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BELOW THE RADAR by Jason Caballa

Haha Yes

Rating: 4/5


Ask me whom I think is the most underrated rock act in the country, and I would, without hesitation, most likely say Ciudad. It’s not that this more-than-a-decade-old indie band hasn’t gotten its share of acclaim; on the contrary, pretty much all of their studio releases have made it to many fans’ and critics’ yearend best albums lists, while their gigs continue to draw a respectable audience. In fact, it’s that apparent, longtime appreciation from the band’s loyal listeners that partly makes them criminally underrated in my opinion. It still baffles me to this day that two of Ciudad’s three current members have corporate jobs when I think they should have been much bigger than most other local acts at their peak.

The other, more significant part, of course, is their songs, which have been consistently catchy and well crafted, and dare I say, much better than most of the local pop-rock fare we’ve been hearing on the radio these past ten years or so. And as most of Ciudad’s songs have been written by their singer and bassist Mikey Amistoso, then it also goes without saying that Amistoso is an underrated composer who should have had more hits than he ever did, but as honest and uncompromising as he is, fame was never a concern for him – just good songs.

Amistoso calls his latest project Hannah+Gabi (the name actually pays more homage to the Lemonheads than to twin sister indie rock duo Tegan & Sara), and not surprisingly, his solo debut, Haha Yes, doesn’t stray too far from Ciudad melodically or thematically. At the very least, the songs resemble his band’s softer moments (e.g. “Friday Noon” from 2008's Bring Your Friends), but for fans of the band or well-crafted indie pop-rock in general, that's not a bad thing at all. The biggest difference is that it's quieter, as Amistoso mainly employs piano, acoustic guitars, simple drumbeats, and other miscellaneous "non-rock" instruments. Consequently, there are fewer instrumental passages, as he and his Ciudad bandmates occasionally engage in lengthy outro jams on some of their songs. As such, Haha Yes is comprised of nine straightforward pop tunes, mostly just surpassing the two-minute mark. Opener "City" is piano-driven and builds up slowly, and is somehow reminiscent of how Death Cab For Cutie opened Plans with "Marching Bands Of Manhattan." "Lost Together" is a pretty little ditty to a lover, yearning her to get away with him instead of him leaving alone. It's one of the most affecting tracks on Haha Yes, and contains one of Amistoso's best choruses to date, especially the line "And all that remains is the weight of your hand in mine." "Soon They All Pass" is likewise somewhat Death Cab-esque, with elegant acoustic plucking that kind of echoes Gibbard and co.'s "405" or "A Lack Of Color."

Touches of indie balladeers like Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens can also be heard all throughout Haha Yes, but those who have been following Ciudad for so long (as I have) will most likely recognize Amistoso's melodic trademark on these songs more so than the aforementioned alternative music icons' (or anyone else's). "Amazingly Amused" is the song that probably sonically resembles Ciudad the most here, except that there's a female voice (the lovely Geri Gatchalian Gil's) pleasantly harmonizing with Amistoso. "Waiting For The Rainfall," on the other hand, is something that only he could have come up with, as Amistoso goes all synth- and harmony-crazy, creating a veritable indie-pop mini-suite that is as charming as it is layered. "Everything Refuses To Move" is apparently the song around which the whole album (and the whole Hannah+Gabi concept) was created (it was his audition piece for a world-renowned music school), and as expected, it's one of his most intimate songs, as Amistoso tunefully laments the rut he's been in since the "last good year," although he could just as well be singing to himself as he might be to a former significant other. It's a sad but lovely tune, with a four-note piano hook that's as heartstring-tugging as the words themselves.

It's a good thing, then, that the sublime "Box Filled With Stories" ends the record on a more hopeful tone, but it also leaves us to wonder if Amistoso will ever come up with more music like this, under the Hannah+Gabi moniker. But whether or not he eventually does, he has given us this little gem of a sampler (the entire album is only a little less than 27 minutes long) that may not prove to be a nationwide smash, but – as with a lot of the songs he has written – should touch the emotions of the lucky few who get to hear it. Do yourself a favor and be one of them. - PULP Magazine

"QLE 3"

Hannah + Gabi

“Haha Yes”

