Drawings from the Outer Realm
& Peculiar Video Game Music Reviews
It seems an age ago now that I happened upon the majestic beauty of Cynthia Dall’s debut ‘Untitled.’ My love for this mysterious record accelerated further once I got past the intriguing cover of a Chinese concubine floating above an accumulation of clouds and smoke; flowers descending from a basket held by her delicate hand. I immersed myself in the shy-like distress of its lo-fi framework. I felt that Cynthia Dall lived by her music effortlessly, in the sense that she genuinely was it. She wasn’t going out of her way to prove something, she wasn’t a trained musician or singer but felt the need to do something in this life. Her nonchalant eeriness was indeed her persona, her disposition. Her music and song writing playfully makes me question myself. Makes me question my shame and guilt whereby I can laugh at myself. This underlying disengagement with all that is conventional is empowering. Cynthia seemed fiercely independent to me, relying on a close knit group of friends and cohorts for inspiration, guidance or to simply lend and share creativity. This is why she spoke to me, and undoubtedly a few others.
“I Lie on the Bed - I Check to see if You’re Dead”
Cynthia Dall was born March 12th 1971 in Roseville, California but grew up in the state capital Sacramento. In the early ’90s she gained popularity and notoriety for her far-out, sexually subversive photography in Lisa Carver’s fanzine Rollerderby. This radical feminist zine featured Lisa Carver’s writings, thoughts and interviews with alternative eccentrics including Courtney Love, Vaginal Davis, Boyd Rice, GG Allin as well as Cynthia Dall. Satirical cartoons, sexual drawings and dialogue all poke fun at this so-called confusing existence. Thought-provoking and grotesque cover shots included Cynthia poised upon a bed moments after shooting a lover’s brains out entitled My First Orgasm. Another featured her beaten and bruised in a spoof of the Halston advertisement of 1991 which originally starred a nude Cindy Crawford. Finally, a total gross-out image sees Dall in a pool of blood, her legs spread and what can only be perceived as a cone wrapped in an American flag atop her bleeding vagina.
The back image to the Royal Trux 1993 UK 12” ‘Dogs of Love’ features Cynthia looking rather voluptuous as a sailors prostitute. Her recording career also started in the early ’90s lending her guitar playing and voice to her then boyfriend Bill Callahan under the alias of Smog. She contributed to a B-side track titled ‘Wine Stained Lips’ a flipside to the 7” single ‘A Hit’ Cynthia also collaborated and guested on many a Smog record including the EP ‘Burning Kingdom’ and LPs ‘Wild Love’ and ‘The Doctor Came at Dawn’ Just listen to the haunting vocal dynamics between Cynthia and Bill Callahan on ‘Lize’ or the savage ascending guitar abrasions on ‘Sleepy Joe’ and ‘Prince Alone in the Studio’ A tour with Smog subsequently followed across the U.S. and Europe in 1995. Also that year she provided vocals to a remixed version of ‘Torture Day’ by German indie-rock band The Notwist.
“Through Make-Up - I Was Faithfull”
Her experience and newly found confidence following this exposure saw the release of the cult record ‘Untitled.’ And untitled is exactly what it was. Her name was purposely omitted from the sleeve. Released on Drag City in the U.S. and Domino in the UK, later pressings were given a sticker to assist people with understanding its magnificence and beguiling sleeve design. ‘Cindy Dall’ as she was sometimes referred as, to me represents a contradiction to the unspoiled and virginal Sindy Doll of the 1960s, therefore thwarting all disillusions Cynthia may have had with herself. The record featured engineering work by Jim O’ Rourke and vocals by Smog.
The record itself is unusual, stark and sparse. The listener is drenched in disdain; its abstract foundation slowly breaking up, in the hope of catching up with Cynthia’s lyrics of unease and disbandment. A particular favourite track of mine is ‘Bright Night’ in which a violent sea of guitar distortion enwraps the listener in despair. A cello sways, the piano keys pedal gently and abruptly in equal measure. Its crescendo spirals high and intensifies before allowing the hazy and lethargic drumloops to reappear. Cynthia’s vocals come forth like an apparition among the rich waves of sensuous cacophony, overlapping like velvet. Being ever so young, I would listen to this track on repeat, lifting the needle once again to hear my own sorrow play through Cynthia’s music. We can find comfort in its agitation and anxiety.
01. Christmas (California) 02. Berlin, 1945 03. Lion Becomes Dragon 04. Holland 05. Bright Night 06. For Tiara 07. Grey And Castles 08. Aaron Matthew 09. Krutitzuh Viertitzuh
Cynthia then became quiet. You’d be forgiven for assuming she became a recluse and a somewhat reluctant artist. This is admirable however, why should an artist conform, especially when coming from the underground.
Cynthia Dall’s second record ‘Sound Restores Young Men’ appeared in 2002. Recorded and engineered by Jim O’Rourke and Tim Green (of fellow Drag City indie-rockers The Fucking Champs.) Her follow up is more focused, its song structures being fully formed albeit not lacking her sympathic yet harrowing wry wit.
Sound Restores Young Men
01. Be Safe With Me 02. God Made You 03. Extreme Cold 04. Zero 05. I Played With Boys 06. The Party 07. Not One 08. Wastebasket Kid II 09. Nest of Dead Children 10. Boys And Girls 11. I’m Not Tempted 12. Snakeblood & Vodka
Cynthia remained ever quiet since the aforementioned release. She was committed to achieving her degree in philosophy, mathematics and Near Eastern studies at UC Berkeley. She regularly contacted Drag City to inform them of what she was up to and to chat about music, plans and matters in general. She was recently enthused by recording new demos for a new record.
I’ve no idea how to sum up my thoughts on the passing of Cynthia. Drag City said it best: “Goodbye Cynthia – we’ll carry your love and joy and sorrow with us until we too are gone”
(12th March 1971 – 5th April 2012)