If hard times make for interesting art, then the last 2 years would make for a very interesting paradigm shift. While it’s at nobody’s liberty — and especially not mine — to wax positive or poetic about the current circumstances, it’s a true privilege to see such great art being made and released in this period in time. 2021, while still unkind amidst the lockdown and pandemic, saw the local music scene find reprieve in the limitations set by tragedy.
The releases on this list aren’t necessarily encapsulating the year as a whole, but they serve as wholly unique snapshots of artists making the best of what they have, wherever they may be now.
10. backflip3000 and NiMa self-titled (EP)
Noface Records staples backflip3000 and NiMa released a collaborative self-titled EP last June, and if you’re familiar with their work you’d probably know what to expect. Only this time, they’ve written songs about dogs, as well as the people they’ve learnt to spite (“Rat with A Crown”).
Backflip3000’s (Pat) almost unmistakable penchant for audio grit bonds very nicely with NiMa’s sardonically sweet twee. The tandem makes for a pop-rock release that makes for very interesting textural work, as well as the catchy songwriting to back up canned drums and unconventionally distorted guitars. What delivers is a sweetly sinister treat with cutesy elementary bops such as “Burgers and Fries”, with the inclusion of songs with darker themes such as the aforementioned “Rat with A Crown” and “I Am Tired”.
9. No Rome — ‘It’s All Smiles’ (album)
Wunderkind producer and singer-songwriter No Rome (Rome Gomez) is finally getting his time in the limelight with the release of his debut album “It’s All Smiles” under Matty Healy’s Dirty Hit outfit. This project has a considerable edge over other current alt-R&B releases due to how much experimentation and what Rome has been able to achieve in this album’s runtime.
It’s a masterful demonstration of the saccharine; the first 3 tracks serve as a lightspeed portal to an alabaster-laden, ditzy pop haven. No Rome is able to pull off a feat that’s become uncommon with Internet-based artistry: the beautiful utilization of a set sonic palette. Gone with the bisch-bosch of rubbing Genres X and Y, he just makes everything work, which is a feat worth praise in itself. After releases such “RIP Indo Hisashi” and “Crying in the Prettiest Places”, “Smiles” presents Rome triumphant over personal demons, making the soundtrack to his own victory lap.
8. Fax Gang — ‘Aethernet’ (album)
The global pandemic has taken its toll on The Scene at Large in several ways, but art finds its ways to make connections. Online gigging, as well as Discord-based collaborations, have become something of a necessary trend. Fax Gang have made the best out of their circumstances, being a multinational act from the very start with their debut album “Aethernet” at the dawn chorus of the year.
PK Shellboy & co. surmount the project with the dominance of a sound that’s only starting to be categorized as Hex’d. It’s best described as an offshoot of cloud rap with the distinct aggregation of distortion, be it analog or through bit-rate reduction. Highly technical, yet still elementary enough to toy with. Tracks such as “Anything to Gain/Nothing to Lose” and “Fallen” exemplify what the act is willing to do with this flashbang sound, making it malleable and fitting towards their influences of emo and J-pop. With that said, there’s a lot to dig through on “Aethernet”, and it’s proven to have more to reveal after each listen.
7. Cathy Hobi — ‘Wet’ (EP)
Cathy Hobi is a South Cotabato-based UK Garage producer. That’s about as much information you could gather about this prodigal talent without having to resort to anything shady. Other than the odd releases on her Bandcamp page, “Wet” is her debut EP and, by God, does she come out swinging. It’s hard to tune out as Cathy keeps a consistently scintillating groove throughout the EP’s runtime.
“Wet” serves as a definite breakthrough, with every track being as danceable as the last. The title track, in particular, unravels itself as this atmospheric and sample-heavy quagmire, an indication that Cathy really arrived at where she was going for: a seedy London club, at an undisclosed time and location, probably on the way home.
6. The Buildings — ‘Heaven is a Long Exhale’ (album)
Quezon City miscreants The Buildings come back with their sophomore album “Heaven is a Long Exhale”, a full 5 years after their debut effort “Cell-O-Phane”. While some of these songs have been around since 2017 (“Room So Small”), it’s nice to finally see these songs in a complete bundle, with the band filling the tracklist with more complex things to say compared to the last effort.
