The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Music Industry Is Such a Strange World

Many people--Filipinos or not--always give more importance on lesser skills than higher skills.

For example, they'd rather rave on someone who could belt the highest Mariah Carey note or imitate a Lady Gaga stunt than on some obscure band or artist who has created a well-arranged and well-produced original composition.

Most, if not all, talent shows always compel their contestants to ape an already established group or artist, manufacturing copycats and wannabes, rather than encourage individuals to thrive on their originality and creativity.

They fail to realize that many of the now popular artists whom they are trying to copy or ride on their coattails started as small and obscure. They always wanted a shortcut!

The realm of music expression, entertainment, and industry is such a strange world.

Be Careful of What You're Leaving as a Legacy

(A Former Student's Recollection of His School Teachers)
(plus some tidbits of our vacation in the Philippines in January 2012)
by aLfie vera mella

When I reminisce about my elementary and highschool days, I remember also many of my teachers. Many of them remain to be very memorable to me because of various reasons like they were kind, supportive, really knowledgeable and diligent about the subject/s they were teaching, and really served as role models for students like me.

However, I will not deny the fact that many of my teachers back then were bad teachers--bullying and physically hurting students, asking money for imaginary projects, obviously lacked the knowledge in the subject/s they were teaching, or even threatening some students with failing marks for whatever reason.

(When my family and I visited our home country, Philippines, for one month last January 2012, I ensured that I got to visit my former schools. I asked for my former teachers, but unfortunately most of them had either long retired already or changed careers. I would have loved to have pictures of me with them taken, especially those whom I would always regard as inspirations and role models.)

 Formerly the intersection of P. Zamora St., P. Burgos St., and Libertad (now Arnaiz Avenue) in Pasay City, thousand times did I stand here to wait for a jeepney plying the Libertad-Evangelista route to take me home to Cuangco St., in Makati, where my family used to live in the 1970s until the early '90s. 

I went to St. Mary's Academy in Pasay City, from kindergarten to Grade 6 (1976 to 1984). 

After elementary, many male students of St. Mary's Academy (during my time, when the highschool level was still all-female) usually transferred to the fronting all-male (now coed) Sta. Clara Parish School, where I started and graduated high school, 1984 to 1988.

Now that I'm old, attending elementary and highschool reunions, I encounter again some of these teachers. Some fellow students simply laugh about the past, becoming chummy again even with teachers who had bullied or even terrorized them in the past. Not me. My respect and admiration remains only for those teachers who had really inspired me and served as good role models for me and for many of my former schoolmates.

To those teachers who belonged to the rotten club, they should be reminded of what they had done in the past or might still be doing now if in case they are still teaching. They should not be absolved of the bad things they had done in their academic careers, unless they had acknowledged their faults and had eventually learned how to correct their ways.

This is my reaction to the "tributes" that many fellow former schoolmates of mine that they post on our school groups on Facebook. Bad teachers should have acknowledged their mistakes and have learned to correct their ways first before they deserve to receive such accolades from former students of theirs.

One the popular variety stores during my time (and remains to be) was D Clarion, which served also as a meeting corner for Sta. Clara students (including me) during lunch time and dismissal time, waiting for and staring at beautiful St. Mary's students. With me in the picture above was the owner of the store, who surprisingly still recognized me as a highschool student. She said that I was one of the few students that she could remember after all those years, because I always looked different (and still did when she saw me last January).

 One thing I noticed about D Clarion was that it now looked and felt very small to me and the salespersons were now wearing uniforms. The one single thing that I would never forget about that store is the fact that since my kindergarten until my post-highschool days, it was where I always bought kiamoy.

 Libertad Street in Pasay City reminds me of thousands of moments and memories that I had there since my early childhood through my adolescent years. My family used to own in the 1970s a Shellane gas store in front of the old Fame Theater. My mom used to buy me shoes at this Jackson Shoes, which was still there when I visited the Philippines almost 10 years after leaving it for Canada.

As I look back, I remember very well such inspiring and really diligent teachers of mine whom included Miss Magpoc (Gr. 1), Miss Almadin (Gr. 2), Miss Lising (Gr. 5), Miss Acuzar (Gr. 5), Miss Ignacio (Gr. 4), Miss Zapata (Gr. 6), Miss Comia (Gr. 5), Miss Manguera (Gr. 6), Miss Manuel (Gr. 4), Mr. Mercardo (2nd year), Mr. Jarder (3rd year), Miss Ala (3rd year), Mr. Suarez (Vice Principal), Mr. delos Santos (2nd year), Mr. Garcia (2nd year), Mr. Dizon (3rd year), Mr. Dolatre (3rd year), Miss Saul (4th year), Miss Lugtu (4th year), Mr. Lopez (4th year), and many more whose names escape my memory right now.

And of course, I still remember very well those who belonged to the rotten club—Miss F——, Mr. Sa——, Mr. Mar——..., Mr. L——....and so on and so forth.

Nah, they don't deserve even a dishonorable mention of their names in my book.

My highschool alma mater, Sta. Clara Parish School, in Pasay City, is celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year. The background music used in this photovideo, "High School (Life)," written by George Canseco and popularized by Sharon Cuneta, is the original version my former band Half Life Half Death conceptualized in 1988 for the graduation party of my batch and recorded commercially in 1995 for the compilation album Mga Himig Natin vol. 2, released by Vicor Records.

My class picture in Grade 4, St. Mary's Academy, 1980–'81. My class adviser was Miss Ignacio. I was the one sitting second from the right.

