MANILA -- We got the opportunity to preview the new but unnamed second album from Apartel at Ely Buendia’s home in Las Piñas last week. And like how I approach watching films, I came in with no expectations lest they cloud my judgement.
It started when I asked Offshore Music’s Derick Villarino if I could interview Ely and they got back by inviting me to a listening session for the new songs for the upcoming album.
I didn’t see this coming as I thought that Buendia would instead work with the Itchyworms on a real album. Their recent double A-side single – “Pariwara”/”Lutang” – reminded me of the early collaborations between indie existentialists Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett that eventually released a highly acclaimed collaboration album, "Lotta Sea Lice." And I feel the same about that collaboration between Buendia and the Itchyworms.
But that’s on hold, and on deck is the new Apartel album. I heard most of the songs, including what is deemed to be first single titled, “Pateros,” and I can say that the new album is much better than their debut, "Inner Play." Much better, let me emphasize that. It’s tighter, with more grooves, funkier, danceable, and well, more breezy and cheerful that the predominantly downtempo "Inner Play."
A couple of tracks had me thinking of how at times, Buendia’s voice can be Dylanesque at times (circa Dylan during his "Slow Train Coming" years) along with some brass and what I later suggested would be adding some female back-up vocals. Another track, I felt had that vibe of Blondie’s “Rapture” and could verily be another single. One song had this Mod/Northern Soul feel to it while one had me thinking of American funk band War, while others pleasantly took me back the acid jazz years albeit with an OPM bent. Overall, the music I felt really pushed the boundaries for this band.
And I thought, “This is a damn good album!”
Much to my surprise, Ely and his girlfriend Audry Dionisio, Derick, Anton Bengzon (who is my former Ateneo classmate and is Offshore’s legal counsel), and drummer Pat Sarabia, asked my opinion following the listening session. And what I said in the above paragraphs, I shared including quite a few more – extending a guitar solo here, making room for a remix there, adding some female vocals for some interplay, and a few more.
Even more to my surprise, Ely and everyone else highly appreciated it. They made note of the recommendations and would adjust some of them.
Not bad. Not bad at all. And I, for one, cannot wait for the final release. After a Chinese takeaway dinner, I sat down with Ely who bared his thoughts about the new album.
Me: I am pleasantly surprised there is a new album in the offing considering it has been only 17 months since the first album, "Inner Play," was released (in December 2016). What prompted this quick turnaround or desire for a follow up?
Ely: The first album was done with some musicians who aren’t with us any longer. As we continued to perform live with the new lineup, we realized that many of the songs from 'Inner Play' didn’t seem to translate well live. Not that the songs are bad. Not at all. We love them. It’s just they are more chill, downtempo. The new lineup had this burst of inspiration and the result were livelier songs. And that is what you’re hearing now.
Me: I think the music you wrote from the Eraserheads to the Mongols to Pupil is a radical departure from the jazz and soul and even blues of Apartel. What prompted this shift? And how did the fans initially take to the new sound?
Ely: Honestly, it was difficult to transition from the old Eraserheads sound. The Mongols and Pupil had this modern rock sound that veered away from what I did with my former band. Now, growing up, I loved OPM, the Manila Sound, as well as soul music. I heard all that too from my parents who listened to that music all the time. It wasn’t a conscious desire to go back to what I listened to when I was younger. It’s just more that the music really appeals to me and it’s something I want to write and perform right now. All those influences -- you can hear bits and pieces in all my work in my other bands -- there are soul elements here and there from my singing to the arrangements with the Eraserheads to the Mongols and to Pupil.
When I met Jay Ortega, I finally got to do the sound that I wanted. And that became Apartel. Now on my own and with a new and talented band, we can make that “dream sound” for me come true.
It might be a big leap for the fans to take it. But personally? While the transition was hard, the leap to the sound was easy. I guess, it takes the right time and with the right people too.
Me: When "Wanted: Bedspacer" came out, people thought that was the definitive Ely Buendia album. The music you are putting out with Apartel, is that the definitive Ely Buendia?
Ely: Each album is for a certain time – who you were at that time, and what music you wanted. Yes, this is the music I want to do. As for definitive, we’ll know when we look back at this time years from now. But I am loving this and what we are doing with Apartel.
And that was the end of the short interview (there were a few other things but that’s for another time). We chatted a bit some and had my records (Apartel and the Itchyworms single) signed.
The band is still contemplating how the new album will be released. From the looks of it, it will be on vinyl (initially) albeit at a more affordable price. I’ll say this though… this is a very very good album. It’s a synthesis of the music we loved during the '70s, '80s (Style Council and the neo-soul movement) and the acid jazz years. It is one I am keen on getting and listening. I think it pushes the envelope too for this band.
Watch for it and get it.