February 06, 2003

Cynthia Dall "Sound Restores All Men"

Many artists deliver promises of greatness that, for whatever reason, they never follow up on. There's nothing more upsetting than that artist who makes a great record and then never makes another record. Is it better to make one perfect album than to release an entire discography of crap? It's a tough call. Cynthia Dall's talent has certainly been missed. She was an early member of Smog, and delivered some really beautiful, moody moments, most notibly "Renee Died 3:45." She left Smog and released a self-titled record under the name of "Untitled." That was six years ago, and since then--nothing. Though the delay was certainly annoying for those of us who loved Untitled, Sound Restores Young Men is certainly worth the wait.

Luckily, Dall corrected Untitled's greatest flaw--that those whispery, dark atmospheric moments were momentarily beautiful, but ultimatly nondescript. Instead of those airy moments, Sound Restores Young Men is the sound of an artist growing in strength, building upon the best aspects of her previous work, and creating an album that's about as far away from her debut as the years between them. She's still dark and her music's disturbingly confessional, and that's all that matters. That she does it without sounding utterly whiny about it certainly lifts her above the smog. Listen to "I Play With Boys" a few times in the dark and try not to feel small and unimportant.

For the most part, Sound Restores Young Men sounds like a band record, as opposed to the vision of just one person and a bunch of sidemen. (Kudos are due to Slappy O'Rourke for his contributions, as minimal as they are). Dall's innocent, child-like singing (reminiscent of Tanya Donnelly, truth be told) fits the dark, brooding music, producing a yin-yang like record that leads you into its lair and slays you with its kisses. Spider-rock, perhaps, but let's not be too daft. Songs like "Extreme Cold" and "Be Safe With Me" remind you of why winter's so painful, and sets a torch underneath other artists like Tori Amos, simply because they're not the ramblings "poetics" of a pseudo-everything yawn bore me again art chick. Thank god she didn't put in a lyric sheet; I have a feeling these songs wouldn't hold up to the scrutiny/oh look at me I'm in pain interpretations that always come around when dealing with such..hard..music.

Is Cynthia Dall an unrecognized genius, a master musician who chooses to make breathtakingly beautiful and disturbing music with no concern or regard for recognition? All signs point to yes. Once again, Drag City has released a record that you've probably not heard about that's better than most of the things you do hear about.

Sound Restores Young Men restores this young man's faith in the ability for good music to exist. In this world of fake voices and even faker pain and suffering, it's good to know that someone actually has an understanding of the power of the verse. That she shares her skills with us ever so infrequently should be an honor that we lesser mortals should thank her for.

--Joseph Kyle

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