not really talked about in depth.

I got pamphlets from three candidates today. One of them was Okelu's - who I saw occasionally when I used to go to church. I gotta wonder: Is this guy so popular that he doesn't need to elaborate to get people to vote for him? His pamphlet was the most pointless to read out of the three. His family life, community service, and awards are listed as well as his campaign issues...with no further explanation. At least Thiele has a paragraph for each issue. Okelu has nada. I went to check out his campaign website and the exact same stuff that was in the pamphlet I saw was there. Nothing new.

The second pamphlet I went through was Sohi's. This guy is hands down the one with the best campaign. He actually explains why there are problems and how he wants to see them resolved. His site is very well put together and it goes further to explain the issues he wants to deal with - he's practically got a mini-essay written out for each one but what he says is actually interesting. His support of rapid transit and LRT immediately makes me want to vote for him. He asks the question of why only 11.4% of Edmontonians are using public transit and attacks the lazy response of Edmonton simply being a car city by pointing out that it's because the city's public transport system, to be frank, is terrible. He also mentions the limited service on off-peak hours and weekends as well as the lengthy one hour trip from Millwoods to Downtown or the University. It's like he's read my mind! If that weren't enough, I read that he lobbied City Council to improve bus service (route 72) into Silver Berry and Mill Creek Meadows (the neighbourhood of yours truly). This really struck home to me because a few years back, I remember waiting for the bus to get me out of my neighbourhood so I could head to school to write a midterm. Basically, the bus went right past the ten people who had been waiting for it (me included). Let's just say I was not a happy camper since by then, it was past peak hours. I don't remember how I ended up getting to school in time to write the exam but I do remember calling ETS as soon as I got home and bitching about what had happened and demanding that the route 72 operate more during non-peak hours. And even though I said I'm not exactly concerned with city crime, what Sohi says about it is worth reading. Basically, he thinks that day-to-day crime needs to be dealt with if bigger crimes are to be prevented but of course, the police are more focused on the latter.

The last pamphlet I read was Chuck McKenna's. He seems to focus a lot on youth crime and gangs. One issue he mentions that others haven't is snow removal and street repair. While not nearly as bad as Okelu, McKenna has the same problem in that he doesn't say more beyond a sentence or two on the issues he lists.

I checked the campaign websites of the last two Ward 6 candidates, Lori Jeffery-Heany and Tomas Denis Vasquez. Heany, like Sohi, gives explanations behind issues but sadly, she makes no mention of public transportation whatsoever. Meanwhile, I take back what I said about Okelu having the worse campaign. I just saw Vasquez's and he doesn't even have a list of issues he plans on tackling! - just this vision: "Enhancing our communities through cooperation and mutual understanding of common goals" and a list of affiliations, jobs, and community service work he's done. I can say with confidence that this guy is not going to get a whole lot of votes.

So after all that agonizing research, I'm definitely going with Sohi for one of the Ward 6 councillors and most likely Thiele for the other one.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Trip which led to a jump



Rivermaya
Trip (1996)
BMG Pilipinas

First thing's first: guitarist Perfecto De Castro went bye-bye and keyboardist Rico Blanco, well, proved that he could also play guitar. If you didn't know this, however, in all likehood you may never have noticed there had been a change in the musical lineup.

Rivermaya at first appears to continue from where they left off. There are still strong alt-rock/grunge influences interspersed with pop ballads proving that the band is not one to be pidgeon-holed into one genre. So what's different? They manage to rock harder (as well as sound creepier) than they did on their debut with the track "Sunog" (Fire). Rivermaya also becomes whinier than they've ever been with "Out of Reach". Think of some of the most ear-grating pop-punk bands that have infested the radio over the last few years and you'll get an idea of how awful this song sounds. Fortunately, this doesn't become a trend for the band.

Trip also begins to introduce the band's British influences. This is most notable on "Lost" where the song begins with "Oooooo"s followed by Bamboo's high-pitched singing. Everytime I hear this song, I picture someone walking out of their house and onto the streets late at night to find that he/she is completely alone. That is what the lyrics suggest ("And if you'll crash into this party tonight/in this town where there is nothing but dim lights/You may bump into somebody who's lost/Maybe that's me") but like many Brit pop songs, "Lost" only bums you out if you aren't paying attention to the melody, which is nearly impossible given how light and catchy it is. Another track that stands out is the 41-second "Nerd Kills Goliath" which sounds like the sound effects to a video game - you can actually hear the part where Goliath becomes a goner despite the subtlety of the moment (and by "subtle", that means no shooting guns or swinging slingshots are to be expected). "Panahon na Naman" (It's Time Again) is a good finish. It's a straightforward pop-rock tune that ends up sounding like something The Beatles would compose with it's "Na na na na"s as well as an unexpected violin part tacked on at the end.

