Back to the future: Up Dharma Down’s ‘Capacities’

Up Dharma Down’s newly released third album “Capacities”  shows us what the band will be showing us along the way.

UDDCAP Reg Cover

Third albums are notoriously hard to make.” So said Billy Bragg in a recent interview on the BBC about his LP, “Talking with the Taxman about Poetry,” which — after all — bears on its cover sleeve the inscription: “The Difficult Third Album.” He describes them as being “make-or-break” records. Having spent all the initial spark and creative energy establishing and then reiterating who you are on your debut and its follow-up, “you can’t keep turning out the same record,” he says. At that point, it simply just won’t do. “By the time you get to the third album you’ve got to start showing people where you’re going to go.”

Perhaps this goes some way to account for why it took Up Dharma Down four years to release their third album, “Capacities.” The record doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve ever done before. And although they maintain that the recording process on this record as compared to the previous ones was a lot easier if not more fun, the band has clearly put a lot of thought of where they should be going or, more importantly, what sights they’ll be showing us along the way.

For one, the neon signpost of the ’80s casts an electric glow upon the surfaces of the band’s sound, throwing off shadows that stretch the length of the entire album. It’s there in the incandescent anticipation that propels forward Turn It Well, the insistent aching pulses that punctuate Kulang, the mechanical riff and rhythms that pull down the curtains on the lament of Nightdrops. It’s there in the person of The Blue Nile’s Paul Buchanan who co-writes as well as sings and plays guitars on Feelings. But most of all, it’s there in Parks which doesn’t require Armi Millare to belt it out as much as it calls for her to sing in empathy with the synthesizers. (That doesn’t make it any less affecting a vocal performance than anything she’s done in the past — in fact, it might be the best thing the band has ever done.) Heck, it might even be in the cover art with a color palette that mirrors the sleeve of New Order’s “Technique.”

But listening to the music makes it apparent though that the intended destination is far more intriguing than the pop charts of the ’80s. A closer ear reveals that the album encompasses a far wider scope of reference points than any single decade has a monopoly to. The track Thinker does owe more to the influence of Stevie Nicks than to, say, Cyndi Lauper or Sheila E. while Luna would find a comfortable spot within the Top 20… in the ’90s. To keep track of it all would make it very “now” too, of course.

Bragg cites the example of artists like The Clash and Bruce Springsteen and how their third albums, “London Calling” and “Born to Run” respectively, came to define them as artists and their place in music history. How they refused to rest on their laurels and continue to play to their galleries. How they evaded becoming parodies of themselves playing cover versions of their own songs. How they risked everything to win on their own terms.

In that regard, “Capacities” does succeed — so much so that you suspect that its true achievement will be only recognized in time. Perhaps not now, but eventually.

By Erwin Romulo for The Outsider


Up Dharma Down begins something new with third album, ‘Capacities’

gmanewsIt’s been four years, but Up Dharma Down has finally come out with Capacities, their much-awaited third album after the award-winning, critically acclaimed Fragmented and Bipolar.

The album has a distinct 80s vibe, which vocalist Armi Millare admitted was a big influence in the songwriting. “That’s the period when we grew up. Listening to music at the time was not hard. It was all over the radio. The music video culture has not matured in terms of the Philippines having not much access to cable television until the 90’s came about,” she said.

“For the boys, they went back to synth pop bands and have let go of their more modern favorites,” she added.

Fans will immediately notice a major shift in the group’s music, a less intense, more sophisticated sound. Clearly, the band has grown up.

“I think the third album is one signal a group sends out to say that they have grown down or up — at least have not stayed the same,” said Millare.

The past four years have been spent doing gigs, going on tour nationally and overseas, and releasing singles like “Indak” and “Tadhana.”

“I honestly think it’s just the right time to come up with a new record because for one, the experiences we’ve encountered as individuals take time to sink in. I think it is done all in a graceful way of beginning something new and ending things, leaving things behind,” she added.

Capacities was probably the easiest album to make in terms of collaboration, said the singer. Personally, however, the journey was much more difficult.

“I couldn’t write for two years of those four, almost burning out from doing too many shows. I penned seven songs here with sweat, blood and tears and I’m only hoping this would be the last time I’ll be doing this much in one record. It seems I’ve reached a state of drought in terms of feelings,” she said.

To be called a band, there must be more than cooperation. There must be rhythm, an understanding that goes beyond the ability to play and keep time. The band has been lucky because they have always seemed to understand each other’s needs, weaving the personal with the professional, weaving everything into their music.

“I deserve very little credit in this record as I’ve accepted my role only as a singer and as a songwriter,” said Millare. “Paul’s [Yap, bass] songs, however there may only be two, are definitely classics in my opinion. I find them very real and both crosses borders. He’s great at breaking stereotypical love songs especially with Ean [Mayor, drums] and Carlos’ [Tanada, guitar] help doing the programming of the music and arranging them. If you think about it, most of this is theirs, not mine. I just go around and travel and send them demos.”

