Monday, March 27, 2017

Ang Bandang Shirley’s bittersweet and triumphant return

Ang Bandang Shirley’s bittersweet and triumphant return
by rick olivares

Owel Alvero left the cool air-conditioned confines of a nearby holding room at the Blue Bay Walk Garden. Dressed in a grey t-shirt that read “No album” and shorts that looked that seemed to suggest he was headed either for bed or the beach, the bespectacled singer/songwriter/guitarist of Ang Bandang Shirley headed out to the garden to check out the scene outside. “I hope there are folks who are there to buy our new album (titled “Favorite”) and well, to watch us perform,” he said.

The sight that greeted Alvero saw his expression change from a hopeful one to one that was equal parts a pleasant grin to a smile. You know -- the hopeful smile that people get when they listen to Ang Bandang Shirley’s music.

“Yeah,” was the only thing Alvero could say.

Close to six hundred people lined up in the hot afternoon sun to purchase the band’s third album and line-up all over again to avail of stickers that they could use to design their own cover. “It’s a good way for us fans to say how we feel about the band and their music,” offered one fan who said it took him a grand total of two hours to get everything done.

By the time the sun retreated and the cool air wafting from the bay, the performance grounds swelled a bit more to include the Saturday evening hangers out.

The day had this bittersweet air to it as it was also singer Selena Davis’ last performance with the band. How that affects the music – well.

“Yeah,” muttered Alvero again as he made his way back to the holding room.

Some 45 minutes earlier, in the comfy confines of the holding room, the band ate a late afternoon lunch of siomai and rice along with other dimsum. “The band that eats together,” gleefully noted the band’s other guitarist/singer/songwriter Ean Aguila. He shared that loving look with Davis ate beside him. “Stays together.”

“For now,” segued Davis. And there’s a moment of silence as everyone contemplated that statement.

The band has been around for more than a decade after having been inspired by the Eraserheads’ “Natin 99” album. Members have come and gone but at the heart of the band’s three albums was Alvero, Aguila, Davis, guitarist Joe Fontanilla, and drummer Zig Rabara (as well as sometimes singer Kathy Gener who doubles as the band’s Brian Epstein except she pens the occasional song). “Life”, as Rabara chimed in over lunch, “got in the way.” Nevertheless, the band has become and is family.

“We all have our day jobs,” clarifies Davis, “but the band is our therapy and our happy heartsong.”

There’s a five-year gap between the sophomore effort, “Tama Na Ang Drama” and the new album, “Favorite”. Time aside, the 14-track album finds the band in fine form. Their songwriting – deep and introspective gems of happiness, loss, and well, life…. the lilting melodies and harmonies – has been honed to a fine edge.

If diamonds are forever, then the first two singles – “Umaapaw” and “Siberia” have become instant classics. They are crowd favorites that sure enough during the show later that night, are “sing-songs” for the fans to sing along.

Other tracks such as the title track, “Favorite” and “Alam Mo Ba (Ang Gulo)?” are going to be sure staples of their live performances while the nine-minuter “Ono” could be the penultimate song of a rousing show; one that is highly emotive and showcases Ang Bandang Shirley’s gift for heartfelt melodies and the trademarked harmonies.

They went from Alvero penning most of the songs to a more collective effort that has brought everyone’s personalities and stories – good and bad – into the fore.

When writing songs, the band looks to each other for approval. “We push ourselves,” points out Alvero. “We inspire ourselves.”

Added Aguila, “Selena and I were talking about how the band dynamics have changed. How much we influence and make each other better. At least for me, I know my song is better because Owel critiques it for its betterment and it works vice versa. In making love songs, we try to write without using the usual words and we want each other to come away saying, ‘Kaya mo ba yan gustuhin?’”

There’s one such example on “Favorite” with the “Ono” that was written by both Alvero and Gener. “Ean said, ‘Ang ganda ng mga kanta mo pero lahat 4/4 time. Wala kang odd time.’ Which is why there is a section in “Ono” that is in 3/4 time. It’s a challenge. It’s also fun to know people around you know what you’re good at and know they can push you.”

From the kit kat jam of “Themesongs” to the pensive “Tama Na ang Drama”, “Favorite”, shimmers with the tighter sound that’s different. Mature, if you will. I think, by way of respectful comparison, of the band, Ivy, with their raw jingle jangle of “Realistic” and the finely-tuned pop of “Apartment Life”. Or more of the same, --  from Broken Social Scene’s “You Forgot It In People” to the self-titled album leading all the way to “Forgiveness Rock Record”.

The band, collectively nods in approval.

“That’s a comparison we do not mind and we consider a compliment,” enthused Davis as Aguila smiled in agreement.

The ultimate compliment was that the fans packed the garden of the Blue Bay Walk. They purchased the compact disc, bought t-shirts, patches, and stickers. Fans danced and cheered. A few tears were even shed as Davis’ sang the last note of the night.

“Wow!” exclaimed Davis before the band plunged into their first song of that Saturday night. “Ang dami ninyo. Grabe. Salamat sa inyong pagmamahal and sa pag gusto ninyo ng musika namin.”

And the crowd roared.

Favorite indeed.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Chillitees return with the sounds of summer

Chillitees return with the sounds of summer
by rick olivares

It isn’t a mirage.

If your last sight or sound of R&B band the Chillitees was their sultry beach video for “You Make Me Juana” from their second album, “Espasoul”, the band returns after a nine-year hiatus with a new album that has the summer sound feel.

