Thursday, December 27, 2007


TYBS#16 (MARCH 2007)
Being sick is like a handicapped challenge for me. Like a test between your body and you on how fast you can get better, how much chemical aid you get while you’re at it or whether you do get better or worse. And it can always get worse.

It always feels that sickness isn’t just something to get over but (probably because of the gamut of Eastern literature on medicine I’ve read through the years) a confluence of neglect, environmental factors and the universe telling you in no uncertain terms: “you’re asking to get sick” or “you’ll kick yourself in the nuts when you realize how you let it get this far.”

With this kind of attitude it’s easy to see why getting sick for me is always an emotional experience. The self-reprisal and the feeling of culpability never really leave. This in turn forces a wave of self-analysis which leads to some pretty bad neurotic episodes.

I wonder if anybody else feels this way? What do sick people think about when they’re bundled up in bed, the phlegm clogging up most of their senses, reduced to helplessness, feeling both chill and hot?

For four days straight this previous week I was in bed with a debilitating flu that had me hacking phlegm that ran the colors of the spectrum, coughing in fits day and night. The lack of sleep didn’t do any wonders either. I blame this on the insufferably arctic temperature of my office (I work at a mall), the sudden on-set of summer and the often faulty air-conditioning on the MRT boxcars.

Two weeks previous, there was a day that had been recorded locally as “the hottest day yet” with temperatures in the shade holding level at 34 degrees. Combine that with a pile of work and carelessness with wearing jackets or other thermal wear and you’ve got a recipe for a magnificent breakdown.

I’m still coughing intermittently as I type this but nothing compared to the sorry sack of bones I was last week. Thank God for antibiotics and Strepsils and anti-histamines. I love narcotic antihistamines. Pop one in and, thirty minutes later, the world turns into a fuzzy ball. Ten minutes after that you’re dead as a dodo, snoring like a Muppet, cough or no.

Good thing they have an armory of chemicals for the flu. Diseases that you need to ride through to the end, however, are something else. The weird thing about my diseases is I pick up particularly virulent ones not out on field (on assignment or shooting something) but in the city. I always pick them up here, like those circular, spiky spores you get on your shirt after a trip through high grass.

Diseases are a different animal altogether and, as nasty as they are, are loopholes in my whole guilt-trip process. You can’t really guard yourself against these things. You can be healthy as an ox and still get them, so don’t even try to blame yourself.

In 1999 a chicken pox epidemic had broken out at the office of a national daily where I worked. I caught the tail end. Water-filled pustules breaking out on adult skin is not pretty. In kids, when the disease is over, the skin easily rejuvenates and leaves you almost the same. You can’t say the same for adults. The skin loses its resilience as you age. When the pox had run its course, my girl back then instantly cried when she saw me again for the first time -- the amount of scar tissue left had spoiled and blemished my face.

I shrugged. I wasn’t overly concerned because I was still euphoric over actually getting to touch other people. Two months of isolation in your room is a trial in itself. A few years after though I spotted an old ID of mine pre-pox and was shocked at how much the disease had f*&^ed up my skin. Trust me, you never think you’re pretty until after you get the pox.

Dengue in 2003 was even worse (or was it 2002?). One day I just couldn’t get up. No fever, no noticeable symptoms. I just felt like my bones were heavier than a sack of rice. I blamed it on the drinking binge a few nights ago and tried to sleep it off. No luck. To top it all off I couldn’t hold anything in for long. I kept shitting it out. Foul-smelling stuff, too.

After being misdiagnosed for five days my aunt decided to get my platelets checked. Bingo. The next few weeks was spent in bed with an IV stuck through my right wrist. My aunt was a doctor so I was lucky I didn’t have to be confined but living with that IV and performing a complicated stunt whenever I had to piss (as well as trying to discern whether I had the strength to do it right away or take several deep breaths to muster enough of it) was as close as I ever felt to dying.

You try to get up but the disease laughingly says, “No, you will stay down.” And you just know that if it kept you down long enough you’d kick the bucket. The will to fight ebbs subtly. The effort to keep it alive seems pointless.

I hate needles but I got expert at fiddling with the IV whenever I put my hand down too far and the blood would rush into the drip. When I came out the other side I was 15 pounds lighter and I had the strength of a kitten. Being mortal is a messy, bloody affair.

The only good thing about being sick or getting a disease is coming out of it and feeling reanimated. The sheer radiant texture of the world post-illness is a set of stimuli that is phenomenal. Food tastes better, there’s more detail in sounds, girls you previously thought average now look stunning. It’s something to enjoy even after such bitter harvest.

P.S. If you're wondering what happened to TYBS#15, the short answer is: I published an excerpt of a sorta, kinda new short story there. That story is now coming out in an anthology of genre fiction. So now I can't reprint it on-line. Sorry, guys.


TYBS #14 (MARCH 2007)
T*&g I#a Mo Andaming Nagugutom sa Mundo Fashionista Ka Pa Rin
Terno Recordings

This is the third album from the most innovative fusion band of rock, jazz and spoken word in the country. On one hand, you could say the title and the scathing cover by Louie Cordero serve a political message, on the other the Sago might just be totally pissed, venting their frustrations in the best way they know how.

Whatever the case the music on . . .Fashionista is probably the most punk album the band has ever produced. Put it side by side with the poppy, groovy self-titled debut, and the all-out stylistic experimentation of Urban Gulaman and you’ll see how, on this one, the fury just comes seething through.

Listen to the swagger of “Wasak na Wasak” or the tongue-in-cheek lampoon of “Basagan ng Mukha” and tell me you don’t hear strains of hellraiser mohawks behind the screaming brass who’d just as soon bash your head with a bottle as give you a sermon on Frankl’s existentialism. It’s heavy and lovingly dissonant in places, too.

What I love about Sago is how much they value the details in their music, that the layers and repeated listens will yield more gems of insight and perspective than it did on the first one. The fact that they soldier on in their vision of hepcat bliss and satire couched in excellent fusion means they have reconciled themselves with reaching out to a cult following that can decipher what they’re trying to do. Not that the greater number of radio listeners won’t dig the cool stylings of “George Estregan Groove Explosion” or the penultimate encapsulation of Sago politics that is “Alak, Sugal, Babae, Kabaong.” Heck, you can even buy the t-shirt.

While their music is light years ahead of any award-giving body (“We never win awards for our music, it’s always the video or something else,” laments frontman Lourd De Veyra), . . .Fashionista ensures that Sago will go on more musical drinking sprees for years to come. “Buy it,” adds Lourd. “May poster pa sa loob.”

Reise, Reise
Universal Records

I love Rammstein for three reasons: they make a deliciously heavy stew of Teutonic metal, classical, industrial and punk; their live gigs are virtual performance art (the lead singer sometimes sings whole songs engulfed in flames); and the concept for their songs are a mix of politics, German folklore and socio-cultural satire.

While the critics in the UK and America have been resistant to, and even dismissive of, Rammstein’s music, the fact that they always sing in their native German (save for a handful of English covers like The Ramones’ “Pet Cemetery”) and don't provide any official translations is a big middle finger to the musical hegemonists and record labels. The same critics have also conveniently glossed over the fact that they have sold tens of million of units across the globe, except for the two aforementioned countries.

To be more concise, the six members of Rammstein did not just grow up in Germany, they grew up in East Germany. To this day they remain stalwart socialists and adhere to its precepts so much that such egalitarianism often hamstrings their decision-making process. What this means is that they are the products of a unique and painful historical perspective that grants their music a matchless authority and strength beyond mere play-acting. Are you listening Marilyn Manson? How about you, Slipknot?

Rammstein are probably most famous for being indirectly involved in the Columbine shootings. That incident where a bunch of high school students laid siege to their school and started killing everybody in sight, from jocks to nerds. One of these kids had a Rammstein shirt on. Make an idiotic leap of logic and the school board is laying part of the blame on the band’s feet. To wit: listening to Rammstein makes you want to shoot up your school.

I agree in part. The stuff on Reise, Reise has the feel of call to arms music. It makes you feel inadequate, dwarfed, trivial. It makes you want to do something to remedy the situation. The album title means "journey, journey" or “sail sail” in old German fisherman’s cant. And there’s the ominous sense that this is going to be one unpleasant journey. I found the translation of the cover text that reads "Flugrekorder nicht Öffnen." It means: "Flight recorder, do not open."

This, then, is the black box of Rammstein’s thoughts and dreams. The harrowing tale of the title track tells of how men war against the sea to harvest fish, just like other men war upon their kind to harvest power. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Other hot tracks include "Morgenstern" (Morning Star) and "Mein Teil" (My Share), while "Keine Lust" beautifully illustrates how the constant flood of sex in media leaves us desensitized and flaccid when it finally comes to the real thing (check out the video for the song, too, where the band wear fat suits). “Los” adds a bluesy infusion to the relentless Kraut pomp with some rhythmic acoustic guitar and touches of harmonica and “Ohne Dich” is a moving ballad that retains gloom at its core.

