by Chris Hatch
Pantayo are an interesting group. Their route into the music world is a singularly unique one – the five-piece are a collective of Philippines’ natives who made their way to Canada via various means, before banding together to create a kind of music that until now has been unheard. On their self-titled debut, they attempt to articulate their patchwork identity with a hybrid of soulful, Westernised R&B dance grooves, and the traditional kulintang music of their homeland.
Pantayo’s trick of incorporating the traditional gongs, sarunays, and gandingans of kulintang with more contemporary styles of Western music makes for a palatable introduction to a new sound. There are hints of Bjork’s experimental work, Caribou’s off-the-wall dance music, and even snippets of early hip hop throughout the LP.
Album-opener, Eclipse, feels like a nice parallel to how Pantayo must have felt breaking into the music world – from its creeping, claustrophobic intro it steadily blossoms and grows from anxious uncertainty into a bright, blooming confidence. The enticingly soulful, Divine, channels the sultry tones of Sade, while elsewhere the native-language ‘Heto Na’ mixes jittery, cloying, Kid A vibes with late-80s, 808-influenced hip hop.
As much as the LP whirls around various electronic sub-genres, it often struggles to find a real foothold or settle into a groove in which it feels comfortable. There are moments of Goldfrapp-style expansiveness that don’t quite reach the synth-pop summit, along with pockets of industrial style punk-funk that are lacking the kind of bite that demands your attention.
At times the record can feel like its lacking an identity – but maybe that’s the point. The essence of their heritage pulses through every track, but it feels like with each song Pontayo are trying on new genres like a new skin and seeing how they fit. Based on their debut album it’s hard to tell whether Pontayo know exactly in which direction they want to head next, but in amongst the uncertainty they are certainly onto something. In patches the album is ear-catching, and tracks like V V V – They Lie and Taranta make for an intoxicating, intriguing blend. Their debut LP is a brave, exploratory, slightly blemished body of work that requires some fine-tuning in places, but that is dazzlingly brilliant in spells.
Secret Meeting score: 70
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