Humming Along

Stay In by Johanna Poblete, Senior Reporter
Business World – Weekender | October 1, 2010

One Dreamy Indeterminate Hum
Your Imaginary Friends
Lilystars Records

ONE OUGHT to expect that with the EP title of One Dreamy Indeterminate Hum, that the music of Your Imaginary Friends would be akin to a sonic ellipsis — unsubstantial, halting, wispy. It is anything but.

While it can be light and lilting, the sound is solid; no tentativeness, no halting pause, no slacking, just the pure confidence of plug-in-and-play, even conjuring a wall of noise to drop on the unsuspecting audience.

Indeterminate here refers to category, that tiny little slot we like to keep our records in, for some semblance of order. This being an EP produced under Lilystars Records, you already expect a certain kind of sound — something a little left off center.

Your Imaginary Friends flirts with a guitar-driven mishmash of late 1980s and early 1990s sound, combining the lyric-driven — and yes, sometimes dreamy, or better yet, romantic — 1980s pop with the edgier, grittier, sometimes incoherent grunge era.

If it weren’t for the light, feminine voice of young bassist Em (short for Emerald) Aquino chiming in with the pronounced tones of frontman Ahmad Tanji, this would be out-and-out aggressive rock ‘n’ roll rather than the gentler indie (case in point, “Oh Liza,” which the band sees as laying the groundwork of their musical style).

E-mail hookup

The rather unorthodox beginnings of the band can be traced to an “e-mail project” between two of its members, as they were in separate locales at the time. That was four years ago.

Ahmad is now based in Manila (although shuttling back to Bicol at least once a month), his brother and guitar-wingman Khalid also works here in a BPO company and drummer Eric is a copywriter for an automaker. Their former bassist, Tanya V. Singh (the lady who contributed a track, “By Beautiful Intentions”) has been replaced by Ms. Aquino, a nurse with dexterous hands.

From the start, the three men in the band, all Bicolanos, had wanted a female bass player, precisely to have that female voice. As the band lists The Pixies — that highly abrasive if melodic and comically ironic band from the 1990s (if “Hey” doesn’t ring a bell, “Here Comes Your Man” ought to) — as an influence, one suspects this pays homage to the Kim Deal ideal.

Ms. Aquino is pretty much blasé about being the lone woman in the band, indicating that the others treat her “like a little sister.”

The band also references The Smiths, canonized as the best of British indie from the 1980s, revered for its unique sound and Morrissey’s songwriting (not to mention his much-admired diction); and alternative rock band Death Cab For Cutie, more contemporary than the other two but again, the common denominator being layered guitars and clever lyricism.

Band meets Lily

In 2009, they struck up a partnership with Lilystars Records, when label manager/musician Clementine heard them play on Buzz Night at Club Dredd. Yet another case of mutual admiration, the band was slated to record a couple of songs for a compilation album — this transformed into the five-song EP One Dreamy Indeterminate Hum, launched at The POP Shoppe! Music Series at Ayala Museum last September.

The much larger audience was a good sign that The POP Shoppe! is generating interest; the presence of American pop outfit Hellogoodbye, largely left alone thanks to its security detail (and the general good manners of the crowd) gave it an added geeky-cool luster.

Opening act was The Gentle Isolation, which played its originals and a commendable Wild Swans cover of “Bringing Home the Ashes.” It was followed by The Camerawalls, which played its favorite originals (teasing a bit by including a snippet of The Smiths’ “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” prior to “Lord of the Flies”) and managed to promote the next instalment of POP Shoppe, an upcoming Lennon Tribute on Oct. 9 (at the Ayala Museum with eight indie bands and 13 contemporary artists), by playing a few bars of The Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” before segueing into “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Arigato, Hato! and the Techy Romantics also lent their support, by turns.

Perfect drug?

Your Imaginary Friends, when it took the stage, played a generous set, 11 songs in total, including covers (“Histrionics” by Popsicle, a crowd-rousing “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure — with untitled song intro by Ms. Aquino — and “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies).

The upbeat “Hey Rowena” (demanding that a woman take the love plunge) and even debut single “Oh, Liza” (the music video will be directed by Mr. Po), are contrasts to its new, darker material, “Your Silence Is The Villain” and “Baby You’re Going To Hell,” one a sung rebuke and the other an anti-love letter.

Best of the lot is “She’s All Sirens (And I Am Fiction)” the last song of the EP, shoegazer lite if there’s such a thing, and though the lyrics tend to be obscure, you get the gist of remorse over a momentary impulse.
Well-named, Your Imaginary Friends refers to the band’s penchant for storytelling (coined by Ahmad, who is currently taking up his masters in clinical psychology). “It’s like having someone to talk to, but you’re telling a story to no one [in particular],” said the would-be head-doctor.

“You don’t have a song without the lyrics,” insisted Mr. Po, himself a writer.

In such literate company, it’s not entirely surprising that the name of the EP, one finds, is actually lifted from the third sentence in a short story by Edgar Allan Poe on Spanish Inquisition torture, “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Ahmad, who wore a red shirt stating “I Survived Catholic School” (incidentally, Death Cab for Cutie sings about getting knuckles bruised in Catholic school) at the launch, says music could be a substitute drug.

“It can bring you to a different state of mind. For me it’s a catharsis of some sort, I find it like an outlet, as a writer and a musician… Writing it all out can give me my peace of mind. It may sound pretentious, but it’s true that I’m doing this to keep me sane,” he said, partly in the vernacular. “I can’t live without a band. Or without music.”

So, would you care for anti-depressants or stimulants?

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