The icing on this one though is the overtly political “Amerika” that brilliantly satirizes the country not as a place, but as a collection of brands. The whole “We’re all living in Amerika” chorus thus gains a macro, Big Brother-like perspective on how much capitalism holds sway over our hearts and minds from the Zulus eating a Yellow Cab in Africa to Mickey Mouse dancing on the streets of Paris.

Rammstein’s most scathing phrase, however, is reserved for America’s two biggest imports: “Coca-Cola/ Sometimes war.” Yeah, shooting sprees it is.

A Beautiful Lie
EMI Records Phils

Let’s get it out of the way: yes, the front man for 30STM is Jared Leto -- Angelface in Fight Club, Jordan Catalano in My So-Called Life and the main protagonist of Requiem for a Dream.

The actor takes breaks from his day job to play rock star and has done so since 2002 when they released their impressive (though highly underrated) self-titled debut . As far as actors turned musicians go, Jared Leto trounces most of them into dust. The likes of Billy Bob Thornton, Johnny Depp or Keanu Reeves don’t hold a candle to a real visionary like Leto.

That said, it is unfortunate that A Beautiful Lie turned out to be so much of a disappointment. According to the band, the album aimed to veer away from their debut’s eclectic sound. Says Jared Leto "We wanted to. . .cut away anything extraneous, to get to the truth of it all. For us, it wasn't about how much we could do but about how little."

This singularity of purpose ultimately causes the album’s downfall. Lacking color and nuances in emotion, the added irritation of Leto's shrill voice and pitiful caterwaul excuse for a scream, hampers musical details from coming to fore. Take brother Shannon Leto's precision drumming, that gets lost in the morass of sonic mud. This is a sad case that proves how minimalism can be detrimental to some bands. Talk about sophomore jinxes.

Still, there are some lucid songs, like the driving, atmospheric rocker "From Yesterday" and the trippy, psychedelic "The Fantasy." Elsewhere, "Was It A Dream?" has a moody, 80's vibe while "A Modern Myth" builds up from a quiet trot to a crescendo of a farewell. But songs like “Attack” and “The Kill” are truly dismal echoes of their debut album’s gems. Without the sense of urgency, conviction or passion that made 30STM such a cult hit.

Even the sleekly mixed extra tracks like “Battle Of One” and the notable, tasty rendition of Bjork's “The Hunter” can’t save this one from falling on its face like a Fight Club loser.
(With added critique from Tanya Tiotuyco)


TYBS #13 (FEB 2007)
If you’ve ever set foot inside an old church, university or building that has more than a century under its belt and have felt dwarfed by the immensity, age and history of the place then you’ve touched a vestige of the Gormenghast experience.

Gormenghast is the second novel in the trilogy by Mervyn Peake. Published around the late 1960s, some critics have hailed Peake as an even finer poet than Edgar Allan Poe, though they conveniently make no analogy to HP Lovecraft. Maybe accountant-looking HP’s works were too zany even for Peake’s devotees.

The premise of Peake’s novel is simple: Gormenghast Castle has stood for millennia under the rule of the Groan descendants, but now the 77th earl, the heir to the throne Titus Groan, is coming of age and with it the seed of his wish to escape the yoke of duty. Parallel to this, Steerpike, the ambitious young apprentice of the Master of Ritual, begins to execute his plans to seize the throne before Titus can ascend. In the wake of his praxis seizure follow murder, deceit and treachery.

While those are the two major plotlines that the novel tracks it is interspersed by a literal cast of hundreds that pass in and out of the novel like a great ensemble. Still, Gormenghast is not so much a novel of characters as it is a novel of place. The main protagonist is the castle itself.

Vast, ancient and derelict in places Gormenghast is like a hoary old beast that was, at his peak, the stuff of legend, but now his glory days are behind him. Nobody knows when he should have died, now only ceaseless ritual is his sign of life -- like the shallow breath of the comatose.

That the castle has a haunted air would be to understate the heavy and oppressive mood of the corridors, endless and serpentine, some of them with dust undisturbed for decades. This gloom exerts its own pressure on the characters and makes them react in different ways. Titus chafes under this and makes him question his birthright while Steerpike sees that the only way to success is to seize whatever remains of Gormensghast’s magnificence.

I have dreamt of the castle in sporadic, lucid moments of REM sleep. In a sense Gormenghast is like Dhalgren, Samuel De Laney’s post-apocalypse city with its shifting tarot sky. If Dhalgren is a gigantic urban animal then Gormenghast is its undying heart. Like Jackson’s House on the Hill x 100.

Gormenghast is in every old structure, mansion and great house that reeks of the ancient and of symbol. It is in Malacanang, the Kremlin, the White House, Intramuros, Vlad Dracul’s Hunaedora abode, all those ancestral houses forbidding and inescapable for its children. They are all part of Gormenghast and vice versa. You can wander the corridors til your hair turns white and never once retrace your step. Some rooms are locked, others are not. Some of the locked rooms have no keys.

Peake has created an obra of mood and place that comes through despite the prose that’s so purple it occasionally stumbles on its own feet. The morass of descriptions sometimes trip the pace and action. Though the tone is certainly gothic and some of the characters uniquely grotesque, the plot never descends into mere macabre frolic.

Curiously enough Robert Smith of The Cure was one of Peake’s fans. He even penned the song "The Drowning Man" in 1980 about Titus Groan’s sister who accidentally drowns herself. Yeah, it’s complicated. "Fuschia was my dream. This idea of the infinite, of the unreal, of the inocence dying," Smith was quoted in a press interview in 2003.

At times ghoulish, perverse, circumlocutious, playful and comic, Gormenghast is as enjoyable a read about old places as they come. I can’t wait to get the first and third novels and step back into the castle’s embrace. Too bad Peake died before he could complete the fourth book, so it remains a fragment.


TYBS #12 (FEB 2007)
The TV series is one of the staples of horror in media and pop culture. Since this column is exactly about that I was glad to find the first season of MASTERS of HORROR out on DVD.

Aired in the States by Showtime Entertainment and carrying with it the cheesy tagline “Their Wildest Dreams are Your Worst Nightmares,” the series’ production premise is simple: get the world’s top-notch horror directors like Larry Cohen, John Landis and John Carpenter to do an episode each of one season, for a running time per ep of more than one hour.

The result is a cornucopia of delightful frights filled with old style sex and violence where the grotesque, the tongue-in-cheek and the kind of hideous enlightenment you get from meditating for a few days on a rotting corpse, can stand shoulder to shoulder on a single visionary ground.

This isn’t the subtle psychological terror of The Twilight Zone or the adventure-type good vs. evil of mainstream series like Supernatural. This isn’t your Hollywood-ized version of The Ring or Dark Water. This isn’t your cautionary campfire creep fest. Instead, MOH presents us with what I love most about a horror show: a story where man can literally battle it out with monsters both real and mental.

Of course there’s also the full-frontal nudity, graphic sex scenes and the truly explicit content (chewing on intestines anyone?) that can only be aired on late night cable. Tasty.

If these were the only points then MOH would already be a brave series, but what makes it a terrific one is that there is ample heart and sometimes a moral (though never the didactic kind) to the stories that are always pursued with strength to their narrative end – however far fetched that may be. No editing cop outs here.

Let me enumerate for you some of the more, er, interesting episodes so far. There’s the pilot “Incident On and Off a Mountain Road” (directed by Don Coscarelli) where the serial killer Moonface meets his match in a girl who’s been trained by her recently deceased boyfriend in small weapons tactics, armed and unarmed combat and firearms. Not your ordinary damsel in distress, eh? Thousand points to anyone who can guess the boyfriend’s murderer.

“Homecoming” (directed by Joe Dante) answers the question: what happens when GIs from the Iraq war rise as zombies and want to vote? I kid you not. There’s also an off-kilter retelling of HP Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch House” that tries too hard with the special fx, so much so that my sister, guffawing when the rat with the human face came out, asked “Is this a comedy?”

An excellent episode by John Carpenter titled “Cigarette Burns” revolves around the hunt for an uber-obscure film called La Fin Absolute Du Monde (The Absolute End of the World). The plot asks: what happens when you cut off an angel’s wings, capture it on video and enslave the angel in the process?

The best I’ve seen however is Dario Argento’s “Jenifer.” This one is truly strange and deeply affecting, too. What do you do when you take home a destitute girl that has a hideously malformed face and a body to die for, and she starts having mind-blowing sex with you? Keep it secret from the wife, of course. The twist being: how long can you stand this ugly sex goddess when she starts devouring your cat? The 10-year-old girl next door? The son of your boss? What a predicament.

It’s executed with politesse, style and an almost reportage narrative that just dares us to pass judgment on the unfolding events. For me, “Jenifer” epitomizes MOH as a series with a brand all its own. The horror here is adult, unapologetically in your face and values audience intelligence. You can make up your own mind when the credits roll. No Twilight Zone voice-over will neatly sum it up for you.

So when our hero, the cop who cared for Jenifer, finds himself in the same situation that began this episode (about to chop the girl into tiny pieces with an axe) I applaud and thank the inebriated network exec who greenlighted MOH, who let somebody like Mr. Argento work his perverse magic on my TV.

