ON the cover of Ben&Ben’s self-titled debut EP, brothers Paolo and Miguel Guico are walking down a tree-lined road, with one of them waving his hand as if to say: “Hasta Mañana!”
They return three years later with “Limasawa Street” in an exquisitely designed lightbox of a package, and an album cover where a beacon guides numerous faceless people on the road. The beacon resembles the lightbox album package and flash drive.
The “journey” the brothers and the band undertook?
Well, if the debut EP had this introspective feel of love and loss, Limasawa Street finds Ben&Ben a bit more worldly-wise and even more confident of their abilities. They wrap their concerns of life and the world in intricate arrangements that find them tapping into jazz, soul and the pop rock musings, while not forgetting their folk roots.
Music is art, and art can be interpreted in different ways. Sometimes what we think of a song is something totally different from how the songsmiths weaved them.
One thing that we can be sure of, is that the gift of Ben&Ben’s full-length album, Limasawa Street, is how it radiates hope. Whether you want to read deeper into it or not, it does come at a time when there is much at stake.
The bandmembers look back at their past, digs deep into those happy memories to carry them, and to provide hope in these times.
From the lyrical poetry that tugs on the heartstrings, to the polyrhythms that give them llife from the album packaging, Limasawa Street is like phosphorescence encapsulated into rich, deep pop songs.
The title track leads off and sparkles with a lightness and an energy. Like you feel alive. At once, you feel this is a different kind of energy from previous Ben&Ben songs.
Was I surprised that the great English producer Steve Lillywhite–who now calls Bangkok home, known for his work with U2, Big Country, Dave Matthews Band, XTC, Simple Minds –and many others were involved?
I always thought that Lillywhite’s work was an explosive mix of soaring vocals and instruments that had a live feel–exactly how one would sound when performing live, rather than carefully orchestrated work that translates differently in a live setting. Anthemic meet anthemic. So, it is perfect.
Limasawa Street jumps out. And even before I read on the liner notes of Lillywhite’s involvement, while listening to the album, I somehow thought of U2’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb that is happy melting pot of the Irish band’s early work, and the more artsy stuff that came later on.
How much that song affected the rest of the production, I have no idea. But the album pushes forward seamlessly from one nugget to another.
What is it with the word “street” and its use in songs? There are some really great songs—favorites too—that make use of the word “street” in a song title:
There’s the Rolling Stones’ Street Fightin’ Man. There’s Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street, and Simon & Garfunkel’s The 59th Street Bridge Song that has always been a fave. And how about Martha and the Vandellas’ Dancing In the Street? There’s U2’s powerful Where the Streets Have No Name. Add Limasawa Street to that now.
Obviously, there is something powerful that a street conveys. And that has always figured well in the Ben&Ben lore (check the album covers).
Moving on… “Pagtingin” has a Dave Matthews Band feel and inflection.
Fall is a gentle song about seizing that moment when in love and casting one’s cares to the wind, while the guitars and violin noodle about in the background.
Wistful Hummingbird is about letting go and moving forward; yet, one is reminded of the past.
“Baka Sakali” recorded with the King of Emotion, Ebe Dancel, is another cause to pause for reflection.
I like songs like the one that carries the album title, Limasawa Street and Lucena that soar and give the band a different dimension.
The ominously sounding War is a lovely misdirection. It is rather a call to combat the tough times with love. I love the violin solo that adds to the poignancy.
If I talk and break down each song, then I will only be repeating myself. Suffice to say, that this is an instant OPM classic. And in terms of Filipino pop perfection, I thought it similar to Jose Mari Gonzales’ Constant Change; it is an album filled with gems.
And in these times of change, I’ve got Ben&Ben’s Limasawa Street to light my way.