Music

The Best OPM Albums and EPs of 2021

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ILLUSTRATOR WARREN ESPEJO
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In the second year of the global pandemic, we got to see more of its effects in the output of our creatives. For the year’s best records, there were obvious choices, but others we had to dig deeper and sift through the muck to discover. 

In random order, here’s our list of the best OPM albums and EPs of 2021:

1| Time Well Spent

Reese Lansangan

 

Once again, the prolific singer-songwriter has an entry in our year’s best. In Time Well Spent, her second full-length LP, Lansangan keeps her idiosyncratic, indie spirit but further expands her sound to welcome fresh listeners weaned on more mainstream pop. An unabashed Swiftie, she channels one of the world’s biggest pop stars in tracks like “VHS Aesthetic” and the cheery “What Is this Feeling?” Her fascination with space and adventure still permeates the album, particularly in tracks like “Pocket,” “Orbiting,” and old single “An Opportunity to Go to The Moon.” Similar to her precious EPs Playing Pretend in the Interim, and Of Sound Mind and Memory, this album is one you’d want to hold close to your chest.

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2| Pebble House Volume 1: Kuwaderno

Ben&Ben

Photo by SONY.

 

We feel like we’ve said more than enough about Ben&Ben this past year, especially after we named them Artist of the Year in our annual Man at His Best: Heroes and Mavericks. We also extensively reviewed the album here. So this time, we’ll just say this: while it’s intensely emotional and thought-provoking, one of the most important OPM releases to come out of the pandemic is also authentic, joyous, and fun.

3| Dumaloy

Sud

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Sud have been around since at least the early 2010s but it seems Dumaloy is their first proper LP. Combining pop and middle-of-the-road rock with neo-jazz elements, the record owes a lot to Western singer-songwriters of the John Mayer and Jeff Buckley variety, but the similarities to 90s post-New Wave OPM bands like Neocolours and Side A are also unmistakable. Vocalist Sud Ballecer actually sounds a bit like Ito Rapadas. Put this on if you’re on day two or three after a break-up, or just want to feel things.

4| Shoes Out the Door!

Nameless Kids

 

We already named “Midsummer High” our 2021 summer anthem (even though few of us actually went anywhere the past year, much less to the beach), but the band put out an EP that showed their musical gift is no fluke. Shoes Out the Door! is brimming with carefree, youthful vibes: that feeling of hanging out with your barkada at somebody’s house, shooting the breeze about who went out with whom, or going on an impromptu road trip to San Juan (Elyu or Batangas). Marrying funky synths and snippets of “light” rap verses, the EP serves its purpose of introducing us to a bright new OPM act, and we can’t help but expect big things out of these Nameless Kids.

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5| Phases Volume 1, 2, and 3

Jensen Gomez

 

Most of us know Jensen Gomez for his work on Jensen and the Flips, but the guy is actually a musical wunderkind, having composed, arranged, and produced songs for films and other artists for years. As a solo artist, he’s released three EPs over the last year, each one with three songs, all of them showcasing his production and songwriting chops. He displays anguish and vulnerability in Phases Volume 1, with opener “I’m Scared,” single “No Sides,” and “Grip,” then turns it up on the slightly more uptempo Volume 2 with “Yas Queen,” “Sprung,” and “From My Window.” He finishes off with Volume 3 with the peppy “BMF” and “Another Day” and R&B-tinged “Let Me In.” Taken together, the three volumes of Phases might represent a progression of sorts, from heartbreak and loss to passion and rage, and finally, to joy and acceptance, all wrapped up neatly in the kind of modern OPM pop you’d expect from someone with all this pent-up talent and creativity. Surely the full album isn’t that far off.

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6| Huminga

Zild

 

In Huminga, Zild still bears traces of his work with his old group, with the kind of retro, funk-pop sound that resonates so well with listeners of today. The difference is a thematic shift into darker, more somber territory. In “Paalam Mahal,” he sounds like a crooner from the 70s as he says goodbye to a lover thusly: Paalam mahal / di ko na yata kayang huminga / natunaw ang kaluluwa. He tips a hat off to Quezon City in “Kyusi,” dropping locales familiar to anyone who’s ever lived there, while simultaneously promoting individuality and authenticity (Di mo kailangang baguhin ang inyong anyo.) And he channels soul-crushing defeat and exhaustion in “Wala Nang Kumakatok,” perhaps the most explicit commentary yet on the toll the pandemic has taken on artists like himself. “Huminga” is a snapshot of this very specific period in our collective history, from someone who is clearly paying attention.

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7| call me when you wake up

Tala

Is this the OPM R&B EP of the year? With few other contenders, it just might be. Tala’s rhythms are smooth, spicy, and brimming with so much energy and positivity. Small wonder, as she’s all of 22 years old. Merging so-called bedroom pop with traditional R&B, Tala’s delicate vocals go well with those languid, sexy beats in music that sounds like a mashup of artists like Faith Evans, Nina, and BP Valenzuela. Must-hear tracks: “sandcastles,” “home again,” and the dreamy, guitar-driven “24.” Listen to this when you’re hanging out with a romantic interest, and you want to give not-so-subtle hints that you want to kick things up a notch. 

8| Scenes From Inside

Barbie Almalbis

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Like everyone else, Barbie Almalbis spent the better part of the past year indoors, and to keep herself occupied (and perhaps preserve her sanity), she got to work on this little gem of a record. Barbie sings about social media (“Comment”), fur babies (“An Aspin’s Song), and the confounding relativity of time (“Days are Long”). Through it all her trademark whimsical vocals ties the record together: familiar and comforting, especially in these strange times. As an extra gift, she even treats us to a cover of “Umagang kay Ganda,” a hopeful message we all badly need as we enter year three of this wretched pandemic. 

9| Pakilala

Zsaris

Pakilala is only around 13 minutes long, but those are 13 minutes well-spent. Signed under O/C Records, Zsaris is one of those artists you wonder why isn’t getting more recognition: she sounds like she’s been singing all her life and these four songs provide an apt vehicle for her immense talent. “Hihilahin’s” jazz-funk hybrid is a personal favorite and the standout track, but “Solusyon” is just as snappy and tasty. When you get to the end you kind of feel like you’ve been given less than half of a great gourmet meal: spectacular and memorable, but hardly filling. We have a word for it: bitin. If she can accomplish this feat with just four songs, lord knows what’ll spring forth when she’s finally ready to gift us with a full album.

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10| Songs from the Shelf

timothy Run

When I hear a song I like I put it immediately into one of my playlists. “a bird And a car” made it into one of those playlists last year without giving the artist a second thought. I reviewed my most-played songs recently and discovered timothy Run, the alter ego of Tim Marquez, who drums for pop-rock outfit One Click Straight and is also involved with Manila Magic. In his first EP, timothy Run leans on playful synths (“take it or Leave” sounds very Hall and Oates-y) and toe-tapping percussion for a unique five-song trip. Songs from the Shelf sounds like something you’d hear blaring from your cool cousin’s room or car. “i’m just a Man" might be ahead in terms of streams (on Spotify at least), but “a bird And a car,” which gives me Olivver the Kid vibes, is the definite highlight.

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Paul John Caña
Associate Editor, Esquire Philippines
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