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Archive for the ‘Rex Baylon’ Category

♪ A Summer Escape (Golden Teardrops, 2008) ♪

In Indie Pop, OPM, Rex Baylon, Track Reviews on December 8, 2010 at 5:39 am

Can a person truly fall in love with a band after hearing only one of its songs?

Lorelie Landavora and Ryan Marquez make up the band Golden Teardrops, and although I’ve only listened to one of their songs, I must admit, I’m hungry for more. “A Summer Escape” is a track that evokes the very best of The Beach Boys, more specifically the harmonic simplicity of Brian Wilson. Categorically speaking, the song falls under the label of twee pop with its infectious pop melody, and its innocent and somewhat banal lyrics. And though Landavora’s vocals are reminiscent of Zooey Deschanel’s, the track is not just some summer pop song derivative.

Maybe it’s my preference for downbeat and somewhat melancholic summer tracks like “A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy, Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” or Eric Burdon’s “Spill the Wine” over the saccharine glazed oeuvre of a group like Sugar Ray or Smash Mouth that have colored my appreciation for “A Summer Escape”—but the heart wants what it wants. Or it might be my distaste for songs, no matter how catchy or popular they maybe, that force a fun directive down listener’s throats just because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Either way, Landavora’s vocal delivery lends “A Summer Escape” a refreshing ironic twist.

The song paints summer not as a collection of cliché moments on the beach or at a backyard barbecue, but as a feeling—or more appropriately, a sensation. We all long for a break, the perfect vacation fantasy, from the grinding routine of work or school. And though we may find shelter and solace in the warm embrace of the sun, sand, and waves, the friends we’ve left behind and the lives we’ve abandoned back home always manage to find us like a cold breeze on a hot day. The escape is only temporary and the fleeting taste of freedom short-lived. All we can do is count the days until next summer and hope we can last until then.

– Rex Baylon

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♪ Sa Wakas (Eraserheads, 1994) ♪

In Alternative Rock, OPM, Rex Baylon, Track Reviews on December 8, 2010 at 5:34 am

I am a neophyte to all things Eraserheads. As a kid during the 90s hanging out with my older cousins in the Philippines, who were themselves self-confessed audiophiles, I used to listen to their cassette tapes and educated myself on bands like the Cocteau Twins, The Cranberries, and other popular alternative rock groups then. When they tried to teach me about local music, I feigned interest but my uncultivated music palette made it next to impossible for my untrained ears to connect with songs that had non-English lyrics in them. Luckily, things had changed and that petulant little boy eventually grew up and his tastes broadened.

Dipping your toes into any artist’s oeuvre can be a daunting task, and the Eraserheads were no exception. I was aware of their esteemed reputation being the “The Beatles of the Philippines,” but other than that I was completely ignorant of their sound. After getting a few song recommendations from friends, I began to make my way through their discography and enjoyed what I heard, but nothing really grabbed me. It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth song that I listened to—“Sa Wakas,” the fifteenth track in Circus—that they had my undivided attention.

To my astonishment the song is more Bob Dylan than The Beatles. Not having a full grasp of Tagalog, I was initially drawn to the melody and rhythm of the song. The discordant melody works in favor of Ely Buendia’s lyrics and vocal delivery. The inventive use of instruments like synthesizers, cowbells, and hand drums lends the song a very organic garage rock sound. Although initially I did not know what Ely Buendia was singing about, I did get hints from his earnest vocal delivery. The anguish, the frustration, and the triumph were all revealed in his voice; and like any true singer, Buendia is a man allergic to affectation. There are many songs that I have yet to listen to before I can offer anything substantial to say about the Eraserheads, but when I look back at my younger self I regret not having paid attention to my cousins who were sharing their passion for Pinoy rock with me. As a boy you hunt for the familiar, things that validate what you already know to be true, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with that, but if you only look at the same picture everyday, listen to the same song day in and day out, and eat the same dish every meal, you risk living a snow globe existence.

Happily, I broke out of that shell years ago and now I can’t wait to delve deeper into the Eraserheads oeuvre.

– Rex Baylon

Mambo! (Yma Sumac, 1954)

In Exotica, Peruvian, Rex Baylon, Summer Albums on April 13, 2010 at 9:33 am

Lounge/Exotica is a long dead music genre. It’s listened too much for its kitsch factor than anything else, and yet I can’t get enough of it. The genre itself conjures up images of tiki bars, brightly colored cocktail drinks, and rattan furniture. And during this daydream fantasy I wouldn’t have anyone other than Yma Sumac (pronounced Eee-mah Soo-mack) playing in the background.

Gifted with an amazing voice and decked out in a gypsy gown, ornate headgear, and flamboyant jewelry, Yma is the queen of tiki culture. In an industry that demands conformity, she refuses to bend to other people’s rules. Divas like Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Celine Dion are pale imitators of Yma’s five-octave soprano vocal range.

Her 1954 album Mambo! is the perfect summer album because you can’t fight the urge to dance when you listen to it. The raw energy, lush orchestration, and Yma’s ethereal voice seem to exist in some parallel universe where men are dressed like Cary Grant and women look like Grace Kelly or Rita Hayworth. The inherent kitsch factor of some songs in Mambo! may turn many people off, but summer is not the time to take oneself seriously. Get up! Move! Have fun! But please don’t be boring about it.

– Rex Baylon

♪ A Summer Song (Chad and Jeremy, 1964) ♪

In British, Duo, Folk, Rex Baylon, Summer Songs, Track Reviews on April 13, 2010 at 9:29 am

Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song” is a folk-pop classic that you probably first heard while watching Wes Anderson’s Rushmore. The lyrics of the song speak of quiet moments spent reminiscing about relationships from long ago. While many summer songs are marketed to an adolescent crowd and thus offer nothing but superficial lyrics and a fun melody to dance to, Chad and Jeremy’s elegiac approach to the theme of summer is refreshing. Whereas summer is usually associated with the optimistic potential for young love, “A Summer Song” is about the aftermath of those adolescent romances. Like any good summer song, it is hopeful of the new adventures that the season will bring, but the tinge of disappointment, of looking back at our mistakes and wishing we were better people, permeates through even the most optimistic of lyrics. Even within the warm embrace of the sun heartache is never too far off.

– Rex Baylon

Download “A Summer Song”

♪ Hell (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1996) ♪

In Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing, Track Reviews on April 12, 2010 at 6:43 am

Released in 1996, “Hell” became Squirrel Nut Zippers’ calling card. For better or for worse it defined the band as Hot Jazz stylists. While most people were still dressed in torn jeans and flannel shirts, Squirrel Nut Zippers came out of left field and played something that wasn’t exactly rock, not quite alternative, and somewhat befuddling to jazz purists.

Their first single, “Hell”, is a modern-day Inferno set in a calypso rhythm that features lyrics far too bizarre and dark for many of its mainstream listeners to understand. In spite of the track’s unique qualities, it was a huge hit, due in no small part to the swing revival. Yet unlike many of the songs that emerged out of the neo-swing movement, “Hell” has stood the test of time because it went against the grain of what modern audiences expected from big-band music. While Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Flying Neutrinos, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies borrowed riffs wholesale from the Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw songbook, Squirrel Nut Zippers rummaged through the dustbins of music history and took only what they needed. Listening to the song it’s never quite clear if Tom Maxwell’s lyrics are meant to be a cautionary tale or merely a parody of one, but with a song this good, who cares? When it comes to Squirrel Nut Zippers it’s not so much about what the song is trying to say, but how they say it.

– Rex Baylon

Download “Hell”

Night Piece (Shugo Tokumaru, 2004)

In Folk, Janina Vistan, Rex Baylon on April 12, 2010 at 6:12 am

Shugo Tokumaru’s aptly titled debut, Night Piece, is a mood album that captures the beauty of twilight. The ten acoustic folk-jazz tracks that encompass the album’s 23-minute runtime run the gamut of emotions from elation to melancholic; and while listening, one can’t help but tap one’s feet and enjoy its feel.

