Up Dharma Down
Once the rhythmic beat of the synthesizer kicked in during the opening track of Capacities, I assume people’s brows knotted into frowns while their heads nodded to the beat. Doubtful thoughts probably crossed their minds. “Wait, is this Up Dharma Down? Am I listening to the same band?”
The answer is yes and no. Capacities, the band’s third full-length album, still retains that distinct Up Dharma Down aesthetic: a sleek and refreshing sound embracing lyrics that peel away the many layers of love. Armi Millare still leads us by the hand as she explores the complexities of feelings and interpersonal relationships, and she hasn’t missed a step. Capacities’ songs pack that raw emotional power that the best UDD songs have, peaking with the heart-wrenching “Feelings.”
And yet, there’s something different about them, owing to some small changes in their music. Compared to the uneven structures of the songs in Bipolar, the songs here are tighter, sticking to conventional structures and never exceeding five minutes in length. The instruments take a more minimal approach, calmly playing second fiddle to Millare’s voice. Even Millare cuts down on her meandering vocalizations (which I never liked, feeling that it’s a little show-offy), only belting it out in the closing moments of “Tadhana.”
The biggest and most obvious change, however, is in the band’s tone. The music just sounds happy, even though most of the lyrics say otherwise. Pain and pent-up angst pushed themselves in your face in Bipolar and Fragmented–here, emotions are more nuanced, but are slightly veiled behind the pop and bounce of the songs. Restlessness, break-ups and confusion are some of the themes in Capacities, though there’s always a tinge of hope that softens their blows, exemplified by the frustrated yet hopeful persona of “Night Drops” (“Come back when you’re done saving the world”). These contrasts give the songs a more welcome and inviting feel, far from the aggressive approach of their previous two albums.
Basically, after displaying their technical and experimental proficiency in Bipolar, UDD decided to go back to basics. It’s been said that artists should always be looking to progress their art, so is this step back a good thing? While I do miss the instrumental songs and Carlos Tañada’s excellent guitar work, it’s tough to fault UDD for releasing an album full of songs that follow the aesthetic of “Oo” and “Tara.” Everything feels simplified and refined, and yet it feels like the band’s sound has evolved. Above all, what Capacities does is speak of UDD’s capacity to do anything and excel at it.