 My class picture in second-year high school; class adviser, Mr. Eduardo Mercado; I was in the first row, the fourth from the left.

My class picture in third-year high school; class adviser, Mr. Adrian Jarder; I was the one seated beside Mr. Jarder.

My class picture in fourth-year high school; class adviser, the late Miss Agbay; I was the third from the right in the very first row.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Little Musician's Awakening

(On Growing Up in an Eclectic and Non-discriminatory Musical Environment)

As soon as I arrived home from work today, Evawwen asked me to tuck him to bed. I put on the DVD Metal: A Headbanger's Journey (2005) (our nth time to watch it), and about halfway through the film, Evawwen and I finally fell asleep.

I woke up first after a few hours, went down to eat, and worked on some articles on my laptop. After about two hours, I could hear Evawwen's footsteps, going down the stairs. His first words when he saw me were, "Dad, come with me upstairs; we're not yet done watching Metal...."

At his age of only three, he seems to know already how to distinguish music by genre.

The fact is, I have watched the documentary film with Evawwen for countless times already, and he enjoys it every time. He could even do the "Metal sign" with his hands. And he knows when a certain song or piece of music I play is Metal—his sense of listening kind of discerns the elements that make the piece Metal.



No. He simply just grew up (and continues to grow up) in a household and with a father whose taste in music is eclectic and non-discriminatory. We listen to (and really enjoy) the music of a diversity of artists—from Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga to Yoyoy Villame and Eddie Peregrina to The Cure, Depeche Mode, and fun. to Van Halen, Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, Enslaved, Celtic Frost, In Flames, Saosin, Malice Mizer, Dead Kennedys, The Exploited to Madonna, New Kids on the Block, Menudo to Kanye West, Ne-yo, Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Swift, and Village People and even to Vivaldi, Bach, Wagner, and film scores by John Williams, Danny Elfman, and Alan Silvestri.

I'm proud of Evawwen. At his age of only three, he seems to know already how to distinguish music by genre. For instance, when I play "Just like Heaven," he would say The Cure; and when I play Depeche Mode, he would say New Wave. When a Bieber or a Gaga song is playing, he would dance and shake his booty. When a Metal song is playing—especially the type that has a really distorted power-chord groove to it, he would flash the Metal sign with his hand.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Force Was Strong in This Little One

(On Evawwen's Latest Trek to Our Basement)

While I was heating up our food for lunch, Evawwen reminded me again that I promised him a while ago that we would be going to the basement so he could check out the Rancor monsters in the boxes. He told me that he would not open the box, that he would just look at it. However, after surveying the toys in the basement; he finally settled his big wondrous eyes on the two Rancor monsters in our Star Wars collection.

"Dad, carry me, carry me; I want to touch the Rancor monster box!"

As I said, I had a bad feeling about it.

After a few minutes, I gave in to the power of the Force. I let Evawwen take one of the Rancor monsters  upstairs with us. Seeing the joy in his eyes, I carefully removed the tapes that were securing the box.

The Rancor monster has been set free!

An Otherwise Uninteresting Day

Today is Tuesday, my second dayoff for the week. Older kids are at school, Inna is at work, Evawwen's already up and playing with his toys, and I'm the cook, cleaner, and babysitter of Evawwen.

The day is a bit gloomy because of the gray skies, but the autumn wind is less chilly.

I put the following playlist on my media player to liven up the day. And since I'm in the mood for Progressive Rock, I chose albums of the following bands:

Emerson, Lake & Palmer
Gentle Giant

At his age of only about two, Evawwen could already watch this video in its entirety without losing attention. This is my number-one favorite Progressive Rock song, "On Reflection" by Gentle Giant

Suddenly, someone was knocking on the door. Two Filipino couples with leaflets of obviously religious nature smile at me and said, "Hi, is Inna there?"

I said she was at work.

"Oh, you're aLfie, right? We read your articles in the newspaper."

"Really? Thank you."

"By the way, have you heard of Jehovah's Witness?"

[Started to feel uncomfortable] "Oh, yeah, I know that religious group."

The lady opening up the leaflet and reading from it, "I have a question for you: What do you think about the impending end of the world?"

[Oops, wrong person to ask.]

To cut the lengthening conversation, especially that I was yet to feed Evawwen his breakfast and it was my time to relax and do some chores, I straightforwardly said, "Ahm, sorry, I'm an atheist."

The guy said, "Oh, that's okay; you can still read this leaflet and you might change your mind."

"Oh, thanks for this," I said. "Bye, I'll just let Inna know that you came by."

Many years ago, I find it difficult openly to let people know that I am an atheist, but since a few recent years, I realize that it feels more relaxing and delightful to be able to express naturally and let people know what and who I really am.

I could imagine how homosexual people feel after they have decided finally to come out in the open. It must be a big relief. But of course, the challenge to defend yourself from judgmental people remains forever.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Wave in the 1990s

(They Were Simply Not Paying Attention Or)
by aLfie vera mella

I laugh secretly every time I hear quips from some people that New Wave died in the 1990s. They never learn. The fact is, it was in their very hearts where New Wave died. What about the following songs? Weren't these also on the radio airwaves as well as on MTV back in the 1990s?

