April 23, 2005

Soundboard: Chasing the Comet's Tail- A Review of Cynthia Alexander's Third Album

Cynthia_AlexanderBlueIt was all brought about by chance.

I was planning to watch Cynthia Alexander tonight in Conspiracy Garden Cafe since she is the only Conspiracy regular which I have yet to see play a full set. However, with my younger brother not responding to my text message invitation, I finally decided against going to the show because I did not want to watch her show alone. Still, after a tiring day walking through the whole length of SM North for more than five hours doing one of my obssessive fits looking for hard-to-find music albums, there was this tiny voice at the back of my head that bugged me to go to Conspiracy. So at around 8:30 pm, I found myself boarding a Project 6 jeep on the way to that famed bar in Visayas Avenue.

When I got to the gate of the cafe, there was Manang, the old lady who sells the bar's tickets and merchandise. I found out that Bayang was performing tonight, not Cynthia. I told Manang that I won't be watching the show since it was not in my plan, so I just asked if there was any newly-released album from any of the regulars. She pointed me to Gary Granada's newly-released lecture VCD, "Introduction to Hierarchic Selection: The Evolution of Social Substructures". I was carrying only a P1,000 bill, the VCD costs only P125, and Manang might have trouble finding change for my bill, so I decided to purchase another item. While browsing through the merchandise display, I was pleasantly surprised with what I discovered.

Comet's Tail, Cynthia Alexander's long-awaited third album, has finally been released.

There was a time when I did not bother to listen to Cynthia's music. I thought all her songs sounded like "I-N-S-O-M-Nia", her first single, which did not really appeal to me. However, my "stereotyping" was proven wrong when I finally got exposed to more of her music during one of the fund-raising shows in Conspiracy. I checked out her albums, Insomnia and Other Lullabyes and Rippingyarns, and I was very glad that I did. I got to discover one of Philippine music's hidden treasures - a genius whose work can stand toe-to-toe with the world's best. For the past two months, Cynthia's music has become regular listening for me every night. So I was eagerly anticipating her third collection of songs.

As of the time of writing of this article, I have already listened to the album five times, and I would gladly say that we have another masterpiece here. Comet's Tail picked up right where Rippingyarns left off and continued Cynthia's experimentation of fusing different musical styles while sprinkling it with her distinct sound. However, the styles used by Cynthia in this album were not as diverse as that of her previous album, as her Indian music influence was quite pronounced in the musical arrangement and even the lyrics of a lot of the tracks. It was actually not surprising, considering that she just finished doing the music for the recent "Sita at Rama" production of Teatrong Mulat. While this means that Comet's Tail offers less variety of styles compared to Rippingyarns, it also gave the album a more distinct character.

The instrumental arrangement is superb, and I won't hesitate to say that this is the most accomplished Cynthia Alexander album in that respect. In the fourth track, "Mantra", Cynthia chants "Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana" repeatedly (hence, the title) against a background of a fusion of Indian and Mindanaoan ethnic music (I believe it sounds Maguindanaoan, in particular). The result is a real "psychedelic trip", which is probably the reason why this track has become my favorite in the album. The Indian-Mindanaoan fusion is also the formula for the arrangement of another song, "Heya", which is also characterized by an odd 7/8 beat in its stanzas. Another song whose arrangement really caught my fancy is the title track, "Comet's Tail". The strings and the synths in the song really gives sense to the feeling of a comet travelling through the vast outer space. There are also two short instrumental pieces in the album: "Knowings", an acoustic guitar duet between Cynthia and Sancho, and "Sayaw Ni Sita", which should have been made longer because it was cut quite abruptly when it was just getting going.

In terms of lyrical content, my favorites are the songs that coincidentally had the minimal instrumentation. First is "Dragonfly", a mostly piano-accompanied piece with the most catchy melody in the whole album. I like the play of words in the song's chorus "all for this / all for these / all for this / All for This / very tender moment / all for this very trembling". I also liked the lyrics of the last track, "Emptyhanded", which is accompanied solely by an acoustic guitar. The lyrics, which talks about our emptyhanded state when we come to and go from this world, are lifted from the Bhagavad Gita - said to be the jewel of India's spiritual wisdom. The words take on special meaning, considering that the album is dedicated to the memory of Cynthia's father.

However, Comet's Tail has one weakness compared to Cynthia's previous albums. Most of the tracks here lack the melodic hook of her previous songs. The album would certainly be appreciated by people like me who has been exposed already to Cynthia's style of music, but in my opinion, Rippingyarns would still be a better sampler for someone who is just getting into Cynthia's music.

I have been blessed once again with an opportunity to be exposed to another excellent album from a truly remarkable Filipino artist. Comet's Tail, just like the other albums of Cynthia Alexander, is a real gem in the OPM scene. Sadly, there are only a few people like me who gets exposed to such quality music from our local musicians, as pop trash and mindless novelty songs still continue to dominate the airwaves. How I wish that Cynthia and his fellow "Conspirators", who have long been offering a better alternative, would finally be given a chance to shine and to change the landscape of Philippine music.

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Comet's Tail and Rippingyarns, Cynthia Alexander's independently produced albums, are currently sold for P450 each at Conspiracy Garden Cafe: #59 Visayas Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City.

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