Within the past two years, alternative rock band IV OF SPADES took the world by a storm. They released song-after-song and every single was a hit – songs like Hey, Barbara and Mundo will always be dear to our hearts. There was nowhere to go but up for this group of young musicians. But then, in early 2018, they hit their first wave of controversy in the departure of their former frontman Unique Salonga. The fanbase was left confused by the headlines and theories that tried to make sense of Unique’s exit. What was going to happen to IV OF SPADES?
Now working as a trio, bassist Zild, guitarist Blaster, and drummer Badjao began to evolve in the pursuit of a new direction and artistic identity. Their journey has taken them from hitmakers to “creative geniuses,” which has proven evident in the latest addition to their repertoire – a whopping fifteen-track album. The first single they released last year, after all that drama, was a track called In My Prison which apparently was just the beginning of their grander scheme. Little did we know, they have been working on a full-length album which they released a few weeks ago to welcome the new year.
CLAPCLAPCLAP! is an excellent display of great production. Every song is intricately designed with layers and details that reveal how much time and effort the trio put into every song and the album as a whole. It is also mixed very well as the band makes sure to give each primary instrument apt time to shine without overwhelming a song with a single instrument’s presence.
Regarding arrangement, genre, and style, they continue to surprise. Building upon the sounds of their earlier hits, they have not entirely abandoned their roots. But it is apparent that they are attempting to pursue an all-new direction. The debut album is filled with diverse sounds such as their tribute to classic rock Sweet Shadow, experimentally daring Bata, Dahan-Dahan!, post-punk Take That Man, and synth-heavy In My Prison. This album is a true testament to the band’s incredible versatility and creative prowess that equally sets each of the members’ strengths and individual contributions under their respective spotlights.
Lyrically, however, the band seems to be confused. I’m not really sure how they’re expecting me to understand their words. Sans the title track intro, the first half of the record goes with four full songs that ask questions regarding the nature of childhood and the anxiety of finding our human identity. However, as soon as the needle drops on “Come Inside of My Heart,” the second half’s lyrics partly leave the philosophical direction it started with and dives into a style of hopeless romanticism. As soon as the second half hits, the album just feels conflicted with which story it actually wants to tell.
It is a thematic mess that doesn’t really know which direction to go. For example, groovy love song Come Inside Of My Heart about the desire to fall in love is then followed by tragic Dulo ng Hangganan which explores how someone can fall out of love. There really isn’t that much of a bridge between the two songs besides a wordless interlude to explain how there was such a huge jump in the singer’s attitude towards his romantic relationship. And then, after Dulo ng Hangganan, the album transitions into the next track In My Prison which is a song about anxiety…and I still don’t see how the songs are interrelated.
As soon as the second half hits, the album just feels conflicted with which story it actually wants to tell. It is a thematic mess that doesn’t really know which direction to go.
But see, thematic diversity is not a bad thing – there is nothing inherently wrong with it. In masterfully crafting a good record, there has to be a good balance between unity and diversity. Too much consistency and listeners get bored halfway through, while if an album tries to do too many things it just becomes a mess. CLAPCLAPCLAP! just felt a bit too lyrically undercooked; the band was not able to weave the thematic diversity into one, consistent whole.
At the beginning of the record, the trio posed a great many questions about how it is to be human through the childhood experience – they were exploring the anxiety of finding one’s identity. But all these other songs about love, heartbreak, and relationships just do not seem to build upon the foundation that the first few songs laid. It would have proven beneficial for them to utilize these “other songs” about love to further explore the human condition, but that was not the case – I thought it was a waste of a great opportunity. The album’s lyrics are butterflies that do not know where to fly which, sadly, caused some confusion and took me out of a holistic listening experience.
However, please do not let my criticisms downplay how good the album sounds. It’s a freaking jam! The record has been out for almost a month now, and I have been continuously hitting the replay button ever since it released. Having read all the positive headlines on social media about the band’s latest endeavors and having seen the numbers on streaming services, it is indisputable that they have not only enthralled the hearts of long-time fans but have also brought in waves of new listeners. There is so much more that this band can do, and I am sure that the trio is not planning to slow down any time soon.
CLAPCLAPCLAP! is an excellent introduction to what we must expect from IV OF SPADES in the future. They are pursuing a sound, style, and genre that is unique to Filipino OPM and twenty-first-century rock in general. The trio has proven themselves to be innovators – creative geniuses at work. However, even though the debut album sounds hella fantastic, it lacks lyrical coherence. I just think that they need to put more time into working on a consistent theme especially for their future projects.
Though I have never been to a IV OF SPADES concert, I know through my friends in the Philippines who have seen them live and all the bootlegs on YouTube that the trio can put on an unforgettable show. After opening for Panic At The Disco! and performing live in big festivals such as Clockenflap, it is crystal clear that the international stage is ready for them. It’s time to spread their wings and bring their creative genius to a world that needs to hear the IV of Spades…and I can not wait for what’s next.
Summary: Despite some lyrical and thematic inconsistency, IV OF SPADES’ debut album CLAPCLAPCLAP! delivers on many expectations and proves the trio to be more than just hitmakers but also versatile creatives who are able to blend genres and give audiences one heck of a great time.
Photo from IV OF SPADES Facebook page.
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