I have to admit I'm not a big fan of this album (although that means nothing considering how well it sold in the Philippines) but the tracks that stand out are ones I'd listen to over and over again. One that I haven't yet mentioned is "Hilo" (Dizzy) where Bamboo shows again why he's such a great vocalist (he also does the same thing when he continuously sings "Someday I..." near the end of "Flowers") and Blanco maintains his knack for great songwriting. This album also showed that Rivermaya was not a band to stumble when confronted with major changes (although that comes off as an overdramatic term given the truly major changes that would come later).

"Hilo" (Dizzy) - Rivermaya
"Sunog" (Fire) - Rivermaya
"Lost" - Rivermaya
"Nerd Kills Goliath" - Rivermaya

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I knew this would happen sooner or later

A certain kind of musical conflict sometimes occurs between shoppers and staff - especially when the majority of shoppers happen to be middle-aged to elderly women and the staff consist of highschool and college-aged "girls".

When I first started working where I work now, I suffered for about two months listening to "store music" (basically, albums the store sold - they ranged from 60s diva music to classic rock tunes which I originally loved but grew to hate by the 17632th time I heard them). So what one of my coworkers and I used to do was bring our own CDs to work when the manager and our older coworkers weren't around. At first, we were sure to select music that wouldn't offend and which would accentuate the atmosphere of a home decor/gift store rather than contradict it. Anything with cursing, sexually suggestive lyrics, and/or aggressive shouting were total no-nos. I think I had a post-punk album in the cd player once that actually got a complaint. My 'new' boss (fortunately with him, we didn't have to listen to store music anymore, he burned his own cds) immediately jumped to the conclusion that my music was "crap", hid everyone's cds, and for about a month or two right before school ended, we were stuck listening to the likes of Lily Allen to the point that if you liked her infectious pop tracks before, you were definitely sick of listening to them after those two months had passed.

Eventually, we discovered the hiding spots of our beloved music so we were back to playing it when the boss wasn't around. I did learn a lesson, though and took my shouty post-punk album out and stuck to music that again, would hopefully be fine for a diverse audience. One day, I accidentally left my discs in the cd player one evening but the thing is, my boss left them there when he came to work the next morning. Success!

Anyway, I'm straying off from my main point - that's just the context of the situation. Over the summer, someone brought in Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, Timbaland's Timbaland Presents Shock Value, and Rihanna's Good Girl Gone Bad. In other words, we're listening to far more rap/hip-hop/r&b music than we ever have before.

My favourite track off of JT's album, I think, would have to be "Damn Girl". The first time I heard it (I hadn't yet heard the album from start to finish before my coworker brought it in), I couldn't help but find it extremely funny (and at the same time, veeery awkward) to hear this song while old ladies (and sometimes, gentlemen) were shopping or worse, entering the store to hear "Damn, girl!" blasting at them. The irony is highly amusing.

What I knew would happen sooner or later was what happened yesterday.

While I was standing on a ladder precariously hanging chimes, this middle-aged woman came up to me and asked with a slight frown, "Who chooses the music around here?" "The staff...." (Yes, I know now that I should have lied and said, "My boss...") The lady screwed her face even more and said, "I don't think I can stand to listen to this much longer!" About two seconds later, she walked out of the store.

I know I should feel bad when shoppers don't like the kind of music that's playing in the store - but heartlessly, I don't. If you're shopping, the longest you have to hear what, in your opinion, is horrendous music is about half an hour...two hours tops if you're one of those shoppers who really like to take their time. We, on the other hand, are listening to this music for seven or eight hours straight, multiple times a week. Of course, there's validity to the idea of "offensive music" but I also think some people take offense too quickly to things that aren't meant to be offensive. That's one blatant aspect of the generational gap for you. It spoke even more clearly for me early this morning when my mom exclaimed that some song playing on Joe FM (come on! Joe FM??) was "noise" and proceeded to ask, "How can you call this music?!" (Easy...it's NOT Christian radio).

By the way, that song that lady was complaining about yesterday was none other than "Damn Girl".

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The album that drove the Filipino alt-rock revolution




Rivermaya
Rivermaya (1994)
BMG Pilipinas

While most Pinoy rock bands in 1994 kept low profiles in the underground music scene, Rivermaya decided to take a chance by releasing a record under a major label.

The success obtained that year was only just the beginning.