Millare’s personal favorites from the album includes “Feelings,” on which the band collaborates with Paul Buchanan from the excellent Scottish band The Blue Nile. “It’s our first time to collaborate with anybody singing in the record and it so happens to be the person we have admired from afar for so long as a group,” she said.

The album was successfully launched on Wednesday to a packed venue. “It’s been an exciting ride, creating something we’ve always loved and we have always been familiar with. We just wanted to share songs with people that aren’t necessarily ‘hits’ so to speak,” said Millare.

“I personally try to avoid something that’s too catchy. We still have a couple of songs that we did not include in this record because we knew it would attract too much attention to one track and leave the others unrequitedly loved,” she said.

Capacities is a milestone, a marker for the band’s experiences since they started in 2004. “We are grateful for this opportunity and at the same time we’re hoping that this is only the beginning of a more interesting end to things.”

If anything, the album is aptly named, because it shows how Up Dharma Down has matured as a band, and promises more beautiful music, “hits” or not, in the near future.




Photograph by Richard Campbell

Ecstatic about the recent release of their Capacities album, I was even more thrilled as Up Dharma Down‘s track “Feelings” played on, full-blast on my stereo. The song’s first line greets you with a pleasantly raspy voice, whose letting out of the first note sends chills down my spine. The song progresses with lead vocalist Armi Millare’s cool and smooth vocals the band is famous for.

Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile band was once quoted saying about the Manila-based group, ”My favorite group. Beautiful, victorious, elegant, muscular music“, and now, he co-writes, sings and plays guitar for the beautiful track.

Having followed the band since their first album, I can say that Capacities sees a remarkable transformation of their sound. Clean, mellow and more soulful, especially on Armi’s vocals, it’s a change that the fans are glad to embrace. Hit play on this track and see what I’m talking about.

Buy the song here.



Up Dharma Down tests its ‘Capacities’

Screen Shot 2013-04-20 at 4.26.27 PMIt took the band Up Dharma Down four years to release its new album, “Capacities.” But it gained immeasurable affirmation when its loyal fans cheered wildly while hearing the new songs played live at One Esplanade recently.

“It gets me … every time,” said vocalist/keyboardist Armi Millare, profusely thanking the more than 2,500 people who showed up at the album launch.

Event organizers had to cut the line at the ticket stall because the venue could no longer accommodate more people.

“A lot of people think that in the last four years, nothing happened … that we were sleeping in comfy, fluffy white sheets. But in reality we were doing gigs relentlessly in and out of town, and we were writing and recording songs as early as 2010,” Millare told the Inquirer.


Last year, two songs, “Indak” and “Tadhana,” were released as a preview of “Capacities.”

Millare said that the new album is the group’s tribute to the kind of music they have listened to during the band’s formative years. “We wanted to test our ‘capacities’ as songwriters, not as instrumentalists. It’s not just how guitars and drumming come together—anyone could do that. Our strength as a band is how we create songs of our own.”

Bassist Paul Yap said that producing “Capacities” was relatively easier than the first two albums. “We now know each other’s strengths and weaknesses.”

He explained that the band survived the probing stage on its first album, “Fragmented” (2006), and got past the so-called sophomore slump on the follow-up, “Bipolar” (2008).

“On ‘Capacities,’ we know what songs we won’t get tired listening to,” he added.

Out of 16 tracks recorded, only nine made it to the album: “Turn It Well,” “Luna,” “Parks,” “Indak,” “Feelings,” “Thinker,” “Kulang,” “Tadhana” and “Night Drops.”

A bonus track, a duet version of “Feelings,” features Paul Buchanan of the Scottish band The Blue Nile.

Still celebrating

“This is special to us,” said Millare. “We are not done celebrating. It’s a marker that we have achieved something that we always wanted to get.”

In between their day jobs, all the members are committed to the band.

Millare and Yap write most of the songs while drummer Ean Mayor and guitarist Carlos Tañada handle the technical side of the recording process.

“Sometimes, we’d be surprised at how much the song has changed from the original, but it’s all for the better,” said Tañada, who wrote the upbeat single “Turn it Well.” He wrote it for his girlfriend as a birthday gift, and Millare rewrote parts of it until its final form.

The band members, however, do not feel confined to their respective instruments. In “Capacities,” the sense of nostalgia circa 1980s in the songs was achieved by using synthesizers and applying electronica beats.

Millare considers every song important, but her favorites are “Luna” and “Feelings.” In songwriting, she emphasized that her intention is “not to make hit songs, but songs that would strike a note somewhere,” she said.