Hmmm, I have just realized that Jenifer’s behavior is much like a parasite. Very cool. Now, just seven more episodes to go.


TYBS #11 (FEB 2007)
If you’re a local comics fan then you’ve probably read one of Arnold Arre’s comic books. Whether it’s the modern fantasy trifecta of the Mythology Class series or the fanciful romance After Eden, Arnold has always strived to give us a sense that magic and wonder need not be absent in our everyday, 21st century lives.

In 1999, as a fledgling reporter trying to cut my teeth on the cultural beat of the metro, I proposed to my editor a feature on Mythology Class. A few months thereafter it was good fortune that Arnold illustrated a short story of mine (about a reluctant magus who uses her most powerful spell to resurrect her roadkill love – I know, it’s complicated) in a music magazine. But instead of drawing the mad and livid sorceress Zodiac Hidalgo, Arnold had drawn me.

Against a backdrop of ragged slums and city lights both inviting and sinister, there I was in place of my character. I even had on the same clothes when we first met. How strange, to say the least, it is to see yourself in the medias res of your own fiction. How strange and illuminating.

See, prior to this, I had only felt Zodiac’s emotions from a storyteller’s aloofness, that second remove that is half-voyeurism and half-pathos so necessary to render tales authentic. After I saw the illustration though, Zodiac’s pain, frustration and helplessness came flooding in.

I understood completely her motivation for such a selfish act. With this understanding she became more human and thus forgivable. It is this insight into the acts of both monsters and supermen that Arnold gives us with compassion and energy in his latest graphic novel Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat (released under his own Tala Comics Publishing house).

Arnold was kind enough to send me his newest creation, and I owe him much thanks. With 200-plus pages of black and white comics, Ang Mundo is the tale of the title character, an anti-hero in the throes of existential angst battling to save Pinas from a prime evil as antediluvian as they come.

Two things are different here from Arnold’s previous works. First, this one is written in Tagalog and, second, this book is way more dark than either After Eden’s adolescent love story or Mythology Class’s ethnic X-Men gone magickal.

Key to all this is Andong himself (who kind of looks like a cross between Rudy Fernandez circa Markang Bungo, Zoren Legapsi and Ramon Revilla with a bit of FPJ thrown in). While the Manila he moves in is certainly fantastic enough in that the superhuman and supernatural are woven into the fabric of daily life (cult leaders are ghouls of demonic malignos, gangs have impakto members and goddesses roam the streets selling sampaguitas forgetful of their true nature) this is the same Third World country where 60 percent of the population is below the poverty line and crime is rife in the inner city.

Against this atmospheric setting Andong was born and raised, a true thug among thugs. The kind of guy who didn’t back down from any fistfight; the kind of bully who grows up, unsurprisingly, into a criminal who kills. While it would give too much away to narrate Andong’s transformation from “Most Wanted” to reluctant police asset in the superhuman organized crime division, suffice to say that Andong the Talisman Holder is much like Hellblazer’s John Constantine. Using his powers for money does not bother him (he has to eat, he readily explains) and to say that his talismanic gifts have brought him no joy would be to see only one side of this complicated character’s motives.

Catching gang bangers ensures that Andong can both survive and pay his dues or, literally, his sins. It is both his burden and strength – he wants to stop inflicting violence but it’s the only thing he’s good at, the only thing he can do. Plus redemption seems a bit more within reach when he does. Can I convey his catch-22 more clearly?

“Andong was more of a tribute to Classic 70s Pinoy action fantasy heroes,” explains Arnold, “with a darker tone to it. It was challenging to write because the superhero genre has been explored so many times, so I had to create a story that was fresh and original.”

No doubt. The fact that Andong sleeps on overpass stairs, pukes his guts out every morning after a drunken binge and is not above torturing suspects for information is grit par excellence. There is an immediacy and veracity (the kind that would make the young fans of Arnold’s previous work flinch) that Ang Mundo expresses beyond the sometimes awkward dialogue or the flawed world-building. Then again, Barker’s Imajica was as prickly in places.

This is the kind of story that is at once social commentary, superb genre work and homage to the komiks of old. I like it better than his other books, to be frank. I could roam the streets of Andong’s world in rapture for days, the danger and poetry of it exquisite, the taste of dust and gunpowder in the air an aphrodisiac – like a homecoming.

Read Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat and experience a radically different, gloom-tinged Arnold Arre still mining the raw gems of Philippine folklore and lower mythology to turn them into an obsidian obra of the dark fantastic.

Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is available at all major book stores.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


TYBS#10 (FEB 2007)
Katwo Librando has shaved her head. Barely recognizable as the frisky singer from the old Narda, or the glammed rock chick on her FHM spread, this girl with her visible scalp nevertheless looks more apt for the newest incarnation of Narda.

While the old Narda was unabashedly indie pop throughout their four EPs and their LP Formika, this album presents a darker, more belligerent and tormented side. See, for Discotillion, Narda has gone the way of dance-punk.

That strain of electro clash that began with groups like Kraftwerk, Gang of Four, Visage, New Order, Human League and Gary Numan plus early 80s Italo Disco. There are also quaint stories about momentous events like A Certain Ratio recording a track with Martin Hannet while touring with New Order, or reggae greats Sly and Robbie doing the same thing except with folkie Grace Jones. The New York loft-disco scene is also credited with having blended an eclectic mix of Philadelphia disco with dub-reggae cut and pasted over it and the improv style of greats like Miles Davis and Thelonius Monk. Wow.

These days Bosco, Franz Ferdinand, !!! and a host of other young Turks (like Pedicab and If Disco is a Crime) are pushing the electro clash envelope to new heights. Add Narda to the list and bury the hatchet.

“After Formika. . .” says Katwo in her stream of consciousness, sing-song speech, “It was very hard to be in the band. Things were so turbulent. Every moment in the band was a paranoid experience. Dyos me, heto na naman kami! I had the creeping feeling that it was bad karma, something that me and Ryan had done in the early days that was coming back to haunt us.”

Haunted is a fitting term. If this were the komiks Narda she’d be a tattooed, mascara-wearing suicide girl who cruises the local bars and discotheques looking for some action or a fight. This Narda would be perennially pissed because sidekick Ding has hit adolescence and has been copping a feel every chance he gets. Because Dad has been shot by a mobster and Mom has taken to the salvation of shabu and alcohol. Because Narda’s boyfriend just found out he’s gay.

This Narda would take out her frustration by brutally killing rapists and con men instead of incapacitating them for the cops. This Narda comes home late, drunk and high on E, and it still isn’t enough to dull the pain. This Narda does not want to be a hero. In fact, she doesn’t want to save the world or any of the idiotic, lemming citizens that inhabit it. Right now her problems are tougher than any monster.

This is why Discotillion is a brilliant and critically acclaimed album. This is why we must applaud Katwo Librando (vocals), Ryan Villena (drums), Tani Santos (guitars), Jeps Cruz (synths) and Yaps Tagle (synths) for mustering the courage to finally bring us a heroine with flaws and fists intact.

“Dance punk feels like an evolution for Narda,” exclaims Tani. Sure, but it also feels like a coming of age. It’s way past time this girl became a woman. And the realization of just what that means is capsulated in the loudspeaker clarion of “Molotov” and the teenage wasteland pressure cooker of “Ang Mitsa.”

Elsewhere, “100 Taon” cleans house in the mind-space where politics and personal life meet -- and how the former impinges on the latter with enormous, invisible pressure. They even find time to eschew fame with “Kamikazee.”

Discotillion was made at Sound Creation Studios and the whole thing presided over by Mike Dizon (Pedicab and Sandwich) and Mong Alcaraz (Sandwich and Chicosci), so that’s why the double synths and the layers are as textured as they are. Ryan Villena’s drumming has taken on a more cymbal-heavy, riotous feel and Katwo’s vocals have finally found a niche that allows her to shine without overreaching.

Just check out the range of emotions that “Gasolina” brings. Sexy and spiky, flirtatious and insolent, this is a template dance-punk song that conjures images of Narda whirling dervish-like around a rave floor alight in laser lights and strobes, as her boots splash up puddles of blood and brain matter. Gives the chorus “Sasabog na `ko!” whole new meaning, hey?

That this is a terrific album is without doubt. However, the psychic rewards for the band far outweigh their radiant creation. “Apparently you don’t have to be a very skilled musician to reach out to people. Just being honest is enough,” shrugs Katwo.

Now that is enlightenment worthy of heroes.


TYBS#9 (JAN 2007)
In the movie adaptation of the graphic novel From Hell, a furious Jack the Ripper tells the stupefied Inspector about the symbols he mistook for mere mystical chicanery. He exclaimed, “Even one as depraved as you are can sense that these symbols course with meaning and power.”

I feel the same way about Wawi Navarroza’s collection of fine art photography, Saturnine: A Collection of Portraits, Creatures, Glass and Shadow. These are a series of pictures inclined to mythical fancy, anthropomorphic personification and a fascination with shadows. While they may seem to be digitally manipulated they are actually, painstakingly handmade.

