Sandwich back for more noise
MANILA, Philippines - In his 1997 book “Letters to a Young Novelist,” author Mario Vargas Llosa wrote in Spanish that like “[a] tapeworm, literature becomes a permanent preoccupation, something that takes up your entire existence, that overflows the hours you devote to writing and seeps into everything else you do, because the literary vocation feeds off the bodies it invades.”
Replace literature and literary vocation with music and a musical career and we get an assumptive summation of Sandwich, a five-person Filipino band who mark 2013 with a double-milestone whammy: the release of their newest album, “Fat Salt & Flame,” and their 15th anniversary since debuting at a UP Diliman fair in February 1998.
It’s not just that “Fat Salt & Flame” is the band’s seventh disc in a 15-year run that also includes a number of commercial jingles. It’s that Sandwich’s five individual members have lived the sonic addict’s life, living and breathing music within and outside of the Metro Manila-based band.
Vocalist-guitarist Raymund Marasigan, for starters, has had a laundry list of group affiliations, including incumbent slots in Pedicab, Gaijin, Cambio and Barrio Radyo, and has been busy as a record producer for other bands, frequently behind the mixing boards with fellow Eraserheads member Buddy Zabala.
Guitarist Diego Castillo, a former artist and repertoire staffer at the bygone BMG Records Pilipinas, had been a guitarist of the defunct The Aga Muhlach Experience. Lately, Castillo has been “Foaming at the Mouth” with a series of free “Foaming” cloudcasts, which are like online extensions of his old NU 107 show “Not Radio.”
Bassist Myrene Academia had been a longtime DJ of that defunct “Home of NU Rock” FM station, co-hosted “Not Radio” and played bass in the said Experience unit and in Imago, and lately, for Barrio Radyo, too. She and husband Marasigan are tandem icons of the local indie-rock scene, practically the local counterpart of Sonic Youth co-members Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon except that, unlike the now-separated Moore and Gordon, Marasigan and Academia remain a solid marital pair.
Drummer Mike Dizon had cut his teeth in Teeth, was the quartet pounder for the same A. M. Experience, and is also in Pedicab. Guitarist Miguel “Mong” Alcaraz is concurrently a member of ChicoSci, which is two years older than Sandwich and of which Alcaraz is axeman-keyboardist-vocalist.
On top of all that comes “Fat Salt & Flame,” a nine-song, lean but mean deafening machine that finds Sandwich as a curious conundrum: 15 years in, the band appears not to have lost their inclination for ear-piercing music, the kind that traffics in swirls of melodic and rhythmic noise. In other words, Sandwich, some of whose members are in their early 40s, do not sound their age.
As such, the band is admirable not just for its collective musicianship but also for its genre-wise defiance. That is, its members remain steadfast in espousing the gospel of modern/college/underground/indie/alternative rock long after the ’90s heyday of Nirvana-triggered grunge mania and MTV’s “Alternative Nation.”
The gesture is far from a snotty one. Rather, the band’s apparent musical mission stems from a perpetual fondness for alterna-sounds no matter if the indie rock explosion is so two decades ago and its recurrence remains a question mark.
Yet that is but part of Sandwich’s apparent twofold aim, the other half being to come up with rock music that can be dug not just by a subset of music lovers in their home country but also by such aficionados’ counterparts in other countries—“Fat Salt’s” having a pair of songs in Filipino notwithstanding. As a result, “Fat Salt & Flame,” perhaps more than any other Sandwich compendium, would not be a strange addition to any college-radio playlist anywhere in the globe.
But, as made known around the time of its April 2013 release (through PolyEast Records), “Fat Salt & Flame” is the fruition of another of the band’s aims: making a live recording. Not live-in-concert but a live-in-the-studio album, the members recorded playing together on each song instead of the usual mode of playing separately for eventual splicing.
A tone of urgency has long been the hallmark of Sandwich tracks—dating back to those of 1999’s “Grip Stand Throw,” back when the band’s main vocalist was still Marc Abaya (who went on to front Kjwan while evolving into a veejay/music-show host).
