Ang Bandang Shirley’s “Themesongs” 10 years after

It was 2014. Not so long ago, but a couple of years can create a gigantic leap for specific things you willingly watch over, don’t you think?

Especially when it walked out loud, but stood unassuming at the same time. Like a gleaming box I never asked for on a holiday. Unwrapping plays the same tune as shading a new favorite TV show in your best friend’s slambook–she’s surprised about your new thing, too.

Photo by Jelou Galang for Shoot UPM and Concierto Manilenyo

The typical formula of nitty-gritty, fearless, and raw noise of Padre Faura–a superlative Manila, so to speak–transitioned into another kind of noise for one night during my freshman year in UP. Clad in my photography org shirt and denim pants, I was ready for my first ever college concert.

A ticket to some kind of cool-branded freedom? Maybe. The street was closed, sweaty students started flocking, and backpacks began kissing each other on the cheeks, carrying modules of my fellow freshies who just braved their departmental exams. Our campus was small, and so was the street that nestled it in. Little by little, we felt as packed as the supposedly outdated cans featured in Chungking Express–will we expire this early? The event’s two-hour delay almost did.

But it eventually started, of course. The lineup was almost a non-stranger. I knew most of the bands that would sign and seal my night–and I saw what I expected. Standing at the very front with a camera on my right hand, I could count from my fellow students’ faces how many times they headbanged. I could trace from their lips how many times they shouted a lyric or name of the cutest band member. They looked painted with chaos, and its color reflected the times they jumped when headbanging wasn’t enough.

As Philippine superstitions would put it, an angel seemed to have suddenly passed by when this next band came in. It spelled seclusion. And when it happens I see the scene in monochrome. So I shot them in monochrome. Suddenly the noise radiating from us died down alongside the birth of a succinct sound of a girl singing about feelings right in front of us. No traces of tiredness, no number of times in action.

Photo by Jelou Galang for Shoot UPM and Concierto Manilenyo

I don’t say this all the time, but Ang Bandang Shirley was a surprise for me.

Their music was comfy but never cotton, and quintessential but never losing itself–the human we never thought we needed that one night.

From then on, I knew why their first-ever album was named Themesongs. I guess it’s safe to say that they are the only carrier of magic that pulls any noise out of something, replacing it with a song. Not exactly to lull. But for you to own. For you to remember where you were standing.

I was just in fifth grade when Shirley released Themesongs–probably still wet behind the ears to be stuck on Youtube, or small to reach the height requirement in concerts–but the album’s stories still perfectly sing today, almost as if I’ve been rooting for the band ever since day one.

Any moment can have a theme song. This was what Shirley wanted to sing. Monochromes, noises, and backpacks kissing in a crowded street–a song is always beneath.

This was what Shirley wanted to sing. Monochromes, noises, and backpacks kissing in a crowded street–a song is always beneath.

This month, Ang Bandang Shirley celebrates the 10th birthday of their first 11-track (brain)child with an evolution. Thanks to Wide Eyed Records, Themesongs is now on vinyl–songs immortalized in pink and purple doodles.

Photo by Danica Condez for SCOUT

Taking the words of Flying Lugaw, Themesongs truly was “prominent for its time. It reflected on us young lovers and the young at heart on how to love back and how to look back on the sweetest moments.”

And I couldn’t agree more. My favorite in the list, “Theme Song,” enthusiastically crawls like an ode to uncertainties trapped in a dusty neon-colored voice recorder. A rhythmic ramble from a youth unbeknowst to the breakdown, greater than the breakthrough reality of romance. It sings as it takes steps as fast as a long arm on a prom night clock. Ten years later? It still hums an embrace. To vulnerabilities, without apology.

You see, Themesongs after a decade is no longer an exact poster playlist of how this generation runs today. We no longer unapologetically dissect the saccharine of ourselves for the whole world to hear, and being fragile can sound like a sin.

What Themesongs does today, however, is remind us to always go back to our human.

“Kagabi Nanaginip Si Morrissey Na May Nagmamahal Sa Kanya” doesn’t try to be perfect when it explores on using the senses to decipher one’s absence. Melodically greasy and rough in its experience, it sits nicely next to “Masamang Damo”–both songs encouraging us to see the nakedness of our personal furies.

As “Masamang Damo” sounds like a bedtime story for nightmares, “Di Ko Ma-take” is throwing things around that bedroom. Shout and smash. Break. And still being cool with it. The space is for play, as so as in “Patintero/Habulan/Larong Kalye” that sketches a theatrical performance having your past self in its characters. Or maybe it also looks like a set of shorts in one film–intimidating you with the things you already left behind, but draws you to the realm of acceptance in the end. With a colorful chalk.

Photo by Danica Condez for SCOUT

The dreaminess of play doesn’t end with “Together Forevers” that cleverly arranges the happy in songs with the line “sasamahan kita basta’t sasamahan mo ako”, a pre-fall to cozy “Sasamahan Ka Pa Rin”, maybe?

“Xmas Lights” add to the party of handmade Christmas presents (and pasts). “Bato” oddly heals you while describing your pain as heavy as in “Sa Madaling Salita,” a eulogy to one’s avoidance in codependency.

The longest moniker of “Ang Pag-Ibig Alinsunod Sa Karanasan Ng Isang Pangkaraniwang Jeepney Driver Tsuper Duper” is a long tell-tale of a worker’s daily meetups. Its main idea almost appears like a secret Eraserheads mixtape, probably hidden in that same year as Ang Bandang Shirley introduced themselves in the time when our legendary musicians broke up.

Getting acquainted with Shirley’s work is not rocket science. Heck, it won’t ever be.

But it stays in us as we make a joke about how “A theme song played when my crush smiled at me in the elevator.” or “A theme song played while I was looking through the bus window.”

It stays in us even if we’re over F.L.A.M.E.S. or a romanticizing pluviophile or crying in front of our friends or writing on a diary because we’re too busy with feelings.

It was 2008. Not so long ago, but a couple of years can create a gigantic leap for specific things you willingly watch over, don’t you think?

Of all the things we can safely look back to, Themesongs won’t make us regret. It’s a 2008 album that can tell 2018 stories; an art unbothered by the test of time. One that drifts you to a time you feel you belonged.

Themesongs vinyls are now available at Grey Market Records and online at https://werm.bigcartel.com.

Art by Renz Mart Reyes

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