The Return of eLf ideas

ideas of an eLven being in Canada

Saturday, March 31, 2018

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.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Heart in the Heart of England Never Died

(On a New Possible Simpson-Kelly The Wild Swans Album)

I heard news that The Wild Swans, one of the most beloved New Wave-classifiable English bands, are planning to release another full-length album—a followup to 2011's The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years.

Since that The Lotus Eaters is on a long hiatus again, wouldn't it be lovely if Jem Kelly gets onboard again with The Wild Swans?

To the uninitiated, The Wild Swans is an English band that was formed by Paul Simpson in 1980, after his foray with The Teardrop Explodes. The band's original lineup included Kelly, who formed The Lotus Eaters after the Swans' initial activity.

Before disbanding in 1982, The Wild Swans got to release the now legendary single "Revolutionary Spirit." The group reconvened after several years, releasing the first full-length album, Bringing Home the Ashes, in 1988, only to disgroup again before the advent of the ensuing decade.

The Wild Swans released the followup Spaceflower in 1990, but no longer with the brilliant guitar works of Kelly; but, in fairness, the results were also commendable.

After a very long disappearance in the scene, Simpson reactivated The Wild Swans with a new set of members, releasing in 2011 the much-awaited third full-length, The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years.

Now, six years of English winters have passed and a circulating news of Simpson's plan to release another The Wild Swans' album is brewing in the New Wave music circuit in the social-media world.

Since that Kelly and The Lotus Eaters seem to be in the quiet corners these days, wouldn't a returning Kelly to the wings of Simpson's yet another reactivation of The Wild Swans be beauty in brilliant magnitude?

I'm hundred-percent certain that fans of the band will be in ecstatic agreement with this little and doable proposition. After all, to let enthusiasts of the band's music wait for another hundred years will be quite unfair and unbearable already, wouldn’t it?

Help the cause! Spread the skyray love!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Half Life Half Death & the Legendary Club Dredd

Philippine Alternative Rock History
(Chapter 1990-1993)

"There they soar high in the sky
The only hope for flowers now to bloom..."

I may no longer be active in the Philippine music scene as a band member for the obvious reason that I now live in Canada, but I will always remain proud of my former band Half Life Half Death's having been a part of the history of the now legendary Club Dredd, no matter how little that part might have been.

1990Half Life Half Death played our first gig at the original Timog location of Club Dredd on April 20, 1991--during the club's roughly first year of operation (Club Dredd opened in 1990). But prior to that, my bandmates and I had first visited the venue in 1989 when it was still known as Red Rocks, to watch a guitar recital sponsored by the guitar player/teacher Jimmy Tan, featuring a number of prime local guitar players who included Neil Gregorio of the Philippine Gothic-turned-Metal band Mere Mercy.

Half Life Half Death: Rozylyn Torres, Ramil Aznar, Pet de Jesus, Ambet Taylo, Bimbo Ballesteros, Rain Paggao, alfie vera mella (Club Dredd Timog, April 20, 1991)
Around February 1991, we dropped by at the radio station BM105 to submit two of our original songs ("We Are the Saints" and "A Place"), which we recorded independently at Pedero's Studio in Makati. Because BM's DJs Randy Brown and Bob Echague loved what they heard, they promised that they would include us on the roster of bands that would be gracing the show that they were producing at Club Dredd (Timog). True to their words, Half Life Half Death got to play the gig that eventually took place on April 20 of that year. That was our first gig at Club Dredd.

We shared the bill with Temper (former Temper of the Times), X'US, Vendetta (members of Nursery Rhymes), and Strange Days. Our setlist was comprised by our original transcription of a portion of Beethoven's Symphony no. 5, The Waterboys' "The Pan Within," Concrete Blonde's "Joey," The Reivers' "In Your Eyes," Generation X's "Kiss Me Deadly," Echo & the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon," and Damn Yankees' "High Enough."

"Come with me on a journey beneath the skin..." (Club Dredd Timog, April 20, 1991)
We were really well-prepared for that show, and of course, we wanted to make an impression not only on the BM105 crew but more so on the owners and regular denizens of Club Dredd, so we presented a really tight and solid performance. In attendance were popular scenesters Patrick Reidenbach (Dredd's owner), Jing Garcia, Hank Palenzuela (Color It Red's original bass player), and Blums the Punk, who all congratulated us for a job well done. That performance landed us an invitation to play again at the venue--in the following June. We subsequently got to play at least once or even twice a month for the next several months, sharing stage with the likes of Hayp, Alamid, Color It Red, Eraserheads, Anno Domini, Mutiny in Manila, Rizal Underground, Ang Grupong Pendong, Introvoys, After Image, The Dawn, and Mariya's Mistress.

Club Dredd Timog, June 1991
We played our last gig at Club Dredd Timog on February 29, 1992. We disbanded soon afterwards.

We reformed in the year that followed, as inspired by the emergence of the radio station DWLA105, who gave a chance for airplay to the original songs of many local bands, including us. Our songs "Alimango," "Butterflies," "A Feast in Pastel Castle," "Kapit-Tuko," and "High School (Life)" enjoyed regular airplay and landed on the station's Top 10 countdowns for a couple of years. Thanks in large part to the station's consultant Ed Formoso (of Lokal Brown) for paving the way to our signing recording contracts for compilation albums with Viva Records (A Dozen AlternativesChristmas on the Rocks, and Okey si Ma'am OST) and Vicor Records (Mga Himig Natin vol. 2), until we got to record our own solo album (Pymyth Prahn), but that's for another chapter.

"Ayaw ko na sanang umasa pa nu'ng araw na 'yon
Pero dapat ko nga yatang gawin ang bagay na 'yon..."

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Of Strange Times, Trolls, and Cut-Out Images

[Father-and-Son Chronicles by eLf ideas]

Weekend was fun for me and Evawwen. We watched 'Doctor Strange' yesterday and went mall strolling and bought some grocery supplies, and today we saw 'Trolls.'

Because I have day-shift work tomorrow, I had to return Evawwen back to his mom after the movie; however, when we were there already, Evawwen didn't want me to leave yet. Good thing, his mom said to let him sleep over with me again and to just drop him off tomorrow early morning before I proceed to work. So, I won't be sleeping by myself tonight after all.

Funnily, when I told Evawwen this afternoon that I would be missing him tonight, he said that I should just scan him and make a printout of his image and then paste the cut-out image on one of my pillows. Before I was able to react, Evawwen was the one who guffawed first. He really has a good sense of humor--better than mine, I have to admit. That's okay; he's my son, so I'm proud of his positive traits.

From across the kitchen table
Living room scene
Where some of our books will go
Always wanted floor-level beds
Good to be stocked up
While waiting for my cooked dinner
Pleasure and work at the same time--cooking and writing; Evawwen too, playing while waiting for our food to be cooked and served

Saturday, November 05, 2016