Posted in Coming Up Quick, Music = Magic, Reviews and Previews

Review: Wild Abandon – Ian Penn, 29 June 2015 (Lilystars Records)

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Tracklist

  1. Wild Abandon
  2. Cold Mountain
  3. Miss April
  4. Have a Little Time for Yourself
  5. Live Another Day
  6. Different Kinds of Strangers

The last time I featured young folksinger Ian Penn on this blog was in February of this year just as his single, Headback Home, came out.  At the time, this musician from the foothills of Pampanga’s Mount Arayat struck me as an old soul in a young body.  This is something you have to watch live in order to appreciate fully, a privilege that I have enjoyed throughout the past six months having caught Penn’s performances for a promotional event in December 2014 and via Dragonfly Collector‘s Happy Monday gigs at Makati’s Boiler Room.  Whenever he sings live, this particular artist catches his audience totally unawares: too often, they do not expect such a young musician to sing with a pathos that seems born of a lifetime of experience, or to hear lyrics imbued with a world-weary wisdom partnered with bluesy rhythms and the poignant wail of a harmonica.  But that’s exactly what Penn delivers with each performance – and every performance leaves his audience deep in thought and wondering what else to expect from him.

That question has finally been answered in Ian Penn’s debut EP Wild Abandon.  Here, the musician plays the part of a storyteller who offers six interesting tales, each with its own particular peg with which to catch a listener’s fancy – and, in some cases, heartstrings.

The EP starts off with the title track, Wild Abandon.  It is, essentially, a morning song, a daybreaker.  Older listeners would think that the song is a throwback to an older, familiar tune: Cat Stevens’s Morning Has Broken, to be exact.  The casual listener would think that the slow, bluesy track doesn’t quite fit the rather eyebrow-raising title, but a closer look at the lyrics show that the “abandon” is the act of cutting loose from a past that seems to hold one back in order to face the new day with a fresh openness:

Sunlight passin’ through the trees

Beautiful morning’; today is here

Clouds in the blue sky pull me in;

Swallowed by darkness deep within

Cold Mountain, on the other hand, has a stillness, a tranquility to it that calls to mind a walk on a mountain path leading to a babbling brook or a pristine spring.  If you listen to the song with closed eyes, it evokes the feel of an early morning hike, cold breezes, and fresher air for clearing the mind.  It also calls to mind a deep intimacy: the storyteller is one side of a conversation and you can actually feel the silent other party considering his invitation to come take a walk, to come and stay for a bit.

The third track, Miss April, is a straight-up love song.  But it is also an object lesson in how relationships grow and change over time:

Time is all we have, dear;

Changing is all we ever do.

You can feel a loneliness, a sense of uneasy separation in this song.  And then there is the anticipation of seeing a loved one again after, one assumes, a prolonged separation; there is a sense of completion, a quiet yet palpable joy at the expected reunion.

Live Another Day is another track that can easily bring a tear to a listener’s eye:

Momma, please don’t cry

If I’m not staying, will it be okay?

Momma, please don’t cry;

But I just want to live another day.

It is a story told from the point of view of a young person suffering through the final stages of a terminal illness.  There is a somewhat cheerful resignation involved; that the narrator of the story has come to terms with the end of his life.  Indeed, he already speaks of those who have gone before and are now “waiting on the other side.”  However, the plea to be able to live another day speaks, nevertheless, of regret at a life so suddenly cut short; it is a wish to keep on living despite the pain, a silent protest at this unnatural turn of events when a child has to take leave of this life long before a grieving parent.

Have a Little Time for Yourself is my favourite track off the EP.  It’s a dinky, fun-sounding riff on the age-old theme about not always being able to please everybody and that you do have to cut yourself some slack at one time or another.  Consider the lines of the chorus:

Don’t look back on your mistakes:

Have a little time for yourself;

You can’t please them either way –

Have a little time for yourself!

Penn’s quirky lyrics also carry a practical way of getting back your bearings by way to retreating from everyone for a while and pointedly avoiding the negativity of the naysayers around you:

I don’t need anyone;

I don’t want you giving me the blues.

I just need to be by myself

Somewhere far away from you!

Finally, there’s Different Kinds of Strangers.  It’s a thought-provoking yet sweet way of looking at how people and situations change over time.  Here, Penn talks about the people he has encountered on his creative journey as both an individual and as an artist: it is implied that everyone he has met has made a mark on his life in one way or another, that each person has had a lesson to teach – one that has helped transform a boy from the foothills of Mount Arayat into a formidable singer-songwriter who has something to share with the world through the wide-eyed wonder and quiet wisdom of his music.

Ian Penn’s Wild Abandon is available online via iTunes and Bandcamp.  For more information about the artist and his work, head over to his official website at http://ianpenn.ph.

