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Sound & Sense

Stay In by Johanna Poblete, Senior Reporter
Business World – Weekender | December 9, 2010

CD REVIEW
Bread and Circuses
The Camerawalls
Lilystars Records

INDIE tends to be one genre of music packed with diversity, and Bread and Circuses is a prime example of how post-punk euro-pop circa the 1980s and ’90s can morph into an experimental contemporary sound that’s easily melodic (ergo, listener-friendly), rhythmically complex, with elegant vocals and ponderous lyrics that pull at the emotions.

The EP is the The Camerawalls’ sophomore effort, coming two years after its first album Pocket Guide To The Otherworld (2008), and months after the release of the single “The Sight Of Love,” which featured Sarah Gaugler of electro pop band Turbo Goth, which was released in February.

There’s been a change in the band lineup, with bandleader and vocalist-guitarist Clementine “Clem” Castro and bassist Law Santiago welcoming Joseph “Bachie” Rudica into the fold after their former drummer resigned.

“Embracing a more able drummer who listens to the same music as I do with similar sensibilities in style and preference, not to mention [who is] down-to-earth, there’s no better choice. We are now solidly a Bulacan-based outfit. We easily communicate with each other and instantly gelled during jamming sessions while arranging the tracks in the EP,” Mr. Castro told BusinessWorld.

Mr. Rudica had been a sessionist for the band in between his duties as drummer to The Gentle Isolation (TGI), which is under the same Lilystars Records label managed by Mr. Castro. Given that the two bands are “under the same roof” so to speak, Mr. Rudica says that there is no conflict as far as belonging to two bands is concerned, merely management of schedules so that he could be allowed to play for both.

“TGI is very supportive; actually they really want me to be part of The Camerawalls. We get along well… we’re family because we’re under the same label,” Mr. Rudica told BusinessWorld via SMS.

“Clementine influenced and inspired me and the rest of TGI to be a full musician… I just love playing for both my bands and that gives me self-fulfilment in expressing my musicality,” he added.

Happy-go-lucky Mr. Rudica has a tendency to jump in and ad-lib his way through a composition, and is inventive with his drum patterns (his first gig with The Camerawalls was playing at the Club 8 Live concert, sans rehearsal). And while Mr, Castro comes in with the bones of the melody laid out, he’d contribute by winding his way through “free-ins.”

“We don’t have glitches and complications, so we can focus more on making good music to cater to our followers,” said Mr. Rudica.

Back to square one?

Listening to Bread and Circuses, one is eased into the EP with alluringly warm and mellow tunes.

“A Gentle Persuasion” is a bubbly rush of sound characteristic of indie that evokes a vague feeling of nostalgia (in my case, the first track made me dig out The Cardigans and indulge in “Carnival”). For his die-hard fans, this harks back to the kind of songs Mr. Castro used to write back when he was the “orange” in Orange and Lemons.

Immediately following is piano/keyboard-driven “My Life’s Arithmetic Means” which recruits the jaunty Kate Torralba for a tap-dance-worthy collaboration (a bonus track in the EP is her instrumental solo of this).

Both catchy songs are suited to the subject matter of love (and romanticized lovemaking).

Then we’ve got the backwash of new wave, as the EP transitions into an edgier, vaguely moody explosion of sound. “Longevity” is a gem of a song that recalls The Smiths, and their ilk, if such were inclined to guitar solos (Francis Reyes, formerly of The Dawn, having a guitar-shredding blast here). The highly melodic angst here is proof yet again that heartbreak makes for a great song.

Insomnia meanwhile takes a productive bent in “Birthday Wishes,” a lovely haunting tune, powerful in its Lennon-like lyricism. It has the gravitas of a prayer and the bittersweet insights of a songwriter on the eve of his birthday, reflecting on his life and then-current events (he refers to a female President). The violins in the background (contributed by Aussie musicians Dan Shepherd and Perrin Walker) add a romantic ambiguity anchored by his calm vocal delivery.

But if truth be told, it’s the last, the titular song, “Bread and Circuses” that encapsulates what The Camerawalls is known for. Fans of the first album will look to this for their fix, as it starts on a slow buildup to — borrowing Mr. Rudica’s descriptive — epic proportions, a perfect blend of instrumentation as backdrop of a concept that summarizes the indie musician’s dilemma: We are cooks and crooks with empty plates to fill / Serving dishes for our peers in vaudeville/ We dread for their reaction / They get no satisfaction/ Their palates’ dulled and burned with misery.

If you want something on repeat, the last song would be it, and when it ends abruptly, there’s that feeling of disappointment — bitin — as your pleasure is cut short, this being a five-track album (with a bonus instrumental version). The silence is cruel, as this “modest” collection, recorded and mastered within three months but with compositions going back by a year, just whets your appetite for more.

Mr. Castro admits that his duties have reduced the time he devotes to his own craft and his own band. “I’m no longer just a musician.

Running a record label and managing artists distracts me from the thing I do best. But I intend to put more balance and concentrate on developing more materials, say at least two to three new songs a month,” he told BusinessWorld.

One can interpret Bread and Circuses several ways — this could refer to the balancing act of having to be commercial and stay true to one’s artistry, the tension of having to entertain a demanding audience used to a different kind of fare, or the continued pursuit of a dream despite the sacrifices and the obstacles, maybe even dissect the differences between entertainment and distraction, livelihood and whim Stretching it a bit, we could also speak of having a venue for misfits (in the best sense of the word).

However, the seeming rebellion of going against the mainstream (as I interpret it), is denied by Mr. Castro, who says that the song “Bread and Circuses” is really about acceptance. “Our niche market is growing by the day as the word about our music slowly goes around.

Surprising actually. I guess we just have to keep on releasing music till we reach the end of our tether,” he explained.

Next for The Camerawalls is a double album, one purely Tagalog/Filipino release and another collection of songs written in English. As for Lilystars Records, there are ongoing talks with an American indie band who would like to distribute its new record in the Philippines under the label. Mr. Castro says that this may happen during the first quarter of 2011.

Bread and Circuses will be launched tomorrow (Saturday, Dec. 11), starting 7 p.m. at the Ayala Museum in the culmination of The POP Shoppe! Music Series: “A Call To Mind,” presented by Lilystars Records together with Ayala Museum, among other sponsors. There will be performances by The Gentle Isolation, Your Imaginary Friends, Hannah+Gabi and Juan Pablo Dream. Tickets (P500) come with a complimentary tour of the Ayala Museum, and a copy of the Bread and Circuses EP. Tickets will be sold at the venue and may be bought online via Eventbrite.com (http://breadandcircuses.eventbrite. com), as well as select Powerbooks stores (Glorietta, Greenbelt, Shangri-la, Trinoma), and Jorge’s Portrait Studio (35 P. Tuazon St. Cubao).

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