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Best OPM Albums (and EPs) of 2019

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Once again, we’re going to call it: 2019 was not the best year for OPM. (We said the same thing last year, boohoo). Songs were released, sure, and many of them ranged from good to spectacular. But if songs are short stories, albums are full-length novels (EPs=novellas?) and it’s here that they get to truly show off their talent and artistry.

So here are our picks for the year’s best OPM albums. Because full albums were slim pickings this year, we decided to include EPs, something that many artists seemed to favor releasing over the past year. Here’s hoping we get more amazing music in the new year. 

1| Limasawa Street

Ben&Ben

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Ben&Ben’s Limasawa Street opens with the title track mixed by Steve Lillywhite. Yes, that Steve Lillywhite (kids, Google him if no bells are ringing). You’d think the nine-piece band led by long-haired twins Paolo and Miguel Guico would open with the big, explosive crowd-pleaser and it’d be all downhill from there. But quite the opposite happened. It only gets better after the first track, with thumping finger-snappers (“Fall,” “Lucena,” “Talaarawan”) and quiet, deep heartwarmers [“Baka Sakali” which features Ebe Dancel, “Mitsa (Salamat),” “Godsent”]. What’s remarkable about this album is how fresh and innovative it sounds while simultaneously feeling comforting and familiar. Although it feels accomplished and complete, somehow, you end up wanting more when the last few notes of the last song fade.

2| CLAPCLAPCLAP!

IV of Spades

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It’s hard not to like IV of Spades. The band plays an intoxicating mix of funk-pop-rock, which perks up the ears of older listeners, but the members are all young enough to appeal to the twentysomethings and below. Original vocalist Unique beat his former bandmates to the punch when he released his debut solo album first in 2018, so anyone who listened to that first will find similarities with the material in the IV of Spades effort (“Bawat Kaluluwa” most especially). That’s expected, but that doesn’t mean CLAPCLAPCLAP! doesn’t have its own bangers. The trio of “Not My Energy,” “Come Inside of My Heart” and “Dulo ng Hangganan” are some of the best OPM songs in recent memory. With lines like “Sumabay ang luha sa indak ng alon,” IV of Spades engages our hearts as well as our ears. 

3| Fools And Foes

Fools and Foes 

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Fools and Foes have been active in the gig circuit for years, amassing fans with their sometimes languid, sometimes forceful post rock stylings. With their debut LP, the members take us through an aural journey through their emotional upheavals. We’ve been to many of these places ourselves, and the songs only serve to intensify those feelings of longing, frustration, fear and hopefulness. The guitar is front and center throughout the record, but “Mutter,” a soft piano-driven ballad somewhere in the middle, is a welcome breather.

4| Peklat Cream

Bita and the Botflies

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“Peklat” is “scar” in Filipino so Peklat Cream is, literally, something to apply to soothe and ultimately erase the unsightly blight on our skins. Of course, there’s a more profound meaning in Bita and the Botflies’ strangely hypnotic and enigmatic debut. What you see (or hear, in this case) isn’t necessarily what you get in tracks like “Sisikat Ka Iha” and “Tagu-Taguan.” It helps that vocalist Sofy Aldeguer’s quirky, delightfully unique vocals fit perfectly with the songs. Peklat Cream mixes humor, social commentary, and the odd nugget of wisdom, all wrapped up in snappy, ska and funk-infused modern pop.

5| Kept in Mind

Banna Harbera 

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Banna Harbera mine the chill, laidback sound of 90s-era female-fronted pop groups for their debut LP. There’s a bit of R&B, some synth-pop, and a whole lot of groove in songs like “We’ll Be Fine,” “Always Clueless,” and “Aside.” It’s all inoffensive and vanilla, not exactly remarkable, but essential in these times when everybody’s trying to out-innovate everybody else. Put the record on at the next dinner party, either during aperitifs or just after dessert.

6| Dream Awake

Quest

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There will never be another Francis M, but if there was a survey on this generation’s list of local rap and hip-hop icons, Quest is a shoo-in. One of my favorite OPM albums of the year, Dream Awake is a record bursting with light and positivity (“Better Days” and “Champions Anthem”), with none of the saccharine-sweet corniness. There are duets with the likes of Rita Daniela and Rhap Salazar, but with all due respect, Quest hardly needs support. Even in the ballad-ish “Unlove You,” Quest’s vocal chops are on full display. Dream Awake deserves to be heard by every music-loving Filipino.

7| Kulayan Natin

Munimuni 

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In an industry strongly influenced by Western ideas of what pop music should be, Munimuni presents an intriguing alternative. Live, the five-piece works as a strong unit, displaying prodigious talent not usually seen and heard even in this talent-rich country. The lyrics are closer to poetry, with lines like “Hanggang dito na lamang ang iyong mga luha / tama na, tahan na / hihilumin ang iyong mga sugat / Pighati, wakas na.” Their trademark flute floats over the instrumentation, adding a whimsical, almost fantastical element to a range of already exceptional tracks.

8| Loveless (EP)

fern. 

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In Loveless, singer-songwriter and producer fern. (real name: Fernando Tan) explores themes not unfamiliar to anybody who’s ever been a teenager: longing, heartbreak and the pursuit of happiness, even short-lived. The difference is that fern. himself is actually still a teenager, which makes his music as authentic a portrait of adolescent issues and angst as we’ll ever get (at least until the next teenage pop sensation). The seven-song EP, which the 19-year-old wrote and co-produced himself, skips between midtempo and downtempo; they’re songs you would hear at a chill club or lounge, while you sip your cocktails and eye the hot stranger across the crowded room.

9| I Rose Up Slowly (EP)

Clara Benin 

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If there was a separate field just for local dreamy acoustic pop, Clara Benin practically has it cornered. Listening to the guitar prodigy with the whispery vocals, you can’t help but downshift and pause to fully take in her words. In “Tightrope,” she issues a challenge: If you can catch my wave / You’ll have to be brave / Cause I’m a hurricane / Constantly searching for something to destroy. And in “Wrestle,” she insists, “I’m where I’m supposed to be.” For every loud, booming rock star or pop diva, we need a Clara Benin who doesn’t need to raise her voice to be heard.

10| Paradigm Shift (EP)

half-lit

Photo by HALF-LIT MUSIC.
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When BP Valenzuela’s alter ego half-lit dropped Paradigm Shift, it truly was. The twentysomething best known for her indie-electronica music made an abrupt about-face and released an album that was decidedly less flashy and more introspective. “I would write these songs in the middle of the night and sometimes record them right before dawn, when the light was close to framing things around my room,” she told Esquire Philippines. The six-song EP is essentially a brief study on emotional connection, the longing to relate with someone else who understands what we’re going through. It’s a fascinating trip, and one I hope BP will complete in a full album soon.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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