UNIQUE’s debut album ‘Grandma’ is strong, but a little rough around the edges

We were taken by surprise as Unique Salonga dropped his debut release as a solo artist, following his departure from the neo-soul/funk band IV OF SPADES. Past all the speculation surrounding the hushed up proceedings of the former frontman’s split from the ex-quartet, we’re given a clear explanation as to why Unique went his own way with this 12-track record.

 

[READ: IV of Spades is ready to boogie]

 

It seems that our aloof, mysterious frontman needed the split to exercise his inner groove through another outlet. Soul runs deep in UNIQUE’s touch as an artist, but while his former band brought it to frenetic energy and thumping beats, UNIQUE roams a more controlled musical space. The difference was clear as day in the contrast between his Midnight Sky, and their In My Prison. Although the quiet ballad signalled that a calm, restrained record would follow, we were actually given an album with range, from borderline new-wave sounds on sparse beats to ethereal, stripped down arrangements. Though the influences and styles come from a similar place, the paths the songs take onwards diverge further from each other.

 

“Grandma” as a title seems quite apt; the imagery conjures up an old soul recounting stories and giving advice. 

  

“Grandma” as a title seems quite apt; the imagery conjures up an old soul recounting stories and giving advice. OZONE (Itulak Ang Pinto), tells the story of the 1996 disco tragedy with a groovy bassline and infectious guitar riffs. The track hides its spooky core in the same way the Eraserheads’ Spoliarium did. He literally takes up the persona of a lola in the two-part combo of Paalala: and Goodnight Prayer. UNIQUE’s soothing echo-y vocals accompanied by an almost ghostly strings section comes forward as a direct address to “Grandma”’s diyos.

I must commend the production and overall sound of “Grandma”. Its quality is clean, clear, and consistent with the record’s musical language. Is it the most cohesive record? Maybe not. Sonically, there’s a dissonance between the first and second half: the energy clearly drops off, and we get detached thematically towards the end. It’s also noteworthy that the more memorable tracks were the ones with a deeper energy to it, such as Cha-Ching!, OZONE (Itulak Ang Pinto), and Sino.

 

Sonically, there’s a dissonance between the first and second half: the energy clearly drops off, and we get detached thematically towards the end.

 

This tight 43-minute record clearly takes influence from classic artists like Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, as well as the more contemporary Orange & Lemons. The deep, spacious Apoy Ng Kandila strikes as a somber mix between The Boxer and Blackbird, while the dainty piano-led I’ll Break Your Little Heart comes forward as something fresh out of a Paul McCartney solo record.

It’s this easy drawing of comparison to such artists that makes a chunk of “Grandma” almost forgettable. UNIQUE hasn’t brought much fresh, new material to the table. While IVOS made waves with their radio-friendly funk-pop, which hasn’t been that present in today’s local music scene, UNIQUE, in his strong effort to delineate himself from his old band, sounds like he got lost in trying to build his world and strike out on his own. Strangely though, Cha-Ching!, despite its catchy pa-pa-ra-pa-pas, opens almost like Mundo does. Though, where his originality and memorability in sound lacks, UNIQUE makes up for this with his cryptic lyricism which provides for the complex storytelling either as himself or the eponymous Grandma.

 

Nonetheless, this release proves to us what a blessing UNIQUE’s departure and rebirth as his own act is. The music we get from “Grandma” is only possible by his own accord, without other boundaries to limit UNIQUE and his mysterious aura.

 

Nonetheless, this release proves to us what a blessing UNIQUE’s departure and rebirth as his own act is. The music we get from “Grandma” is only possible by his own accord, without other boundaries to limit UNIQUE and his mysterious aura. We get a decent record which barely falls short of solid, almost in the same fashion as Harry Styles’ debut solo release. At least now, we’re painted a clear picture of who UNIQUE wishes to be. But as to what only he could become, we won’t know just yet.

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