A look into the “Alpas” anthology and the Filipino contributions to shoegaze.In the midst of this difficult year, music group Shoegaze Pilipinas provided something of a sonic escape and it is nothing short of aptly named.
The project is called “Alpas: Beyond Reverb and Noise.” Released just last October 24, “Alpas” (which means “to break loose” or “to be free”) is a shoegaze anthology featuring North American bands with members who have Filipino blood. Combined with bands from the homeland itself, it is a compilation that looks into the possibilities of what shoegaze musicians can do when they are not challenged by borders.
This is something that artists have been trying to showcase for years. As far back as the 1990s, shoegaze musicians of Filipino-descent have been making listeners swoon to their beautiful noise. It’s a curious cultural fact that the migration of our overseas foreign workers have contributed to North America’s sonic development. It is also a fact that they have furthered a genre known for challenging boundaries.
Before Alpas, other projects of Shoegaze Pilipinas looked into this. Alunia (which means “to remember”) was the first. It tracked the originators of the foundational Pinoy shoegaze like Sonnet LVIII and Sugar Hiccup. The second one—titled Alimbukad (to bloom)—looked outside the geo-locked cultural embrace of Manila to bands in Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete and even as far as the Middle East. Alpas thus completes this trifecta by looking to the future, beyond both physical and sonic borders, to imagine what Pinoy shoegaze might evolve into when freed of all constraints.
With over 20 tracks, the album is a deep look into our sonic and cultural diaspora to the West
where many of our kababayans have emigrated. Accompanying it is a wide scope in sound, veering away from the central ideas of shoegaze and dream pop, expanding its ideological coverage to the neighboring musical palettes of post-rock, psychedelia, indie rock, and ambient. It is a lengthy endeavor, spanning over an hour and a half. But if you’re looking for a quick study, here are the several bands who contributed to the album—they whose music explores what it means “to break loose” or “be free.”
“A Study in the Pixels of Your Face”
Day & Dream describe themselves as “forest explorers, stargazers, sleepwalkers, dreamers.” And this says much about the music of this husband-and-wife duo from Asheville, North Carolina.
Pinay-blooded Abby Amaya can trace her diaspora roots back to Nueva Ecija and Quezon City. She met her husband, Peter Frizzante in New York City but they didn’t start making music together until they moved to North Carolina. Their band name is a nod to their opposite sleep schedules. In terms of music, Peter’s post-punk stylings usually put the oomph into Abby’s love for California 60s coastal pop as much as it disrupts any leanings towards excessive bombast.
Their contribution to the Alpas anthology is a study in their admiration for lo-fi sonic landscapes, fuzzy guitars soaked in reverb, and ethereal vocals floating through their melodic pop structures. Recorded in January 2020 at Echo Mountain studios, “A Study in the Pixels of Your Face” was mastered by Geoff Pesche at Abbey Road Studios in London, furthering their sound into the embrace of both indie rock and dream pop.
Because of COVID-19, Peter and Abby have stayed busy indoors playing live streams and shooting music videos. Their cancelled shows for the year would have included a gig at the prestigious SXSW in Austin, Texas.
This five-piece from San Francisco confess that their sound is still “all over the place” though they do wear their influences on their sleeves, revealing notes taken from bands under Creation Records and 4AD Records.
Formed in 2013, the band members are children of Pinoy emigres, composed of Gil Castro, Ray Lee, Roby Burgos, Rob Uytingco, and Sally Jati. Their contribution to the anthology sees them frolicking through constellations as they track a dream pop sound that may sometimes stray too much into twee territory yet keeps an aesthetic that resonates with the lightness of all those 4AD artists.
Alt rock and electronic music collide with lush shoegaze soundscapes when this San Francisco-based duo performs. “KKMJ” and its new “shorter” edit is vintage Sweet Trip with a trance groove holding down the pillars of what eventually develops into a richly textured and droning anthem that is both classically shoegaze if it were at a hipster dancefloor party.
Founded in the 1990s by Filipino Roberto Burgos and Valerie Cooper, they’re known for their 2003 opus album Velocity : Design : Comfort which made its sonic playground everywhere from ambient and techno, psychedelic space rock, the layers of shoegaze, and even noise glitches. That album has since been given a long-awaited vinyl issue this year and a resurgence in interest for the older material have also re-energized the duo.
“I see the shift in your body / I have been trained to detect lies” bemoans the cuckolded persona on “Trouble,” the glitchy and stutteringly beautiful track that is Invisible Twin’s contribution to the Alpas anthology. Synth riffs give way to shoegaze, reverb-marinated vocals as trembling, tremolo guitars lead us further into a swooning trip.
Composed of Mario and Rose Suau, the duo is based in Detroit, Michigan and they profess to writing songs “that are restless, haunting, heartbreaking and alive.” Their band name is an inquiry into a separate duality, something like a doppelganger but not quite. “Is it possible that each of us could have an Invisible Twin, moving and breathing as we do, but in another world altogether?”
“A Further Shore”
Closer is a dream pop and shoegaze band from New York City that was formed in 1995 with Pinoy bassist Francisco Wong. And, their song “A Further Shore” is easily one of the best and most classically shoegaze tracks on the Alpas compilation. Its ethereal vocals, marching drums, and hypnagogic guitar riffs recall big names like Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, and even Yo La Tengo.
That’s mostly because a good chunk of the track was laid down in 1996 but no vocals had been recorded yet. Earlier this year (coincidentally the 25th anniversary of the band’s formation), vocalist Lorraine Lelis stepped back into The Glass Box in Brooklyn to finish off what they’d left uncompleted decades earlier.
The story is detailed on their website: “In the Fall of ‘96, while recording at Silverbolt Studios (NYC), the band decided to pursue an improvised riff. They hammered out the song in one take with no rehearsals — letting their instincts guide them…The instrumental sketch became a footnote in the band’s short history. And yet, it continued to haunt their memories for many years.”
Wooly mammoth guitars, a gorgeous tune made spellbinding by a flowing bass riff, and the kind of melody that wouldn’t be out of place in a pop song all conspire to take you on the gorgeous highs and lows of this track. Just listen now.