Source: A study in restraint and refinement

cdWhen Capacities came out in 2012, it seemed like the hype surrounding the album was threatening to overshadow the actual merits of Up Dharma Down’s long awaited third release. The focus was on the fact that it took the band four years to finally come out withCapacities after critically acclaimed and well received albums Fragmented andBipolar—as if Up Dharma Down had come back from a hiatus, when in fact they had been performing and releasing songs regularly.

Anticipatory single “Tadhana” fared well as GMA Network television show Ilumina’s signature theme in 2010; and in 2011, a live recording session of Up Dharma Down’s track “Indak” was featured in an episode of production house Tower of Doom’s YouTube series Tower Sessions. Terno Recordings’ flagship act is also often seen and heard during the independent record label’s Terno Inferno events; when they’re not there, chances are they are performing somewhere else—sometimes in a completely different time zone.

Second albums are often said to be the most difficult to make, because it is the moment of truth for most musicians and songwriters. Though it may take someone a lifetime to produce an amazing debut, typically a sophomore release is expected after a few years—not, obviously, another lifetime. With every successive project a musician is tested; how long before exhaustion wins out? How long before the well dries out, and there is nothing more to write about? Up Dharma Down skillfully sidestepped the sophomore curse, in part by releasing Bipolar two years after Fragmented—allowing time for the band to mature and further develop their distinctive, though still mainstream-friendly, sound. It is worth noting that though Armi Millare is the band’s frontwoman, singer and main songwriter, the songs are polished and arranged by the band as a whole—making Up Dharma Down’s music the product of collective and collaborative input, which does require that the band go through their share of growing pains.


Their approach with Capacities seemed no different; and the beauty of being independent is that there is more leeway for Up Dharma Down to be able to release new music when they feel they are ready, instead of doing it on a schedule. Hence, the third album is still unmistakably Up Dharma Down—just older, wiser, more refined and more experienced. This time the band’s electronic influences led them further down the road of ‘80s synth pop and off the beaten path. Is it also very consistent; while there is no overt sign of it, Capacities feels wholly like a conceptual undertaking. Not a single track sounds rushed, half hearted, dragging or in any way designed to be a filler to stick in between radio singles. How much the band must have grown in four years, to be able to produce such a compact, cohesive work of art—alongside maintaining a grueling performance schedule—may very well be colossal in scale.

“Turn It Well” functions as the first track and Capacities’ lead single, not counting pre-album releases “Tadhana” and “Indak.” It is a faultless opening track; setting the tone for the rest of the release. There is a palpable feeling of excitement that builds up as the ‘80s-drenched four-on-the-floor settles in; and right from the very beginning it feels like Capacities is the sophisticated, exclusive, invite-only afterparty following the previous two albums. Whereas early on in Up Dharma Down’s career there was a tendency to rely on Millare’s vocal skills to fill out otherwise spare or predictable songs, there is none of that here. The brilliance of the collective effort shines through; it is fantastically arranged, as evidenced by the song’s surprising length. It clocks in at over six minutes, but as you listen to it, there is no sense of boredom; you never feel like you want it to end.

In the same vein, “Parks” is a glorious culmination of Up Dharma Down’s predilection for sample use and synth dependency. The distorted guitar riffs and little dissonant piano fills particularly lend color and strength to an otherwise wistful, passive track. Again, the lulling beat under Millare’s crooning carries you away, and when the song ends it almost feels like a betrayal of confidence—like there should be more to  the song than the already long five and a half minutes. Thankfully, the next track is the beautiful “Indak.” There is something different about Up Dharma Down songs in the vernacular—they’re more intimate, more delicate, more heartbreaking. However, more than “Indak” or “Tadhana,” the killer Tagalog song of Capacities is “Kulang”—it is very slightly The Cure, very slightly Depeche Mode, and very much Up Dharma Down at their best. “Kulang” is such a full track, precisely because there’s room for each influence, each vocal inflection, and each part of the song to breathe. The restraint shown in the arrangement is commendable; and as always Millare’s voice paints sadness and pain so beautifully.

jepsenirIf there’s anything to be disappointed about when it comes to Capacities, it’s at the end, when the version of “Feelings” with Paul Buchanan follows strong album ender “Night Drops”—Buchanan’s unaccompanied vocals start the song, stark and nearly shocking after nine tracks of Millare’s voice leading Capacities. While it’s understandable for Up Dharma Down to create an album version without Buchanan—the frontman of Scottish band the Blue Nile, who has collaborated with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Aqualung and Annie Lennox—the version with him is so much better that it naturally relegates the other to an inferior position, though in essence it is the same song. Placing the better, collaborative “Feelings” at the end negated the track order—which employed similar sounding “Turn It Well” and “Night Drops” to bookend the release—and made it seem like the obviously well planned song was an afterthought.

Overall, Capacities is a solid album; well worth listening to and purchasing, even though at three singles in you don’t even really need to weigh your options—the product speaks for itself. Up Dharma Down can only get better from here. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take them longer than four years for the next album to come out.