Here Are the Best OPM Albums and EPs of 2020
In 2020, music was made, and, as always, some were better than others. Creativity blossomed while we were all forced to stay indoors for the better half of the year. Hereabouts, there were some pretty special releases, and the best were the ones that were from artists who were able to overcome the limitations of the imposed lockdown to create music that was personal, reflective, and truly memorable.
In random order, here are our picks for Best OPM albums (and EPs) of 2020:
One Click Straight
You already know how we feel about the foursome who came out with a three-song EP right smack in the middle of the pandemic. It’s been a couple of months and we still think the title track—“SSH”—is still the best pandemic-era OPM pop song. It’s not just the fact that they managed to find that delicate balance of throw-your-hands abandon and heartfelt sensitivity to a global health crisis; it’s that they managed to do it in just three songs. That certainly deserves praise.
2| Homework Machine
Self-isolation did Zild good. The singer-songwriter from IV of Spades spent the pandemic cooped up indoors like everybody else, and pulled off a “Taylor Swift” in the process. Homework Machine is part-disco, part-electronica, part-experimental; a nearly indescribable mish-mash of styles that expresses the fears and worries of today’s twentysomethings—navigating relationships, managing anxieties, and the desire to leave an impact more lasting than a like on social media. Choice lyric: Kay lungkot naman/Mag-isa na lang/Ang nasasaktan/Pinagtawanan. We know the feeling, Zild.
There are unmistakable flourishes of 60s folk-pop in the sophomore EP of Oh Flamingo!, but it’s still firmly lodged in modern indie rock territory. Coming five years after the band’s debut, Volumes is at times thoughtful, and, at times in-your-face, but it’s never brash or too important for its own good. In “Sunsets,” vocalist Howard Luistro pays tribute to his best friend, repeating the dreamy refrain "Sitting and imagining sunsets." It’s the kind of record you can play on a drive or a laidback afternoon at home.
4| Playing Pretend in the Interim
We have a soft spot for Reese Lansangan here on Esquire, but don’t let our unabashed bias stop you from letting her exquisite poetry permeate your soul. The singer-songwriter has produced an incredible body of work over the past few years (Of Sound Mind and Memory is, quite simply, unforgettable), but she may have outdone herself with this latest effort. Forceful and heartbreaking, quirky and achingly relevant (listen to “Extended Vacation”), nostalgic yet forward-looking, Playing Pretend in the Interim further exposes Lansangan’s insecurities despite the mountains of acclaim she’s received for her original music. Why do I fill my life with things/the happiness that brings/ is just so fleeting and small, she sings in “Mall Rats,” which has to be in contention for OPM song of the year.
5| The Other Side
She’s Only Sixteen
At this point, the boys of She’s Only Sixteen are practically veterans in the industry, having been active since the late 2000s. On their latest, the band members dip their toes into disco and funk, leaning into groovy bass lines and electronic embellishments that take listeners on a trip far beyond the smoke-filled bars where they used to play. Even frontman Roberto Seña takes risks with his delivery, turning it up and stretching his vocals to match the snappy melodies. Standout track: “Ghost,” which, despite its name, feels like that moment when you leave your crush at her doorstep and you half-walk, half-skip back to your car or the bus station with a stupid smile on your face.
Bawal Clan and Owfuck
Despite what many Western rappers that feature big-busted ladies in their videos would have you believe, rap has always been a statement—a counter-culture movement that expresses displeasure at current socio-political systems or mistrust at institutions and individuals who wield power and influence. On Bawal Clan and Owfuck’s first collaborative album, it’s no different. The two supergroups come together in a record that questions authority and criticizes the current political climate. Even if you miss or deliberately ignore the acid in the songs, it’s a record that demands multiple listens for the consummate Filipino hip-hop fan.
7| Waiting for the End to Start
In case you’re not on to them yet, the goofy personalities of The Itchyworms boys belie the fact that they’re musical geniuses. I mean, Noontime Show was a commentary on the Filipino hoi polloi experience as much as it was a fun, extremely listenable album. Recorded largely during the lockdown period, Waiting for the End to Start continues the tradition of injecting humor and wit to their material. At times they even channel bands like Barenaked Ladies or Smash Mouth. This time though, there’s something extra personal about the songs. “Burning the Bridges,” Armageddon Blues,” “The Life I Know” all hint at intimate experiences that Jazz, Jugs, Kelvin, and Chino have kept close to their chests. Until now.
8| Mixtape Vol. 1
Take one part longing and regret and mix with an equal part of 80s synth pop and you get Brisom’s latest. Working with producer and DJ Joey Santos, Mixtape Vol. 1 is a six-song EP made up of three originals and three remixes of previous releases. Despite the weight of the material, the record hearkens to more carefree days owing to the strong 80s synth and popwave influence. Two standouts are “Joan,” a somber narration of a relationship on its last legs wrapped in buoyant synths and further lifted by Brian Sombero’s vocals; and “Ikaw Pa Rin,” a soaring ballad which sounds like it could have been sung by Martin Nievera and Manilyn Reynes in 1989.
9| ena mori
Ena mori introduces herself in her self-titled debut record with a track that, appropriately enough, is also named “ena mori.” The half-Filipino, half-Japanese singer-songwriter is a classically trained pianist and started composing her own music before she reached her teens. In ena mori (the album), the artist channels female performers with a strong personality (think Imogen Heap, Dua Lipa) and delivers a record packed with memorable, club-ready beats. In a sea of extremely talented contemporary artists, ena mori proves there’s room for a misfit like her to stand out.
It’s always tough to live up to a great first record, but Unique Salonga avoids the so-called sophomore slump by defying expectations. Rather than relying on the balls-to-the-wall confidence of his debut Grandma, which got him critical notices, the twentysomething digs a little deeper and casts a much wider net for PANGALAN:. You might even say he chucks out all the rules and delivers a record that for sure is exactly the way he wants it, haters and well-meaning advice from his close associates be damned. There’s a fiery bass line against his trademark falsetto in “Lamang Lupa,” dance-ready synths in “Mga Katulad Mo,” and a fully instrumental track to introduce the album in “Korporasyon.” Oh, and of course, there’s that strange, almost creepy assembly of seemingly random audio tracks in “Delubyo” that goes on for over five minutes. Feel free to skip that one, but make sure to stick around for everything else.