"Smiling" by Kitchens of Distinction, from the third album, The Death of Cool (1992)

Obviously those people either were not paying attention or did not know the musical and aesthetic elements that make a song or a band New Wave. For instance,

Aztec Camera - "The Crying Scene" (1990)
The High - "Box Set Go" (1990)
The Lightning Seeds - "Pure" (1990)
The Farm - "All Together Now" (1991)
Northside - "My Rising Star" (1991)
O.M.D. - "Sailing on the Seven Seas" (1991)
The Ocean Blue - "Mercury" (1991)
R.E.M. - "Losing My Religion" (1991)
Simple Minds - "See the Lights" (1991)
Simply Red - "Stars" (1991)
Toad the Wet Sprocket - "All I Want" (1991)
Dillon Fence - "Hey Mockingbird" (1992)
Kingmaker - "Really Scrape the Sky" (1992)

"Really Scrape the Sky" by Kingmaker, from the debut album, Eat Yourself Whole (1991)

Kitchens of Distinction - "Smiling" (1992)
Riverside - "Waterfall" (1992)
a-ha - "Dark Is the Night for All" (1993)
The Cranberries - "Dreams" (1993)
Duran Duran - "Ordinary World" (1993)
James - "Say Something" (1993)
New Order - "Regret" (1993)
The Other Two - "Selfish" (1993)
Pet Shop Boys - "Can You Forgive Her?" (1993)
Tears for Fears - "Break It Down Again" (1993)
Erasure - "Always" (1994)
The Listening Pool - "Oil for the Lamps of China" (1994)
Love Spit Love - "Am I Wrong?" (1994)
Morrissey - "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get" (1994)
Deep Blue Something - "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1995)
The Human League - "One Man in My Heart" (1995)
Siouxsie & the Banshees - "O Baby" (1995)
The Cure - "Mint Car" (1996)
Electronic - "For You" (1996)
ABC - "Stranger Things" (1997)
Depeche Mode - "It's No Good" (1997)

Monaco - "Shine" (1997)
Midnight Oil - "Redneck Wonderland" (1998)
Culture Club - "Your Kisses Are Charity" (1999)
Echo & the Bunnymen - "Lost on You" (1999)
The Ocean Blue - "Do You Still Remember Me?" (1999)

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Deep Blue Something, from the second album, Home (1995)

...and the list goes on and on and on.

And what about New Wave in the 2000sshould I talk about it?

In the heart of a true New Wave enthusiast, New Wave music stays forever.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Too-Rye Ei-leen Has Come On Back!

(On the Return of Dexys Midnight Runners)
by aLfie vera mella

One of the victims of the derogatory appellation “one-hit wonders” (coined by some narrow-eared music journalists) in the New Wave genre is Dexys Midnight Runners—the British band behind the hit single “Come On, Eileen,” from the band’s second album.

I admit, my knowledge about this band back during the New Wave heyday in the 1980s and early ’90s was limited only to that song. However, in the 2000s, as part of my having become a music completist, I did my homework—I acquired the all three studio albums of the Dexys, and as usual, I discovered that there were more equally beautiful songs than Eileen: “Geno,” “Thankfully Not Living in Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply,” “The Celtic Soul Brothers,” the Van Morrison cover “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven when You Smile),” and “This Is What She’s Like.”

Dexys Midnight Runners has so far released four studio albums.

The music of Dexys Midnight Runners is best defined by the distinct voice of Rowland on a backdrop of a melange of Irish Folk, Celtic, Ska, and particularly North Soul music, complete with horns, piano, and fiddles.

Updating myself about the band, I found out that the midnight runners—now known simply as Dexys—have just released a new album after 27 years!

Once again, I surfed the ocean of the Internet and found the treasure I was looking for—Dexys’s latest, fourth album, entitled One Day I’m Going to Soar. My personal recommendations are “Free,” “I’m Always Going to Love You,” and “Incapable of Love.” In this new Dexys offering, Soul dominates their sound.

This is a 2012 live performance of "Incapable of Love," a song off the Dexys' latest album.

The band’s complete studio-album discography is as follows: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels (1980), Too-Rye-Ay (1982), Don’t Stand Me Down (1985), and One Day I’m Going to Soar (2012).

Dexys Midnight Runners in 1982, performing their most popular single, "Come On, Eileen," at Top of the Pops

Final Note
The founding member Kevin Rowland still leads the re-formed Dexys, with Jimmy Paterson (trombone), Pete Williams (bass), Neil Hubbard (guitar), Tim Cansfield (guitar), guest vocalist Madeleine Hyland, and Mick Talbot (keyboard, piano, organ)—yes, the same Mick Talbot formerly of The Style Council, whose association with Rowland stretches back to their beginnings in the late ’70s!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Get Out of the Way, Poseurs! Here Comes PiL

(The Return of Public Image Limited)
by aLfie vera mella

One of the true pioneers of Postpunk music—John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten) with his post–Sex Pistols band, Public Image Limited (PiL), is back with  a 12-song new album after 20 years!

The lead single off this ninth album is "One Drop." Without much ado, it sounds very PiL, having all the proper ingredients—bouncy basslines, funky and angular guitars, stinging lyrics sung in the typical Rotten's sneery manner, and a hint of synth sounds on the background.

Public Image Limited has nine studio albums and a pioneering Postpunk origin to boast of.

Recommended earlier songs by PiL are "Death Disco," "Open and Revolving," "Seattle," "This Is Not a Love Song," "Disappointed," and "Rise"; from the latest album, “I Must Be Dreaming,” “The Room I Am In,” and “Out of the Woods.”

John Lydon with his Postpunk band Public Image Ltd. still kicks and bops after all these years: "One Drop," the first single off the band's latest album released in 2012.