“Summer” as in a reggae and dub-influenced album that is tentatively titled, Cute Sinta, and is due in a few weeks’ time.

Lest you think that the Chillitees have gone Jamaican like Snoop Dog did a few years ago with the album, “Snoop Lion”, the trademark sweet soul and smooth grooves are still very much evident. Except they are wrapped with the ephemeral vibe that the late great Bob Marley popularized. And the result is a delectable mélange of genres. Think Thievery Corporation or Hed Kandi circa Nu Cool 1 meets OPM-inflected R&B.

More than a slight deviation to their sound, the Chillitees have entered Swing Out Sister and Workshy territory as they are now a duo featuring vocalist Uela Basco and multi-instrumentalist, Dan Gil. With all the other members opting to either migrate or move on to other projects, the two constants in their two albums, 2006’s Extra Rice and 2008’s Espasoul, are Basco and Gil.

How does that affect live performances? For now, Gil makes use of Ableton beats while Uela sings.

“The new album has this summer sound feel,” volunteers Basco who is bursting with excitement over the new album. The 32-year old singer released her first solo album, That Room, on iTunes (that was produced by Gil) in 2015. Her solo effort which is being eyed for a physical compact disc release, was a progression of the Chillitees’ sound. The new Chillitees’ offering take their music to new soundscapes. “Besides -- who doesn’t love reggae and dub?”

Basco was trained in classical music before switching to jazz and R&B. “I think classical music prepared me for the changes in my singing,” says the soprano. “Reggae and dub have a different intonation. Change, I guess, is constant for the Chillitees.”

Gil on the other hand grew up in the 1970s and 80s and soaked in everything that has come up since. “Our music is the sum of what Dan grew up listening to,” says Basco lovingly of the Chillitees’ music man.

“Espasoul” that had a 70’s music vibe Manila sound, was recorded live. “Cute Sinta” reflects the changes Ableton and all.

Working out of a studio owned by legendary OPM composer Charo Unite (who wrote songs for Nora Aunor, Rico J. Puno, Dulce, Asin, VST & Company, and Sharon Cuneta among many others) in the Gallery, Makati, Gil marvels at all the hardware and recording tools at his disposal. Gil holds up a Neumann microphone. The gadget is one of the best and perfect for vocal use.

I remark that it is what Joe Jackson used for the recording of his classic album, “Body and Soul”. Gil’s eyes light up. “To use these and all these equipment was used for classic OPM… it’s rich,” he gushes.

The changes aren’t only confined to the new album. There are plans to re-release “Extra Rice” either in CD or vinyl form. “Something to reward our old and new fans,” says Gil. “Something too in our bucket list.”

More to that, the duo is thinking of doing a re-make of the video of “Ikaw” (from Extra Rice) reflecting the physical changes.

“When we recorded that album and shot the video, well – totoy pa ako,” laughs Basco. Since then, the vocalist gained massive dosages of confidence by taking up pole dancing as well as penchant for exploring the great outdoors (surfing, skateboarding, and riding big bikes among others). “I’m far from that teeny-bopper look,” she says. “When I started out my career singing at 17 years of age for the Sun Valley Crew, I didn’t really know what to do. People just said, ‘go up and sing.’ I was shy and well, unsure of myself. I’ve come a long way since. And I’d love for our new material to reflect me. Well, it’s not the new me. It’s certainly me.”

“Me” is the sexier look that matches the mood of her music’s grooves. Basco teased that with “Espasoul” and carried that look with her solo album. “Looks aside, it’s never about that. It’s always about the music. Music (and her day job is a music producer) is my life.”

“I am glad that people appreciate the music more than anything else because that’s the way it should be,” sums up Basco. “And it’s the sound of summer – carefree, fun, summer lovin’, and breezy.”

It’s good to see the Chillitees back and it’s a brand new day.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Ang Bandang Shirley to release their “Favorite” album

Ang Bandang Shirley to release their “Favorite” album
by rick olivares

In these challenging days, Ang Bandang Shirley, that band whose good cheer brightens your day with tunes that leave an indelible mark in your heart and mind, arrives with their much-anticipated third album titled, “Favorite”.

The band is set to launch “Favorite” this coming March 25 at the Blue Bay Walk Garden, the Metro Park, in Pasay City.

With the singles and videos for “Umaapaw” and “Siberia” released a few months ahead of the new album, Ang Bandang Shirley have teased a refined, tighter sound without sacrificing the sheen and harmony that have defined their music.

If “Themesongs”, their debut, had a raw vitality to their songs with the influence of Broken Social Scene all over them, their sophomore release, “Tama Na Ang Drama” found them more introspective and soulful. With “Favorite”, the album exudes the confidence of maturity and experience in facing life’s challenges and these turbulent times we live in.

As an added tidbit, the band continues their tradition of selecting an album track as the title of their album.

The true collective nature of the band expands. Just as the band did with “Tama Na Ang Drama”, “Favorite” is also a collective effort in terms of songwriting with various band members contributing. And speaking of confidence and collective, the band is confident enough to allow different producers -- from Modulogeek, Big Hat Gang, Nights of Rizal, the Ringmaster, and Mikey Amistoso of Ciudad and Hannah + Gabi – to take stabs at putting together those thoughtful and intuitive songs that have been their trademark. Despite the eclectic ideas, what the band has teased during the pre-launch shows is a seamless weaving of more provocative pop nuggets to fill your soul.

“Favorite”, from Wide Eyed Records, will be available at the launch in compact disc form and on iTunes. The CD will be available soon after in selected outlets that will be announced on the band’s website and social media.