This new release sees the band hit a grey area of maturity, as the songs ooze a more confident and refined form of rambunctiousness, not unlike their peers and bar show patrons. Tracks such as “Doghouse” and “Detour” show the band’s willful deviation from milquetoast indie rock, alongside barn-burners like “Caricatures” and “Phantom Limb”. It’s a refreshing maintenance of form for The Buildings, as they take fascinating turns to shake up their existing formula of debauchery.
5. paso de blas — “every step in the right direction” (album)
For such an oddball, paso de blas holds such a straight-laced approach to experimentation. “every step in the right direction” crumples together every satirical aspect of over-education in song form, and it has no right to be as fun as it is.
The heart of this project is absurdity, and it beats in strange polyrhythms. The album serves as a starkly, (dare I say) authentic product of counter-culture, with paso de blas flipping, dissecting, and defenestrating synth-pop and indie rock tropes in manners that border the absolute and inane. I never thought I would ever have the pleasure of hearing Touareg melodies intertwine with whispered autotune until hearing this.
4. Four Limbs Six Hands — ‘a lover for typhoon season/you'll fail’ (EP)
The format of the humble 7-inch is sadly forgotten, but its latest triumph is found in FLSH’s (Four Limbs Six Hands) latest release, “a lover for typhoon season/you’ll fail”. With influences of screamo and post-hardcore flying high, the release makes waves within it’s dwarfish runtime. It begins with and centers around the fury of thrashed nickel guitar strings and the pained deliverance of poignant lyricism, with instrumental flourishes technical enough to land on a Jerome’s Dream release.
While comparisons are rife within this part of the local music scene, “lover for typhoon season/you’ll fail” serves as a beautiful respite from it all: a Minute of Hate to get it out of your system.
3. Zild — ‘Huminga’ (album)
Zild Benitez of IVOS fame has been on a hot streak, with his prior release “Homework Machine” winning the hearts of older fans and gaining new ones–all while establishing an identity as a colossus of local music. His youthful sensibilities, matched with the songwriting wisdom of someone beyond his years, are pushed even further on his latest album, “Huminga”.
If “Homework Machine” was a day trip into bedroom-engineered synthpop, “Huminga” presents itself as an acoustic and orchestral breakthrough. The soul of this batch of songs are interpreted into what is lush and dense, which is a daring move paying off for the funk-oriented bassist’s solo act. The album brings you to grassy knolls and meadows in the time it takes to press play, and I’m all for it.
2. Teya Logos — ‘TO FALL INTO THE PIT’ (single)
Ah, here we are: the wild card of the list.
A 5-minute pocket Spoliarium, Teya Logos fully flays her gabber persona in order to purge her soul on Soundcloud. Teya’s internet side is still in peak form for the year as the single sees her sampling her trademark screamo samples on top of seismic kicks and gobs of ringing harshness. The up-and-coming producer brings forth a wall of brutality, in every form, in gruesome spatial arrangement. “TO FALL INTO THE PIT” isn’t for the faint of heart, as one wouldn’t usually want to peer into the void, only to have it’s set of eyes fixate back at them.
1. Soft Limit self-titled album
Itos Ledesma has dusted off his coattails, with every flap being an indiscernible moment. It’s the releases such as “Soft Limit” that make me question what I know, and what I’m willing to know about music; the line of questioning that sets aside the “local vs. international” debate: the transportative aspect of music, which is its ability to bring you to certain places and times.
The album opens coldly in an almost apocalyptic manner with buzzing bleeps and drones, only to instigate this unshakeable dread upon the listener. Now, this sinking feeling is one that sets immediately, and it is one that is vague enough to be open to a world of interpretation. It’s this overwhelming feeling that leaves listeners in its wake; it’s a feeling that leaves the listener asking the harder questions about why we like what we like. “Soft Limit” is a multi-textured bog of genre semantics, with everything pointing towards interpretation. Cataclysm is the main driving point of “Soft Limit”, and with every other release to come in 2021, this one triumphs as a masterful execution of the craft as a whole.
It’s a release that I would definitely call a masterpiece, and my bet for the crowning jewel of this year’s crop.