Public Image Limited’s complete discography is comprised by nine albums: First Issue (1978), Metal Box (1979), The Flowers of Romance (1981), This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get (1984), Album (1986), Happy? (1987), 9 (1989), That What Is Not (1992), and This Is PiL (2012).

Currently with Lydon in PiL are Lu Edmonds (a former guitarist of The Damned), Bruce Smith (onetime drummer for The Slits and The Pop Group), and new bassist Scott Firth.

John Lydon and the rest of Public Image Limited, with the music video of 1984's "This Is Not a Love Song," from the band's fourth album 

Final Note
Public Image Limited was formed by Lydon with guitarist Keith Levene and bassist Jah Wobble in 1978 in London, England, after the breakup of his former Punk band, Sex Pistols. While the music of Sex Pistols was straightforward and minimalist Punk, PiL’s was Postpunk—more structured and well-produced. Sex Pistols’ popular songs include “Anarchy in The U.K.,” “God Save the Queen,” Holidays in the Sun,” and their version of Paul Anka’s “My Way.”

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dancing Again with Brilliance in My Eyes

(On the Return of the Classic Synthpop Band Ultravox)
by aLfie vera mella

One of the pioneers and forerunners of British New Wave / Synthpop music, Ultravox is back after 18 years with an album of new materials. The 12-track Brilliant, the band's 11th album, was released in May 2012. Ultravox is currently comprised by its ’80s-era members—Midge Ure, Billy Currie, Chris Cross, and Warren Cann.

Recommended earlier songs by Ultravox include “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” “Quiet Men,” “Reap the Wild Wind,” “Dancing with Tears in My Eyes,” “All Fall Down,” and “There Goes a Beautiful World.”

"Brilliant," the first single off the latest album of the Synthpop pioneer Ultravox, released in 2012

Based on the new album's lead single, “Brilliant,” the Ultravox sound is unmistakable--slices of synth sounds and melodies on a platter of Postpunk angular guitars, dancing bass lines, and simple yet memorable drum patterns. Other notable songs off this new album are “Flow,” “Rise,” “Remembering,” “Fall,” and “Satellite.”

The band was formed as early as 1974, but the name Ultravox was conceived in 1976. Ultravox released its first, self-titled album in the following year but started to become commercially successful only in 1980, in time for the advent of the New Wave era, upon the release of its fourth album, Vienna, which contains the hit singles “Vienna” and “All Stood Still.” Ultravox subsequently released several more albums until its eventual breakup in 1994.

Ultravox’s entire discography is as follows: Ultravox! (1977), Ha!-Ha!-Ha! (1977), Systems of Romance (1978), Vienna (1980), Rage in Eden (1981), Quartet (1982), Lament (1984), U-Vox (1986), Revelation (1993), Ingenuity (1994), and the latest, Brilliant (2012).

Ultravox has so far released 11 studio albums.

In 1979, Ultravox’s original vocalist, John Foxx, embarked on a solo career while the band was on a hiatus.  His enduring and prolific solo career produced more than two dozens of solo and collaborative albums, starting with Metamatic (1980) through The Shape of Things (2011). Midge Ure replaced Foxx when Currie reformed Ultravox in the same year, resulting in the revitalization of the band and its commercial popularity. Ure gained further international acclaim because of his involvement in socially relevant musical charity projects such as Band Aid (1984), Live Aid (1985), and Live 8 (2005). He cowrote with fellow British artist Bob Geldof of the band The Boomtown Rats the Christmas single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which was recorded and released in 1984 by the collaborative group Band Aid, which included equally important artists like Phil Collins, Paul Young, and David Bowie and members of British and Irish bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, The Police, Bananarama, Culture Club, Wham!, Status Quo, Kool & the Gang, and U2. During this time, when Ultravox was inactive again, Ure pursued a solo career.

"Dancing with Tears in My Eyes," from the 1984 album, one of the most popular and well-loved singles of Ultravox

For his part, the multi-instrumentalist Ultravox member Billy Curie (violin, keyboards, synthesizers, piano, viola) had collaborated with other artists such as Gary Numan of Tubeway Army, Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, and Steve Howe of Yes and became a member of other Postpunk bands like Visage (1979–1984), The Armoury Show (1985), and Humania (1988–89). Also, he holds the record of having been a part of all the albums of Ultravox.

Final Note
Synthpop is a genre of music which is best defined by the liberal use of synthesizers and keyboards with elements of dance and electronic. Other notable bands/artists whose music may be described as Synthpop are the pioneering Alphaville, Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and Pet Shop Boys and the relative contemporaries The Postal Service, Owl City, and Marina & the Diamonds.

Fixx Me with Your Secret Reformation

(On the Return of The Fixx)
by aLfie vera mella

The Fixx is a British band that became popular during the peak of New Wave music in the 1980s for the singles "Red Skies," "Secret Separation," and "One Thing Leads to Another."

The band disappeared from the commercial radar as the 1990s loomed, just like many other New Wave bands before and after them; but unbeknownst to many, The Fixx has released albums in the ensuing decades.

Now, The Fixx is back with an album of new materials—with the classic lineup of Cy Curnin (lead vocals), Rupert Greenall (keyboards), Jamie West-Oram (guitar), Adam Woods (drums), and Dan K. Brown (bass). Entitled Beautiful Friction, this 10th album is their first since 2003.

The Fixx has so far released 10 studio albums.

The first single off Beautiful Friction is “Anyone Else,” which sounds unmistakably New Wave—owing to the repetitive staccato guitar melody in the intro, the slow buildup of the rest of the instruments, the synth sound in the background, and the distinct vocals that conjure a nostalgic image of familiar red skies. Other songs from the album that I personally liked are “Just before Dawn,” “What God?”, “Second Time Around,” and “Follow That Cab.” The overall music of The Fixx shares a similar feel with that of fellow New Wave bands like U2, Simple Minds, and Babybird.

"Anyone Else" is the first single off the latest album of The Fixx ( Beautiful Friction, 2012).

The complete studio-album discography of The Fixx is as follows: Shuttered Room (1982), Reach the Beach (1983), Phantoms (1984), Walkabout (1986), Calm Animals (1988), Ink (1991), Elemental (1998), 1011 Woodland (1999), Want That Life (2003), and Beautiful Friction (2012).

The Fixx in 1982, with their music video of the single "Red Skies"

Final Note
The college friends Curnin and Woods formed The Portraits in 1979. After recruiting additional members, they changed their name to The Fix; then became The Fixx through the suggestion of the recording company that signed them—to dissociate the band’s name from the drug innuendo of the word fix.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hats Off! The Hatless Men Are Back with a Hatful of New Songs!

(On the Return of Men Without Hats)
by aLfie vera mella

Another classic New Wave band—a Canadian—Men Without Hats—is back with a new album, Love in the Age of War (2012). The last album prior to this one was released in 2003—nine years ago!

In the Philippine New Wave scene, Men Without Hats belong to those Johnny-came-late bands, for the radio stations played their singles already in the late ’80s, when New Wave music was already handing the flag of commerciality to other genres of music. Regardless, the band still managed to join the pantheon of classic New Wave bands because of the infectiousness and eventual popularity of the songs “I Got the Message,” “The Safety Dance,” and “Pop Goes the World.”

Men Without Hats was founded in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, in 1977; and released its first EP (four-song mini-album) in 1980. The music of Men Without Hats is defined by the melodic quality of especially the synthesizers and keyboards, the driving style of the bass, the simplicity of the drum beats, and the low-register of the vocals.

Men Without Hats’ complete album discography is as follows: Rhythm of Youth (1982), Folk of the 80’s (Part III) (1984), Pop Goes the World (1987), The Adventures of Women & Men Without Hate in the 21st Century (1989), Sideways (1991), No Hats beyond This Point (2003), and Love in the Age of War (2012).

“Head above Water,” the first single off the new album, is unquestionably New Wave, or Synthpop to make it more specific—and definitely sounds Men Without Hats, despite vocalist Ivan Doroschuk’s being the only remaining original member of the group.

Final Note
The new album was slated for release on May 22, 2012.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Halves: ‘Unusual Species’

(On GMA’s 1996 Review of Half Life Half Death’s Concept Album Pymyth Prahn [1996, Viva Records])
by aLfie vera mella

{dedicated to Michael Sutton and Goldwyn Morales Azul)

My fellow music enthusiast and journalist Michael Sutton told me almost a decade ago how he discovered the album of my former band Half Life Half Death. He said that his late friend Goldwyn Morales Azul wrote a glowing review of our album back in 1996, the year the album was released. I have to say that I was teary-eyed while reading every word Goldwyn had to say about our album—just like how he had obviously been able to appreciate every bit of the detail that I (we) incorporated into the album and had gotten what the album was all about.

[Click the image to enlarge.]

For the record, he was the first ever of the rare ones (music critics at that) who were able to understand our music. And considering the fact that Goldwyn wrote the review in 1996, the year the CD version was released, he was really a spot-on music reviewer. (I knew that what he reviewed was the CD version because only the CD version contained "Kapit-Tuko" [my decision] as a bonus track; the cassette-tape format did not include it.)

I like also the fact that Goldwyn described the album as a "concept-like debut album," simply because it was a concept album--the order of the tracks--from one to end--I really arranged painstakingly, thinking of the segues that I had to inject to make every song flow smoothly to the next.

Channel Check
For example, the first track, "Channel Check," may seem just a filler, but it opens the album for a very important reason--that is, to let the listeners know that what they would be hearing would depend on the left-speaker-right-speaker ability of their stereo system.

A Feast in Pastel Castle
Then, obviously "A Feast in Pastel Castle" (Hear ye! Hear ye!) is the call for the celebration of the album.

After the call, here comes "Alimango," which ends with sound of waves (think of little crabs playing by the seashore), then seagulls sound by the sea to segue into the seawaves intro of "Butterflies."

The technical musician should have realized that the basslines of "Alimango" sounded like a crawling crab--in fact, the way Ramil Aznar plays the bass on this song, he would literally finger-tap the bass strings with his fingers looking like he was gesturing crawling crabs.

The violin-like swelling guitar melody of Rain Paggao in 'Butterflies" is Rain's nearest approximation of the fluttering wings of butterflies. (I remember telling him after Pet de Jesus and I had given him a rhythm guitar-vocal rough recording of this song that the guitar melodies that I want him to make for the song was one that would remind us of fluttering butterflies, and he was able to achieve it.)

As "Butterflies" fades out with a sad note, here comes "Kapalarang Kuwago" starting with the same somber mood.

Kapalarang Kuwago
Actually, "Kapalarang Kuwago" should have had a guitar melody that sounded similar to that in "Butterflies" to emulate the slow flapping wings of owls, but Rain just did not pursue making this (and this is another story--a personal one concerning turmoil within the band during the time, which I no longer want to delve into. This is the reason "Kapalarang Kuwago" was left out very instrumentally naked compared with the rest of the songs in the album).

