Often, Imperial Manila can be snobbish and dismissive of musical acts hailing from outside the capital, a harsh place for our provincial artists to find an audience and thrive. But in the mid-aughts, Cebu label Lighter Press Records brought us the beautiful, innovative sound of musicians like the mighty alternative rock of Urbandub and the smooth hip-hop of Dice & K9. Now, Melt Records continues that fine tradition by seeking to transform how independent musicians and artists in Cebu City and in the Visayas and Mindanao get the spotlight with a great platform not only to showcase and distribute their music, but also to connect to their fans and the rest of the nation’s music community.
There are currently 27 artists on the roster of Cebu-based Melt Records, with bands hailing mostly from the southern cities of the archipelago, from cities like their home base of Cebu City, also Iligan, Dumaguete, Cagayan De Oro, and Zamboanga.
Here are 8 tracks that prove you shouldn’t be overlooking a good song, wherever it may come from, sans the pretense of regionalism.
“Swinger” by Stray Mullets
Rockabilly blues and punk played by Joaquin Negra (guitars), Ichivan Chan (bass), and Johnny Barracuda (drums and vocals), fantasy characters (like Gorillaz) standing as the alter egos of real musicians.
Formed in 2012, the three characters were later brought to “life” by the artist Siamese Rat. While Stray Mullets‘ Melodies for Maladies LP may sometimes steer too far into cartoonish self-indulgence and bloated pomp, there’s no denying the swagger and brag they can muster when they get their ducks in a row. Then there’s this song, where the devil is coming to the crossroads in a muscle car and he’s bringing chocolate and a contract for the purchase of your soul. Very tasty.
“Once” by Honeydrop
For my money, Honeydrop’s Signs album has the best packaging among the CDs they sent me, made interactive with an acetate sheet and some innovative graphic design. Their emotive pop rock and dream pop stylings also bear out their playfulness, cheerfulness in misery, and liking for dark corners of urbanity.
Melt Record’s marketing manager Debb Acebu is the vocalist for this outfit, along with fellow Cebuanos Karl Lucente (guitars and synth), Tram Florido (guitars), Warner Jud Sala (bass), and Jeriel Larano (drums).
“Since everything is voluntary [in my duties as Melt’s PR manager], I have to manage my time” said Acebu, about dovetailing duties. “I don’t mind working for Melt with little to no compensation; the fact that I needed to juggle my time working, having gigs and getting things done for the label, it sometimes becomes stressful. I oftentimes work alone (especially for socials), but nonetheless I enjoy doing it because it’s a fusion of both worlds where I am good at.”
“Losing My Mind” by Coloura
“Are You Feeling 18” by Kubra Commander
Post punk and indie rock collide in playful abandon on the songs of the weirdly named Kubra Commander—who come off like a hardcore outfit rather than the jolly rockers they actually sound like. J. Martino Olvido’s breathy, reverb-laden vocals are a perfect suit to the synths of Lynel Sucalit, and the Beatlesque grooves of Lomel Popera. These are straightforward meat and potatoes pop rock songs sweetened with frisky, droll lyrics, and the kind of bouncy spirit that lets the sunshine in, even on a hungover Monday morning. Too bad they forgot the question mark on their song title.
“Lest We Forget” by Annalogue
“Dance the Bean” by Sunday Sunday
Their Great-Test Hits album is a bravura anthology composed of tremendous punk energy, fuzzed out guitars, and mischievous titles like “Shet Noh?” and “Kugmolizers” with almost all lyrics in English.
“Spectrum” by Loop
Billing themselves as “Your favorite probinsyano band!” Loop are a swooning, seductive combo of ambient, alt rock, and dream pop that took copious notes from the classes of many of the early emo acts and married it to the atmospherics of The Smashing Pumpkins and My Chemical Romance (and maybe some Sonic Youth).
It’s a potent combo of swirling guitars, breathy vocals, and sometimes utterly gorgeous songcraft as in this song that closes their Reality and Dreams album.
“I think at first it kind of pissed me off being overlooked [by Manila fans] simply because we’re ‘provincial/regional’ as they call it,” said Pacalioga writing to 8LIST. “But after experiencing it first hand, I realized I prefer to be a part of a growing local scene in Cebu. I eventually learned that you’ll have to further perfect your craft, be really good at it and most importantly be honest with yourself and your art.”
“The One” by KRNA
Taking their name from the Japanese word “Kireina,” which means “beautiful,” this shoegaze and dream pop outfit from Cagayan de Oro City are one of the most impressive acts on the Melt Records roster.
With catchy tunes, dazzling musicianship, and the kind of singing acrobatics many vocalists would give their left lung for (and maybe a hit single or two to sweeten the devil’s bargain), KRNA are KC Salazar on vocals and guitars, Janro Abian on drums and backup vocals, Francis Ramos on keyboard and synthesizer, and Jani Mojica on bass—Mojica also played for synth rock shamans Kaapin, the guys who would take the stage wearing bird masks.
Their The Rvr Gld album is indeed a beautiful, expansive, and sustained dream of five songs that you just wish wouldn’t end. Salazar’s angelic vocals are reminiscent of Melody Del Mundo’s power and control in early Sugar Hiccup, while the meandering, sway-on-your-feet songcraft is hypnotic and pregnant with meaning, tugging at your heart first before going for the head, using the same tools the likes of Mazzy Star and My Bloody Valentine have deployed with such potency.
What kind of magic dust are they putting in the water in CDO for these guys to produce such gorgeous music? No idea, but for my money KRNA are ready for nationwide fame and maybe international recognition.
Check out Melt Records’ roster of artists and their music on their official Facebook page.