There's still some confusion (for me, at least) as to how Rivermaya was formed. Some sources say that managers Lizza Nakpil and Chito Roño were responsible for putting the band together. Others suggest that Nakpil and Roño discovered Rivermaya after some demos by the band had been sent to various record companies. Whatever the case, the fact that keyboardist Rico Blanco was the one writing the catchy hits should have done a fairly good job of keeping Rivermaya away from the manufactured music stereotypes.

Rivermaya's self-titled debut could be seen as many things. In some ways, it was a window into their future. The album is a hodgepodge of different sounds - from the hard-edged "Revolution" to the ballad "20 Million" to the country-influenced "Gravity" - just as the band itself would later go into different musical phases. In other ways, Rivermaya is a mirror image of what was going on in North American rock with the grunge and alternative era. The band's vocalist at the time, Francisco Mañalac (known by many as "Bamboo"), even sported the same bald head as The Smashing Pumpkin's Billy Corgan. Songs like "Ground" were unmistakably influenced by grunge rock. Most importantly, however, Rivermaya's first record showed that rock music (in a country where pop music was "in") could be popular and cool while remaining original and credible at the same time.

Bamboo's voice is difficult to ignore. It's as versatile as the songs themselves. Even in songs that at first appear to border on being so mellow it's boring, Bamboo's voice adds nuances you wouldn't expect. One case in point is the way he sings the outstretched "heh-heh-haaate" in "Bring Me Down".

Meanwhile, it's easy to see how the band's first single ever, "Ulan" (Rain) became such an instant hit. The beginning of the song sounds like someone's changing the dial to a radio before finally coming across a station that is about to play a song by...guess? Blanco not only shows his stuff here through the songwriting but by the little keyboard solo he does at the bridge. He churns out a few dissonant chords and they actually sound nice.

I think I'd have to vote "214" as the best track on this album. I'm not a big fan of pop-rock ballads but this one's so damn catchy I'll have to make it an exception.

"Awit Ng Kabataan" (The Song of the Youth) is runner-up for best track. The way Bamboo's voice goes from calm to shouty without making the shouting headache-inducing like so many who attempt to do the same thing is a feat in itself.

At first listen, the album doesn't seem all that extraordinary. As mentioned before, the constant change in sound throughout could make you wonder if Rivermaya was being marketed to please everyone or if they were simply being versatile because that's who they really were. During this time, people were still comparing them to the Eraserheads, a band that had been around a little longer than Rivermaya and which had already established a loyal following. But unlike The Eraserheads (who mainly stuck to mellow, subtle pop-rock), Rivermaya went in many different directions with their music.

Another reason I felt underwhelmed listening to the album the first time around is because the music I was hearing was music I haven't really touched since I was in junior high. But when I took the songs at face value, I started to find more things worth praising. And when I remember the context of the album's release, I can't help but appreciate the effort even more. "Revolution", for example, isn't my cup of tea but hearing the ensemble of guitarist Perfecto de Castro, bassist Nathan Azarcon, drummer Mark Escueta, and Bamboo - it's amazing how such a classic rock sound was finally shouting out from a country that had, up to that point, a tendency to silence the rockers.

Ulan (Rain) - Rivermaya
214 - Rivermaya
Awit ng Kabataan (Song of the Youth) - Rivermaya

Friday, August 10, 2007

Coming Up: A Tribute to Rivermaya




Yes, I know that the Philippine's arguably best music act in the past decade and a half hasn't broken up - its backbone only walked away.


Rivermaya's lineup has consisted of many changes over the years (four different guitar players, for instance) but Rico Blanco, up until two months ago, remained. Drummer Mark Escueta barely missed the birth of Rivermaya (he was part of the second line-up) and while he can now claim to be the longest bandmember standing, it was Blanco who saw Rivermaya take its very first steps. He was also largely responsible for the band's repertoire as the chief composer/lyricist, spawning out hits that will undoubtbly leave marks in the Filipino music scene.

And by most accounts, isn't the identity of a rock band formed largely by the kind of music it produces - regardless if the music is being written by songwriters record companies hire or by one lone man who is part of the group? In Rivermaya's case, it was Blanco who defined what Rivermaya was about. In the second half of the band's tenure, he became an even more dominant presence when he took over the vocals from "Bamboo" Mañalac.

Management tried to ease rumours of the band breaking up by saying that "No one member is greater than the whole." I couldn't disagree more. With a new vocalist and someone else taking over the reins of songwriting, Rivermaya will simply never be the same band as it was before.

At this point, you may be wondering if this is more a tribute to Rivermaya or rather, Rico Blanco. No, it's still about Rivermaya. The real tribute comes later in the form of album reviews starting with their 1994 debut Rivermaya.

In the meantime, though, I had to explain why I thought a tribute was warranted for a band that still remains.

"Bye Bye Na" video