Says Wawi: “I do not take pictures. I make them. I manually subject the negative to a careful blend of chaos and control. I let the heat and chemicals take them as nature will. And then I control the disintegration.”

Wawi has gained notoriety in bohemian circles as both a working photographer, fashion or otherwise, and as the maker of Polysaccharide: The Dollhouse Drama, her previous photography collection. Some of you may also recall the images from that collection reproduced in the popular record Doll’s House of The Late Isabel, where Wawi also does vocal duties.

While Polysaccharide took Wawi around the world on a touring exhibit it was, for eyes like mine ill-used to the sensibilities of fine art, its nuances or ambitions, too obscurantist. In parts they seemed ostentatious, even trivial. I felt no power behind the images, or perhaps the force of the message didn’t reach my depraved head because the vision was too personal. Saturnine, however, is a different collection altogether.

Swedish industrial band Interlace told me in interview that they make music like a riddle, and that “If you create a riddle you don’t want everyone to solve it. Because then it would be too easy. But you don’t want no one to solve it. Because then it’s too hard.” Saturnine feels the same way.

When you view the photographs they feel potent without being in your face, they feel clear with the illuminating significance just out of reach. All this is made with her trademark streak of enthrallment with the dark. It seems Wawi has finally found a way to let us share the visions in her head (or gut) without compromising her love of symbols, story or atmosphere. Or giving too much away.

While the Silverlens Gallery is probably the most clandestinely located art house in the metro (where Saturnine runs until Feb 17) it’ll be worth it to go just to see the evocative photo of the artist on bare feet in a shallow pool of water with paper boats scattered around, lengthily titled “The Return (After the Storm)/ The Traveller, Always Alone.”

“The seed of Saturnine,” writes Wawi, “came about in a period when I was seized by the mystery about the passage of time. Of looking at framed photos, friends come and gone, missing places, of looking at the mirror at 3AM. It all came to me that every moment is fragile, temporal, fleeting.”

Two of my favorites are “Voyage Solitaire (An Ode to Beginnings)”, where a sullen Hank Palenzuela (bassist for Agaw Agimat) sits amid a gloom of books and cards, and the mix of anxiety, waiting and vain romance that is “Her Greatest Fear is That She May Never See You Again.”

In Saturnine Wawi has created images of universal emotion capsulated by people and not-people (creatures who look like people?) that surprisingly share the same woes, dilemmas and delights.

“Pretty pictures alone does not fine art photography make,” she explains. “Pretty pictures you can hang on your living room is fine but you got to expect more if it's called `fine art.’ I'm cool with décor but I'm more for those images that poke at the head or heart, images that reflect the mind of its maker, the vision of the artist, the voice of conviction behind the works. Then, that to me is `fine art photography.’ ”

People will never doubt Wawi for her art not being honest or sincere again. Meaning and power resides in them. Look at the photos. Solve the riddle.

Silverlens Gallery is located at 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City.For inquiries, please email or call (+632) 816 0044


TYBS#8 (JAN 2007)

Your boring desk jobs and surprisingly uncreative creative jobs can leave you with a sense of frazzeldness and general woe. For a cure I always turn to good music or good art.

Here are two records forged from polar opposites of the sonic spectrum (one minimalist and back to basics, the other over the top and full of excess) that nevertheless share unrestrained originality, vision and method musicianship. At times dark and brooding, always entertaining, these are truly good buys. God bless both of them.

Footlong Players
(D Chord Records)
While many critics may mistake Prank Sinatra’s sonic creations as mere novelty songs, these trivial ears miss the point completely. Prank does not make music simply to make people laugh or smile, his rough gems are intentionally made so to cater to a back to basics motive.

It’s a grassroots aesthetic shared by his low-fi idols like Guided By Voices, Dinosaur Jr. and Boss Hog. If you’ve listened to his previous album, The F Defect, then you’ll be prepared for the adventure in sonic fun that is a Prank Sinatra album.

Prank Sinatra, by the way, is a one man band in the person of Iman Leonardo, the same guy who played bass for local goth forerunners Dominion for about a decade. For his songs he recruits top caliber musicians like Czandro Pollack (Sugar Hiccup) and sound engineer Ron Francisco.

In any case, for Footlong Players, Prank has dropped the garage purity shtick and opted for a thicker, more electric sound. The resulting music is a mix of psychedelic pop and garage punk if it had been played by some very stoned Beatles.

“The band has no fixed genre,” says Prank/Iman. “I hope the second album conveys that.” As a corollary, we can also take that to mean these musicians are some of the most versatile and skilled in the local scene.

Anyone who doubts that Prank can play conventional rock should check out the flanger-tinged goodness of “Glorify DIY.” In between the samples of commercial spiels is an irresistible melody pushed even deeper by a chorus of voices doing the “la la la” bit. It only has a single phrase lyric, but it feels like a whole song.

“The album is so titled because we all ate footlong hotdog sandwiches after recording,” quips Iman. Hmmm, that would probably explain all the food references. Check out “Yesthurling Egg” and “Prelude to Footlong Midnight Snack” for some frolicking, lost in space sounds.

But the deepest hit from the bong here is the triad of songs: “I am the: a) Center of the Universe b) Illustrious Orbiting Noneffervescent Star c) Mother of all Satellites.” All the letters are different tracks, slightly connected like a prog song, but my favorite is the last with Iman’s voice sounding like it’s coming from underwater as it’s run through a vocal processor.

If this is novelty songwriting then this is the most well crafted and seriously unserious kind of mass pablum I’ve heard. We need more of it.

The Black Parade
(Reprise/ Warner Music )
People have laughed when I told them this is a brilliantly made album. Then again, let’s amend that to: “some music critics laughed when I told them. . .”

I can see why this isn’t everybody’s rave record, though. My Chemical Romance is closely associated with the emo movement currently in fad. While I have nothing against emo, the sheer surplus of sentiment in some bands make for subpar, merely bathetic music that smacks of mock, hand-on-forehead tragedy that’s as overacting as it is poseuristic. Pweh.

Not so with MCR. Even their previous records had the seeds of greatness in it. They were never OA just for the heck of it, their themes were spot on and synergized with the lyrics and the musicianship was always top caliber.

With The Black Parade, MCR are no longer a potentially great band. They are now an impressive band whose work stands up to greatness and wears magnificence like a cloak. Never mind that said cloak rests on uneasy, young shoulders.

While we don’t have enough space to explain what the story behind The Black Parade is (you can log on to suffice to say that it’s a concept album that revolves around the main protagonist called The Patient. We travel with him as his story progresses, starting with the time he dies, thence through to the afterlife where he meets all manner of creatures both amazing and terrible. All this as he reflects on his previous life.

Mind blowing, eh? It was sometime around track eight (“Cancer”) that I realized MCR have made not just an amazing record or just a well conceptualized, well executed concept narrative in sound but also a manifesto of pain, insight and empowerment for the teenagers today. Vocalist Gerard Way and Co are trying to make sense of the war, madness and tumult around them, just like the kids today.

This is the kind of music that speaks to a generation. Just like Nevermind did. Just like American Idiot did. The Black Parade is an emo opus that uses the conventional signifiers of the genre (screams, heart on sleeve lyrics, a mix of metal, goth, grunge, alt rock and hardcore riffs) and transcends it by being masterful. I dare you to listen to tracks like “Mama,” “The Sharpest Lives” and “Cancer” and remain unmoved by the sentiments therein.

Take for example: “Well, mother, what the war did to my legs and to my tongue/ you should have raised a baby girl / I should have been a better son / If you could coddle the infection / They can amputate at once.”

What a great gift, a polaris pointer and catharsis heatsink for those who came of age in the post 9/11 epoch. Bravo, MCR.

Footlong Players and The Black Parade are both available at all major record outlets.


TYBS#7 (DEC 2006)
Courtesy of the good people at SONY-BMG Music Entertainment Phils, and Magic 89.9 a bunch of friends and I (with significant others in tow) went to the premier of Tenacious D in “The Pick of Destiny” a few weeks ago.

Hampered only by a bunch of mall zombies, who thought the thing was a free for all, we went in with high spirits. After all, like the marketing tag announced, this was only: “the greatest motion picture of all time”!

While not exactly a fan of Jack Black as an actor (way too over the top and still mining the dregs of old SNL sketches) I loved his work in Tenacious D – a real band starring him and fellow SNL alum Kyle Gass.

This one does not disappoint from the get go, what with an intro that lampooned those old THX sound announcements with "THC: The Audience Is Baking." That’s tetrahydrocannabinol for the square readers. At the very least you know this is going to be a stoner movie par excellence, without pretension or guilt and with as much comic exaggeration as can be mustered. But let me tell you about the story first.

The Pick of Destiny takes us to the origins of Tenacious D, starting with the childhood of Jack Black as he realizes that living in a home with extremely religious parents (with Meatloaf as father) isn’t exactly the best thing for his music. All this unfolds in musical, rock opera fashion.

On a particularly inspired scene, after his dad has just given him a spanking and ripped most of his posters off the wall, JB prays to a Sabbath-era poster of Ronnie James Dio and Dio – bless his metal fantasy curls – actually answers like some (un)holy messenger. Whoa.