Posted in Coming Up Quick, Music = Magic, Reviews and Previews

Review: “Constellation” – Stars and Rabbit, 2015 (Green Island Music, Indonesia / Lilystars Records, Philippines)

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Tracklist

  1. Like it Here
  2. The House
  3. Catch Me
  4. Worth It
  5. Rabbit Run
  6. Cry Little Heart
  7. I’ll Go Along
  8. You Were the Universe
  9. Summerfall
  10. Man Upon the Hill
  11. Old Man Finger

For those of you whose exposure to Indonesian music has been seriously limited to the gamelan recordings in Asian Music class, you have no idea as to what you’re missing.  Modern Indonesian music, particularly among its independent acts, is rich, vibrant, and more than a little intriguing

One such example would be the sound of Stars and Rabbit.  This two-person act is made up of vocalist Elda Suriyani and guitarist Adi Widodo.  Individually, they’re stellar: Suriyani’s soft, whispery, little girl voice is enchanting; you will find yourself thinking of Bjork during her early years with the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes, perhaps a little of a much younger Tori Amos during her Cornflake Girl period; there’s also a rich, sometimes growling rasp to her voice that calls to mind old-school chanteuses such as Eartha Kitt. Widodo’s guitar-playing is easy on the ears; somewhat restrained yet you can feel the musician’s sentiments through the rhythm, the melody.  Together, they are unusually dynamic: the sound is a little whimsical, somewhat eerie to the uninitiated listener.  But paired with wistful lyrics that call to mind quiet days spent engaged alone with one’s thoughts, the end result is fascinating and is bound to pique a listener’s curiosity.

ConstellationStars and Rabbit’s newest album, spreads that dynamism through eleven tracks.  Mostly ballads, the album nevertheless exudes an energy all its own; each song seems to have been written with an edgy sincerity, raw emotions coming into play through the intensity of Suriyani’s singing.  Widodo’s strumming a soft counterpoint serves as a backdrop for lyrics that tell interesting, poignant stories.  The feel is intimate, bordering – pleasantly, if I may state here – on slightly voyeuristic: listening is like catching a glimpse into a friend’s journal: deeply personal, honest, compelling.

Certain tracks stand out for one reason or another.  Cry Little Heart features a lover torn between adoration and contempt for a partner, with the dichotomy between the two extremes threatening to rip the narrator apart; yet the speaker/singer is so caught up in the situation and unable to walk away.  You Were the Universe, on the other hand, is a forlorn-sounding ditty at first; yet as it builds up to a crescendo, you could hear the narrator’s strength – and the pathos becomes a battle-cry for moving on and starting over.

The cheerful, playful, folksy intro of Rabbit Run is a pleasing contrast to this.  Your story is my story, Suriyani sings.  My story is my story.  The bright, rambling rhythm makes this particular tune a great thing to play on a morning run, a quick ramble or hike.  It has this uplifting vibe that, really, makes one feel alive.

I would recommend Constellation – and the bulk of Stars and Rabbit’s repertoire – not just for the indie-inclined.  This is music for the thinkers and the dreamers: those of us who live with our hearts on our sleeves, those of us who believe in the power, in the magic of raw emotion.

Stars and Rabbit’s Constellation was released last 15th May 2015.  In the Philippines, the album is released by Lilystars Records under license from Green Island Music, Indonesia.  Listen to the album on Soundcloud as above or click here to buy the album online.

Incidentally…

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Stars and Rabbit will be performing live in Manila on Sunday, 07th June 2015 at the SaGuijo Bar in Makati.  Tickets are available online via https://starsandrabbitsmanila.eventbrite.com/.  For inquiries and additional information, call or text 0905-3849495 or 0916-4004343.

Posted in Art and About, Coming Up Quick, Music = Magic, Reviews and Previews

Online Right Now: “There is No Remaining in Place” – Dragonfly Collector, 2014 [Digitally Remastered Video]

57 Studios Manila recently remastered the official music video for Dragonfly Collector‘s 2014 single There is No Remaining in Place.  It’s absolutely vivid: visually stunning and the music resonates with the message that change – for better and worse – is absolutely inevitable.

Check out the official website at http://dragonflycollector.com.

Posted in Music = Magic, Shutterbug Blues, Verses

Entrance

"Three, please" - Makati, February 2015
“Three, please” – Makati, February 2015

the price of

admission

yielded far

more than

the mind

expected:

 

more than

a tune

sung forlorn,

more than

a voice

singing

breaking

silence;

 

to finally

go and see

and hear –

long after

promises

got broken

at every

turn –

masterpieces

in progress.

 

music raw

and pure

and whole:

no

jacked-up

stylised

super-productions

here.

 

what you

see,

you get –

and what

you get

is magic.

 

what you

get

is true.

 

a song

from the

heart:

pure

and simple.

Posted in Coming Up Quick, Music = Magic, Reviews and Previews

One to Watch: “Headback Home” – Ian Penn, 2014 (Single, Lilystars Records)

The thing about folk music is that many people seem to think that it’s hardly anything more than a thing from the past; a remnant of 1960s counter-culture.  But there is actually a young artist who has skilfully woven together old-school rhythms and poignant lyrics to show the world that folk music is definitely alive and well: Ian Penn.

His debut single Headback Home from Lilystars Records is reminiscent of folk greats like Bob Dylan and Paul Williams: a reedy, classically folksy voice telling the tale of a little girl lost.  It may not be to the taste of most people who would rather stick to formulaic pop sung by indifferently talented drones, but this kid’s music is the real deal: honest, lyrical, with a touch of wide-eyed innocence yet wary optimism of things to come.

Penn, I understand, writes his own material and this is, in itself, a window into the young artist’s soul: a look into the musings, dreams, and hopes of what I would consider an old soul seeing the world through youthful eyes.  Having gotten off to a respectable start with Headback Home, I look forward to hearing what else this rising talent has in his rucksack on his journey into musical maturity.

For more about Ian and his music, visit his website at http://www.ianpenn.ph.