Yet the urgency of “Fat Salt & Flame” comes off as extra muscular. It’s as if jointly jamming in the studio freed Sandwich, stripping off whatever inhibition or tentativeness may have permeated its past discography.
Still, in cooking up “Fat Salt” with just nine tunes (out of a reported 25-song lineup) clocking in all at just 35 minutes or so, the band likewise exercised a modicum of discipline. It’s the aural equivalent of a rock star dressed in suit and tie—the sound of controlled chaos.
As if a natural consequence of instilling order, there is also a sense of brooding overall, a dark musical undercurrent that is quite removed from the peppiness that ran through much of “Five on the Floor,” the band’s hits-loaded 2006 release—the subdued tone echoed by photographer-director RA Rivera through “Fat Salt’s” array of CD-booklet band shots and his video for the lead single “Back for More.”
That sense of controlled, overcast chaos is true of “Fat Salt n Flame,” the album’s semi-eponymous opener. The track is a loose yet well-coordinated sound-check instrumental, its sensual guitar crawl like Weezer’s “The Sweater Song” on hyperdrive.
Yet, overall, the tune reflects what I had said of the band for the defunct newspaper Today in August ’99: that Sandwich simultaneously sounds like so many things yet never exactly like anything we’ve heard before.
Here's the video of 'Back for More,' directed by RA Rivera:
The next ditty, “Back for More,” bears a frenetic, pogo-inducing jumpiness and lyrical playfulness (about being “punched [by love] in the eye”), yet comes off as like having fun but not too much fun, treading the thin line between partying all night and observing a decent curfew.
“Sleepwalker” keeps the momentum up, the band still sounding full of youthful vigor 15 years in, the members’ eardrums stupendous enough to withstand all their racket.
The moody “Pray for Today” starts off with a foot on the proverbial brake pedal before launching into a full-throttle cascade of noise, as Marasigan sings of “vultures… ripping us to pieces.”
Following suit is “The Week After,” arguably the most melodic of the “Fat Salt” entries, its modest intro morphing into the sonic high of the refrain (“Take the long road through the gray”)—further testament to band’s spiritual affinity with the likes of American indie band Superchunk.
Drum-propelled guitar effects spiral into the listener’s brain during “Mayday,” where the repetitive, titular chorus imitates a wang-wang siren, the kind best relished in a gig setting with huge speakers blasting away.
“Kidlat,” the theme for the TV5 show of the same name, is no less cacophonous and kinetic, the onslaught of orchestrated noise coming off like virtual lightning bolts.
“New Romancer” is a rather unique “Fat Salt” cut. Not only does it feature Academia on lead vocals, it also bears a playfulness that, amid the album’s landscape, is quite uncharacteristic.
Yet the album-closing track, “Manhid,” is probably the most different of the compact’s disc’s contents. It has this comparatively sunny, road-trip groove to it, like a long lost “American Top 40”-worthy ’80s ditty, made even more distinctive by blistering guest riffing by Razorback guitarist Tirso Ripol, causing ripples across the tune down to the song’s fadeout conclusion.
Here is a promotional video about Sandwich’s 15th-anniversary concert made by Raymund Marasigan and Myrene Academia’s daughter Atari Kim:
I have listened to “Fat Salt & Flame” some three times now and will likely tune in again from time to time while longing to hear them played live the way Sandwich would in, say, their 15th-anniversary show tonight.
Still, I can’t help but pine as well for at least one more Sandwich platter after this, one served with the same live intensity but applied to a whole new menu of self-written concoctions—an album that can keep the indie-rock flame and the alternative-rock spirit going.
On that note, here’s hoping the Sandwich creators themselves would have the tenacity, and hearing, to keep coming back for more. - Rappler.com
‘Fat Salt & Flame’ is available in CDs at Astrovision and Astroplus store and as downloads from mymusicstore.ph and iTunes Philippines. Sandwich will have a 15th-anniversary gig tonight at 19 East Bar and Grill with Radioactive Sago Project as the opening act.