Rooftops: A Song Review
Illustration by Mar Virgil Eway
A unique sound — born from MIDI controllers and laptops, along with a guitar, bass and drums — that draws us in and leaves us wanting more, Madebymachina’s Rooftops is a mesmerizing track from beginning to end.
Madebymachina is a project started by drummer Joshua Varela, with bassist Nikki Aleria and guitarist BJ Pangilinan. With its interesting combination of electro and rock, the band’s popularity has been rising since their performance in OBSKVRA, a local music event organized by students from USC, where they performed most of their singles and a cover of Midnight City’s M83, and instantly got the crowd’s attention. They surprised everyone by showing that electronic music is not limited to laptops and synths; it can be performed by a band as well.
One the band’s offerings, Rooftops, which written last year, gets its inspiration from the view of downtown Cebu from a roof deck, as drummer Joshua reveals. “I wanted the song to start and be led by a single tone that carries through the whole track, which symbolizes raindrops.”
The song kicks off with the steady chime of a music box that becomes the backbone of the track, always present as the song progresses. As the drums begin, the familiar sound of an analog bass plays along, giving this track a retro theme, a style that is gaining popularity in the electro world. The blend of arpeggios accompanied with the flowing yet steady beat of drums results in a hypnotizing melody that oddly captivates the listener, taking them on a journey to the sky above, across the rooftops as the title suggests.
Midway through the song, the steady beep is joined by an arrangement of strings that blends perfectly with the background sounds of synthesizers, thus setting the mood. There is no climax, no drop that makes one want to dance and jump in the air. Instead, the song is an invitation to let go and enjoy the trip. As the song reaches its end, the ever present tone of the chime grows louder, symbolizing the constant falling of rain, and the strings accompany it as the song fades out.
Rooftops generously takes material from Midnight City, future wave and French house — most notably Daft Punk — along with nostalgic sounding synths, bass samples, industrial, techno and live instruments. The band mashes all of these into captivating soundscapes that fill listeners with emotion. The track is akin to something from the soundtrack of futuristic films like Tron or the Matrix — industrial sounding synths, which give an image of a sprawling metropolis, accompanied by layered synths, which make one sink into the song, and melodic leads that make heads nod to its beat. It is very noticeable that the song deviates from mainstream electronica and rather explores a more relaxing and cinematic type of sound, a sound that many have not dared to produce, especially in the local scene.
Rooftops, with its blend of strings and chill-wave synths, throws in drums that one would expect to hear in rock, but strangely make it all fit in. The band manages to pull off a track that does not sound too generic and give a sneak peek into the other side of music instead. However, some may find the track a bit too repetitive and unexciting, as there are no changes from the main melody after the strings kick in.
Admittedly, the song structure is flat and linear, with no twists and turns, but rather gives a slow ascent. The pattern is very similar to most songs in the genre, but lacks both the lead synth and sound fillers. Instead, the track has a minimalistic approach, opting for a lead chime and a faint guitar which composes the elements of the song, coming in one after the other, thus creating a combination of layers that work together.
In these said layers, Rooftops is able to make a person wonder and imagine, a feature most instrumentals fail to capture today. Even in its simplicity, this song delivers. It is no secret that this song is unfinished, as the band states on their Soundcloud, but should it really need to be?