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Neofolk Rock Anyone? A rarity in the OPM scene

By JULES VIVAS

Pamphleteer duo vocals

Pamphleteer duo vocals

Original Pinoy Music, more commonly known as OPM, took to fame in the late ’70s, thanks to the Manila Sound movement. Since then, OPM has evolved, becoming a major music genre recognized even abroad. Incredibly different from Manila Sound or even the songs that emerged in the wake of the movement, various unsigned acts are now pushing envelopes in local music, although at the moment indie or rock artists, despite their constant experiments with their own style, are dominating the scene. 

With all the well-known artists from December Avenue and Ben&Ben to Bullet Dumas and IV of Spades, the local indie scene is killing it right now but one would be hard pressed to find a “different” kind of music today. 

By good fortune I stumbled upon a rarity, a band with a modern take on folk rock OPM, the Pamphleteer. The group consists of Aldus Santos of The Purplechickens and Dee Cruz of Run Dorothy yowling and rhyming while Marco de Leon on guitar, Jun Ballesteros on bass, and Zig Rabara on drums make glorious racket.

Drummer Zig Zabara, vocalists Dee Cruz and Aldus Santos, bassist Jun Ballesteros and guitarist Marco de Leon

Drummer Zig Zabara, vocalists Dee Cruz and Aldus Santos, bassist Jun Ballesteros and guitarist Marco de Leon

I managed to get hold of a copy of Colored Fiction, the debut ep album of Pamphleteer under Offshore Music, set for release on all music streaming platforms today. (And before anything else, yes, I acquired said copy legally, ok?) Because folk rock is not a common genre, I thought it would be pretty helpful, not to mention fun, to appraise the songs with a friend. I needed the opinion of another musician, and so I borrowed the discerning ears of Eireen Alba, a MIDI arranger and the bassist of bands Talya, Telegrama, and Drive of Daydreams, to scrutinize the tracks. The rule on her part was to listen to the songs blind, without me telling her anything about the musicians or the genre or even the band’s name to avoid pre-conceived notions or biases. She happily agreed to participate. Here’s what happened.

While listening to the first song titled “Collected Fiction,” Eireen smiled. “Is this country? They’re really good (referring to the voices). Country music na hindi Taylor Swift (Country music that’s not Taylor Swift)?” The song sets the tone for the album with its jangly guitar and bibliophile metaphors.

To be fair Pamphleteer’s music does feel very country in terms of sound, melody, and its theme of melancholy romance. The similarities between lyrical folk and country are striking. Pamphleteer, however, is OPM, so it is folk rock. The two vocalists, who are officemates at an  advertising company, penned new songs together as a coffeehouse-style duo. Aldus was inspired by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Elliott Smith, Bright Eyes, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Iron & Wine, and his influences certainly reflect on their music.

Album cover

Album cover photo by Miggy Abesamis, design by Dee Cruz

The second song, “Drunk and Bored,” is an elegant baroque pop, the perfect sad song for the times. It is followed by “After Louise,” whose troubadour stylings and plaintive harmonica give the song a vibe even more country.

 

“The voices complement each other well since the guy’s voice is raspy while the girl’s voice is very smooth,” Eireen said midway through the album. Playing at this point was “Tired and Admired,” a “call and response” type of song extending from Lee Hazlewood to the Civil Wars. “Pas de Deux,” the fifth song, also has the same dynamics.

“I find the binaural effect of panning of the voices really cool,” Eireen said. The voices in the songs are extremely panned on the sides, giving the effect that the vocals are on the sides of the listener. The group did lay down the tracks at Crow’s Nest, the de facto home studio for Offshore Records artists, with the guidance of Ely Buendia, so the quality was no surprise. The sound was engineered and masterfully mixed by Audry Garcia Dionisio.

The sixth track, “Three-Act Plague,” meanwhile, was released a couple of years back as an introduction to the band. Pamphleteer describes this song as “equal parts ‘60s folk revival and Counting Crows-style roots rock.” Likewise, “Bobby and Joanie” is likened to a trans-Atlantic collect call from Simon & Garfunkel to Belle and Sebastian. The final song is “My Lover Is Not My Love,” which wraps up the album on a lugubrious note, a sad guitar strum.

The overall verdict?

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“I like them, it’s a new take and fresh-breather for OPM,” Eireen said. “It’s also a daring approach to have an album that’s full English, with consistency on country or folk rock, despite knowing that not many people are into the genre. It shows that they value their art or music more than the opinion of others.”


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/15/neofolk-rock-anyone-a-rarity-in-the-opm-scene/)

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