Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Playing the Beatles' Love Songs

This was actually the first Beatles record that I ever got. I did have some cassettes of Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club but this was the first record I bought. I used to see ads in the old Jingle magazine and I saved enough to buy the album. I think it took me about five months to get this (but that's only because some of my other savings went to other things like comic books). LOVE SONGS is still a favorite of mine even after all these years.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Discovering Six the Northstar’s new CD SixTrueMentals Vol. 2

Discovering Six the Northstar’s new CD SixTrueMentals Vol. 2
by rick olivares

I am generally not interested in any record album that isn’t without a proper rhythm section. Especially the pseudo-jazz that passes for music today. That quote from the Jerry Maguire film resonates with me all the more (referring to John Coltrane and Miles Davis): “Two masters of freedom playing at a time before their art was corrupted by a zillion cocktail lounge performers.”

When I was given a copy of Six the Northstar’s “SixTrueMentals Vol. 2” a few days ago, I immediately saw the Akai MPC100 (music production center) in the back cover and noted that there are 16 tracks. It was the same feeling I got when I picked up Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ 1980 album, “Get Happy”, that contained 10 songs in each side of the record for a total of 20. The more tracks on a vinyl record, there was a fear in the loss of quality due to groove cramming. While this was a CD, it certainly wasn’t the concern about groove cramming.  I thought, “I hope this isn’t filler drone material” and felt some trepidation.

This being the first time to hear Six’s music, I kept an open mind. And well… it isn’t so bad. In fact, I think I hit repeat several times over on some tracks as I couldn’t believe it was over that quick.

I love how Six infuses his beats with traces of soul, funk, jazz, and world music. They SixTrueMentals tease with morsels of Thievery Corporation-like tunes yet unlike the Washington DC-based outfit’s music that is strikes out into rich new territory because of its pastiche of cultures and sounds, Six the Northstar instead takes us back to those familiar places where we have fond memories. It’s like a signpost soundtrack. All the more evident when in the penultimate track, “Do It All Over Again,” Six traps in an infinite loop that timeless opening line to Barbra Streisand’s “The Way We Were”.

To wit, the opening track “That’s Right”, sings to me Diana Ross and the Supremes.

“End of the Honeymoon Stage” reminds me of Noel Gallagher’s flirtations with the Chemical brothers sound with his contributions to the X-Files soundtrack, “Teotihuacan”.

“Hey, have you ever tried” drips with that smoky, sultry sound of Philadelphia in the 1970s.

“I Know You’ve Been Hurt” brings to life the Ivory Queen of Soul.

Jafar in Jasmine’s Clothing, perhaps Six’s ode to the Disney animated film, Alladin, is mysterious.

“Fist in the Face of Darkness” recalls the sinister feel of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise”.

“Stars in My Eyes” sounds like a lost Stylistics track.

And it goes on. I guess that’s the beauty of this album - Six knows his roots. He takes you back and yet, forward. It forces you to reach out and expand your horizons. While I will always swear by a full rhythm section and not a machine that samples music, SixTrueMentals Vol. 2 does get me to appreciate modern music making methods. Furthermore, his music does what it is supposed to do. And that’s groove, swoon, think, take you to places, and well, enjoy what you’re listening.

About Six the Northstar:
Released on February 14 2017, SixTrueMentals Vol 2. is Six the Northstar’s latest release which is the ninth album put out by Six in his current body of work. As both a MC and Producer, VOL 2 represents a collection of his recent work an instrumental beat producer and is a follow up to his album SixTrueMentals Vol. 1 released in January 1 2016. Vol. 2 is his first solo release that was fully produced under the auspices of independent music label FUTURESTUDIO.

Mainly produced through Six’s MPC1000, Vol. 2 is an assembly of a multitude of sounds and samples taken from old records tastefully selected, chopped, and masterfully manipulated by Six. Through the entirety of Vol 2. a listener will hear Six’s tastes shine through; a mix of soul, jazz, and funk, armed with a fresh hip-hop beat.

