AUDIO JUNKIE: Music from here, there and everywhere

From indie and rap to an amalgam of rock, reggae and pop---and even J-Pop!---there’s good music from all sides and sources.

‘Plunder My Heart’ by Ely Buendia, Cheats

Ely Buendia has been wearing his record label-slash-producer hat for some time now with his own outfit, Offshore Music. Maybe that’s the reason he has not put out his own songs, except for the odd team-up here and there.

But we’ll take any EB collab anyday than nothing at all. That’s why we welcome his new work with indie band the Cheats titled “Plunder My Heart.”

Moody, synth heavy with an old-school indie pop feel---that is the order of the day for Buendia and Cheats. The band counts Jam 88.3 jock Candy Gamos and Saab Magalona as singers; and Manny Tanglao, Kyle Quismundo, Enzo Hermosa and Jason Caballa (Pedicab) to complete the group.

Ely has that connection with Saab, of course, as he’s good friends with the late Francis M. That and the Cheats being signed on at Offshore make the connection tighter.

As for the track, Ely seems to be in his default sullen mood as he muses “So you left the vacuum of your bed /Just to fall inside your head /I’ve been living in a hollow dream /Watching shadows on the screen.”

It’s not quite the pick-me-up theme we’d like to hear during these troubling times but sonically, it’s a throwback to simpler times.

Gamos and Magalona take turns with EB in the stanzas; a counterweight that gives this song the needed saccharine. But that arpeggiator effect at the latter part seems like the apropos crescendo for this sonic ear-tweak of a track.

‘’Di Kagandahan (Pero Mabait)’ by Ezro

Rap act Ezro’s debut with newly-built Blacksheep Records Manila is a TikTok hit in-the-making. His song “’Di Kagandahan” seems to be built in the same winning mold that brought previous songs like “Dalaga” (Allmo$t), “Ivana” (Soulstice), and “Marikit” (Juan Caoile) into the mainstream: a memorable keyboard riff, a driving hiphop beat, an incessantly catchy hook and extolling the virtues of a dalaga albeit not that er, marikit.

But hey, beauty is in the eye of the beholder which we’re sure Ezro agrees. All that’s missing now is an even catchier choreo for a TikTok dance-challenge and Ezro’s got a viral hit in his hands at first go.

‘Swimming’ by The Benchwarmers

South of Manila-based The Benchwarmers throws surf guitar, reggae and synth pop into the mix to come up with their own distinct rockin’ and rowdy sound.

The self-style “service road rock and rollers’ newly released track “Swimming” is like a punk song that got played by a Ska band who used the instruments of the New Wave band that went before them. If that makes sense, then you’ll have an inkling of how the band sounds.

The Benchwarmers is composed of Polo Reyes (guitars-vocals-keyboards), John Mangun (drums), Jeo Santos (guitar-vocals-tambourine), Sean and Patrick Palomares on guitars and bass, respectively.

‘Exhale’ by Kenzie

When young singer-dancer Kenzie dropped her new single “Exhale” on YouTube a couple of weeks ago , the video just seemed to rack up views automatically.

Maybe it’s the TikTok feels of the video as it was shot entirely during lockdown, hence the “quarantine” music video tag. Or it could be that the track has its merits too. Catchy melodies wrapped in those robust electro basslines and the surging beats and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter SIA on the track.

Then there’s Kenzie’s upbeat message for the times, in which she urges her listeners to “release their pressures and stress.” Hence “Exhale,” and to just dance your worries away.

The music video was said to have been shot entirely by phone and video conference call when the singer was in lockdown with a couple of her friends.

‘Cardigan’ by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift is her generation’s do-it-all pop genius. The music video for ‘Cardigan,’ a cut from her excellent “Folklore” album released just a couple of weeks ago, is directed by the singer herself.

On the video, Swift puts a new spin on “Alice In Wonderland.” But instead of a rabbit hole, a magical piano transports Taylor from dreamy forest place to the next nightmare storm scenario. The narrative is an allusion to how relations go from, well, dreamy to nightmarish, ironically, in real life. But it’s all done in arty-Swift fashion for sure.

