Cynthia Dall

Sound Restores Young Men

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Ever since contributing the song "Renee Died" to Smog's Burning Kingdom EP, Cynthia Dall has been known for music that is equally beautiful and terrifying, disturbing and strangely sympathetic. On her further Smog collaborations and her debut album, Untitled, she staked out a distinctive territory among indie rock's female singer/songwriters: not as chaotic as Cat Power, not as theatrical as Mary Timony, and not as self-deprecating as Lisa Germano, Dall's prickly insights into relationships and dreamy, disturbing soundscapes made her music unique. For quite a while it seemed that Untitled would be Dall's only album, though every few years rumors about her recording would crop up. Six years later, Sound Restores Young Men arrives, and not much has changed -- Dall's music is just as eerie and resolutely individual as ever. The album's hypnotic guitars, echoing pianos, and her fragile, frosty voice sound as familiar and remote as before, particularly on the spare, spooky ballad "God Made You" and the shimmering, hesitantly hopeful "Nest of Dead Children." As before, Dall's music is distinctly paradoxical; more often than not, the songs with the grimmest titles are actually the prettiest and most uplifting, and every moment that suggests warmth is undercut by the distant, icy prettiness of Dall's vocals. Songs like "Be Safe With Me" and "Extreme Cold" make the most of this dichotomy, giving them an uncomfortable -- and fleeting -- intimacy. The main difference between Untitled and Sound Restores Young Men is the latter's cleaner, bigger, more professional sound; Untitled sounded more like a labor of love, but this album is smoother and less jarring, which sets Dall's voice and lyrics into even sharper contrast -- she delivers lines like "You have made a profession out friendship" and "Why can't I feel tears as they fall?" so gently that their impact isn't felt until much later. Even though Sound Restores Young Men's production is cleaner, it still features the kind of noisy, angular songs that made Untitled such a bleak, but ultimately rewarding listen; "Zero," "Not One," and "Boys and Girls" are hazy and unsettling, the musical equivalent of a half-remembered nightmare. Fortunately, Dall ends the album with two relatively upbeat tracks, "I'm Not Tempted" and "Snakeblood and Vodka," but Sound Restores Young Men is so dense and haunting that it might be a good thing that she only releases albums every six years.

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