So it’s off to LA for JB. At Venice Beach JB meets up fortuitously with Klye Gass as a street side guitarist whose skills blow his mind. It is at this point that we must turn vague, lest we reveal too many comic spoilers. As they struggle to make it JB and KG meet less than expected audience response and their trek to greatness leads them to a quest for a legendary, magical guitar pick.

This green pick (shaped like a stylized ram’s head) is the fabled "Pick of Destiny." Legend has it that, since the dark ages, this supernatural pick has been passed down through many hands, including Angus Young, Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen.

Their quest takes them to the Rock And Roll History Museum (where the Stairway to Guitar Heaven is just brilliant) and to a totally leftfield and unnecessary sequence about a shroom encounter with Sasquatch. The movie also contains the origin of the band’s name, the story behind the Tenacious D hit song “Tribute,” cameos by Tim Robbins and Ben Stiller and a high-stakes rock-off with Satan himself (played to the hilt by an unrecognizable Dave Grohl, reprising his “Tribute” music video role). Oh, and look out for hot and tasty blonde Melissa-Anne Davenport in Kyle’s groupie sequence. That girl’s going to be a star one day.

A San Francisco Chronicle critic said it best when he wrote: “The finished product is. . .comic gold for anyone who is currently stoned, has been stoned in the past or spends a lot of time around stoned people.”

Quite true. There’s a sequence at the back of a guitar store where Ben Stiller stops in his narrative abut the Pick and exclaims, in a cross between mockery and seriousness, “Satanus. That’s Latin for Satan!” That just cracked me up. I don’t know why. But the non-linearity of the jokes is pure stoner comedy and just thinking about it still gets me smiling. I mean, this harks back to watching Chuck Norris videos in a state of total bakedness. Recalling that lofty sensation in a movie theater with nary anything organic in my veins is genius in my book. It makes me want to shout: “Long live the D!” while flashing devil horns.

The brilliant parts actually make you forgive the plodding, mediocre ones. Thank you, director Liam Lynch. But as rocking as the movie is, I’m sure the second Tenacious D album will be so much better. Or is the soundtrack actually the second album? Hmmm. Well, just go see it. If you don’t enjoy yourself you’ll at least go home with a new set of pop culture references.

PARENTAL ADVISORY: Please be warned that this movie contains profanity (probably nothing the kids haven’t heard before, though), drug use, sexual humor, comic violence, and even more toking. Just a friendly reminder.

TRIVIA FROM IMDB.COM ABOUT “POD” (Warning: Spoilers!):
1) The conversation JB and KG have at the end of film on how they have forgotten the song that defeated the devil is a reference to the song "Tribute" from Tenacious D's debut album.

2) When KG and JB go to the open mic night for the first time Neil Hamburger is being escorted offstage. He is their opening act for their current tour, which features music from the soundtrack.


TYBS#6 (DEC 2006)
In last week’s column I featured Canadian goth band, Johnny Hollow’s history and self-titled debut CD. Here’s the best bits of our on-line interview where the members talk about their music, gaining a global fan base and the impressive parts of Russian mystics.

TYBS: Tell me about the persona of Johnny and how he was formed or conceptualized?
Vincent Marcone: For the moment it’s a secret, but all we can tell you is that you’ll be seeing a whole new side of Johnny soon.

TYBS: How have “recent” developments in technology (eg. the Net, file sharing, CD-burning, etc.) affected the way you make music?
Janine White: We embrace technology and quite possibly might not exist without it. Although we use a lot of organic sounds in our music, the creations themselves often start and end on the computer. We do a lot of editing and sampling of our own sounds to create musical fabrics and ambient backdrops. Thanks to file sharing we are able to tag-team on mixing and share ideas without even being in the same city.

The argument about Net file-sharing will be forever debated; our experience, however, has been quite positive. Throughout the entire process of recording our album we were able to post songs in various stages of completion and receive feedback which really propelled the project forward. Our online home at has really broadened our fanbase.

The internet allows people to choose for themselves in a much more democratic manner what they really want to listen to. It is so important as an independent band to be able to reach the world, and as this is an interview from the Philippines I would say its working.

TYBS: Are you searching for a kind of “beauty” through your music? Do you consider it art as a means of meaning or is it just personal expression?
Janine White: There aren’t enough people speaking out for independent creativity. We don’t consciously try to be political or controversial with most of our lyrics, but our music combined with our whole visual/web presence is a statement of aggressive independence and our dedication to it.

Art as a means of personal expression is often purely intuitive, but regardless of intention there is always an aspect of communal meaning that reaches the people who respond to it.

TYBS: Why play dark music?
Kitty Thompson: We don’t consciously play “dark” music. We simply make music. If we come off as being creepy it’s because we are.

Janine White: There’s something cathartic in finding beauty in the darker side of human emotions.

TYBS: Tell me about all the unusually atmospheric instruments in your repertoire, especially the effects-laden cello. How exactly does that work?
Kitty Thompson: It is often difficult in our music to tell what is made up and what is real. Many noises are digitally created, many are raw acoustic sounds, and others are performed and then strangely manipulated.

There is nothing mysterious about the cello. It functions much like a guitar with pedals. However, the extensive palette of colors that can be obtained from such a cavernous acoustic body far outstretches the imagination.

TYBS: Why do music independently? The pros and cons?
Janine White: I’m not sure we’re independent on purpose. It’s more a default phrase for anyone that has not been signed by a label but appears to be functioning alright on their own.

The pros and cons are obvious. Working on your own project for your own reasons is the most rewarding experience you can have, because there are no “forces that be” pressuring you to follow any formula; but it comes at the price of budget constraints and long hours.

Right now it works for us, but that’s not to say that we might not change our minds if the right team for us came along.

TYBS: About performance. How do your dynamics work on-stage? Especially with the more danceable songs like “Stolen”?
Kitty Thompson: Well, obviously some songs are harder to pull off than others. We make use of several sampling devices on stage to cover the drum beats, sound FX and any extra layers that we added in production. We write and record all of our songs layer by layer before we ever play them, so its always a bit of a challenge to figure out who’s going to do what and how I’m going to play four cellos.

I’m usually busy with cello and back-up vocals, Vince runs the electronic layers and performs the male vocals, and Janine handles the lead vocals and keyboards, occasionally switching to the electric guitar when she has room to move.

We’re currently working on projected backdrop screens designed by Vince and Tom (JH’s animator) that will add a visual element to the live show.

TYBS: Tell me what motivated you to write about Rasputin (in the same titled track), the Russian mystic?
Vincent Marcone: It was a whim, I guess. He was such an interesting character, who seemed to draw both admiration and revulsion. I love those legends that ride somewhere between black and white. And he (or a certain impressive part of him) “ahem” is apparently on display in an erotic Russian museum right now. We didn’t know that when we wrote the song.


TYBS#5 (DEC2006)
I corresponded on-line with Canadian indie trio Johnny Hollow back in 2004. They were nice enough to send their CD all the way across the Pacific and, in return, I sent them some albums by local goth bands.

Has Black Sabbath or Motorhead ever saved your soul? If you’ve ever sat up late at night, rocking your grief out with just your stereo, Johnny Hollow will remind you why music can, and does, save lives.

I think they’re the shape of things to come for dark music. This piece of TYBS will probably seem too musically obscurantist, but this is the point: JH don’t deserve to be so secret.

Johnny Hollow are Janine White (keyboards, guitars and vocals), Kitty Thompson (cello), and Vincent Marcone (vocals and digital work). Johnny Hollow is both the band’s name and a persona that lives only in their music. The project all started in 2001, when Marcone, White and Thompson were drinking buddies in the university town of Waterloo.

White and Thompson were unsatisfied with the kind of music they were playing in other bands. When they linked up with Marcone and jammed for the first time, there were “whisperings of a voice that was not to be silenced.”

So the trio premiered their first experiments as an audio feature in the ”Sonic Skeleton” section of Marcone’s site for his digital artwork. Audience response was extremely encouraging, giving them a significant fan base nearly overnight. In March of 2003 they launched a teaser site to promote their indie debut. And enthusiasts from all over the world have since flocked to this site, including yours truly.

I wholeheartedly refer you to and to discover their on-line presence that’s as strong as an earthbound soul. Also, as if the endorsement on this column isn’t enough, I strongly urge you to try and get the CD.

The trio is warm and truly generous. I mean, you wouldn’t even be reading this if they weren’t kind enough to send their work all the way across the Pacific.

Though the CD cover gives you an idea of what Johnny the character looks like, I personally imagine him as a cross between Red Dragon’s Tooth Fairy serial killer and a chattering, mad hatter Baron Samedi of the voodoo pantheon.

Both ominous and elegant he is a menacing figure by his very passitivity. He’s content to wait, like the man at the crossroads. All things come to him, eventually, after all. There’s no need for haste. He seldom moves but when he does we see him blurred, never quite in focus even as he peers into our eyes, nose to nose. His gestures are too fast for us even as, to him, it’s quite leisurely.

