Brisom – ‘Mixtape Vol. 1’ review: Solid stopgap release from Manila synth pop trio

Half new originals and half remixes, this project comes four years after the band’s debut ‘Limerence’

In ‘Mixtape Vol. 1’, the Filipino trio Brisom – aka Brian Sombero (lead vocals and guitar), Timothy Abbott (synth and keys) and Jeffrey Castro (drums) – finally have a proper EP out after years of occasional single releases.

In case it wasn’t immediately obvious, the cover art should clue new listeners in about what kind of music they play. Sticking a pencil or ballpoint pen into the holes of a cassette tape is a quintessential image from the 1980s. For the Gen Z readers among us, that’s what people did to rewind or fast-forward songs, at the risk of getting the plastic film inside all tangled and messing up their precious music.

Getting together in 2012, Brisom have been churning out singles since at least 2015, most of them largely sticking to the band’s ’80s-tinged synthwave meets pop identity: popwave, if you will. A collaboration with producer DJ Joey Santos and Heinrich Bernabe, who goes by Headroom, ‘Mixtape Vol. 1’ is the band’s first project since their debut album ‘Limerence’ in 2016, and it playfully encapsulates what makes the band so fun and immensely listenable.

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That said, there’s a palpable theme of longing and regret running through the EP. The six-song record opens with ‘Joan’, an upbeat but deceptively mournful song about a breakup over incompatibility. Sombero’s vocals are on full display, gliding through the track with emotion and depth. The vocal distortions toward the end are a nice touch, and yet another nod to the production stylings of the ’80s; though a song about heartbreak, it sounds like something you’d hear over the closing credits of a buddy cop movie of the era.

On ‘Stranger’, Sombero pleads, “I don’t want to be strangers / I’ll be coming home to you / Every song I play / Brings me just a little closer / Hold on I’m on my way / This road leads brings me back to you.” No, they’re not the most terribly creative lyrics, but the song works mostly because of his convincing delivery – unexpected variations in register keep things interesting, and the synths are head-nodding and nostalgic.

And on ‘Ikaw Pa Rin’ (literally, ‘Still You’), Brisom channel the ’80s Filipino pop-rock band Neocolours, with Sombero sounding like peak Ito Rapadas. A duet with Shanne Dandan, it’s arguably the best track in the EP.

The last three songs are remixes of previous material. Headroom reworks ‘Balewala’ (‘Worthless’, or ‘To Be Disregarded’), the band’s most-streamed song on Spotify, turning the slow ballad into a snappy, club-ready anthem. The transformation of ‘Hagkan’ (‘Kiss’) is less successful, rendering it an aimless, confusing filler track. But ‘Wag na Sana’ (‘Hopefully Not’), sped-up with with additional instrumentation, becomes more emphatic and heart-rending.

Taken together, ‘Mixtape Vol. 1’ a solid effort from a band with a keen understanding of who they are and what they’re all about – though it could have benefited from stronger, more fully developed songs that would better illustrate where Brisom are now in their musical journey. But ending with a sense that something is lacking after the last song fades is perhaps a good thing – leave your listeners wanting more, so you know they’ll be there again when you come back with a fresh set of material. There’s certainly enough here to look forward to ‘Mixtape Vol. 2’.

Details

Brisom Mixtape Vol 1 review
  • Release date: October 9
  • Record label: Viva Records
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