“Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always associated certain looks with certain sounds,” Blaster Silonga tells NME. “The same is true of the reverse,” he adds, “I have this innate film-scoring instinct. I’d imagine music playing during specific scenarios.”
That is as good an intro as any to his solo debut as Blaster, ‘My Kosmik Island Disk’. To him, the project goes beyond mere words and music: Rather, it is a disc-long novella that exists within a larger ecosystem of costumes, makeup, period videos, and merch.
It’s an appropriate frame for a record as sprawling as this one. Loosely inspired by David Bowie’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,’ ‘My Kosmik Island Disk’ is a pastiche of psych, art, and space rock, laced with a dash of Japanese city pop, Krautrock, and modern electronica.
Listeners already got a few helpings of this curious assemblage through singles released between October 2021 and September 2022 (a fifth song released in this period, the Christmas-themed ‘Pasko’y Hindi na Masaya’, didn’t make the album).
While the 24-year-old acknowledges Bowie as a pioneer of music-making while in character, Blaster says he “tried to stay away from that whole Ziggy Stardust thing”. Whereas Bowie’s most popular creation was an alien whose human manifestation was a hedonistic übermensch-cum-rockstar, Blaster’s alter ego – “the Blaster of the ‘MKID’ world,” as he puts it – is “very much a regular person.”
This mythology is best fleshed out in the trippy ‘Nararararamdaman’, whose music video depicts “a washed-out has-been who, instead of pursuing his passion while the iron was hot, turned his back on it because of a hard life.” Far from the glitz and glam of Starman’s titular character, Blaster’s pastel-wearing alter-ego is a star who’s in tassels outside but in tatters inside.
“It gets lonely; being a solo artist means it’s all you, and it’s just you”
Other key tracks that expound on these central themes include electro-pop tune ‘O Kay Ganda’, a love letter to his newfound artistic freedom; four-on-the-floor bop ‘Disko Forever’, which has him rhapsodising about simple joys; and the operatic, Manila Sound-inspired ‘Sa Huli ang Pagsisisi’, an ode to creative expression that takes production cues from ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’-era Flaming Lips.
Joining him on the ride are backing band The Celestial Klowns: sound engineer-turned-guitarist Dan Martel Tañedo, also a pop songwriter with Daniel Padilla and Moira Dela Torre credits to his name; Blaster’s brother Dave Jazz Silonga on bass; Blaster’s girlfriend Crystal Jobli on percussion and synths; and Halina drummer Max Cinco, who also had input on production and arrangement.
Modeled after solo artists with semi-permanent live personnel – “think Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds” – The Celestial Klowns negotiate mercenary musicianship with on-the-fly collaboration. “It gets lonely,” Blaster admits. “Being a solo artist means it’s all you, and it’s just you. I thought, even though this isn’t strictly going to be a ‘band,’ I should still surround myself with people whom I’d want to be in my circle, that I’d love to spend my time with.”
The musicianship is tasteful, refined, and devoid of the flash that characterised much of Blaster’s earlier work. “At first, I considered getting the best session players in the Philippines… But in the end, I thought it felt – if it were a game, OK? – like I was hitting ‘continue’ instead of starting a new game.”
In fact, Blaster detects a similar pivot away from virtuoso tendencies and towards songcraft in his former cohorts in IV of Spades. He admits keeping tabs on the guys’ solo material and being pleased by the results. “Being left to their own devices” often led to better music, he realised in hindsight.
“I’m genuinely a fan of this work compared to our work together,” he remembers telling Zild during one of the latter’s IVOS-era side projects. “Why do I feel like instead of me being able to lift your work, and you being able to lift mine, we end up just holding each other back?”
“‘Rock bottom’ is not going destitute or becoming homeless; it’s becoming middle-of-the-road, safe, ‘just there’”
Asked how he feels being on the same roster as Zild in Island Records Philippines, Blaster says, “He’s my friend, and we don’t pressure ourselves about anything. And it’s the same with the other guys, too.” His fondness is palpably intact, but the band’s story arc, including the lens through which they were consumed, became a pebble in his shoe.
“People always focused on the same things about us – the virtuoso playing, the catchy songs, the look, even our being young: all very superficial things. And in the end, it started having this, like, clown effect. We were, literally, just entertainers – like everything was just for show,” he says. Under this distorting spotlight, IVOS became “parodies of ourselves” and “caricatures of what we supposedly were.”
The Blaster of ‘My Kosmik Island Disk’ isn’t necessarily dead-set on rearranging his creative DNA and turning his back on his “clown duties,” as it were – though he’s happy he’s his own kind of clown now, having he’s drastically reframed his perspective – as a person, cultural worker, and unfettered creative.His sumptuous amalgam of psychedelia, ’70s Filipiniana and heart-on-sleeve confessionalism is sure to excite and enthrall, but as thinkpieces in audio, the songs are quite unprecedented: a far cry from heartache fare, they offer the listener a peek into the artist’s dilemma.
Are the fears depicted on the record – about irrelevance, mediocrity, hunger – his own? Blaster says, “For artists – and I’m only speaking for myself here – ‘rock bottom’ is not going destitute or becoming homeless; it’s becoming middle-of-the-road, safe, ‘just there’. That’s rock bottom: regrets, what-ifs, what-could-have-beens.”
Needless to say, ‘My Kosmik Island Disk’ is not the sound of an artist giving in to fear nor the sound of trembling uncertainty. It is the sound of new resolve and artistic transformation.
‘My Kosmik Island Disk’ is out now via Island Records Philippines.