Close-up: Polar Lows – Hereafter

(written by Noah Wright)

“Hereafter is a three-song EP by the rock band Polar Lows. Released back in 2019, it encapsulates the classic sounds of late ‘80s shoegaze music. Thick layers of guitar effects, inaudible reverb-heavy vocals, and groovy ambient bass lines ooze over heavy, hard rock drums. In a nutshell, Hereafter is an around 17-minute escape into the world of dreams. As Polar Lows near-perfectly captures the dream-like ambiance of British shoegaze rock, you might be surprised to find out that they’re actually an all-Filipino band.

Hailing from the capital city of Metro Manila, Philippines, Polar Lows might be the most underground and underrated band in contemporary nu gaze. While Filipino music is often globally represented by catchy pop and heartfelt ballads, the sound of Polar Lows is a glimpse into the Philippines’ long love affair with shoegaze, dream pop, nu wave, and classic rock. In fact, Filipino shoegaze has roots that can be traced all the way back to the early ‘90s. Filipino bands like Daydream Cycle, Skies of Ember, and Sugar Hiccup were pioneers in exploring what’s possible with guitar pedals, tons of reverb, and alternative rock sensibilities. Alongside seminal acts like Slowdive and Cocteau Twins, these bands paved the way for Filipino nu gaze to bloom today. And Hereafter by Polar Lows is the result of this decades-long melding of cultures and rock sub-genres.

The heart and soul of the band is its vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Megumie Alcala. Before founding Polar Lows, she played live gigs in Manila as a solo singer-songwriter. In Hereafter, Alcala outright states that there are no lyrics to any of the songs. Throughout the EP, she uses her vocal chops to syllabicate notes and trigger the heavy reverb on the mic, resulting in an atmospheric sound that’s arguably closer to a wind instrument than the human voice. While the same singing style is present in much older shoegaze and nu gaze albums, Hereafter forces the listener to glean meaning not from the lyrics but from the sounds and song titles alone.

If Alcala is the heart of the operation, lead guitarist Pablo Pablo is undoubtedly the brains. When you’re listening to Hereafter, you can thank this living synthesiser for when the distortion guitar punches you in the gut. Pablo is also responsible for the thickness of Polar Lows’ captivating ambient sounds, courtesy of a pedalboard which itself is a tribute to the genre. Much like the shoegazers before him, the guitarist is an avid collector of miniature Mooer guitar pedals, which he prefers for their affordability and size. He also confesses to having a love for Joyo stompboxes and Electro-Harmonix pedals. These stompboxes and more make up Pablo’s extensive range of fuzz, distortion, delay, and other effects. Apart from providing key shoegaze elements into Polar Lows’ sound, the man’s pedalboard is a peek into what type of western pedals are circulating in the Asian city of Metro Manila.

As talented as these two are, the band wouldn’t be complete without drummer Joshua Gandia and bassist Chicha Tops. Alongside Pablo’s guitars, Gandia’s tight, hard, and post-rock drumming has drawn comparisons between Polar Lows and bands like Deftones and Team Sleep. Meanwhile, Tops’ bass lines lend an unmistakably classic rock groove to the band’s old school sound.

The members of Polar Lows describe themselves as a “typical shoegaze band.” Although we’re inclined to agree, the passion, skill, and talent behind every song from Hereafter is far from typical. If anything, 17 minutes is too short. And we look forward to listening to whatever Polar Lows puts out in the near future.”

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The ‘Close-up’ series contains insight provided by guest writers.

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