JRLDM – ‘Mood Swing’ review: masterfully ordered chaos from Filipino hip-hop’s distinctive new voice

Raw, nimble, and exciting, Jerald Mallari’s nearly flawless debut leaves you hanging on for more

In a hip-hop landscape obsessed with braggadocio and self-aggrandisement, Jerald Mallari’s darkly atmospheric songs on self-ruin and mental tumult stick out. Last year, the rapper/producer who records as JRLDM catapulted from Bataan’s underground into Pinoy mainstream, and now he makes his full-length album ‘Mood Swing’.

The record is aptly titled. The 27-year-old continues to use feelings as creative ammunition, producing songs that flit nimbly between angry and ecstatic, paranoid and lovesick, even frantic and hopeful. The record is largely visceral, but it’s also playfully experimental and frequently, well, fun. It’s a pity it’s only eight tracks long.

The record opens with ‘Lason’, the first single released ahead of the album and a crowd favourite and surefire singalong at his live gigs. Like his breakout hits ‘Patiwakal’ and ‘Parasitiko’, JRLDM raps about self-sabotage (“darili sa gatilyo…lason pampahilo” – “finger on the trigger… poison to dizzy”) over slow-burning minimal beats. Unlike his previous releases, the track is dotted with little details – frenzied weeping and laughter, eerie harmonies and banging piano keys – that heighten atmospheric drama.

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He and co-producer Ryan Armamento (yes, that Ryan) dust the album generously with these textures. The pair also enlist the help of hip-hop juggernauts Gloc-9 (in love’s-end lament ‘Lagi Na Lang’) and Loonie (in ‘Pansamantala’, a thumping ode to impermanence). Both of JRLDM’s rap heroes punctuate songs on ephemera with wry, seething bars. R&B newcomer Jikamarie neatly rounds up the collabs, adding a silkiness to ‘Eh Papaano’.

These are formidable tracks, but the strongest songs on ‘Mood Swing’ are handled solely by JRLDM, whose raw, gin-soaked missives and hyper-amplified narratives are exquisitely gripping. The latter is especially true of the sinister ‘Sayko’ (‘Psycho’) where an unhinged narrator mulls the ways he can pay back an abuser – stuffing their body into a sack, taking an electric drill to their ear, burning or beheading.

Like ‘Patiwakal’, the explicit song might warrant a disclaimer, though last year the rapper told NME he trusts his listeners are “smart enough” to not take his verses literally. “Etong mga araw feeling ko hindi ako ang sarili ko” – “These days I don’t feel like myself,” JRLDM huffs in the Jekyll-and-Hyde-esque chorus while creepy arpeggios, muffled screams and the artist’s enraged rapping sustain an encompassing air of menace.

Softer but equally potent is the optimistic track ‘Para Sa Sarili’. Over blooming synths, pit-pattering hi-hats and jazzy rhythms, JRLDM woozily raps about the need to “control demons” and plod on despite being “tired, really tired” because things will inevitably be fine. So – “can you hold a sec?” (“Pwede ba na teka lang?…Andami ko na yatang nainom / May demonyo na sumingit na bigla na lang bumulong / pero kailangan ang sarili ay palaging makontrol / kahit na pagod na pagod ako, takbo lang ng takbo / OK, magiging OK din ako”). The soulful beat satisfyingly plays out for a full minute after JRLDM’s drunken reverie.

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JRLDM does stumble. Lovesick R&B ballad ‘They Say’, the only English song on the album, lacks the easy charm and lyrical deftness that the rapper’s Filipino verses effortlessly possess. The only upside to JRLDM singing earnestly about playing a “fool” in a bid to “make some motherfucking love” with a lady is hearing him deliver some of his smoothest vocal work.

‘Kuwan’ closes the album with an unshakable energy and cheek. It’s also the only time JRLDM turns outward: “Tanginang hip-hop yan di naman hip-hop puro chismis lang!” – “That motherfucking hip-hop isn’t hip-hop, it’s just gossip!” he howls, chiding “toxic fakes” and dreaming of rising above the noise, flying to the moon or really, anywhere else (“Lumipad papuntang buwan, dun sa kuwan / dun sa kuwan”) in the rip-roaringly flippant chorus that ends too soon.

In the hands of an inferior artist, ‘Mood Swing’’s deceptively simple concept risks sounding scattershot. But JRLDM instead effectively flexes his distinctive tastes and range: vocally, lyrically, rhythmically – in darkness and light. It’s a masterclass in ordered chaos.

Details

JRLDM Mood Swing album art
  • Release date: April 22
  • Record label: Music Colony Records / Warner Music Philippines
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