If you listen closely you can hear his voice: a fused whisper of several other voices, layered and intermingling. The adventures and spirit of Johnny provides a sort of discontinuous narrative backdrop as the songs on the album unfold.

Johnny Hollow the album is relentlessly impressionistic. They use instruments like keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, ethereal and aria-soaring vocals, plus a cello linked to effects -- or a series thereof – that the poor instrument was never meant to be put through. Though it is this whole beating-sound-into-submission idea that cellist Kitty Thompson was going for in the first place. The things you can do on a cello with pedals, she says, “Far outstretches the imagination.”

Even the fillers like the updated, traditional ballad “Motherless Child” and a few instrumentals are full courses in themselves. But the real meat is tracks like the anthemic, wounded “Dark Thing,” and the scathing apologia that’s also a razor observation of our theatrically absurd society in “Bag of Snow.”

On this last one White sings so scornfully, “I’m sorry if I’m low and dirty and mean and cold / God told me to, it’s all for you / For what it’s worth, this is my bag of snow,” that you want to cackle along to the derision like some prime evil before shooting your dealer.

There’s also the full on, danceable saturation of “Stolen.” On this last one it took me three listens to finally realize, with much head shaking shock, that the unearthly distorted riff which the song is built around is played by a cello and not a guitar.

Johnny Hollow’s musical compass is firmly set to a terra incognita we can only glimpse at, but one which our psyche never fails to recognize for it contains recognizable angels and devils playing out our millennia old conflicts. Visually, sonically and digitally, their indie LP is one of those intimate, profoundly intense records whose gestalt will remind you why you fell in love with the dark in the first place, and will make you fall all over again.

More from JH on the next TYBS.


TYBS#4 (DEC 2006)
Storm season is frightening. In a good way, though, it’s both scary and exciting. The suspicion that something severe is going to happen gets me too amped. So there’s little else to do but peruse old memories when the wind howls, the lights are out and you can’t sleep.

That last big storm, Milenyo, had me commuting to work dodging tree branches like missiles and one particularly ill-timed street bulb that decided to loose itself from its post as I came near.

It landed a meter away and the explosive impact made me freeze, close my eyes and look away. My back was to the wind (at 150kph it’s real hard to lean against it) so most of the shards rolled quickly away. Another pedestrian coming the other way did the same stop and duck routine, but had to cover his face with his hands and arms to ward off the incoming shrapnel. I wanted to pick up the remaining bulb coil as a memento but I just walked faster.

As I write this a bigger storm is on the way and its approach is undeniable. The language of an impending storm is a subtle but tangible one: the floorboards creak like a burglar taking his first steps into a house he’s going to case, a drizzle falls that’s as cold as arctic frost, there’s a sigh in the wind that mimics the nativity of the newly risen dead who’ve come back to seek the perfection they couldn’t find beyond the grave.

You remember stuff as you anticipate a storm. Like elementary school. The fish balls I ate like caviar during recess, those Sticky Fingers that collected dust too fast, and Teacher Mylene’s taut, supple hamstrings as she walked clickety clack down the corridor in her black stilettos -- on display with a blue skirt only on Thursdays.

Stuff like a ghost story. This one is true. I was in it. Listen: I forget the names of my buddies, but there were four of us that night. As far as I can remember we were fulfilling a dare. Not from outside pressure, no. We considered that stupid. Instead we had dared each other until all of us agreed to go that night before we chickened out. In retrospect this was equally as idiotic.

Back then we were enrolled in the UP Integrated School (UPIS), Kinder to Grade Six Division. You probably know UP’s campus grounds are suffused from end to end with vegetation. Our school was tucked away beside the squat red building of the College of Home Economics. In front of it the elementary school’s modest soccer field and about five classrooms formed an annex apart from the main building.

Beside this is a heavily foliaged area (fenced off as well) filled with thin, crooked trees plus scores of bushes and undergrowth that hid a small, flowing creek (we could hear the water but couldn’t see it). And snakes. We saw them wrapped on the trees, we saw their mottled hide on the roof of a nearby tool shed where the caretaker -- who came once a week to tend the grass of the soccer field -- sometimes killed and skinned them.

We all called this place The Forest. When night came it was very, very dark there. The road was closed with two long sawhorses, the height of a 10 year old, put on each side.

So there we were climbing the short fence with two penlights between us, jogging to the other side that led to The Forest.

We climbed the next fence and landed on wet soil. It squished our shoes. We formed a single file and decided to make our way to the tool shed, which lay just a few meters away -- probably to find out what secrets he kept (it was rumored that he also had boy’s hearts preserved apart from bottles of snake poison).

The biggest boy walked point. I think I was in the middle. We hadn’t gotten far when the guy in the front yelled that he was sinking. Looking down, we saw this was true – we had taken a wrong path and were too near the creek, thus the mud and the quicksand-like bog. Checking for another route we found none.

We turned back, then up over the fence and across the field towards the other side, disappointed, upset about the TV shows we’d missed for this shit, the ruckus our mothers would raise at our muddy shoes, socks and pants. It happened when the last of us climbed down the fence.

The guy beside me, named D___, was talking with the Big Guy who had walked point. They were staring at The Forest as they discussed the merits of whether it was better to make up some lame excuse or telling the whole truth. Big Guy was saying that it didn’t matter, since either explanation would get him sent to bed without TV anwyay. D___ was about to reply when he stopped and just stared. His mouth was open, his eyes wide.

Before we could point our lights to his line of sight he gave out a true scared s*&^less shriek and ran past us. We all looked at each other and wasted no time following suit, squealing like girls. There was light enough to see that D___ had just about reached the high metal sawhorse that bordered the road. We thought he would duck like all of us did since it was too high to jump for even the tallest jock. We were wrong.

D___ did not slow his hellish pace, did not even blink, as he hurdled that sawhorse with inches to spare as if his legs had springs.

When we caught up to him at the waiting shed we asked him what he saw. He just kept on mumbling: the shadow, the shadow. Then Big Guy announced that he thought he saw something too. We turned to Big Guy and grilled him. It looked like a man on a tree, he said, a very thin man made of shadow that he wasn’t even sure he was seeing right. Until this darker, liquid shadow moved and looked directly at them. Or rather at D___.

The next day we asked Big Guy to sketch what he’d seen. Then we went to D___ and forced him to sketch what had suddenly made into an Olympic jumper that night.

We compared notes. Big Guy’s heavy hand and stick figure was less proficient than D___’s practiced crosshatch and shading, but they had drawn the same thing: a rake thin man with a knob for a head, his arms and legs clasped around a tree, his body made of darkness.


TYBS#3 (NOV 2006)
I’m a big rock and roll fan. Huge. I specifically have a soft spot for horror-inclined noise and metal that’s as anarchic as a street riot (yeah, I may know a bit about curbside brawls) or exquisite, atmospheric gothic as sweet as a kiss from a girl with kohl-rimmed eyes.

That said here’s some local, relatively new, releases with both the melody and the mayhem to get you stomping through the night.

* * *
The Infatuation is Always There
FMAP Records
Sincerity in the newest crop of emo can a hard thing to find with all the prevalent posturing in the genre. Every other kid thinks that stringing three chords together and yawping about a failed relationship qualifies as sonic angst. Where are the At the Drive-Ins? Where are the metal heads who loved The Deftones?

No need to look any further than Typecast. Somebody must be spiking the drinking water in Laguna with a potent mix of post-hardcore and new punk. See, these guys from Sta. Rosa are as authentic as they come.

In Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard a black man on the street, all too eager and perhaps slightly mad, says in one of the interviews: “If we mean what we say and say what we mean the world would stop being in constant war.”

Typecast (whose name was taken from a Snapcase song) have taken this credo to heart and made songs with bona fide suffering and emotional exorcism at their core. While I discovered these guys on their fans’ YouTube postings (their performances are truly incendiary) it’s marvelous that their power is undiminished on record.

The Infatuation is Always There is a raging angel with a metal heart and that existential moment when a boy, lost in the woods realizes that no one is coming, that he will not be found.

I love the thrash swagger and punk force of “Another Minute Until Ten.” I love the dirt and noise braying like mating beasts in “The Infatuation is Always There.” And I love the snarling belligerence of “Wait” and the fuzz saturation of “Out Comes the Brave.” Fans of metal will have a head banging field day with this curiously un-emo, emo release. Lovely and dangerous, yes.

BLACK SHIRT SAYS: Frankly, I prefer this one over their glossier second release. While we could go on and on about the anthemic riffs, the big chords and the pummeling drums the best thing for you to do right now is put this paper down and buy the album post-haste.

* * *
Every Moss and Cobweb
FMAP Records
“One time [during recording],” says singer and rhythm guitarist Steve Bilbao, “I stepped inside the guitar room and all the effects were on but nothing was being played. The daisy chain and the amp were all emitting this groaning noise that was so loud it hurt my chest.”

This album has slicker sound production because the band recorded in Malaysia and had it subsequently mastered by none other than Sven Heise, the German svengali who also did the mastering for Nirvana. I kid you not.

