Lazy journalists have two favorite questions for the bands they interview. The first one is “How did you come up with your name?” The other is “What’s your genre?” Perhaps in anticipation of the latter, Munimuni has created their own identifier—makata pop. It’s a label that’s both weighty and inconsequential. Yes, the lyrics on their debut album, “Kulayan Natin,” are often poetic. But they aren’t exceptional enough to lay claim to a niche; not yet, not while Bullet Dumas is out here howling at the moon, giving us bite-sized epics.
However, in a world that’s becoming increasingly post-genre, musical labels stick around not so much to distinguish as to express identity. Cut and dried definitions aside, makata pop works as a statement of artistic intent. TJ de Ocampo (vocals, guitar), Adj Jiao (vocals, guitar), Owen Castro (vocals, flute), Josh Tumaliuan (drums), and Jolo Ferrer (bass) might display a potent folk rock sensibility, but the main draw, they say, are the images that pierce through the sound.
That being said, “Kulayan Natin” takes a while to find its footing. Its first track, Simula, is also its most boring, running well past the six minute mark without justifying any of its demands on our attention. Meanwhile, Bakunawa and Oras feel like safe attempts at making it on a Spotify playlist alongside Ben&Ben and The Ransom Collective. It’s an underwhelming first act.
Things do pick up, albeit a bit later than hoped for. Bahay na Puti is a subtle and searing song about a loved one’s passing: At doon sa kama / Sabi mo uwing-uwi ka na / Baka bukas makalawa / Makauwi sana / Ah, ah‚ ah. Tahanan’s cool harmonies float about reassuringly, and Castro’s singing is pure and honest. It’s fitting atmosphere for a band that loves its nature imagery: every turn the album takes, there’s always a river, a mountain, a bed of flowers, a ray of light. At times however, this preoccupation with the universal makes it hard to locate the five-piece outfit in their own music.
But let it be said that “Kulayan Natin” is also an album that rewards patience. Halfway through, almost violently, its current of aimlessness gets ruptured, and Munimuni awakens as if from slumber. With heart full and eyes ablaze, the Clara Benin-assisted Solomon lays a warm hand on your cheek, guitars mounting until overflow. Ang damdamin ko’y / Sa’yong-sa’yo, goes the bridge, and its hook, O irog, dinig mo ba?, is just as irresistible.
Similarly, Bawat Piyesa sweats with passion, melting away any lingering tension from preceeding tracks: Dumadaan ang ilaw sa mga bulsa’t dumarating sa akin / At habang ika’y niyayakap nang maigi / Binubulong ang dalangin ‘wag sana maglaho sa hangin. Kalachuchi is less spectacular, but it isn’t without its moments —that flush of stray vocals at the end speaks to the band’s care for detail.
“Kulayan Natin” is an album that shines unevenly, but at its best, it’s a burst of magnified emotions. Perhaps it comes as no surprise, then, that Munimuni’s fans seem to relish in catharsis. Since the album’s release, they’ve tweeted variations of “Can’t wait to play Munimuni & cry myself to sleep,” “Play that Munimuni album, I want 2 cry eh,” and “I’m walking in the rain listening to Munimuni so no one can tell if I’m crying or just wet.” If nothing else, Munimuni does know how to make music for a rainy day. Is this album good, or does its timely July release afford it a little extra favor? Maybe, but there’s also enough promise in its sporadic episodes of clarity to suggest it’ll outlast the season.