I am always hesitant to dig into new electronica. Usually, it’s an anemic listening experience where some dude in pajamas with an audio library subscription collages together parts until something sticks. Plenty of it, at least to me, is just artful bleep bloops with synthy chord samples cleansed of organic soul.
Which is to say that Manic Mundane is full of soul. This is the solo musical persona of 31-year-old Kath Dizon, a former college rocker who used to front a hardcore outfit in Iligan City. She has since gone back to live in her hometown of Koronadal City after long years working as an OFW in the UAE. In South Cotabato she patiently worked on her debut album as the world went into Covid lockdown.
Two years later, the result is “Narrative Three,” her “catharsis project” under Cebu-based Melt Records and one of the labels most anticipated releases. Dizon’s obsession with song structure, her days fronting a rock band, and her ability to transpose her influences from Metallica to Massive Attack into a thick soup of cinematic atmospheres and hooks all serve to make Manic Mundane the farthest thing from a run of the mill bedroom pad pusher. This is songwriting ready for a stage and an audience. While the album was delayed due to force majeur (Typhoon Odette and the continued ravages of Rona), producer Sho Hikino took the extra time to rub on some extra polish on the mixing and mastering.
“I’d finished all my songs before I actually came up with the name Manic Mundane,” said Dizon. “This project is all about duality, both the vintage and the futuristic.”
There’s plenty of looking to both the past and the future on track “Awake/Solitude.” Something that wouldn’t be out of place in a rock band’s repertoire, with just enough drama on the vocal hooks to imbue it with an indie punk feel. An industrial-style bassline snakes its way through the ambient drums to make it sinister. Something reminiscent of Depeche Mode or other 80s synth bands. “That song is about my trauma,” confessed Dizon. “I was very hesitant to put it on the EP since I was talking about my distress with the Catholic church. See, I just stopped going to church about five years ago. Bad experiences with the Dominicans.”
The rest of the four tracks on the EP is Dizon trying her best to translate the drive of her progressive rock beats through an electronic palette. I haven’t changed my mind at all about the opening track “Astral Bodies.” Since I first heard it, it’s still the tallest tree in Dizon’s growing forest of lush soundscapes and vocal hooks. This single is always a joy to my ears and never grates, even on multiple repeat listens. You can literally hum the main riff even as stuttering drum flourishes and groovy synths set the stage for the reverb-soaked singing. Dizon’s poetry has a clarity to it even while remaining just obfuscated enough to make it universal. “We’re astral bodies out of touch” is a pretty damn lyrically cool a declaration of missing the beloved. It’s also got a cool, fully animated music video.
“Pavements” features guitarist Mckie Alvarez of Dubai-based Filipino shoegaze act WYWY. It’s a gem of trudging drone with pop hooks reminiscent of Slowdive and Cocteau Twins. But it’s the dynamic with the synths making way for a looser and more breathable sonic environment that makes it interesting, rather than a saturation of overdubbed guitars set to vacuum vrooms. The trilling guitar solo is also a very welcome addition, imbuing the song with plenty of yang-style brawn to Dizon’s feminine, emotive wailing.
While the rest of the songs are precious in their own ways, I could argue that they never reach the same apex of storytelling that the top three songs I previously mentioned do within their time frame.
“Lover” sounds like a cobbling of misplaced riffs, where the main hook should have come on earlier for a more medias res feel. As it is, the instrumentation doubled down on being fanciful and ephemeral rather than concretizing any aural center—I get that it’s a love song but I’d rather all that affection was established at once rather than actually string out what felt like a courtship stage.
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