If All Sleep Tonight
The next song, "If All Sleep Tonight," did just that--the flapping-flickering sound of the guitar melody in the intro and in the pre-stanza interludes. And this is what connects "Kapalarang Kuwago" to "If All Sleep Tonight"--the fluttering-flickering sound that should have been also in the former song. I have to mention also the fact that the short drum solo Bimbo Ballesteros made in the intro of "If All Sleep Tonight" was an allusion to the intro of The Cure's "Inbetween Days."

Brother's Pen
"Brother's Pen" starts with "too-too-too"--this is a continuation of the "choo-choo-choo" in the coda (ending) of "Butterflies." This is the reason in the self-produced HLHD CD that I produced I rearranged the order of the songs, putting "Brother's Pen" right after "Butterflies." This is one detail I failed to take note back in 1995.

Summer's Rain
The Classical piece "Summer's Rain" was composed by Rain long before many of the songs in the album were made. The keen listener would have realized that the chorus of the next song, "Radio Madness," was built around that melody. Originally, "Summer's Rain" was voted out during our band deliberation on which pieces to include in our album--the reason of my bandmates who voted it out was, this Classical piece is out of place in this kind of album. I really couldn't sleep over this decision. I always believed that "Summer's Rain" is a perfect prelude to the song whose choral melody was built upon it. What I did was pester Rain endlessly for many evenings, calling him over the phone, to insist that we should include this in the album. He said he couldn't defy the decision of the band as a whole. I did not pursue the issue anymore, but begrudgingly.

Then, one recording session when I was late (I was rarely late during the entire recording process because I really wanted to be involved in every detail of the making of the album), Rain was already in the recording booth. I wondered what he was recording, and when I finally realized what it was, was really surprised very pleasantly—Rain was armed with his Classical guitar, recording “Summer’s Rain”! Why he eventually heeded my request, I no longer asked him. More important was that it was finally included in the album.

Radio Madness and We Are the Saints
The fact is, even “Radio Madness” was nearly voted out of the album. My bandmates felt that the song was an oddity in our music, simply because it was already a Progressive Rock song—if one is to analyse the complicated structure and diverse instrumentation. Well, what could you expect—we made this song as our entry to the 1991 Yamaha Band Explosion, so it must be a competition quality—although we did not win, but that was okay—the contest gave birth to this very beautiful song. Truth be told, “Radio Madness” was already complicated but I was still dissatisfied by it back then because I still planned to incorporate more elements, but by the time we were recording it (it was the last song that we polished during the session), the recording budget that Viva Records had allotted for the album had run out! We were actually pitching in monetarily already for the remaining hours of recording! I still wanted to hire a string quartet, get a gong and a timpani, hire a rondalla group and a church choir (for both “We Are the Saints” and “Radio Madness”), but my bandmates were already being weirded out by my “crazy” musical ideas.

Then “Sarimanok.” Again the technical musician should have realized that the guitar lead parts in this song sounded like the scratching and clucking sound of chickens. Rain made that possible. The festive quality of the music for this song should remind the listener of the style we used for our Christmas single “Sa Paskong Darating.” Again, this song was nearly voted out of the album—the lyrics, they said, was too pretentious, trying to be patriotic to a fault. By virtue of the music itself, I fought for it to be included. I made a compromise—I told my bandmates that I would revise the lyric a bit, so I did. The result was not anymore too serious. I was able to put humor in it. The original words to this song came from an old poem I wrote, entitled “Pagtilaok ng mga Manok.” I had to change this to “Sarimanok” because during the time I had more fondness for one-word titles. But in retrospect, if I could go back and change something, that would include reverting all the titles of the songs in our album that I had to shorten. “Butterflies” was actually “Butterflies Die in Silence.” “Alimango” was “At Nanipit ang mga Alimango.” “Sarimanok” was “Pagtilaok ng mga Manok.” And “Kapalarang Kuwago” was “Kapalarang Kuwago ang Sinapit Ko.”

“Aligue” is my (our) kid version of “Alimango.” And even before, I never denied that my inspiration for this was The Clash’s “Career Opportunities,” which has a Punk version and a kid version. I also wrestled with the group for this song to be included in the album. For the sake of fun, they had to concede. Even Francis Reyes was goofing around with the plastic toy guitar during the recording of this track.

Engkanto and Cariñosa
 Obviously “Engkanto” and “Cariñosa” are two separate songs, but in my mind, they are really musically interconnected. So, I put them beside each other, using the cricket sounds (which Pet and I personally recorded using a portable cassette recorder one early morning at the tree and grassy area near our house in Project 6, Quezon City.

Yes, every single detail of Pymyth Prahn was well-thought of. From the album cover to the order of the songs to the text on the sleeve. From every note and sound effects to the instruments used. I remember literally sketching on paper the panning position (left to right speaker) every track for every song in the album would take. For example, Pet’s main vocal part in “We Are the Saints” was panned 45% to the left and my accompanying falsetto 45% to the right, and we employed this trick for every twin-vocal approach that Pet and I made—“Sarimanok” and “Engkanto.”

Furthermore, I have to mention also the fact that I personally suggested and arranged for the guesting of most of the members of Half Life Half Death for the album--in hindsight, I knew that this might be the only album that we would have had to release so I ensured that they were a part of this musical celebration of everything Half Life Half Death was all about: Carol Pobre, Rozylyn Torres, Edmund Villafuerte, Jonathan Mejino, and Joel Reyes; and not to forget the slew of fellow local artists whom included Lani Toquero of Tribal Fish, Jett Pangan and Francis Reyes of The Dawn, and Zeejay Jacob of Kelts Cross.

