Melodies carry me to places I cannot touch. Horses clip-clop around a Spanish Quarter. A waterfall roars behind the mountain.
Sitting at home for the better part of 17 months has made me write a list of all the beautiful Places I Will Visit After Quarantine. While those places are consigned to my imagination, they come to life in lyrics, as in the latest album offering of Ben&Ben, “Pebble House Vol 1: Kuwaderno.”
When the multiplatinum-certified band finally released their highly anticipated sophomore album on Aug. 29, I had to listen on repeat. The series of 13 tracks displays a wide emotional range, from empowerment in Kayumanggi to more classic pining in Pasalubong (a treat for fans of Moira Dela Torre). “Pebble House Vol.1: Kuwaderno” proves what its predecessor, “Limasawa Street,” suggested: that Ben&Ben are masters of tapping the deepest feelings through masterful lyricism accompanied by sonic risks that pay off beautifully.
The new gift that the sophomore album gives listeners is a more mature sense of imagery. In the middle of quarantine, Ben&Ben is able to conjure up the places that we can only remember or imagine. Ben&Ben’s latest album is the field trip we need in a time when field trips exist only in our dreams. My favorite snapshots appear in the songs Swimming Pool, Elyu and Kapangyarihan.
‘Wag n’yong kalilimutan na hawak-hawak namin ang inyong trono’ is an empowering type of anger, the kind that reminds listeners that true power remains in our hands.
Swimming Pool takes nostalgia and makes it fun. The metaphors seem terse at first listen, as in “Swimming pool ang ating buhay” and “Football field ang ating buhay,” but the artistry is precisely in those sudden comparisons.
Ben&Ben and Chito Miranda are able to capture in short lines that adrenaline rush of spontaneous invitations. This song feels like a ringtone. I pick up, and in three sentences my afternoon has an itinerary. That prospect of adventure continues into the explanations for the metaphors.
Of the images in this song, I found the third most endearing. It goes: “Samgyupsal ang ating buhay. 'Pag nausok ang mga problema, mangangamoy pa ba? Eh, sunog na nga!”
An incredibly simple lyric transforms into a poignant throwback of unplanned lunches with best friends. I see it in the back of my mind: my stress lifts bit by bit as we chat away, watching the smoke rise. Those temporary escapes from reality seem so far away now. At the moment, we are resigned to a daily monotony, but the track ends with a hopeful note. “Wala na bang makakalusot sa’king sirang plaka ng mga panalangin? Sana naman may makarinig sa’kin. Andyan ka nga Bathala.”
Elyu is an adventure both outward and inward. After the adrenaline rush of percussion in Swimming Pool, Ben&Ben transitions to a slower intro, signaling a return to introspection. The image of waves crashing on a beach is equal parts caption-worthy and award-worthy. For someone who was once in love, to say “Pakiusap na lumayas ka sa'king isipan nang umahon na ang puso sa dalampasigan mo” is undeniably painful, but the lyric is a perfect fit.
After that shared suffering, I hear the whisper of a shared victory. While I live these tales of confusion, frustration and anticipation within the same four walls every day, the album reminds me that I am never alone in that struggle.
Like waves receding only to come back again every time, memories play themselves back. This track sounds like it should play on a loop. This heartbroken character ends his reflection with a decision. He resolves to stay away: “Iiwas na kung maaari, na para bang walang nangyari.” Still, listeners feel almost certain that he’ll look toward the ocean once more. “Nakikita sa hampas ng mga alon ay ikaw pa rin.”
While the waves dance in Elyu, storm clouds gather in Kapangyarihan. The track narrates anger as the Filipino people struggle for the Manila we want to see someday. When the band played a preview for us at the “Pebble House Vol 1: Kuwaderno” press conference, the (Zoom) room instantly knew that this track would be a hit.
It comes from darkness. Following the murders of Sonia Gregorio and Frank Gregorio by police officer Jonel Nuezca, Kapangyarihan was initially released back in December 2020. In the collab edition, SB19’s spirited rap now depicts the nationwide outrage that prompted this song.
“Pipilitin na pasanin hanggang sa mga mata n’yo’y mamulat, magising sa sigaw na sumasalamin sa sumpa niyong magsilbi sa amin, tuluyang nawalan ng bisa...” leads into a critique of those enabling injustice. The place that lodges in my mind is the palace where this song’s throne rests. “Wag n’yong kalilimutan na hawak-hawak namin ang inyong trono” is an empowering type of anger, the kind that reminds listeners that true power remains in our hands.
To balance out the image-heavy songs, the album has more abstract offerings. Several tracks are gorgeous shout-outs to the non-physical places we’ve seen. Ben&Ben x Munimuni collab Sugat masterfully brings to mind our individual pasts, urging listeners to allow old scars to finally heal. Ilang Tulog Na Lang illustrates the calm of silence amid chaos.
This album’s incredibly relatable lyricism goes to show how Ben&Ben’s fandom Liwanag factors into the band’s writing.
Young STAR asked Ben&Ben what role their fans played in the creative process of their sophomore release, and the band highlighted the fans’ stories of suffering. They narrated how their experiences shaped the music: “Liwanag, they really inspire us in a lot of ways. I think, more than anything, by getting to know them, we understand better what it’s like to have a shared struggle. Being able to connect with them more... also helps ground our art in reality.”
Both muse and recipient of this work of art, Liwanag can hear their lives chronicled in the vivid images of “Pebble House Vol 1: Kuwaderno.”
After that shared suffering, I hear the whisper of a shared victory. While I live these tales of confusion, frustration and anticipation within the same four walls every day, this album reminds me that I am never alone in that struggle. For now, I will sing along in hope that the next adventures are coming up soon.