While the majority of members from celebrated Canadian indie darlings Women went on to the similarly hued and well-reviewed Preoccupations (or Viet Cong if you’re nasty) frontman Patrick Flegel has taken his own tack with Cindy Lee. Though the band shares a name with Flegel’s drag persona, the project doesn’t lean towards the grandiloquent notions or dance inducing vibes that the pairing might suggest. Instead Cindy Lee’s Act of Tenderness is a crumbling, thrumming, incandescent and, at times, transcendent vision of pop. The songs are buried under a layer of noise that, while not impenetrable, certainly acts as a gatekeeper to Flegel’s fragile delivery and self-reflection.
Natural comparisons fall on similarly veiled artists like Grouper, Motion Sickness of Time Travel or Sleep – Over, and as with those groups, when the gauze is ripped and their pop does slip through it can feel particularly satisfying after dodging the haze for a clear view. This moment comes at about the halfway mark for Cindy Lee, with “Operation” throwing the veneer of noise to the ground like a discarded shawl for one clear moment in the sun. Though, it’s not to be a lasting moment, almost as if Flegel’s character catches the audience looking and draws the curtains as we ease into the disjointed twang of “Quit Doing Me Wrong”.
There are a few other peeks into clarity, particularly the enchanting lilt of “Wandering and Solitude,” but what Cindy Lee manages to accomplish is a push and pull of letting the audience near and thrusting them back again. Flegel’s album is beautiful in its embrace of ugliness. He’s found a way to examine those moments when we all want the world to see our best selves and those when we’re paralyzed by seeing only the worst. At times the record feels like a trip colliding through funhouse mirrors – disorienting in its clattertrap saunter. By the end of the album’s journey, Cindy Lee does not fully emerge from the dark, but there’s a sense that some peace was made along the way. Growth is sometimes as satisfying as grandeur.
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