This article was originally published in The Music Issue of Rogue, May 2017.
It’s a uniquely vibrant time in local original music. Eclectic, adventurous, and above all, post-ironic, bands are making inroads into heretofore unexplored creative territories. Rogue presents five acts prodding at the very edges of the known landscape, from a rapper who personifies a fire emoji to a singer-songwriter who transmutes melancholy into fuel
A certain kind of gall is required to determine which young musicians deserve to be featured as acts to watch out for. Countless factors have to be considered—the dominant sound of the times, the size of each act’s following, the ever-evolving musical tastes of a vaguely defined audience, and other stray impressions gathered from hanging out at noisy haunts that smell like armpits—to make a prediction this writer wouldn’t trust with a Greek oracle. These are the young acts who are going to make it big. For sure.
These young musicians to watch out for aren’t so much part of a stylish meritocracy report, informing readers of a musical act’s factual awesomeness. They are here for one simple reason: the work they’re putting out is amazing. —Jam Pascual
Photo by Karen de la Fuente
It’s been a few years since Niki Colet released her first EP, but it seems as though it’s only now that she’s uncovering her full creative powers. The singer-songwriter, whose work is proud to have the likes of Lana Del Ray, Regina Spektor, and Joni Mitchell in its sonic DNA, appears to be undergoing her own creative evolution—slowly stepping out of the folk bubble critics tend to keep her in. Her latest single, “One Day,” is a melancholic ode to almosts and could-have-beens. Produced by Nick Lazaro, the song shows Colet sticking to her guns—poignant lyrics, an alto register that can sink ships—while exploring new textures and complexities. Whether or not it appears in a future album, and where exactly Colet is going is hard to say, but it signals a change. “I think I’m at that point where there’s a lot of dust in the air, so I’m still not seeing clearly how much I’ve changed,” she says. “I’ve done gigs, I’ve met certain musicians, I’ve worked on new songs, I’ve thought a little bit more deeply about the kind of artist I want to be. And I’m still here.” And the state of “still here” is a commendable thing, navigating a scene made mostly of dudes in bands. It just so happens we’re here to witness her trajectory, and to hear the music that comes out of the ascent. —Jam Pascual
Photo by Karen de la Fuente
People used to joke about Yūrei being the “only grunge band in the indie scene” in the sense that it was among the few that sounded like Nirvana and possessed the same spirit. Against their heavy metal past, Yūrei’s band members did everything themselves, from releasing records to funding studio rental and gigs using their own money—the works. As many accused them of neo-90s punk and grunge revivalism, they kept wearing their influence on their sleeve until their latest album, Random Schizoid Godhead Generator, introduced songs that peeled off layers to reveal something purer to the point of automatism. From then on, Yūrei has thrived on this randomness, and it is this entropy that holds the band together. Today, the band performs live with synths, electronic backing drum tracks, and other gadgets nobody imagined its members would bring to the stage.
In this current age of indie appropriation, when Nirvana shirts are sold at Uniqlo, the fuzz of Yūrei’s guitars and its synth bleeps endure, ringing in the small bars where it performs. Few bands in the scene are as self-conscious as Yūrei, and it continues to run away from what everyone else expects it to be. At the end of a show, it always has the last laugh. —Alyana Cabral
She’s Only Sixteen
Photo by Andrea Beldua
When She’s Only Sixteen was still starting out in early 2010, the dominant sound of the local music scene was heavy rock, not quite indie as we know it. Although the boys of Sixteen wouldn’t exactly call themselves pioneers, musicians playing a similar music at the time now either have a couple of full-length albums or kids. Sixteen has maintained its relevance with sporadically released singles and a consistent gig presence, but the guys haven’t been quite there yet—which isn’t to say they haven’t been busy. Since the release of the band’s EP in 2012, each member has gone in multiple directions, cultivating side projects and exploring new sounds.
The band’s upcoming album is the concrete manifestation of all that growth. “This album is a mixture of the past three years, of where we thought we were going, where we are now, and where we’re about to go,” says frontman Roberto Seña. Sixteen has slowly been shedding the garage rock sound that carried its EP in favor of a more spacey, psychedelic approach that emphasizes texture. As early as now, Seña already knows it won’t be their definitive album.
It’s a little strange that a relatively seasoned act on the verge of making its full-length album hasn’t quite agreed on its identity just yet. Perhaps flexibility will be its strength—the ability to adapt and grow, even after today’s dominant indie sound has run its course. –Jam Pascual
Fools and Foes
Photo by Deej Fabian
So much happens in every Fools and Foes song that you almost forget that its official repertoire only consists of a handful of tracks: five from its debut EP Underneath the Roots and three from a forthcoming second release. Every song is a jigsaw puzzle of melodies and complex drum parts, but Fools and Foes knows better than to be technically proficient just for the sake of being flashy. Just like its influences—from Minus the Bear to American Football—the four-piece math rock group has mastered the alchemy of transforming musical notes into earnest emotion. Its newest single, “Nocturnal,” starts off as a moody, haunting number before breaking down into an intricate coda that somehow retains the spontaneity of an unrehearsed jam session. Compressed into four minutes are the almost sentient exchanges between guitars and drums, irregular line cuts in the band’s anxiety-ridden lyrics, and Isabelle Romualdez and Miguel Querubin trading contradicting vocals, all metamorphosing into a dynamic bassline. And that’s just one song.
But none of this makes Fools and Foes inaccessible. If anything, its meticulous style only helps sharpen the emotions it wants you to feel. Its attention to detail elevates its music beyond surface feelings and into something that’s inexplicably specific and universal at the same time. You’d be hard-pressed to find other bands that do the same. —Emil Hofileña
Photo by Karen de la Fuente
“I’m rapping edgier than radical polygons / See I’m infinite like an apeirogon.” An apeirogon, Antonino Rodriguez, a.k.a. NINNO, explains, is a polygon with infinite sides. The dense lyricism of rap allows NINNO to make a load of references, from the Marvel Universe’s Franklin Richards (a reality warper) and Captain Stagnetti (google him) to the arithmetic shout-out that this writer is pretty sure no one’s made before. What makes NINNO such a formidable figure is that he is a multifaceted guy—rapper, producer, 1/3 of the hip-hop nerdcore trio Shadow Moses, head of the Logiclub clan.
As a rapper, NINNO’s approach to fire-spitting is technical—speedy and flow-conscious, as evidenced by the lyrical acrobatics on his last full-length album TCK. But what separates him from the rest of local hip-hop’s English-speaking ilk is his propensity for storytelling. His upcoming album, Confessions of a Dangerous Entity (or C.O.D.E.), is a concept album revolving around a character confined to a psych ward basement. It’s this high-minded approach to his creative output that shows there is always the agenda to be complex, to push boundaries, to border on offensive. “It requires a lot more thinking, and a lot of it is introspective music,” he says. It’s something we hear in TCK, with NINNO approaching topics from religious extremism to authoritarianism. Now more potent than ever—in anime parlance, this isn’t even his final form—Ninno’s power levels have nowhere to go but up.—Jam Pascual