Pymyth Prahn is a concept album, and it was all planned. It was my personal idea of a kind of music combining clearly my three most-favorite genres--Classical, Progressive Rock, and New Wave.

I thank the late music critic Goldwyn Morales Azul from the bottom of my heart for having been able to get the concept of Half Life Half Death’s music. And it was in 1996, the year the CD version of the album was released. (The cassette-tape format was released in 1995.)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Psychedelic Angels Fall like Rain

(On The Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love)
by aLfie vera mella

“I'm watching the sun go down
I'm watching the sky fall down like rain
And I see my way
Nothing can save me now
No one hears you fall
And who cares anyway
Mary don't know me
Mary don't owe me time
And I could get lonely
Watching the world unwind

“This is the end
Fall on tears, all my friends...

“This is the end...”

The English New Wave band The Psychedelic Furs must be one of the best in the genre—the somber, raspy voice of Richard Butler alone is enough to command their music. To this day, the songs "The Ghost in You" (from the fourth album, Mirror Moves, 1984) and "Angels Don't Cry" (from Midnight to Midnight, 1987) can easily put me to nostalgic tears—so many bittersweet memories these songs carry for me. Other songs that are indispensable from the soundtrack of my life include "Pretty in Pink," "No Tears," "Love My Way," "Heaven," "Heartbreak Beat," "House," and "Until She Comes."

Not Yet the End
Even before the Furs disbanded in the 1990s, many New Wave fans had already lost touch of this wonderful band. Not me. In the mid-'90s, I was keeping track with the help of music magazines; so I learned, right away, that the band's leader, Butler, had formed a new band, Love Spit Love. Without even hearing any song from the debut album, I went to a record shop and bought a copy of the album, Love Spit Love (1994). My instant favorite was "Am I Wrong?", which singlehandedly satisfied my longing for a new Furs song.

In 1997, Love Spit Love released its second and last album, Trysome Eatone. Again, without hearing any of the song in this new album, I bought a copy. I did not regret it. If the debut album's strength lies on the haunting ballad "Am I Wrong?", the final album's glory is with "Fall on Tears," which I regard as Love Spit Love's farewell song.

The Beginning, the End, the Beginning
The Psychedelic Furs was formed in England in 1977 by the brothers Richard and Tim Butler. They released their self-titled debut album in 1980. They eventually became one of the popular bands in the '80s New Wave era, especially when their single "Pretty in Pink" became the title and the theme song of a film released in 1986 which is now regarded as a classic. After releasing six more albums:

Talk Talk Talk (1981)
Forever Now (1982)
Mirror Moves (1984)
Midnight to Midnight (1987)
Book of Days (1989)
World Outside (1991)

The Psychedelic Furs disbanded in 1992. Richard Butler moved to New York, USA, where he formed his new band Love Spit Love with Richard Fortus (guitar), Frank Ferrer (drums), and his brother and Furs bandmate Tim Butler (bass).

Final Note
In 2000, Love Spit Love disbanded, giving way to the re-formation of The Psychedelic Furs. So far, the only new material from them is "Alive (For Once in My Lifetime)," from the compilation album Beautiful Chaos: Greatest Hits Live (2000). However, Richard Butler released a solo album in 2006, and this should suffice for now.

Actively touring again, The Psychedelic Furs is currently comprised by Richard Butler (vocals), Tim Butler (bass), Rich Good (guitar), Mars Williams (saxophone), Amanda Kramer (keyboards), and Paul Garisto (drums).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Music Genres Die, Really?

(On the Simple Continuity of Music Genres)
by aLfie vera mella

I'm in the mood for Metal and Progressive Rock ballads today. Metal and Progressive Rock are the other genres of Rock that I really love.

Many music journalists and fans claim that Pop Metal music died as early as the mid-'90s.


Let me correct them: Many enthusiasts of the genre especially those who used to rave about it back during its commercial peak in the late 1980s through the early 1990s are the ones who actually turned their backs on the artists, bands, and music that they once loved the moment commercial media have shifted their spotlight to other genres.

Not me. I am among those who pursued listening and digging into the history, continuity, and evolution of Progressive Rock and Metal. To this day, Metal and Progressive Rock remain regular parts of my musical diet.

How many so-called Bon Jovi fans have stopped listening to this U.S. Pop Metal band after the 1992 album, 'Keep the Faith'? I'm sure they don't even know that Bon Jovi's last album to date (The Circle) was released only three years ago.

For sure, those who say they love Rush have not even tried to listen to all 19 albums of this Canadian Progressive Rock band, failing to update themselves about the fact that the 19th album, Clockwork Angels, has just been released three months ago.

In the Internet age, all one needs is the initiative and passion for music and all other things she loves...the rest is just a Google and Wikipedia away...with a little patience, of course.

Last night, I watched the 2001 film Rock Star for the nth time. I particularly love the scene in which the main character, Chris Cole (Mark Wahlberg), was recording the vocal part for a new song his band was working on.

That song was "We All Die Young" by Steelheart, from this U.S. Pop Metal band's third album, Wait (1996).

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Cosmic Journey of Khumb Mela Band

Tribute to Philippine Alternative Rock Music, part 7
The Cosmic Journey of Khumb Mela Band
(On an Obscure Philippine New Wave Band)

rguably one of the most underrated and poorly promoted Filipino Alternative Rock bands that emerged in the 1980s was Khumb Mela Band. Although the group began as a promotional gimmick of Widdie Saulo, the owner of the local shop Khumb Mela (in Harrison Plaza Shopping Mall, in Manila; and in Park Square One, in Makati—which specialized in sports gear, bags, and other stuff including bootlegged and reproduced imported music albums—Khumb Mela Band, which proved to be a musically tight and style-conscious group, took off and carved a name of its own in the Philippine Rock music scene in the 1980s.

