Thursday, December 27, 2007


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)

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