A Few Haphazard Notes on ‘Manila Meltdown,’ the Newest from Paper Satellites

Occasionally angular, generally jilted and jagged, but always with a reverence for melody, ‘Manila Meltdown’ is a literal feast for the senses.

I love being pleasantly surprised. I appreciate being reminded that Kerouac’s “mad ones”—“mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, […] never yawn or say a commonplace thing”—still exist.

Especially in music, which has become rote and day-old-fish stale.

On that note, nothing could be further from yawning or saying a commonplace thing than the palpably inspired ‘Manila Meltdown,’ the newest full-length outing from indie-rock trio Paper Satellites, who describes the song collection as a two-act on intoxication that traces a salaryman’s descent from (Act I) heady buzz to (Act II) downtrodden reckoning.

With songs written close to half a decade ago, the band reportedly only put the puzzle pieces over the pandemic. “[‘Manila Meltdown’] represents the sound that we’ve wanted to create during [a particular] period of our band’s life: loud, fast, and festive. Now that we’ve got [that] out of our system, we’re ready to take our music to wherever our creative juices take us next,” the group says, seemingly treading therapy-through-autobiography confines, but really, they’ve done way more than that in this impressively multifarious record.

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Occasionally angular, generally jilted and jagged, but always with a reverence for melody, ‘Manila Meltdown’ is a literal feast: a spirited start, a crestfallen end, and most importantly, a middle worth wading through for its musical generosity.

Singer-guitarist Jyle Macalintal, bassist Paulo Carpio, and drummer Aaron Escueta have got skills in spades for sure, but I’m not fawning over their virtuosity. In fact, though I don’t usually do this, I’m sharing—with only minimal editing for cohesiveness and clarity—my notes on the numbers below.

“Seafoam” / “Bakunawa”
Three-part intro: noise and phaser oscillations, single-note staccatos, synth break. Wistful and celebratory, but with “arena indie” moments. They’re on indie-rock, world-beater mode here.

Tasty Afro-Caribbean intro and backbeat. Crunchy rhythm-guitar work. The tones ring and glimmer. The pocket bass-and-drum breaks are very cool, if only for avoiding overstatement.

“Have Fun Tonight”
Alex Turner-style nasal timbre (circa ‘Suck It and See’), with Johnny Marr-style ringing open chords thrown in the mix. Jangle-fest one minute and crippling existentialism the next.

“Golden Age”
Stop-and-go verses. Tremolo patches echoed in the sing-song solo. Beautiful chord changes. Great singing, with affectation kept to a minimum. It’s one of those mid-tempo gems that sound effortless but also intensely labored over.

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Afro-Caribbean rhythms that recall Vampire Weekend or a less cut-up Oh, Flamingo! The proposition is to not have these otherwise overpowering elements, er, overpower. Melody still king in the final analysis.

“YSGFM” (feat. Ness Urian of The Gentle Isolation)
Driving, propulsive opening bars that give way to subtle bits of dance-punk. These guys are hardworking arrangers: the kind of bricklayers that pay attention to Easter eggs that will get glazed over in favor of the big Something Else. Also love the trip-hop interlude that sweetly evaporates into nothingness.

“Try Again”
With lethargic opening strains that crescendo and settle into some sumptuous lo-fi denouement: like a plane landing on lumpy gravel, graceful despite its dawdling tenor.

Arpeggiated intro. Adventurous phrasing that doesn’t make the melody trip up. Moody breaks that erupt into tasteful build-ups. Phil Spector, meet Wall of Reverb.

Single-note guitar lines spewing levities with a veiled discontent. Tension by not-quite-dissonant pairings, which render the infinitely singable choruses even more gratifying. A more downtempo restatement of an already-plodding cadence closes it, and then all is right in the world.

“Coming Home”
Straightforward two-chord “establishing shot.” A yet-again rewarding chorus, this time cut short to make way for some riffage. The Paper Satellites M.O. is starting to look like this: induce musical blue balls in the listener.

“On My Way”
The bareness doesn’t quite equate to barrenness in musicianship. If anything—though much of the record’s already anchored on pretty, affective singing—it’s the least uncomfortable in shining a light on this nakedness.

“Slow Down”
At the end of it all, their chops—the bursts of inspired riffing, tamed snatches of modulation—aren’t just musical bric-a-brac. They’re backboards to some ornate mise-en-scène where emotional truth is still the lead actor.

‘Manila Meltdown’ is out now.

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