‘It was 20 years ago today’

'Ultraelectromagneticpop!' turns 20 this year. Revisiting a landmark album

 FRUITCAKE OF THEIR EFFORTS. The E-heads' debut album skyrocketed on the strength of its singles

MANILA, Philippines – It’s barely noticeable, but “Ultraelectromagneticpop!,” the debut album of seminal Filipino band The Eraserheads, now marks its 20th year.

First released in cassette format in July, 1993 (it would be out on compact disc months later), the 12-track album introduced the foursome of lead singer-rhythm guitarist Ely Buendia, lead guitarist Marcus Adoro, bass player Buddy Zabala, and drummer Raymund Marasigan  to a national public that would hardly have any idea they would soon enough revere this quartet as among their personal gods.

And, yes, soon enough, thousands upon thousands bought the “Ultraelectromagnetic” tapes (ah, the pre-online piracy years), such that, like radio and the Holy Bible, virtually every household would have a copy and the band’s every gig would be packed to the aisles.

The album proved to be a phenomenon, the firestarter for a band craze whereby teenage kids and young adults across the country formed their own groups and wrote their own songs, like the E-heads.

“Ultraelectromagneticpop!” skyrocketed on the strength of its singles. Yet the album had no official music video.

Instead, the band went on a rigorous “Ultraelectro” tour for months.

For the Eraserheads, this was the fruitcake, as any E-heads fan might make this allusion, topping a long, hard-up journey from the band’s inception 4 years earlier.

Cult following

Deeming themselves inferior when it came to song covers in gigs such as in UP Diliman, where the foursome were enrolled, the E-heads began composing their own material, including their cuss-laden signature track Pare Ko.”

The band slowly built up a cult following across Metro Manila’s “underground” rock scene, with many looking beyond the quartet’s plaintive appearance and uneven playing to commend them for the promise their original songs held forth.

The E-heads were soon shopping a self-made 9-song demo tape of all-original tunes, which the record labels predictably turned down.

UP professor Robin Rivera (who would go on to produce much of the band’s discography) volunteered to rejigger that demo, resulting in the mini-album “Pop-U!” which finally landed at BMG Records (Pilipinas) Inc.

The demo was still rough, yet convincing enough to the ears of BMG’s A&R, which signed up the band in 1991.

The label apparently sensed the band’s songcraft as being solid enough for the band to be offered a 3-year contract.

Musician-producer Ed Formoso was initially the production overseer of what would become “Ultraelectromagneticpop!”  until the task somehow fell on the band members themselves (thus, the producer credit, “Dem”).

Yet Formoso got the ball rolling somewhat even before the album’s release, inserting “Pare Ko” into the playlist of alternative-rock FM station LA 105.9.

The song became a bona fide listener favorite and went on LA’s rotation almost every hour.

Once the full album was released, the song’s “sanitized” version — which composer Buendia tweaked into “Walang Hiyang Pare Ko” — went on rotation in the other stations too (ah, the pre-YouTube years). 

Self-derisive band

Truth be told, there was nothing downright innovative about the Eraserheads back then, and this lent some significance to the self-effacing parental advisory blurb up front, that “there isn’t anything on this album that your kids haven’t heard before!”

The E-heads derided themselves from the get-go. There was nothing cerebral about the music, as might have been implied by the name of the band, cribbing David Lynch’s cult film classic.

It was their album title, riffing on the wildly named “ultra electro magnetic tops” in the Japanese anime series “Voltes V,” that hinted at this rock ‘n’ roll band’s pop flavor and sensibility.

Across the cassette’s two sides, the band felt free to rummage through genres in their songs, switching from pop to rock to reggae or blues across the tracks or within a given track.

Compared to other releases, including the band’s later albums, “Ultraelectromagneticpop!” is not as crisp and stereophonic-sounding.

The opening bars of the first track, “Easy Ka Lang are themselves a direct, if sped-up, echo of The Temptations’ “I Can’t Help Myself,” with Buendia also briefly aping Cyndi Lauper’s “uh-uh” chuckle-moan midsong.