Tokumaru builds his aural universe out of the most mundane things: guitar, flute, drums, bells, vocals and digital samples. But unlike so many of his contemporaries, Shugo does not drown his songs in unneeded digital tampering. Each instrument he plays can be crisply heard, lending the songs a density that would have been absent if he had chosen to heavily manipulate the tracks.

Tokumaru’s deft touch lends the album a fragility that one doesn’t see in some debuts. Instead of trying to wow the listener with the velocity or volume of his playing, Shugo opts to play in a more subtly nuanced manner, making the listener pay attention to the gentle melodies that he crafts. And whereas neophyte acts might try to bludgeon the listener with noise, Tokumaru pauses between each song as he moves from one chord to another or switches from one instrument to the next.

Simply put, Night Piece translates the tranquil stillness of the evening into a tender pop debut.

– Rex Baylon

Exit (Shugo Tokumaru, 2007)

In Electronica, Folk, Japanese, Pop, Rex Baylon on April 12, 2010 at 5:48 am

Although flooded with all sorts of pop acts, the Japanese music industry has very few artists that can claim both critical and mass appeal. Labeled by many as the only Japanese musician that mattered in the Aughts, Shugo Tokumaru’s experimental style bridges the gap between avant-garde and confectionary pop. As a multi-instrumentalist, Tokumaru embraces the disparate elements of folk, rock, electronica, and pop; and melds them into something that sounds wholly familiar but still retains the spirit of re-invention.

In his third album, Exit, Tokumaru takes on the task of being a fifty-man band and accomplishes the impossible: he creates a pop masterpiece. One can’t help but smile while listening to Exit. The album is not some dour avant-garde exercise but rather a Pollyanna-ish concerto divided into ten separate orchestral pieces. Tokumaru steps into Brian Wilson’s shoes and experiments with the symphonic sensibilities of the pop song by punctuating each track with the commonplace sounds of the everyday; and in the process, he infuses the songs with a life of their own.

Each of the ten tracks in Exit breathes with its own unique idiosyncrasies, as though each song continues to play as the next track begins. Also, what’s refreshing about Tokumaru’s style is that although many in the American press have compared him to a Japanese Sufjan Stevens or Owen Pallett, Tokumaru’s music eschews the cliché arguments of Western vs. Asian musical influences. He is not some Japanese artist clumsily trying some Western style. Tokumaru’s music transcends such limiting definitions; like all good music, his songs obliterate cultural boundaries.

Although many listeners may be turned off by the fact that all the songs are written in Japanese, I suggest that these people should get over their biases. Exit is one of a handful of albums released during the Aughts that will outlive the social milieu that gave birth to it. Shugo Tokumaru is an unparalleled genius and those who ignore his contributions are doing so at their own peril.

– Rex Baylon

Perennial Favorites (Squirrel Nut Zippers, 1998)

In American, Jazz, Rex Baylon, Swing on April 10, 2010 at 11:39 am

Although long forgotten now, in the mid-nineties, the neo-swing boom, for a short period of time, caught the world by storm. Zoot suits, martini bars, and the street patios of Prohibition-era America all claimed dominion over the entire continental US. With the popularity of Doug Liman’s Swingers you couldn’t enjoy a drink at a bar without someone quoting a line from the film ad nauseam. And alongside the mainstream revival of swing music itself came the stampede of amateur musicians and dancers who jumped on the bandwagon snapping their fingers and stomping their feet; many ignorant of the differences between the Lindy Hop and a Jitterbug or the complicated histories of Dixieland and Swing music.

While bands like The Flying Neutrinos and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy hold the listeners’ hands while giving them a guided tour of their grandparents music, Squirrel Nut Zippers grabs you by the throat and puts your ear right next to the speaker, making you feel the rawness of their sound. Squirrel Nut Zippers treats swing not as some long dead genre to be imitated through the most superficial of melodies, but as a living and ever-evolving form of music. They scored their first success with the hit single “Hell” in 1996, but it is in 1998, upon the release of Perennial Favorites, when they firmly went from retro-kitsch band to full-fledged musicians.

