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Review: Pocket Guide To The Otherworld (2009 Reissue)

Originally posted at Pacific Riffs – July 7, 2009
by Paolo Jose Cruz

The Camerawalls
Pocket Guide to the Otherworld

Lilystars Records
originally released July 2008;
reissued May 2009 w/ new sleeve design

The Camerawalls’ first album is arguably a break-up record – just not in the usual romantic sense. It’s more like a kiss-off to the career of Orange and Lemons (OnL), whose less-than-friendly split in 2007 lead directly to the forming of this motley group.

Its’ title brings to mind a sense of escape – of journeys through fantastic places, like Wonderland or Oz. And indeed, it transports listeners across varied audioscapes, from Smiths-y mope rock to Beatlesque orchestral pop. But the protagonist of this sonic adventure is not some plucky Victorian lass, but Pinoy rock visionary Clementine Castro. The album maps his quest from corporate pop serfdom to veritable musical auteur.

Of course, this Pocket Guide includes a few expected detours into the bitter end of Clem’s former band. The anthemic “Changing Horses Midstream” stands out; its defiantly hopeful chorus betrays OnL’s Anglophilic leanings. Meanwhile, gossip hounds looking for inside dirt may want to read between the lines of the menacing “Lord of the Flies”.

But for me, the real draw is the previously uncharted musical territory. Clementine is a natural innovator, layering his acoustic compositions with native string instruments like the banduria and octavina. This added texture helps to lift upbeat tracks like “Clinically Dead for Sixteen Hours” above their prosaic rock origins. Not even Jose Rizal is safe from Clem’s lofty ambitions. He arranges “Canto de Maria Clara” (from Noli Me Tangere) as a lush pop ballad, complete with the Good Doctor’s original Spanish lyrics.

Otherworld seems like a place that’s both familiar and timeless. The majestic “The Emperor, The Concubine & The Commoner” recalls the plot of a Zhang Yimou film, as serenaded by The Decemberists. Elsewhere, “Lizards Hiding Under Rocks” is a bitter rebuke to the youth of Manila’s gilded class, set to a Strokes-y garage rock beat.

The album is not without its share of misgivings – for example, carrier track “Markers of Beautiful Memories” is a little syrupy and maudlin for my personal tastes. And the lyrics can get so overwrought with drama, they border on ridiculous.

Nevertheless, …Otherworld is a solid effort overall. Taken as an organic whole, or a Shuffle-ready collection of individual songs, it manages to hold its own. It establishes The Camerawalls as a unique band in their own right, distinct from the circumstances that led to its formation. Yet the influence of that experience lingers on unmistakably (for now, anyway).

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