THE first time I heard RJ Manulid sing was in college as we attended the same university together. If my memory serves me right, he used to play in a band with a keyboard. They would be playing in one of those battles of the bands that last until the wee hours of the night, or just a regular school program, that yes, still ends until the wee hours of the night.

After college, when everyone separated ways, I would see his musical career blossom every now and then -- the biggest maybe his participation in the Philpop Songwriting Bootcamp. After that, he continued to write songs until in 2018 when he released his first album Reassurance.

In the first week of May, RJ reached out to me to say he would be releasing another album yet again. (In my head: amid the pandemic! That’s productive! Good for you!)

I was told I was one of the first people to hear the songs from the album he called Phases. When I brought up how good it is that he continues to write songs amid the pandemic when everyone may be having a hard time being productive, he said “Kung wala koy art life, I don’t know how I’d be handling this pandemic.” This rings true for most of us.

I listened to the songs one particular morning while I bike to work and for a few days that followed that before I came to the conclusion that my Top 3 choices are (1) I Need an Ocean; (2) Homegrown; and (3) Uncertainty.

Officially, RJ released the song Friday, May 28, on Spotify and streaming sites. Listen to it, you’re gonna love it.

1. I Need An Ocean

We sometimes reach a portion of our days that we’re filled to the brim. We want to explode. We want to rest. We want to pause. And during these times, a glass of water is just not enough to wash away everything that we’re feeling. It just doesn’t go away that easily. The singer tells of how he needs an ocean -- that big of a body of water -- to just wash it off and restart.

2. Homegrown

“Wherever my road goes or how much I’ve grown, I’ll always come back ‘cause there’s no place like home.” The pandemic and movement restrictions have prohibited some of us to go home to family for more than a year now. We might have been stuck somewhere but it is in these moments we see how our childhood homes will always be the very definition of home.

3. Uncertainty

Spoiler: The singer raps here, yay. But what I like the most about the song is the message and story it tries to convey. People in their 20s and 30s may be having existential crisis, dread, and similar feelings of lack of motivation (note the sigh at the start of the song). It’s really relatable as, I think, most of his songs are.

All these three songs are on the good type of upbeat songs so they’re perfect for your “Working”, “Biking”, or “Starting the Day” playlist. Well, at least for me.

Other songs in the playlist are Sleeveheart, Dear You, The Sun Rises in The West, Straitjacket, and Di Mapaliwanag.