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Three Gents & A Lady

by Johanna Poblete, Senior Reporter
Business World – Weekender | August 26, 2010

CD Review
It Started With An April Shower (EP)
The Gentle Isolation

CALL IT flock mentality, call it survival, call it natural attraction, but bands with a sound divorced from mainstream music tend to jam together and create little pockets of popularity.

The latest entrant to this rich repository is The Gentle Isolation, a local indie pop quartet with a slight tendency towards twee. The band from Meycauyan, Bulacan, launched its EP, It Started With An April Shower, on Aug. 18 with support from The Camerawalls, Your Imaginary Friends, Kate Torralba, and Outerhope.

The EP launch kickstarted The POP Shoppe! Music Series: A Call to Mind, organized by indie label Lilystars Records and co-sponsored by NU 107.5 and Ayala Museum.

Performances — from the Morrissey-like vocals of Clementine of The Camerawalls (most apparent in the cover of “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”) to the hushed harmonics of the Benedicto siblings of Outerhope — were well received by the audience of teens, and twenty- and thirty-somethings who clapped appreciatively, burst into occasional raucuousness (mostly thanks to host DJ Francis Brew Reyes), and, now and then, softly sang along.

T’was the biggest gathering of The Smiths acolytes to date. (Which probably explains why The Gentle Isolation also decided to cover Morrissey’s “Everyday Is Like Sunday,” apart from their staple cover song “French Navy” by Camera Obscura, and a surprising rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles.)

A band apart

The Gentle Isolation — composed of Ness Urian (vocals, guitars, melodica), Monch Cristobal (bass), Bachie Rudica (drums) and Joseph Rovero (guitar) — started as a New Wave cover band with a different vocalist (Ms. Urian’s brother Christopher, who resigned to pursue other interests).

The men in the band grew up in the 1980s and reminisce over radio stations XB102 and BM105, whereas the 29-year-old Ms. Urian started playing the guitar as a teen during the band explosion of the 1990s.

When Ms. Urian took up the mic, the band had to adjust instrumentation to accommodate her much softer voice (she still tends to be overpowered by the instrumentation when playing live), and so they metamorphosed into indie and its sub-genre of twee.

Twee emerged in the late 1990s but has its roots in the 1980s, a movement that reacted to the aggression and hyper-sexuality of 1970s punk by reverting to a state of childlike innocence. (“Twee” comes from either baby-talk for “sweet” or “cutie,” originally a pejorative aimed at the affectations of the artists and their audience.)

It tends to be light, jangly, deliberately clumsy — and rather rare to find in the Manila music scene.

The Gentles (as the band members are sometimes referred to) consider their hybrid sound a natural progression from New Wave; Mr. Rudica, the most gregarious of the bunch, describes it as “sweet, melodic ear-candy” and uses the metaphor of a butterfly emerging from its coccoon in opining that any budding musician whose influences are New Wave and listens to Brit pop would likely release their kind of music.

“It’s the same pattern, pero na-enhance pa, na-refine, may konting dagdag ng idea sa lumabas na musicians na Brit, saka nabuo ‘yung tunog (It’s the same pattern as New Wave, but enhanced, refined, with additional ideas from succeeding British musicians, that’s how the music was formed),” he told BusinessWorld.

On their merry way

Butterflies, rainbows, sunny summer days, and slow-moving traffic on Sundays, these are the images one associates with The Gentle Isolation.

There’s none of the dark matter buried in deceptively upbeat tunes as in their influences: The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Cure, Echo and The Bunnymen, April Showers (best known for “Abandon Ship,” the song that brought Ms. Urian and Lilystars partner Antonette Maniquis together and inspired the name of the EP), Belle & Sebastian, The Gentle Waves (listen to Isobel Campbell’s breathy melancholia in “Falling From Grace” and weep) and The Darling Buds (their song “Isolation” coupled with Campbell’s band name coined “The Gentle Isolation”).

The twee-tiest songs in the EP would be “Is It Possible to See You Again?” and “I’ll Pocket You A Rainbow,” the first being the melodic equivalent of skipping rope (complete with na-na-nas), and the latter slightly somnolent, like a lullabye sung for siesta.

Carrier single, “Let’s Go Slow,” has the dreamy quality one associates with Brit pop, rising to a crescendo of tinny keys and fast drumming.

“Define Love” skirts the border of pop/rock with a dominant guitar element. And a personal favorite would be “Faraway,” the kicker to the album, unabashedly cheerful despite speaking of summer’s end and separation (there’s a sense of urgency conveyed in the drumming, a leadenness in the drag of the lead guitar, a grounding in the bass).

How does one differentiate this from foreign indie? Mr. Cristobal credits the melodica (a wind instrument that’s a cross between a keyboard and harmonica) for their oddly distinct sound. “It sounds like it’s from the 1960s; a clean and classic, vintage sound,” he explained in the vernacular.

“Putting something Filipino in it is not just putting instruments that are endemic to our country, it may be the way you write the lyrics, the way you create the song, an idea, or the lyrics itself. Or maybe you talk about the country, the people, that’s something. It’s hard to put a label on this,” observed Lilystars label manager Clem Castro.

Ultimately, the band just wants to be heard.

(It Started With An April Shower [P300/$8] is available by mail-order [visit http://thegentleisolation.com or http://lilystars-records.com], through iTunes, Amazon and other online stores, and at Powerbooks and A Different Bookstore.)

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