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The New Classics

YELLOW LIGHT By Tara F.T. Sering
Saturday, July 26, 2008 – The Philippine Star

The first time I heard Clem Castro sing was sometime ago, in Gweilo’s along Palanca Street, when he was with a different band that had a cult following among the, er, older set. Of the group I was with, only one was in her early 20s, and while she loved the band’s songs, she could only blink when another friend noted their distinctly retro influences. And by retro, I mean early to mid-Eighties, when Morrissey still went by his full name, The Smiths were kings, and The Cure was making headlines with their music as much as with their hair. As the music discussion progressed in the small, dark bar — this time with increasingly obscure names of New Wave bands — my only concern was that, lost in his music and guitar-playing, the singer was bound to knock the mike stand over.

Not long after that night came the news: the band, Orange and Lemons, was breaking up. It wasn’t exactly the kind of shock that followed the demise of the Eraserheads, which had enjoyed a much longer run and whose music played out like the anthem of a generation, but it was still sad news. And when people talked about the Orange and Lemons, it was largely to lament Clem Castro’s seemingly premature exit from the music scene. Few doubted that the prolific songwriter would stay out of the limelight for a long time and patiently waited for his return.

In the interim, and away from the spotlight, it appears that Castro got busy and remarkably productive. He formed new band with old friends Ian Sarabia (on drums) and fellow Orange and Lemons alumnus Law Santiago (on bass guitar), and organized a whole new independent record label called Lily Stars.

After a prolonged stint at the Academy of Arts College in San Francisco, Sarabia returned to the Philippines in 2002 to set a record store. His trade introduced him into similarly Britpop-loving circles of the local music scene, and consequently, to Castro. Santiago, on the other hand, was the original bassist of Orange and Lemons from 1999 to 2003, but had to leave the band early on for personal reasons.

For nine months, they worked on the 10 tracks that now form the band’s pop/rock debut album entitled “Pocket Guide to the Other World,” a wholly inventive work with an appealing familiarity. Four songs later, I was pleasantly surprised to hear a refreshing kind of music that smartly draws on a wide spectrum of various influences but never quite fully subscribing to just one thing. The whole album is a happy alchemy of all three members and their individual takes on common fascinations — John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles, Morrissey and The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen, Oasis, and British pop as a whole. My ear even caught a bit of Depeche Mode.

Sarabia, who plays the drums, also co-wrote four of the album’s songs. Lead singer Clementine, the name Castro goes by now, does a little more musical flexing: he wrote most of the songs, and by turns plays the guitar, the banduria and the octavina. One surprise guest is credited as the writer of one of the tracks — “Canto de Maria Clara” was a poem written by Jose Rizal, and in this album, it’s a pop song Camerawalls.

Apart from the catchy tunes that leave an imprint in your mind, and Castro’s clean vocals, it’s the words of each of the songs that strike the most resonant chord. They’re quite simply, grown-up. To demonstrate: The last time I was in Club Dredd was back when it was along EDSA and my footwear of choice was a pair of Converse hi-tops that, in a previous life, had been white. At Camerawalls album launch at Club Dredd in Eastwood City, I showed up in a dress and a pair of heels, looking like the prom chaperone to a crowd of funkily and suitably dressed fans. I was ready to duck and head home when I remembered that I had come for the music. When Castro sang the lines from one of the album’s songs called Changing Horses Midstream — So now I’m changing horses midstream/ although we had a good thing going/ time will tell who has fell/ And who’s been left behind — I knew I had to stay, bad outfit or not. I was, after all, witnessing the birth of what is bound to be a classic in the local music scene.

True to the indie spirit, Camerawalls’s Pocket Guide to the Otherworld, available at Music One stores, is self-produced under Lilystars. Visit http://www.lilystars-records.com for more information.

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