album review

A-Stig-matics, pare!

“Here’s a song, baby, and I sing it to you” goes the opening line of the opening track from Straight Down the Bitter End the freshman album of the concept band Stigmatics under Terno Recordings the indie outfit of Toti Dalmacion which is based in the Philippines (hence the flag in the photo).

The duo is comprised of Grandi0s0, musical alchemist who manages the instruments and vocalist funb0y. With a name like theirs, you truly wonder what sort of scars both psychological and spiritual they intend to expose. No wonder these evil geniuses prefer to use stagenames in lieu of their true identities.

With its ominous sounding synths providing an eerie prelude for what is to come, you are swept in to the narrative as you get a sense of the pain, regret, and yes, the angst the tragic artist feels. This is vaudevillian rock at its finest: a confession set to music by “a broken man, without anymore plans” who is “only good for singing my blues.”

The wide expanse opened up by the “sinister-soul-blues” genre pioneered byGrandi0s0 the other half of the more popish sounding Dr StrangeLuv undulates naturally. Most of the songs in between the opener entitled Song and Dance Man and the closer to this opus Save Me switches frequently from the sonic pace of punk infused barbarity to the quaint, laid back style of country-Western laconicity.

These alternating currents charge the entire album and provide it with the tempo to carry you through all of fifteen tracks. The psychological journey involves ecstatic highs and the dolldroms of despondent lows.

It kicks into full gear with the tandem Killing Spree and Guilty Conscience. In their Facebook bio, the band writes that their music would not “sound out of place in Sergio Leone and Tarantino flicks”. This is the impression one gets from this initial pair of songs.

This Twisted Toxic Thing Love goes from a Pulp-styled techno-sounding indie rock song and morphs into a Euro-inspired dance inferno which you would expect to hear on the dancefloor of a Russian disco: futuristic and nostalgic at the same time.

The same kind of twist is spun on Something Got Lost Somewhere and Walking Down My Baby’s Street. The psychedellic space age vibe one gets particularly with the latter is utterly catchy and danceable, dare I say, like a B-52’s song on steroids.

Blinding Light is monotonic, repetitive, and sinister as it calls on you to “pick up the pieces, clean up the mess…give it a rest.” Vocalist funb0y on much of the album does not so much as sing his lines as much as recite them in a droll reminiscent at times of Johnny Cash, Lou Reed or Nick Cave depending on the mood he is in, I suppose.

Nightsong with its reggae beat is an interlude for the entire album. It is a perfect accompaniment for any nocturnal journey inviting the ghosts of the artist or whoever is listening to come out and haunt him as he makes his way through a thick forest of painful memories. No wonder he attempts to “drink the wine of forgetfulness.”

The second act revs up with Metamphetamine Blues. Indeed much of this album sounds a lot like a drug induced hallucination complete with frantic highs mixed with crashing waves spiralling out of control. The industrial guitar riffs and whiney solos mixed with sampled spoken word would make William S Burroughs or Tom Waits proud.  The disintegrating cacauphony that unravels gives you a mental image of a wax museum at 100 degrees or a conflagrating super-8 film.

At the troughs, confrontations with reality occur as in My Heart is Famished which evokes a gospelly church setting with its moog organic feel replete with gonging bells. An intervention seems to be occuring here with the artist conversing repentantly with his mother and then his sister.

The final act brings things to a head with the Blues Brotherly baseline of God’s Eye ushering you into the final scene. The translike mumbling of funb0y here weaves in and out of the sonic effects of guitars, synth recordings and samples in a confused frenetic manner.

With Save Me, we return to the ballady feel of the opening track. I can’t help but make comparisons once again to Nick Cave as the artist repetitively implores in mantra-like fashion the object of his desire to save him from “the darkness inside of me”. The sense of impending doom is apparent. He is right on the cusp of ending it all: totally cathartic. My only suggestion is that perhaps in their next album, the band might give this muse a voice to provide a complementary perspective.

And then finally in This is My Home, very much an epilogue, you are left with the remnants of the conflict. Perhaps in the end, a sense of acceptance and contentment emerges, with the artist acknowledging “I should have been dead” as he waltzes you off into a happy oblivion.

All in all, Straight Down the Bitter End chronicles the journey of a man who has been to the other end and back: a Nietzchean tale of someone who has stared into the abyss and self-destructingly recreated himself.

A grandiose design accomplished that should be given a listening ear by anyone open enough to explore such mental states and frames. It makes me nod with approval, as I admiringly pronounce Stigmatics a band that is well and truly astig (Philippine colloquial for super-cool)!

Time for some strange luvin’

It is not that hard to picture the lads of Dr StrangeLuv a band out of Laguna in the “greater” part of the Greater Manila Area, trudging along the terrain of their suburban environs like the mythological Sysyphus moving back and forth from home to school to mall to church and so on for all eternity. Sissypuss their debut album is no doubt inspired by such travails.

The duo comprised of the “obnoxious brothers” Grandioso and El Scum aka “the Ingenious Bastards” are the strangest thing to come out of Manila’s outer rim of late. It is out in suburbia where bands like this (Pavement that quintessential alternative rock band out of Stockton, California being a prime example), comprised of perfectly normal kids isolated from the city-center, with loads of time on their hands, are able to lazily stumble into a sound that teases out the mundaneness, absurdity and sinister aspects of middle class existence.

Sissypuss their freshman effort can only be described as a dis-assemblage and repackaging of various cultural forms both musical and lyrical into a strange but familiar mix. In it, a lo-fi quality is layered with complex samples and sonic punk melodies. It’s sort of Fantastic Plastic Machine meets Beck.

The closest comparison the band claims their listeners make of them is with American indie band, Guided by Voices, but for me that is too superficial a comparison. As I mentioned, their style is really a pastiche of different musical artifacts from different periods.

In Be the Boss a kind of country twang is combined with an almost spoken word-ish delivery and some funky guitar riffs reminiscent of the Velvet Underground. In Aight’ Ma, their lead vocalist mimics Bob Dylan. In one track I listened to at the maiden voyage of The Show with No Name (SND.FM) their sound approximated an apocalyptic Johnny Cash.

They describe their style as “space age blues funk and anti-folk”. Nowhere is this more evident than in Gimme Some Mo’. It is a track that could provide the auditory background to a scene in a Quentin Tarantino movie (you know d

uring that part where the villain is about to cut off an appendage from a hapless bystander). A clever fusion of disparate elements that creates a cinematic feel to it.

This visual appeal is maintained in I’m Still Breathing where they serve up a dreamy sound track that conjures up a starry scene from a Western flick where the cowboy rides off into the sunset, in this instance brandishing an electronic raygun flashing in the darkening skies.

Some might say it is inappropriate to compare music to film, but with Dr StrangeLuv I think it is inescapable and what makes their debut so triumphant. In dreaming up Sissypuss, visual imagery and atmospherics serve as just as important an aesthetic reference point as chords and beats.

In this sense, listening to Sissypuss is like watching an indie flick comprised of disparate narratives woven into one. Each track represents a different scene with a unique sense of time and place. Some might regard this an ambitious effort for the newcomers, but in the end, the collection amazingly hangs well together.

(Dr StrangeLuv is the latest signing of Terno Recordings)