In his career as a musician Six has worked with several groups such as A.M.P.O.N., Archon Akeenz, MDK, New Cocoon and most recently as one third of the hip hop group Shadow Moses. He has also lent his vocal chops as features on other artists’ projects with more collaborations as both a MC and Producer coming up soon.

SixTrueMentals Vol. 2 can be found on Spotify, Apple Music, and has physical copies available at The Appraisery and The Four Strings at Cubao Expo. Album art of Vol. 2 was created by artist Lari Gazmen.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Listening to Weather Report's Heavy Weather

Alert Level’s 25th Anniversary: A reunion of the best of the Philippine alternative music scene

Alert Level’s 25th Anniversary: A reunion of the best of the Philippine alternative music scene
by rick olivares

Alert Level, that seminal compilation album that featured then four rising bands, will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Stephen Lu, formerly lead singer of Rizal Underground, one of four bands featured in “Alert Level”, is back in the studio re-mastering all 12 tracks for a compact disc re-issue.

“I think with the newfound excitement of the return to prominence of vinyl, hence the music scene, it seems timely that we’ll be celebrating the re-release of “Alert Level.”

Back in mid-1993, the country’s alternative music scene exploded. The Eraserheads were unleashed on an unsuspecting country that sent artist and repertoire managers scrambling towards every rock club in and around Manila in search of the next big thing.

One fledging production house, Loud House Productions, headed by Lu, former lead singer of the rockabilly trio, Runaway Boys, fortunately had dibs on that.

His old rockabilly trio, the Runaway Boys had broken up and he had gone into album production. “My first foray was producing was Binky Lampano’s album, ‘I Read the News’ in 1992. I learned from that process. It prompted me to produce an independent release. And the next feasible project for me was putting out an album featuring four rising bands.”

These bands were the Breed, Color it Red, Tropical Depression, and Lu’s new outfit, Rizal Underground.

“At that time, Color It Red had the Quezon City crowd from Red Rocks and Club Dredd,” recalled Lu. “The Breed had the Makati/Kalye audience while Tropical Depression brought in the Mayrics people. I had formed a new band, Rizal Underground. So you can say that the bands we chose were not only the smart bets as they all had their own sets of fans but also for strategic purposes.”

The biggest challenge for Lu wasn’t getting the album (that was released in cassette form) to sell but to finish the recording and the post-production. All the bands were very cooperative. The problem back then was that Manila was deep in 12-hour brownouts.

“Bands were hanging out at the studio from 12 midnight to six or seven in the morning because that was the only time where we had electricity with no interruptions,” recalled Lu. “That bonded everyone and despite the difficult schedule, everyone put in their work. ‘Alert Level’ is something we were and are all proud of.”

The album was a popular release and following the Eraserheads’ explosive debut, local companies signed all the bands to contracts. Color it Red went to Alpha Records. The Breed to Dyna. Tropical Depression signed with Viva while Rizal Underground was snapped up by Polycosmic Records.

While “Alert Level” isn’t the first indie release as local punk music company Twisted Red Cross put out their own independently produced cassettes years before Lu conceived his own project, it did spawn other compilations featuring unsigned bands such Alpha Records “Alpha-Numeric Sampler to NU’s “In the Raw” to name a few.

“As the producer of ‘Alert Level’, it was gratifying to see all the bands secure contracts and record albums some of who released several records,” glowed Lu. His own Rizal Underground became popular first with their own songs then after receiving a massive jolt of publicity following their recording of the San Miguel Beer jingle “Sabado Nights.”

According to Lu, the 25th Anniversary Edition of “Alert Level” will be out this July 2017. “We’d love to have it out on vinyl but right now, the format that we can afford as an independent outfit is on compact disc,” said Lu.

“We are also planning a reunion show where every band will perform these old songs. The challenge though will be finding someone to take the place of Papadom (the late Dominic Gamboa, lead singer of Tropical Depression). Manny Amador (bassist of the Breed) is also no longer with us, but we are sure we can find someone to pinch hit. The details to the album release and the show will be finalized soon.”