It’s no secret that I think MikeyAmistoso is the underrated genius of our generation. It also just occurred to me that “Haha Yes,” though arguably a debut album, is the fifth in a succession of records by Ciudad’s singer/songwriter that just keep getting more poignant, mature and well-crafted. The solo project, named after a Lemonheads track, is filled with songs about longing, escape and building a new room. Though I didn’t get why at first, it’s clear now why Amistoso had to do it by himself: these songs are too solemn for Ciudad’s signature instrumental jams, too barebones for Justin Sunico’s elaborate guitarwork, too quiet for Mitch Singson’s powerful drumming. It’s an album about falling in love, but unlike Ciudad’s 2000 debut “Hello! How Are You, Mico The Happy Bear?” it’s a love that comes after much pain and hesitation. The product is Mikey’s most honest work, and that’s saying a lot considering the emotional rawness of “Bring Your Friends” If I have any complaints, it’s that the album is too short. It reminds me of quiet Sundays walking through New York’s St. Mark’s Square, and I wish it didn’t have to end. - The Philippine Star

"Haha Yes by Hannah+Gabi"

Haha Yes by Hannah+Gabi
Words by Lou E. Albano
October 14, 2010

Keyboards, grand and intimate at the same time, open Haha Yes and immediately, you think this is exactly what Coldplay (think “Fix You”) and the rest of them Coldplay wannabes (Snow Patrol, anyone?) have been trying to do for years and have been miserably failing to do so.

Where they sound contrived and corny and over-produced, Hannah+Gabi, as evidenced by album opener “City,” sounds organic and real and honest.
Slowly, it builds up: The guitar accompanies the piano, and then the drums, and before you know it, “City” has the right amount of full.
There is urgency there but there is also calm, like Christmas morning, when the air is fresh and the sun isn’t too harsh and you are rushing to get some fun already.
It is followed by “Lost Together,” a casual fare of vocals and guitar, with a melody so catchy the listener cannot help but be endeared to it immediately.
Its chorus, especially, sounds so natural you’d be surprised at yourself that you knew exactly which note will come next. This is one of Mikey’s favorite songs, by the way.

Track three, “New Window” is so slow we may as well take the opportunity to introduce Hannah+Gabi.

Hannah+Gabi is not a pair of cute hot indie chicks, as we all may have first thought. It’s actually the solo project of a dude, Mikey Amistoso, of “Mikey is the New Mong” infamy; also of Ciudad fame—he is the frontman of the local indie scene pioneers.

Haha Yes is his debut record and as we speak, the physical CDs are about to be manufactured for its November release. Lucky us that we got hold of the record early, albeit digitally.
But listening to the nine-track record, it becomes clear that having mp3 files of his songs won’t be enough. We are looking forward to actually having Haha Yes in our CD library.

Because—and we head back to the review—it’s a great little record. Fourth track “Soon They Pass,” for instance, is so lush you’d want to hear it whenever your senses get attacked by the every day world, which is to say every day. It is small and gentle and hopeful, with a vibe similar to another tiny indie outing: Juno the movie and its soundtrack.

“Amazingly Amused,” follows “Soon They Pass” and immediately, Hannah+Gabi takes command.
The drums are more evident here than in any of the other songs, the instruments take on a thicker sound, and the lyrics come in tangent to the unpolished and crude.
It is with this full-band set-up that “Amazing Amused” and Hannah+Gabi becomes more familiar, especially to the untrained ear.

Another of Mikey’s favorites, “Waiting for the Rainfall” follows and from here on out, the record climbs to a whimsical climax, to end rightfully with a kind of quiet that is precious and small and...but we’re getting ahead of the record.

A faster song, “Waiting for the Rainfall” contains some of the cutest fills, reminiscent of carnivals and theme parks.
It borders on too cute, yes, but Mikey, here, displays his mastery in song writing. He knows when to break, when to add, and what, and when to subtract, and where.

A more laidback tune, “Everything Refuses to Move” evokes a kind of paralysis that we are all too familiar with.
“It’s all the same/ nothing ever changes” Mikey sings amid a backdrop of guitars, a single-note on the piano, and what may be xylophone and instinctively, you know what he is talking about: boredom and lethargy and sloth and nothingness.

What makes the song interesting and refreshing in its paralysis is the fact that Mikey sounds hopeful and the instruments, sprightly impish, and there is not a shadow of emo and it’s under four minutes long.

Haha Yes ends with “Box Filled with Stories,” a quiet little number that sounds like a private blog entry, a letter to an old girlfriend, even.
The lyrics take front and center here, with just enough details to help you conjure your own private place. But here’s the thing: While the song is peppered with details, it doesn’t over-share. And while it doesn’t over-share, it doesn’t restrain from all the emotions and memories and thoughts and stories; as though the song itself is the box filled with stories.
“I need some winding/ what are you hiding?” Mikey asks, “Under your bed lies a box of stories/ waiting to be unfurled at the end of each day.” And then the record ends quietly.
Needless to say, Haha Yes is a great record and Mikey Amistoso as Hannah+Gabi is a talented singer-songwriter. At nine tracks, the album may be a bit bitin. But regardless of its length, it is a good record.It is one that we encourage everyone to get, but one that we fear not may people may even give a chance, which is a bit heartbreaking—but just a bit now, okay?
Because like Mikey who sounds hopeful in the record, we're hoping that we’re wrong about that. We can't help but hope that the greater listening public will surprise everyone—cynical record execs, pessimistic record reviewers, and the rest—and give Hannah+Gabi a try.
- FHM Philippines