There’s a poignant piano intro in “You Don’t Need Eyes to See,” setting the tone for the pathos and demonstrative circus of emotions that follows. One of the hot tracks here includes the hook heavy chugger “Bright Eyes” whose minimalist lead riffs must be commended. This one is more emo than metal, though. Even the filigrees smack of it.

While “Not About You” and “Don’t take Me from Me” also shine in the axe-slinging regard with their lightning fast attack, the best track here is the “Boston Drama.” As a lovelorn narrative writ in distortion it stands up to the best and as an emo-punk’s manifesto the song craft shows how far Typecast have traveled as musicians.

The staccato verses convey both yearning and futility even as Badiola sings “Will you come back in a heartbeat? / Don’t be surprised how good we can be.” I wince at such a bleeding, heart-on-sleeve confession. Would we were all as brave in discourse and intimacy. Typecast drummer Melvin Macatiag also comes out in splendid form on this record. He vacillates from soft curves to sheer bedlam and makes it seem so easy.

BLACK SHIRT SAYS: Slicker and louder. I would have preferred some of that raw dirt left over but this will definitely appeal to a wider audience. Oh, and watch out for that extra, surprise track at the end of the CD.

* * *
Swan Song
Names are for Tombstones is Nono Acosta, one-man multi-instrumentalist and digital recording whiz that plays a mix of industrial, gothic rock, classical and 80s dark wave. A guitar and a laptop is all he needs to perform live. Needless to say, his garage recording projects are chokfull of succulent sonic layers.

While NAFT’s previous EP Phantoms took us street level to a vision of industrial darkness, seedy and full of its own monstrosity, this new Swan Song EP (released in mid-November) has a vaster scope. The instrumental “Dreams of Grandeur” opens the door to a world where outer gloom mirrors inner nightmare. And boy is that psychological landscape immense.

Some classical works describe how the geography of hell is mutable. If it is then this surge of emotion can no doubt compel it to shift. The two swan songs, “Farewell” and “I’m Going Now” are paeans to lost or failed love, the former melancholy and grieving, the latter done in rapturous industrial with vocals saturated in echo.

What NAFT does best is depict our own psychoses with such candor and delicacy that we see it in its own beauty – no matter how big our flaws they are sigils of identity. His songs can evoke very visual responses as well.

Just listen to “Mayday: Watari’s Last Battle”, arguably the best track here. Its majestic swirls are fused with traditional industrial grooves for a grinding bliss that smacks of the cyberpunk spirit. Though it’s another instrumental, there’s an impression that coded somewhere amid the knocks of machines and the melodies is a whispered promise, a prophesy of the future.

Both TYPECAST albums are available at all major record bars while NAFT’s Swan Song EP can be downloaded at or you can contact Nono Acosta at 0917-9056433


TYBS # 2 (OCT 2006)

Here’s one recent fantasy/horror movie to date and a few old movies with one indie gem thrown in that Fangoria Magazine has put forward as a must-see. Have a happy Samhain!

THE STORY: Combine two turn-of-the-century century English magicians, a bitter grudge and good, old-fashioned testosterone-fuelled spite and what do you get? A spanking movie like The Prestige.

The Prestige isn’t some enigmatic school of magic but the third act in any trick, with the first and second acts being the Pledge (ordinary thing is shown) and the Turn (ordinary thing becomes miraculous). Can’t give too much away here, but suffice to say that the movie lives up to its revelatory title.

Rupert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) were once good friends working as assistants for the same magician when a trick involving Angier’s wife goes horribly wrong. This accident foreshadows their future rivalry when they become skilled magicians themselves – of vastly different styles at that: Angier is flamboyant and entertaining but short on talent, Borden is extremely gifted but his performances are dry, with little showmanship.

Through a cut-up narrative that’s uncannily never jarring or prickly we are told the story of these two men through the years in journals and flashbacks. They try to outdo each other with their tricks and illussions, think up of creative ways to sabotage each others’ acts, often resulting in much injury.

Malice palpably drips from the screen as we witness how far these men will go just to score points in their rivalry (Check out David Bowie as eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla and what he does for Angier). What’s at stake is pride, reputation and the memory of loved ones lost to this monster of enmity.

I hate to be vague but wait for the final reveal at the end for a plot twist that’s the filmic equivalent of a conjurer’s “Rabbit in a Hat.”

THE LOWDOWN: In this film the jive “Can’t we all just get along?” is just a fanciful turn of phrase. Both characters will undoubtedly laugh and say “No.” That’s why we must thank director Christopher Nolan (Memento, Insomnia and Batman Begins) for making this movie more than just a treatise on the old London magic scene or the garden variety “how’d he do that?” popcorn stuffer.

The acting is top-notch, especially when Jackman and Bale are joined by Michael Cane (he didn’t win that Oscar for nothing), Scarlet Johansson (such eye-candy in a corset!) and even LOTR’s Andy Serkis (the guy who plays Gollum). In fact the writing and the protrayal of the two magicians is so finely tuned that we are given, not just three dimensional heroes or villains, but real people in an extraordinary environment and circumstances. The effect is that you can’t root for any one magus because they’ve both done horrid things in the name of some pretty petty reasons. That’s a magic trick in itself, no?

That’s just one of many up direk Nolan’s sleeve, though. His greatest sleight of hand is to show that, up until a certain point, what Angier and Borden had was true professional rivalry. They never wanted to kill each other.

True, they stole each others’ women, wrecked each others’ workshops and systematically ruined each others’ lives, perhaps doing grievous bodily harm in the process, yes, but to outright kill each other was as boorish and tired to these men as sawing curvy assistants in half.

This will become awfully clear to the viewer in one scene where Borden actually tries to save Angier. That said, I do so hope Nolan directs the adaptation of Jonathan Strange.

BLACK SHIRT SAYS: Ah, the hearts of men make for the best monster ever. This is a horror movie, in my opinion, in the sense that two guys can take something so entertainingly wondrous like stage magic and taint it with the suffocating coils of their personal vendettas, turning it into an odious creature. Nevermind your corner three cup monty, go see this movie.

THE STORY: Sharon, the adopted daughter of Rose (Radha Mitchell) and Christopher (Sean Bean) often sleepwalks and when she’s found she screams “Silent Hill!” to the face of her baffled, terrified parents. Sharon also sketches disturbing events in crayola, depicting said town in all manner of brutal killings and hellish landscapes. Sharon remembers nothing of these when prompted, often recoiling when proffered the fact that she made the drawings.

Fed up with these visions assaulting her child, Rose decides to drive herself and Sharon to Silent Hill and there seek answer, therapy or buried memory. Problem is, Silent Hill has been a ghost town since 1974. A huge charcoal fire accident (the town’s main industry) made the place uninhabitable, not to mention chalked with deadly ash and fumes from the underground fires still burning that ensures you’ll have to wear infection masks for a guided tour.

If you’re familiar with the video game this movie is based on, you’ll know there’s more to Silent Hill than just the coal-blackened town. After crashing their car, Rose finds Sharon gone and herself in a twisted, dark-side dimension of Silent Hill where she must battle a bestiary of horrors to save her adopted kid’s soul.

These include truly horrid monsters, religious anti-witch fanatics which comprise the bulk of the town’s surviving citizens, the random dimension shift that turns the place from deserted town to hell on earth and Sharon’s demonic doppelganger. Toto, I think Kansas went bye bye at the town gates.

THE LOWDOWN: I really wanted to like this movie. The first installment of the Konami videogame, back in the late 1990s, scared the heck out of me and my friends. Though we were playing with the lights out, it took five guys (one at the controls, one reading from a purloined cheat sheet and three guys coaching) to finish the game and we were all white-faced and white-knuckled through out. What a blast.

Playing Silent Hill has been one of the most memorable horror experiences of my life. Sadly, the movie is a mere shadow of its interactive brother. Though there are more than enough visual frights (the giant sword-wielding, beak-headed monster was a treat) done with FX finesse. But where it fails isn’t the creatures, the town or the blood and gore.

Two things do: the story and the acting. The former was doing great up until the middle, when the whole thing degenerated from fine surrealism into a campy B-movie mess of witch-hunting and lines so silly you can’t believe they weren’t written for parody. Even the subtle, ambiguous ending can’t redeem the bottom heavy script. Ah, the script. We can also blame the latter on the faulty production and miscasting. While first rate actors like Sean Bean and Kim Coates are put in the sidelines, B-list actors are given the plum roles. Better actors in the hard roles might have pulled off the asinine and downright stupid lines this movie required.

Presumably, Radha Mitchell was cast in the hot-mom-battles-the-forces-of-darkness role to appease the hordes of male gamers that the production outfit knew would be misled enough to see this disaster. Even her nice rack can’t save her she makes the “witches are people too” bombastic speech.

BLACK SHIRT SAYS: Genuine cinematic moments are overshadowed by holes in story consistency (the cellphone that should ring whenever a monster approaches does so only once), appalling lines (“I am the Reaper!” says the child-doppelganger and we pity the kid trying to deliver that sentence) and half-hearted efforts at surreal, psych horror. Play the game instead (any of the four will do you good).