Squirrel Nut Zippers brought back the danger and the raunchiness of Hot Jazz. The frenetic tempo, syncopated drumbeats, and squealing of horns made the music primal, translating our basest desires into a danceable soundtrack. By combining the properties of ragtime, gypsy jazz, Delta blues, klezmer, and swing, they transcended the pop confines of the music genre that the press boxed them in. Like any true artist they didn’t just copy the style—they made it their own. For that, I tip my hat to Squirrel Nut Zippers. After giving this album a listen I am certain you also will.

– Rex Baylon

♪ Mr. Tambourine Man (Kumisolo, 2009) ♪

In Japanese, Rex Baylon, Track Reviews on April 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

In 1965, two iconic folk acts premiered their versions of what would eventually become a pop standard: “Mr. Tambourine Man”. The original song, written and sung by Bob Dylan, became the litmus test on which all folk songs afterwards would be judged. Not to mention the fact that Dylan’s version catered to the boho intelligentsia of New York’s Lower East Side with its surrealist lyrics and evocative melody. At the opposite end of the spectrum, The Byrds version of the song, released two weeks after Dylan’s, became a hit but turned out to be a pale imitation of Dylan’s masterpiece.

Now forty-four years later, Japanese chanteuse Kumisolo releases her version of the song as part of Dylan Mania, a compilation album featuring various artists covering songs from Bob Dylan’s oeuvre. Unlike The Byrds, Kumisolo doesn’t take the easy way out and just karaoke her way through the song. No, like any true artist, she brings her soul into the Dylan classic and what was once a 60’s protest anthem for freedom becomes a 21st century techno-pop hit.

Whereas previous interpretations of the song have always yielded angst-ridden covers, Kumisolo has eschewed such cliché affectations and created a bubbly dance track. Instead of dour harmonies we are treated to a panoply of instruments, urging us to dance even before the first note is done playing.

Also, I can’t get enough of the trumpets. They bring a playful gravitas to the tune and help announce to the purists that Dylan doesn’t have carte blanche ownership of the song. Another brilliant move on Kumisolo’s part is that she avoids getting trapped in facile mimicry. Instead of trying to copy Bob Dylan’s way of singing, she brings an upbeat interpretation to the lyrics.

And while Dylan’s tambourine man was the manifestation of all the insecurities of the burgeoning youth movement, Kumisolo’s modern-day tambourine man is apolitical. Kumisolo’s version captures perfectly the plight of all youth today: instead of struggling to be loyal to a movement we all struggle to be true to ourselves. Whether we can or not we at least have Kumisolo’s music to keep us company on the long road from adolescence to adulthood.

– Rex Baylon

Download “Mr Tambourine Man”

Flowers (Asuna, 2009)

In Ambient, Electronica, Japanese, Rex Baylon on April 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

I don’t really know what to call it. The only category that comes to mind when describing the sound is ambient noise pop, but such reductive categorizing doesn’t do justice to the music of Asuna. From the information I could gather on the Internet I can tell you that Japanese musician Asuna has been producing experimental music since 1999. And although I couldn’t tell you how many albums he has already put out, his latest record, Flowers, was released about a year ago.

The album is lo-fi not only in terms of production but also of theme. Many of the tracks clock in at a little over a minute long, some just two and a half minutes, which gives many of the songs an unfinished rough-hewn veneer. It’s as if Asuna is rushing from one auditory idea to another, offering only pencil sketch blueprints for his songs and letting the listener fill in the rest.

If one had to pluck out a concept for Flowers it would have to be a lazy afternoon. While listening to every one of the twelve tracks in the album, I can’t shake the image of sitting aimlessly under the shade. Songs blur into each other and one can easily lose track of the time as well as one’s train of thought. The constant repetition of sounds, whether instrumental or ambient noise, has a metronomic effect on the listener. The trancelike spell cast by Flowers will have one’s heart rate and pulse synchronized to the rhythm of each track. While many mainstream musicians aim to grab hold of their audience’s attention, Asuna is content with turning the ordinary into a quiet soundtrack for anyone to spend the day with.

– Rex Baylon