"Mikey's box filled with stories"

Mikey's box filled with stories
THE X-PAT FILES By Scott R. Garceau (The Philippine Star)
November 10, 2010

Hannah+Gabi’s CD release “Haha Yes” opens on a window looking out to a frozen courtyard where brittle sunlight passes through cellophane lanterns, trees “expand to brooms” and “the city waits.” It’s a winter day in New York City, at least in my mind, and a stately piano theme is crisscrossed by minor chord harmonies, punctuated by glockenspiel notes, all within 2:21. Mikey Amistoso’s first solo release is cinematic like that. The short (26-minute) EP contains nine new songs, almost a series of movie themes in search of an indie flick. Opener "City" harks to a grander theme somewhere off on the horizon. I kept wanting to hear more, to see it all in Cinemascope, but Amistoso knows the value of brevity. Like key movie soundtracks from the 1960s (Simon & Garfunkel’s The Graduate, John Barry’s Midnight Cowboy, Burt Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid), Mikey’s themes are fleeting and haunting. And very hummable.

Some are born to Tin Pan Alley it seems, while others are dragged there. Amistoso — like his fellow occasional jingle writer, Jazz Nicolas — has a gift for the well-turned melodic phrase, the pretty chord displacement, the major to minor miracle in pop song form. It’s no surprise that Amistoso and Nicolas do, in fact, work in the same jingle factory (writing occasional music for Jollibee, for instance): it’s a day job to sustain the existence of Itchyworms and Ciudad, one presumes. (They also perform together, on occasion, as Mikey Mikey and Jazzy Jazz. Check your local cocktail lounge for listings.)

Hannah + Gabi, the band (named after a song by Lemonheads, one of Amistoso’s avowed influences), is essentially Mikey minus Ciudad bandmates, with a few assists on vocals and drums. Amusingly titled “Haha Yes” (as though responding politely to an interviewer’s insipid question), the solo release is a more introspective, reflective affair than Ciudad’s acclaimed 2008 CD, “Bring Your Friends.” Images of holding hands, dreaming, looking back, pondering souvenirs, poring over a box of stories abound. Like Paul Simon’s “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” or Paul McCartney’s "Junk", these are sentimental journeys hinting at deeper thoughts, deeper hurts. There’s a wistful air to "New Window", with its narcoleptic middle-eight (“Sleep time… sleep time…”) Harmonica (harmonium?) bursts counterpoint the delicate guitar picking in "Soon They All Pass". The musical decoration is never overly ornate, always tasteful and “just so.”

As before, the ghost of Elliott Smith haunts Amistoso’s music, even his vocals. But Mikey’s clearly found his own voice now, his own signature style. “Haha Yes” floats along on its concise pop arrangements, with amusing twists and turns, both stylistic and musical. "Waiting for the Rainfall", for instance, sidesteps into a karaoke hoedown shuffle during the chorus. That and the banjo notes on "You Know It" may even justify the CD’s genre designation as “country.”

Then again, country music is really a form of blues. Amistoso reportedly wrote most of this music during a lengthy stay in NYC, where Ciudad was touring last year. Perhaps Mikey is charting his own country’s blues music: quirky, sentimental, melodic, with a Bacharach heart at its center. - The Philippine Star


Haha Yes (2010)

Lost Together
Waiting For The Rainfall



Hannah+Gabi is the solo project of Mikey Amistoso, who also writes, produces, plays bass and fronts Filipino indie stalwarts Ciudad. But unlike his work with the band, his songs under the moniker has been described by The Philippine Star (the country's leading broadsheet) as "urban hymns for a generation whose voices have grown hoarse and ears tired by the incessant din of his noisier contemporaries." The debut album, Haha Yes, was a critical success and named by several reviewers as one of the best albums of the last decade. It has drawn comparisons to Elliott Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Jim O' Rourke and even Brian Wilson for its combination of neo-folk, electronics, and "pop symphony" arrangements. Yet it is for nothing less than his song-craft that Amistoso has been named by the prestigious men's title, Esquire Philippines, as probably the "greatest of the young songwriters around today." But even without all the acclaim, it's the songs themselves that's seen Hannah+Gabi's audience grow steadily in number, not merely by word-of-mouth as really just one heart at a time.