THE STORY: Cherubic-faced hot teen Jill Johnson (Camilla Belle) gets grounded for going over her mobile phone limit and has to baby sit for her dad’s friend -- a lakeside mansion whose built-in smart technology ensures the house is light years more intelligent than our heroine. While she’s babysitting, the rest of the town’s young and hip are at the annual Bonfire Festival. Poor, poor Jill.

While at said house Jill gets clockwork prank calls in between opening doors, walking down corridors, opening more doors, admiring jewelry and checking the fridge. That’s about all that happens in 80 percent of this movie.

I can almost hear Jerry Seinfeld making his pitch: “Okay, picture this: It’s a movie about nothing!”

THE LOWDOWN: When stuff finally does happen its Jill running around startled at her own shadow, jumping at cats, closing curtains, tracking down lost maids or exploring the premises. Even finding her ditz of a best friend dead in one of the rooms elicits only a slight rise of interest. I don’t think I’ve ever yawned so much.

Often, it’s only Camilla Bell and an empty room so her acting talents (which are at best average) are extremely taxed. While she’s eye candy no doubt, the gazillion fakies, false leads and anti-climactic calls take their toll.

When the cops finally trace the calls to inside the house and the killer reveals himself (his face is always in shadow, mind) I’m completely rooting for him to dismember the darn kids and the darn babysitter. Some skin and/or blood would be a welcome release from all the tedium, but that doesn’t even happen. Jill gets nary a bruise. Not that it would save the movie. I don’t think even God can accomplish that by the Nth time the phone rings and only breathing is heard.

The truly bathetic ending in the insane ward ensures that this remake will make it to the “how not to make a horror movie” hall of fame easy.

BLACK SHIRT SAYS: They say the low-budget original released back in 1979 was loads better. With this one, there’s more interest factor in watching your grandmother’s spittle dribble down her chin on a cold morning. Wake me up when the stranger calls so I can tell him to eff off. On second thought, don’t.
THE STORY: Kelby, James and Wally grew up together as best friends in the small town of Bisbee (“Population: Happy,” the town sign acerbically proclaims). When they were around 10 years old they found a baby abandoned in an alley. They decided to take it to their barkada hideaway: a ramshackle little cabin in the woods, name the boy Joshua and raised it as “their son.”

What they did (and fed) to that child as it grew up was in lieu of “bringing nightmares to life.” When Kelby realizes what they’d done, he and Wally team up to torch the cabin with Joshua chained inside it, much to James’s chagrin. Blame it all on that darned middle-class, dysfunctional Midwest family upbringing.

13 years later Kelby returns to Bisbee for the funeral of his father. With his fiancée in tow he discovers that Bisbee has turned quite Southern Gothic and that his two former best friends have developed psychoses of their own (James has taken to luring pretty girls into his apartment for vivisection and Wally has become an overfriendly cop with a tenuous hold on his sanity).

Ah, but James has been up to more than just slicing girls. He’s also feeding their parts to a strange creature in his sub-basement. Could it be Joshua? Plus, there’s the “real story” behind who exactly was responsible for the creation of Joshua (was it Wally, James or Kelby?). In between there’s tasteful use of gore (oxymoron, I know), Rednecks rutting in incest, passable monster prosthetics and special FX and one scene where our hero makes chopping a melon a most disturbing sight.

THE LOWDOWN: This is an indie movie with a mid-range budget so it’s forgivable that the camera work is shaky, the cinematography is amateur, the lighting is flawed and the characterization caricaturish, sometimes comical. But the storytelling is outstanding and you get the feeling that everything else was intentionally bland so that you’d focus on the story and not the peripherals.

This was picked by Fangoria’s Gore Zone as a must-see movie with “take no-prisoners storytelling.” Boy, you can always trust the Fangoria guys.

With bizarre plot twists and clever use of devices (like dreams and surreal flashbacks) we are drawn into Kelby’s past, unfolding a grisly tale of inflicted evil, cannibalism, damaged people and southern gothic secrets. When you finally find out who (or what) the creature under James’s basement is, you’ll be applauding the subtle and sophisticated way the whole plot was handled.

Ward Roberts performs as Kelby Unger admirably. He vacillates from genuine warmth and cold aloofness with apt conflict between his warring sides. His character is also smart enough to pocket a carving knife when his best friend (dressed in a half-ridiculous, half-scary skin suit) goes to get the creature from the basement. No frozen-in-fear-hero here.

The rest of the cast make the best of their functional roles (Erica Watson as Kelby’s girlfriend Ashley is strictly supportive and reactionary, Jeremiah Jordan as nervous cop Wally is the epitome of creepy) but the scene stealer goes to Alexa Hayes as Kelby’s younger sister and town wanton Trish Unger.

This diminutive blonde only has four scenes in the movie and two of them have her wearing only blue panties and an oversized, boat neck shirt. Anybody who can hold viewer attention with only those on and come off as unsettling and attractive at the same time will go a long way. When she hugs her brother hello for the first time after a long absence, there’s such an overtone of flirtation that it both shames and excites us.

BLACK SHIRT SAYS: Even without a musical score, nearly zero lighting and only the bare bones of a set design to speak of, Joshua is an indie gem whose stark, dread-filled atmosphere, guerilla film values and raw special effects make the previous two, high-budget, Hollywood movies pale in comparison. Hardcore horror fans buy this and rejoice.


TYBS #1 (OCT 2006)
Let’s add unknown phenomena, strange events, bumps in the night, whispers under your bed, hauntings, magic, pseudo-science, superstition, conspiracy theories, dark confessions and just the general run of weirdness to the tag-line of this column.

Send me your bizarre, your freakish and uncanny. We’ll give them their due of digital space, here, on the Trust Your Black Shirt blog. Hold the special effects.

Have you ever thought about how Pinoys take most of this stuff in stride?

While people in the First World would be hiring the best specialists to find out the mysterious illness of some kid who went traipsing through the forest, we’d question him about stepping on any anthills or fairy mounds, if he’d pissed on any trees without saying “tabi tabi po” first.

While people in said countries would be questioning everyone in the immediate vicinity for their set of lost keys (“I left them right here! Right here! I was only in the bathroom for a minute!”) we’d be calling out to the room, awkwardly, apologizing to the spirits or any mischievous elementals who may have fancied a prank, asking them to return said keys. Don’t laugh. I’ve “found” lots of lost little thingamajigs this way.

Folk wisdom is still a great source of comfort when science fails, hard won and effective its medicine may be. Take for instance the time my younger sister got mysteriously sick. One minute all frolic and play outside, then a sudden high fever and total fatigue the next.

We got the neighborhood doctor to check her but all he prescribed was aspirin and bed rest. Three days of the fever unabated and my mother decided it was time for a second opinion. I don’t remember where she got the arbularyo, but this ordinary-looking, middle-aged woman in jeans and a striped shirt pointed out the kamias tree outside and said the resident dwarves had taken offense at my sister and her friends playing tag in the backyard. Someone had accidentally kicked a hole in their abode.

Amends were necessary. An offering of rice grains scattered generously with murmured apologies would suffice. My mother did all this post-haste, on her knees, as it got dark. When she went back inside sister’s fever had broken and was well into recovery.

Also consider our implicit understanding of after-death rituals to speed our dearly departed to the light. Like the time my grandfather, the clan patriarch and father of nine (including my mother) died in the early 1990s after a particularly long, harrowing and debilitating disease full of complications.

Not surprisingly, he had a strong spirit. For weeks afterwards his children, who had come home from all over the world to pay their last respects, experienced vivid dreams, saw his translucent figure descending the stairs, the stairs themselves creaking in sequence under an invisible weight, woke up with red, pinched ears and cold hands squeezing their toes.

His haunting was both scary and reassuring. But mostly it disturbed them that he was holding on with so much force. The last straw was the rocking chair he so frequently sat on, seen moving leisurely and with undeniable vigor on an overcast afternoon.

The next day we all talked about it and decided impromptu that grandfather had to move on. That maybe with his sudden, though not unexpected, death he still thought he was among the quick. Hmmm, how to send him a message? Let’s do a major house revamp.

So we moved everything around. Took down the curtains that had hung on his bed in the hour of his demise (to be burned), got out the tools and collapsed his metal bed, faced the shelf this way, the desk that way, took the wooden rocking chair outside and smashed it to smithereens, removed the antique, decades old black and white TV and readied it for sale. When we were finished with his room, we moved on to the next. There were three rooms in the second storey in all.

The precision and sense of purpose of how we went through it all defied conventional reason. But we were all in agreement. Plus, it worked. A week later Lolo’s spirit sign was much reduced from the confusion of an unfamiliar house.

There are two sets of windows on the first floor west wall. They’re divided in the middle by one of the foundations. The last of Lolo’s spirit sign was a gust of wind that blew in the left-side set of these curtains but not the right. This is extremely weird if you think about how they’re both on the same wall.

My aunt’s expatriate (and then new) husband was the one to witness this. All the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, he said. He ran up the stairs bug-eyed and clearly frightened, consequently dubbing our residence “the house of the spirits.”

You learn to live with them. There’s enough space to go around, after all.

NEXT on TYBS: The gore/bore fest – some old horror movies reviewed.