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Faraway, So Close

Senses Working Overtime by Luis Katigbak
The Philippine Star | September 3, 2010

There are good and bad names for bands, just as there are good and bad names for people — “good” or “bad” in this context usually meaning “appropriate” or “inappropriate,” respectively, or to put it another way, “bagay o hindi bagay.” For example, Dying Fetus (known for such albums as “Purification Through Violence” and “Descend Into Depravity,” and coming to annihilate Amoranto Stadium this Sept. 14) is a good name for a death metal band, which is what they are. On the other hand, it is a terrible name for an a cappella group that specializes in breezy bossa nova fare. Or a boy-girl acoustic duo. (Then again, that might make for the most kick-ass acoustic duo ever. Their debut album could be called “Death by Tandem Bike” and feature songs like Candy Coated Carnage and Immolated by Sunbeams.)

The Gentle Isolation is another perfectly named band. Their sound is reminiscent of early Club 8, with a touch of pop melancholy à la Strawberry Switchblade (as on their standout Faraway), some new wave influences, and a bit of Britpop bounce (as on their song Is It Possible To See You Again?). In other words, it is gentle and suitable for sunny days spent strolling alone. It is neither suicide music nor an injection of super-happy; it deals in bittersweetness. Listening to their five-song debut EP, “It Started With An April Shower,” is like finding a box of old photos of you and your high school love and knowing you will never be that young or giddy again, or a memory of letting a red balloon go and watching it rise skywards and away from you forever. (*Sniff*)

“It Started With An April Shower” was launched last Aug. 18 at the Ayala Museum ground floor lobby, with performances by The Camerawalls, Your Imaginary Friends, Kate Torralba and Outerhope, and of course The Gentle Isolation themselves: Ness Urian on vocals and acoustic guitar, Monch Cristobal on backing vocals and bass, Joseph Rovero on electric guitar and Batchie Rudica on drums. The launch was part of a series being done by the music production POP Shoppe! called “A Call to Mind,” running from August to December of this year.

“Having launched in a luxe venue such as the Ayala Museum was really a grand experience for us,” said lead singer Ness. “We could not believe ourselves that we were the luminaries of that night. Not to mention the heaping support by a great lineup of guest indie artists, and also hosting by Francis Brew of NU 107. It was indeed our most stellar moment.” Adds bassist Monch: “It’s overwhelming to hear comments like ‘Ang linis ng tugtugan niyo!’ or simply ‘I like your music’ from those who had already heard our songs or seen us perform live. It kept us more motivated and inspired in making music.” Their enthusiasm and gratitude are apparent; if there’s a downside, Monch acknowledges that it’s the day after a good gig, and “having a little less than an hour of sleep, then straight off to our day jobs and duties.”

As the site of Lilystars, the band’s label, says: “Three years a new wave cover band until they elected to re-format their sound in the summer of 2009, Monch, Bachie, Ness and Joseph have since traded their synth-based pop for the fluid, easygoing kind. Despite the shift in genres, the band has maintained traces of their musical roots amidst the jangly guitars, elastic bass lines, brittle 12-string acoustic strumming and bare vocals that characterize their music today.”

We asked Clem Castro, the Label Manager of Lilystars, what it was about The Gentle Isolation that made him enthusiastic enough to sign them. He replied: “Talent, humility, pop sensibility and willingness to understand the complexities and dynamics of being in the music business and thereby developing themselves as recording artists.” Clem, also the leader of acclaimed band The Camerawalls, addressed the fact that the band is based in Bulacan. “Living in the province, Bulacan or farther, gives the artist a different perspective in their approach to music, especially when the artist belongs to an underprivileged class unfamiliar with the distractions and trends in the Manila music scene. I figure their drive to reach their dream as recording artists is higher even though they understand it is doubly difficult to achieve. This extra challenge and lack of city distractions increases their perseverance and the amount of time they give to improve their craft and hone their talent.”

Clem clarified that “‘The POP Shoppe! Music Series: A Call To Mind’ is an effort to introduce to a wider public an alternative to what is commonly heard in the local pop music industry. Not just to showcase artists from the Lilystars roster, but to promote those they believe are worthy of attention and have this unwavering integrity to create music that will contribute to the elevation of Filipino pop music at par with foreign counterparts.

“We understand that the music business is not a sprint but rather a marathon, a long and sensitive path. Lilystars is attempting to provide a platform to guide deserving musicians. It is also a dynamic industry we are in, and very speculative, but however small our label is, we take utmost effort to respond to these changes by providing quality and inspiring releases and discovering new avenues to promote and distribute indie music.”

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