If you fell in love with Fil-American band Plus/Minus and their brand of electronic dream pop sandwiched between post-rock crunching riffs, then you’ll have to expose yourself to the spontaneous combustion of joy that is Stomachine.
Stomachine launched their ebullient and soaring self-titled debut album last Friday, August 3, at Route 196, with a rollicking 45-minute set that had people in spastic reactions (ah, there’s that Versus reference that you just need to check out) and joining the singing.
The five members of Stomachine have taken their hero worship of Plus/Minus into a different direction. There’s also a nod to Plus/Minus’ Fil-American founders James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos’ former band Versus. Yes, Versus, those indie rock demi gods from New York City who came up during the Alternative Nation days and who cribbed those loud-soft dynamics of the Pixies infused with a lot of boy-girl harmony to record some of the most achingly beautiful and at times painful songs you’ve probably never heard.
Vocalists Tricky Asperin and Ean Aguila complement each other well. I have to admit though that Asperin brings a lot of earnestness and innocence to the songs. More Amy Millan of Canadian indie pop rock band Stars, than Versus’ Fontaine Toups; hence, a more emotive vocal range. As such, Aguila is more Torquil Campbell than the great Versus’ frontman Richard Baluyut and his thundering baritone.
That many of the songs are also written by Aguila helps as there is a master tunesmith in the house.
I thought that with Ang Bandang Shirley, the songwriting (by Aguila and the band’s other gifted wordsmith, Owel Alvero) in the vernacular are deep and rich -- arguably one of the best celebrations of the Filipino language in song. With Stomachine, Aguila has taken a wholly different approach – the songs are in English. Yet, they do not lack for cleverness or in the gift for sweet melody.
On their first single, “No Yellow,” Aguila and Asperin harmonize rather delectably on a song about relationships:
“Signals red, green, red, green, no yellow.
Deep emotions rise and become shallow.”
The band can also turn quirky titles such as “Security Guard” into beautiful songs (much like their heroes Plus/Minus). You just have to listen to the songs. Even “Reasons to Die” which sounds something right at home in a death metal band’s catalogue sounds great.
Heck, Plus/Minus has a song titled, “Trapped Under Ice Floes,” off their "Holding Patterns" extended play album and it’s a song about helplessness.
Many of the song structures will remind you of Plus/Minus (and there are a couple of beautiful instrumentals in “Ninety-nine” and “Bypass”) and no wonder, Baluyut helps out on some of the production chores.
“We were blown away when we saw them in 2008 at BGC,” recalls guitarist and keyboardist Martin Tensuan of that moment in time where the different members – Asperin on vocals, Aguila on guitars and vocals, Andy Lopez on bass, and Josh Balagapo on drums -- had an epiphany. “The next day we went out and formed a band.”
Incredibly, all their songs were written 10 years ago – yes, way back in 2008. The band swears they didn’t do much rearranging. They sound as they first did all those years ago and boy, are they intoxicating.
With shoegaze and dream pop more popular today than any time in the past 30 years, the songs – even with odd time signatures -- have a freshness to them.
I also like that there is a pop sheen to the songs. A dreaminess. No surprise as Francis Lorenzo of Sleepwalk Circus and the Ringmaster is on board for the mixing and mastering.
Stomachine’s decade-in-the-making self-titled debut is going to be one of the year’s best-of lists (if it’s not album of the year). And like their heroes, Plus/Minus and Versus, their live show is electric, a sumptuous communion between band and audience.
Rave on at Stomachine.
Author’s note: The album is only available on paid downloads from bandcamp among others. Check out their Facebook page for more details. And oh, turn up the volume when you play Stomachine.