‘Be Happy’ by Dixie D’Amelio

Dixie D’Amelio is prime example of how social media can make you a star overnight.

Dixie’s debut single “Be Happy,” released last July 2, has garnered staggering views on YouTube.

The debut track is catchy tune that’s somewhat bitter-sweet despite its title.  Dixie’s morose delivery is apt for the song’s message about dealing with depression.

‘Nobody’s Love’ by Maroon 5

There’s Maroon 5 whose latest single “Nobody’s Love” is also making waves on YouTube though not in the way you think.

First there’s Adam Levine, who’s ditched not only his bandmates for the music video (it’s probably due to quarantine concerns, don’t worry) but his hair as well. Going for the bald-with-bushy-beard look that he, unsurprisingly, still pulls off.

Then there’s the music video itself, which depicts Levine, out on a cool night in (probably) L.A., in a house in the hills, overlooking the city, relaxing in the patio or garden, by his lonesome (the song’s message is that of a yearning love song after all).

“Nobody’s Love” is standard mid-tempo fare for Maroon 5. This is the band’s first song for 2020 after the excellent “Memories.”

‘Lemon’ by Kenshi Yonezu

Most Pinoys have a deep appreciation for melancholy and heart-rending emotion through artistic presentation, this holds true in our music scene, as emotional ballads have long been a mainstay of Pinoy pop.

“Lemon” by Kenshi Yonezu ticks off  all of these musical fascinations and it is sure to leave you breathless in its wake. With a steady accompaniment of piano and a healthy helping of string section combined with Yonezu’s thick, heartfelt vocals, this song would have passed as a tasteful ballad.

But with an upbeat tempo driven by drums and complemented by some tasty rhythm guitar work, what you get is the modern fusion that is an exemplar of the J-pop experience.

‘Uchiage Hanabi’ by DAOKO and Kenshi Yonezu

Evocative and decidedly more romantic in a nostalgic way, “Uchiage Hanabi” is a track carried on strong by the velvety vocals of female vocalist DAOKO, and the pleasing baritone of Kenshi Yonezu.

Alone, either of them has the chops to carry the song. But together, their top-notch talent results in a stupendous fusion that is guaranteed to give listeners an eargasm.

Add to this an instantly unforgettable melody amidst all that beautiful layering of piano, guitar, strings a pulsing rhythm section plus a dash of electronic flair and what you get is a musical pop gem that deserves all your gushing appreciation.

‘Zen Zen Zense’ by RADWIMPS

An upbeat rock track replete with spirited guitar riffs, a vigorous rhythmic accompaniment (with finesse drums and bass) and clean, crisp vocals; this song is sure to get you going even if it’s just tapping your foot, or bobbing your head in time with the driving beat.

“Zen Zen Sense” has restless energy in the music that is enough to get your heart pumping. Not only that, it exudes a vibe and charm to make a good day just that bit more exciting or a bad day just a little less infuriating.

This song happens to be part of the original soundtrack for the international Japanese film sensation “Your Name”; an animated movie that made humongous waves in cinemas and social media a few years ago.

‘Pretender’ by Official HIGE DANdism

It’s all about heartbreak and sorrow for the wonderfully catchy music that is ‘Pretender” by Official HIGE DANdism.

The band intended this to be a poignant ballad, and the passionate vocals certainly radiate that feeling. But there’s a point in the song (around 1:07) where the rhythm section just seems ready to jump. Which in turn sets up a wonderfully catchy chorus so nicely.

It’s that contrast---that push and pull---that makes this J-pop song extra special. Fusing a melancholy message (researched of course!) and the brightness of the melodies (and the Japanese are masters at this) is what makes J-pop sound distinct from other Asian pop.

‘Kanzen Kankaku Dreamer’ by ONE OK ROCK

A track that is very much rooted in rock, with some glam and emo thrown in for good measure is what this song’s all about.

“Kanzen Kankaku Dreamer” is a  hard rocker’s delight that will get your blood pumping and your body thrumming with the sheer intensity and excitement carried by this one song.

Additionally, this is the one song in this list that makes liberal use of English so potential listeners can readily understand the message.