“Vinyl is back and sales are at high levels so who knows, the re-release of ‘Alert Level’ just might find lightning striking twice.”

With Stephen Lu

Friday, February 17, 2017

Girl in the Park Part 1: Daybreak

Girl in the Park
Part 1: Daybreak

She has two alarm clocks. One is the sun in her face and the other is the blaring of car horns. The incessant honking is sure to wake her up.

She yawns. Wipes her eyes and rubs at the dried spittle around her lips. She yawns again and stretches.

She’s far from an angel in the morning. Her hair is disheveled. She reaches out to a bottle of precious water, drinks some, gargles, then spits it out. She then throws some on her face. She can only afford to use some because she’ll have a hard time getting fresh water again.

The sun is most welcome because it has been deathly cold of late this February. Sleeping out in the open and on the bench? If it isn’t the weather that gets you, it’s the mosquitos. Or even… well… let’s not talk about this for now. Later maybe.

The bench has been her home for what… months? Maybe a year now? She used to know. She used to have a name. Well, she still does. Only she goes by a different name now. Her old name holds memories of another life and another time. Another place too. She’ll cry is she remembers. But she’s all out of tears. Her new name isn’t much. It’s just a nickname.

She yawns. Stretches. Thankfully, she now has a small sleeping bag to keep her snug. She has to curl herself in a fetal position to fit but snug is good. She has a light sweater that is better than nothing. At least now, her bones aren’t chilled by the cold cement bench.

The park. It’s rather small. Time was it had a nice mat of grass. Ondoy and the succeeding habagat destroyed that. Before that, senior citizens used to play croquet here. Now they’re gone. The park still has a children’s playground and it still attracts some kids from the nearby slum area. But it has its own denizens.

As early as daybreak, the few benches in the park are occupied. One lady sells snacks, water, cigarettes. There’s a small clientele who patronize her goods and that’s the truck and pedicab drivers who park nearby. There too are the folks who have nothing to do and the odd passerby. One elderly woman tried to set up shop in a nearby bench. The younger lady with more goods fought with her – it’s a turf battle, you know – and the elderly one retreated to the foot of the bridge that’s about a hundred meters away. Foot traffic is better there. But the pollution from the cars gets to her. She doesn’t mind. Or if she doesn’t she knows she cannot afford to. After all, she needs to earn money.

Mone. Doesn’t every one need it?

Angel – let’s call her that for now – wishes she had one.
Some of the park’s habitues stir. Two other women plant themselves in the bench in front. They offer a cigarette. A cigarette is more affordable than food but they certainly wish they could eat the cigarette.

She tried to look for work in some of the nearby eateries along the river. She couldn’t cook but she could sure wash the dishes for food and some money. Somehow people don’t seem to trust her because she lives in a park. She protests. She will only stay there until she could afford a room.

Ashe’s grateful because I brought her some pandesal and a bottle of water. She’s wary if I am asking for something in return. I say no. Think of it a just concern.

She quizzically looks at me. Is there anyone still like that?

The last time she asked for a glass of water from a nearby eatery the attendant asked if he could have sex with her in exchange. She said no. She came back an hour later saying she’ll agree to have sex with him if he throws in a meal and a little cash to tide her over.

So they did it one night on the bench wrapped in the small sleeping bag. When the man tried to come inside her, she kicked and clawed at him until it woke up the rest of the park’s denizens. She may be poor and most possibly only recently homeless and she knows getting pregnant in a time like this is not a good proposition whatsoever. She may be poor but she isn't stupid enough to bring a child into this harsh world. 

The park's citizens drew close and the man left. But not before he threatened her with her life. That is why she dare not set foot in the nearby eateries by the river. Here in the park she’s safe. For now. She wanted to cry that night but she's all out of tears. That's for another day she tells me.

The pandesal never tasted so good. She smiles.

That’s all the thanks I need. I bid my byes and leave. She calls out. Thank you she says.