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A Pinoy Twist To Indie Pop

Man on the Side by Paul John Cana
The Manila Times | January 14, 2011

WITH the birthing pains of his band The Camerawalls now behind them, artist and musician Clementine and longtime partner and bassist Law Santiago, have now set their sights firmly on the future.

There may have been momentary bumps in the otherwise smoothly paved road to musical recognition and respect, but The Camerawalls are trudging on in their mission to offer that distinct Filipino twist to the classic indie pop sound.

After the almost universal critical acclaim for their debut album Pocket Guide to the Otherworld, the marquee artist of rising independent label Lilystars Records is releasing a follow-up EP called Bread and Circuses.

“The whole EP was recorded and mastered between September to November 2010,” Clementine says.

“This is a modest collection of songs I’ve written since last year.” The prolific songwriter and musician admits the record was originally a full-length sophomore release, but was reduced to an EP “for the lack of more compelling materials, not to mention budget concerns.”

Bread and Circuses is noteworthy enough for its collection of whimsical, lighthearted tunes that pack a mean punch when fully digested, but it also features the bow of replacement drummer Joseph Rudica, who most followers of the local indie-pop music scene will recognize from sister band The Gentle Isolation.

“It was easy to embrace a more able drummer who listens to the same music as I do with similar sensibilities in style and preference, not to mention down to earth,” Clementine explains. “There’s no better choice. We are now solidly a Bulacan-based outfit. We easily communicate with each other and instantly gelled during jamming sessions while arranging the tracks in the EP.”

The new record also marks a significant attempt for diversity and experimentation as well as collaboration for The Camerawalls. Musician-fashion designer and all-around artistic ingenue Kate Torralba contributed piano and keyboard sections on “My Life’s Arithmetic Means,” while Francis Reyes (ex-guitarist of The Dawn) contributed guitar solos on “Longevity.”

“An Australian friend named Dan Shepherd who studies music in Sydney, together with his friend Perrin Walker, wrote and contributed violin tracks through email ‘Birthday Wishes’,” Clementine adds. “Any other instruments and orchestrations you will hear in the record are contributions by one of our producers Jonathan Ong.”

The other man behind the sound is frequent collaborator Robert Javier.

There is a glimpse of Clementine’s current fascination with indie-pop, specifically ‘80s twee and post-punk during the initial sampling of the EP. However, repeated listenings will uncover an unmistakable evolution into folk, rock and alternative territory— something not entirely unfamiliar considering the frontman’s experiences with old band Orange and Lemons.

“There are other sounds there that even we can’t categorize!” he says. Set to head-bopping, toe-tapping jangly guitars, the title track speaks of breaking out of a dull existence, questioning the status quo and a desire for something more. There are traces of the decadence of ‘70s disco and ‘80s synth pop in “A Gentle Persuasion,” while the rest of the tracks are what you would imagine playing in the background of a hipster’s enclave; novel yet familiar, pleasant and comforting.

The ghosts of The Smiths and The Beatles, the band’s primary influences, permeate Bread and Circuses, which, incidentally, is a term coined in ancient Roman Times by the poet Juvenal. It refers to entertainment or offerings intended to foil discontent or distract attention from a situation. For Clementine and his cohorts, who push on to create music worlds different from what the mainstream feeds us despite the incredible odds, it is an apt description.

Plans to release a double album—one purely Tagalog, and another a collection of songs written in English—may seem lofty, given the current state of recorded music, but for Clementine and his Camerawalls, the satisfaction is in the attempt, and any rewards that come after is just icing on the proverbial cake. They are also working on bringing their act around Southeast Asia as well as the United States this year.

At the close of one year and the beginning of another, The Camerawalls are at the perfect juncture to look back at past successes and release an EP that would reintroduce them as the preeminent name in Pinoy indie pop.

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