The tape’s side-one closer, “Toyang,” was even more wanton in the aping, melding bits of music and lyrics off Nat King Cole’s “Too Young,” Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Silly Love Songs,” and “Bahay Kubo” (the Filipino standard made famous in part by Sylvia La Torre).

What made “Ultraelectromagneticpop!” a genuine hit was that its songs were downright fun.

Childish fun, perhaps, the kind inherent among grown men not intent to let go of their carefree spirit.

The album was a delightful romp from start to its concluding 43rd minute, the product of a bunch of boys set loose in a sonic playground.

“Ultraelectromagneticpop!” does have some atypical flourishes, such as the fleeting sax solo by Maryana Arinez on “Pare Ko,” the freeform Louis Armstrong-nod by guest vocalist and then-BMG A&R exec Jojo Bacasmas on the madcap “Ganjazz,” or the lazy-hazy trippiness of Adoro’s “Honky-Toinks Granny.”

Catchy handclap, humming

All told, this modern classic is a largely unadorned, as-is-where-is effort, the band evincing aural resourcefulness in a catchy handclap or harmonious humming on top of their vocals-guitars-drums dynamic.

“Ultraelectromagneticpop!” is an infectious pop confection, made more so by a knack for playfulness and penchant for sarcastic or salacious wordplay.

(The wordplay extended beyond the recording: At gigs, Buendia would reword a key line of the Marasigan-cowritten “Maling Akala,” switching “sa kalalabasan” into “’wag kang lalabasan.”) 

The album fulfilled the band’s once lesser-known promise as an ultra-magnetic charmer, in turn making a generation or two of listeners feel like they’ve finally struck upon OPM gold.

What’s heartening now is, listening to “Ultraelectromagneticpop!” today doesn’t induce nostalgia so much as a fascination for this perenially timeless, magical album.

Like “Silly Love Songs” itself, the “Ultraelectro” tape/CD continues to be a joy to behold.

Curiously, there appears to have been no plan to put out a commemorative 20th edition of the landmark album.

The album in its original incarnation is not available in the major music stores I went to.

The Heads’ lesser-selling CDs (“Natin99,” “Carbon Stereoxide”) are the ones available.

But it’s on iTunes Philippines, in the general pop catalog.

Another potential online outlet, MyMusicStore, is currently undergoing renovation. (A silver edition could eventually come forth; it’s still 4 months ’til we bid 2013 adieu.)

LAST DANCE. Buendia, Adoro, Zabala, Marasigan. Photo by Jasper Lucena/MTV Philippines

Eventual breakup

So much has happened in the ensuing 20 years, including 6 more full-length E-heads albums, several “EPs” and standalone singles, and a number of plum recognitions (starting off with the Awit Award for Best New Artist and the Album of the Year prize from the NU Rock Awards not long after “Ultraelectro’s” release).

And then, the band’s eventual breakup, a couple of momentous reunions, and now a series of reunion gigs in various countries.

Of course, there are the separate projects of Adoro, Buendia, Marasigan, and Zabala.

Marasigan is the frontman of Sandwich and a co-pilot of Pedicab. Zabala is The Dawn’s bassist and a frequent coproducing partner of Marasigan for various bands.

Adoro is an avid, La Union-based surfer who has had a succession of bands of his own, and most recently came up with the conceptual tracks-and-book project, “Greems.”

Buendia is the frontman for two bands, Pupil and The Oktaves.

READ: The Oktaves rock hard, roll loud

He has also been busy with his film-directing debut, the crime anthology “Bang Bang Alley,” which is due out later this year.

Finally, an E-head going the route of David Lynch.

What still lingers in the minds of E-heads followers, they who made their “Final Set” concert in 2009 a 300,000-spectator smash, is the daydream that the band would make new music.

The band might retort, “Easy ka lang.”

But that can hardly stop the ardent fan from wishing/envisioning that they get their recording groove back, for even a smidgen of “Ultraelectro” magic that only they, together, can unleash. – Rappler.com

Here’s a clip from the band’s rousing ‘The Final Set’ concert: