Calix – ‘Crash And Burn’ review: Filipino rapper-producer shows he can do pop rap as well as anyone

The artist best known for his political material embraces “cutesy pop shit” to great effect

Calix is not afraid. The Filipino rapper/producer is known to speak up and out – about state violence, debauched politicking, liberal hypocrisy – and often sans filter.

His best-known material is a survey of a Philippines in despair/disrepair (‘Sistema ng Kalawang’ from ‘The Breakout Satirist’); Marcos’ Martial Law (‘Di Matitinag’ from ‘The Lesser of Your Greater Friends’); and Duterte-era extrajudicial killings (‘Sandata’ from ‘Kolateral’). While his contemporaries trade in swagger, he constantly trades in convictions.

On his new EP ‘Crash and Burn,’ however, that fearlessness takes on a different form. For this project he stepped out of the Angry Young Man box and embraced “cutesy pop shit,” as he told NME.

Advertisement

And embrace it he does. There is a jubilant energy in ‘Crash And Burn’, if not utter (gasp) joy. Calix’s skill in production and performance also shines through – see the sheen of the title track featuring U-Pistol, as well as the dancefloor banger and EP’s best song ‘Juicy’ – as though he’s always made pop rap, as though glitz-and-glam rhymes are second nature to him.

One might expect Calix to adopt a derisive, antagonistic stance towards more populist forms of hip-hop, but here his attitude can only be described as reverence. “The bar of sincerity and the bar of mockery, they coincide here,” as he put it. When he puts on his best clubber drawl and alternates verses with Futakuchi Mana – whose Utada Hikaru-esque vocal stylings can burrow in your mind for days – on ‘Juicy’, he dishes it out with a playfulness more befitting variety television.

Calix told NME he originally intended to release ‘Crash And Burn’ as a ‘Tommy’-length chronicle of a young, depressed, club-hopping rabble-rouser. But feeling like he was needlessly lingering – he’s dropped a record a year since 2016 – Calix settled for a bite-sized reimagining. At five songs, ‘Crash and Burn’ now presents snapshots of a life: a highlight reel that leaves out the moments of pained reckoning.

But as abridged chronicles go, it’s still a pretty dense and varied compendium. And while its peaks are the more pop-leaning excursions, the more vitriolic cuts are as potent as his best work. He’s not targeting the Marcoses and the Dutertes this time, but has his ire directed elsewhere: at the neoliberal citizens of woke Twitter (‘Some of Y’all Pt. 2’) and the police, or “the hangmen of the ruling class” (‘K.A.C.’).

The more acerbic songs get the star treatment, of course, with the top talents of Pinoy underground rap in the marquee: among them frequent collaborator M4660T and ‘Kolateral’ co-conspirator BLKD, whose ‘Gatilyo’ is often cited as a conversation-changing landmark in local protest music.

Advertisement

Despite the familiar faces, what ‘Crash and Burn’ successfully delivers a musical recalibration of sorts for Calix. Largely eschewing the trappings of 808-reliant trap, he’s able to paint using other colours on the wheel. He does funk and groove by way of indie-rock with Enzo Zulueta (Joop, erstwhile Ang Bandang Shirley) and Paolo Arciga (The Strangeness) on ‘Juicy’, marrying ska elements with glitches and broken percussion samples on ‘Some of Y’All Pt. 2’.

He closes the project with the plaintive, heart-on-sleeve number ‘What Do You Want From Me’, where he tries on his JPEGMAFIA hat for size and confronts “the sound of my voice / the sound of my thoughts / the sound of my life.” Calix’s decision to swathe his voice in layers and layers of corrective Auto-Tune ironically results in a more poignant expression, turning the song into a triumph of form-as-content.

‘Crash and Burn’ does not offer a complete about-face in Calix’s production and poetics – but it’s a mighty generous peek into what a more expansive outlook for the artist could sound and feel like.

Details

Calix Crash and Burn EP review
  • Release date: November 12
  • Record label: LIAB Studios
Advertisement
Advertisement