Pantayo is five Toronto-based women who bring ancient Philippine kulintang music and modern Western pop styles together in a fascinating, startling, and exciting new hybrid.
The band members—Eirene Cloma, Michelle Cruz, Joanna Delos Reyes, and sisters Kat and Katrina Estacio—play the kulintang, an instrument that consists of eight brass gongs on a wooden rack, as well as other types of hanging gongs and traditional drums. To these they add synthesizers, bass, drums, and various vocal styles to create songs that are somehow simultaneously danceable, experimental, poppy, atmospheric, and mesmerizing. They’ve been working on their self-titled debut release with producer Alaska B, of Yamantaka // Sonic Titan fame, for four years. That’s not surprising, since it can take at least that long just to learn how to play the gongs, which have their own timbres and pitch levels but no set tuning—players usually improvise over prescribed rhythmic modes. Taking their own sweet time has resulted in Pantayo assembling a collection of different-sounding and differently structured tracks that go in all kinds of directions but are linked by the unmistakable melodic cling-clang of the gongs. “Eclipse” relies on rhythmic gongs and bass, with breezy vocal harmonies, while “Divine” is like an R&B ballad with unexpected gong sounds. “Heta Na” starts out as beat-based instrumental electronica, but midway through, chanting voices and frantic synth lines suddenly appear. “VVV (They Lie)” is positively anthemic, with its intertwining vocal lines and thumping beat; and “Kaingin” spins a melodic wisp into a dramatic, atmospheric, rock ballad. “Bahala Na” is a sweeping soundscape with a sweet vocal chorus that evolves into a high-energy drum-and-gong-bash that makes for a thrilling finish to a brilliant debut recording.