D é N O U E M E N T S

Send Off Notes: Cynthia Alexander

Tonight Cynthia Alexander is playing at her home. As part of her Send Off Series, Malou Matute, Cj Wasu and Jonathan Zuniga Urbano join the great Miss Alexander in Conspiracy Bar, the place she has been playing almost regularly all these years. But tonight it is for the last time before she leaves for good at the end of the month.

It is certain that at this hour people are cramped in that no smoking, haven for artists venue where familiar faces I have seen sing along to her songs are carrying both heavy and hopeful heart for the musician. Fans charmed by Miss Alexander’s songs, fans who know those songs line by line have taken the freedom of owning the meanings on their own. One comment in her fan page about her recent gig in 19 East rings true to most us, “I remember catching your gig every Thursday at Survival Cafe 12 years ago. Your songs got me through tough times and heartaches.” Pretty much that statement sums up what made her music special to all of us.

“Owner of the Sky” by Cynthia Alexander

Seeing her for the first time way back 2003 in Rakista gig was a shining memory among my friends and I in our university years. That was the first time we heard Miss Alexander sing songs from Insomnia & other Lullabies and Rippingyarns. Hers were records that we memorized from start to finish, from side A to the last track in Side B and with stories winded on some of them. That night, I gave her a bookmark I made with lyrics of “Owner of the Sky,” the ninth track off of Rippingyarns. After that, we tried as much as we could to catch her on her gigs until the time we had to leave school and get our way into the world. Last I have seen of Miss Alexander was on her live recording session in 19East for her live release.

The news about Miss Alexander leaving the Philippines for Washington started buzzing few weeks ago and was confirmed when on her fan page she posted about the Send Off Series she would be staging as farewell concert to her friends and fans. Surely my friends know about this and probably they are now at her concert this very moment. Probably, they are celebrating Miss Alexander’s possible success in another land yet mourning for a pending loss happening in contemporary Filipino music. Her music has been the emblem of triumph for Filipino independent music praised by music critics and worshiped by us. Her leaving could be personal or a professional one, and I cannot blame her. Some of my friends have left the country, too, for opportunities and that includes me. It is just colossal this one, it is Cynthia Alexander and it felt like my country is about to lose the greatest independent artist of my time.

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Incendiary: “Anti-Art” by Leopard Smoke

Describe your band hyper-prolific and you get attention. Proving that your band deserve that attention is all another ballgame. But the claim Leopard Smoke made in its bio is nothing close to hogwash self-importance. Head over the group’s Bandcamp page and you are overwhelmed with how much material Felix and Roy, as Leopard Smoke, have produced. This New York avant-garde folk duo sounds sophisticated and trippy at the same time, balancing acoustic guitar qualities shadowed by lo-fi smothering.  For their “fourth, sixth or eleventh depending on how you look at it” record Infinite Lush, the act squandered inspiration from all over New York probably after ampling up Central Park gigs that surmounted the 14 tracks that make up the record.

Infinite Lush carries one of my favorite tracks this early time of the year, “Anti-Art.” Shying away from three-minute mark, the song is audaciously frank in its mockery of a so-called struggling artist persona. With its tousled guitars (sounding battered and almost weary as its hero) and almost-squealing vocal work, “Anti-Art” can be translated as Leopard Smoke’s homage to their peers, to independent musicians who are ‘looking for an audience.’  That can be another way of looking at it as some of the lyrics refer to a visual kind with lines like ‘no one wants to understand your master plan, your doodling.’ Either way, the song is self-explanatory but the truth in it rings the most noteworthy. Written for people who create music, installations, or maybe even films, the song dissects the dilemma of being an author of any kind of creation.

What would classify an amateur from being an artist? Do we use the term “artist” so much these days that we have rubbed off the integrity of the word? Moreso, what is art? Reading too much? Maybe.

Leopard Smoke in the end asks, “it’s not 1922, what’s so special about you?”

You get the drift.

Bandlinks: Bandcamp. Blog. Facebook.

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Incendiary: “In Your Nature” by Zola Jesus

“If it’s in your nature, you’ll never win,” threatens Nika Roza Danilova.

Zola Jesus’s return hinted a year-long visibility for the goth-sketched singer, starting with “Vessels” and the best guest vocals of the year in M83′s Intro. And of course because of Conatus— a Latin word that describes a creation’s continued pursuit to strive, to fully realize its purpose and eventually its demise. In her latest record, most of the tracks are intended for serious gestation, hidden for immediate accessibility and pleading for time and reflection. It does not help that Zola Jesus thunders in her rounded, throaty vocals cloaking the lyrics of the  songs. One stand out and can be considered as Conatus‘s tower is “In Your Nature,” a fatalistic look at a person’s inability to adapt change that spells doom to another person’s Moira and later himself.

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Incendiary: The Drift’s “Luminous Friend”

The back story is rather a somber one and it hovers throughout the track in its six minutes scale.  Last January, The Drift‘s trumpet player Jeff Jacobs passed away due to cancer. Before that, he had blessed the band to continue on with the music and send the band back to the studio writing Blue Hour. The catalyst of the record might have known the course of the future for the band, that in honor of his memory is a reflective, haunting piece of work that take hold of listeners in a very intimate affair.

The cover of Blue Hour is beyond words, it enclaves more of feelings. Knowing the history of the record and listening to the track “Luminous Friend” is a commitment only the reckless would try to put into words. The track is a haunting downplay of restrained layers of guitars and ubiquitous drumming, whirring off from each band member’s recollection. It is a separate journey lending yourself to ‘Luminous Friend,” like walking through thick, sheer of clouds from a dream that leaves some bittersweet morning after realizations.

“Luminous Friend” is not fated for a random shuffle in our daily mix of personal hymns. It is made of stories, of reverence to another person in another place, lent only for us to peer in. This might not be our story and we might not get the whole picture, but it tells one singular feeling all of us can relate to.

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Incendiary: St. Vincent’s “Champagne Year”

Incendiary- a song that may/ may not change your life but will surely make you feel warm, fuzzy inside as you rock the rest of the days.

Annie Clark finds it necessary to use a moniker to impersonal, filtrate or conceal herself in guise of St. Vincent however in that case, St. Vincent (or Annie Clark) has built enough abstractions that are too hard to get through. Self-portraits on her album covers might have been a give away but not. Blank stare of those wide-stark eyes are enough to say that she is a character that would say things that most of us wanting to hear by not speaking of them. Intriguing and complex, St. Vincent surpasses her contemporaries without trying. No outlandish grandeur of Florence Welch, discontented rich-girl heaviness of Lykke Li or alter ego gimmickry of Gaga. Not a grain of it. While Marry Me and Actor are congenial and accessible (by the standards of her own work) Strange Mercy takes us to darker, experimental lands of discordance and suppression, of an experience raged about by her riffs and stuttering. I spent the last week going through Strange Mercy, on a train, over beer or as I took my walks; and one song towers over the others in a very spectral yet lovely sort of way.

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