I saw them live many times back in the late ’80s, the first time at a concert party billed as “Sneak Attack 2,” held in May 1987 at The Atrium of Makati. The fashion sense of the band members left a memorable mark in my mind. They were among the typically New Wave–attired bands of the time—teased or gelled-up hair, silk or satin longsleeves, madeup faces, boots or creepers, and lots of accessories.

Luckily my former band Half Life Half Death got to share bill with them at a few gigs in 1989 and in the ensuing years. Khumb Mela Band used to cover songs like “Absolute Reality” (The Alarm), “Dancing with Myself” (Billy Idol), “I Don't Like Mondays’" (Bob Geldof & the Boomtown Rats), “A Way” (The Bølshøi), “The Distance between Us” (Fra Lippo Lippi), and “My Way” (The Sex Pistols).

I got to hang out with the band’s bassist in the early ’90s, when he became a member of Mariya, a band whose music had the influences of Pinoy Rock and Synthpop and whose members included Cool Carla (Abaya), Leni Llapitan, and Marvin Mendiola of Identity Crisis (another pioneering Philippine New Wave band) and Rozylyn Torres, who used to be a female vocalist in my former band Half Life Half Death.

Khumb Mela Band was able to record only one album, entitled 108 Music, in cassette-tape format, released independently in 1988 and sold exclusively at the Khumb Mela shops. The band was among the first batch of Filipino bands that the now-defunct Philippine FM radio station NU 107 gave regular airplay during the station’s early days, in the late ’80s. Khumb Mela Band songs that I remember being played on NU 107 were “Questions,” “Moving Away,” and “Cosmic Journey.”

Perhaps the most popular song of Khumb Mela Band, "Questions" received a regular airplay on NU 107 in 1989.

Khumb Mela Band's songs like "Moving Away" displayed the band's penchant for angular, sharp guitar rhythms.

  "Cosmic Journey" exhibited Khumb Mela Band's music in its most New Wave--a marked marriage of synthesizer melodies and angular guitar tracks.

Before, I never really paid attention to the musicality of Khumb Mela Band. All I knew was, they sounded New Wave because of the incorporation of keyboard sounds and synthesized guitar melodies and the obviously New Wave attires of the band members. However, in retrospect, only in the recent years when I had the chance to listen again to the album after obtaining a copy of it from a fellow music enthusiast that I realized how Khumb Mela Band’s music was ahead of its time, especially the lyrics.

Khumb Mela Band’s musical ideology predated that of the 1990s-formed English Britpop band Kula Shaker, which adopted Hinduism as the central theme of its music. Yes, now that I fully understand Khumb Mela Band's music, I realized that the central theme of their album was Hinduism—what with song titles like “Cosmic Journey,” “Limited Pleasure,” and “Govinda,” which predated Kula Shaker’s song of the same title released in 1996.

Formed in 1986, Khumb Mela Band was comprised by Andrew Jeffs (vocals), Randy Capawan (guitars), “Dodo” Isidore Fernandez (keyboards), Allan Dichoso (bass), and Boying Reyes (drums, backup vocals). Lyrics were written by Boying Reyes (with assistance from Boying's ex-wife Annie Reyes) except "Questions" and "After the Storm" by Capawan; music and arrangement by Capawan, Fernandez, and Boying Reyes. The band’s major influences included the popular New Wave bands/artists of the time such as The Alarm, Billy Idol, Nik Kershaw, and Philippines’ very own New Wave pioneers Identity Crisis and Ethnic Faces. However, according to Boying himself, "My own compositions [go] back in the late Seventies when I was a very young musician. I came up with the music of "Cosmic Journey" in 1979." 

By the 1990s, the members of Khumb Mela Band had ended their musical journey together. Jeffs embarked on a solo career, releasing an album entitled Nasaan Ka? on Dyna Records. Capawan did sessions for Binky Lampano, the vocalist of Dean’s December, another Philippine New Wave band that emerged in the 1980s. Fernandez became the session keyboardist of The Dawn especially for the stretch of the 1990s. Dichoso did session works for other bands that included Mariya and Mulato.

Final Note
Sadly, in 2010, vocalist Jeffs passed away due to end-stage renal cancer, amidst a brewing band reunion expressed by a number of concert producers who were interested in reintroducing the music of Khumb Mela Band to the current music generation.

Message to me by Andrew Jeffs' son Charles Andre Jeffs 
(sent on September 22, 2011):
  • Thank you for all your kind words towards my father.
    I do try to maintain his Image towards his fellow musicians through myself and how i play and sing.

    To answer you question, yes. he was able to come out with a solo album titled "NASAAN KA" under Dyna records.

    Though, it was poorly promoted as my dad had to leave for the states because his mom got sick.

    He was on various shows doing appearances and radio promotions.

    Uncle Yadu and Dad go way back. Uncle Yadu saw dads potential and decided to put the band up.

    im sure you know that Khumbmela is a big brand name for Bags. (Back packs)

    they're friends basically. 

    after Uncle Yadu saw dads potential, he then sought out to find great musicians such as Tito Alan and tito Dodo.
    Uncle boying and Tito Randy.

    thats from what i know.