CYNTHIA DALL (1971-2012)

I'm shocked & saddened to hear of Cynthia Dall's sudden & unexpected death, at home in Sacramento last week. As renown for her transgressive photography (showcased in Lisa Suckdog's peerless Rollerderby magazine) as her sporadic recordings (her most recent, Sound Restores Young Men, was released back in 2002), Cindy's tenure as a member of Bill Callahan's Smog culminated in what, for me, is still his finest album, 1995's Wild Love. Later that year, when Smog stopped off at Nottingham on their first international tour, I was spellbound by Cindy's luminous presence & quietly intense performance. It's an evening I've never forgotten.

Cindy's debut solo LP, 1996's Untitled, was recorded with Callahan & Jim O'Rourke & perfectly complimented the better known Wild Love. A short suite of stark low-fi confessionals, it's desolate beauty is truly haunting, & I urge you to seek it out if you've not already heard it.


GROUPER : Grouper (2005) / He Knows (2006)

Interesting live shows have been few & far between here recently, but Grouper's performance at Nottingham's "naturally resonant" Contemporary gallery last weekend was definitely worth leaving the house for...

Steered by Portland, OR's elfin Liz Harris, Grouper operates in shadowy alcoves that might, until a few years ago, have been defined as "dark ambient", though her work effortlessly eludes all of the gauche clich├ęs any mention of that conceited genre now tends to evoke. On Saturday evening, employing just a couple of dictaphones, a handful of boxed effects, & a small mixing desk, her thoughtful, meditative transitions (derived largely from heavily processed organ loops & rural field recordings I believe) fleetingly brought to mind the Arcadian drift of Eno's Ambient 4: On Land, though her tenebrous atmospheres were even more crepuscular, the vapourous hiss of her fogbound synths suggesting, at times, an intangible pastoral evil, or a chimeric journey beyond the mirror. Grouper's recent releases have found her experimenting with embryonic acoustic song structures - haunting semi-folk melodies immersed in a sunless brume of reverb & delay, overwhelmed by oblivion. Her outstanding Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill album is the finest example of this spectral methodology thus far, & is probably the best point of entry for anybody unfamiliar with her work. Her entrancing Nottingham performance, Violet Replacement, recalled the foreboding, overcast dreamscapes of her earliest & most abstract work, all of which is now frustratingly out of print (as is, already, Violet Replacement itself).

Her tour support, the hitherto unknown (to me) Diamond Catalog, were somewhat less convincing: two shadowy figures (yawn) huddled around a laptop in furtive conversation, tentatively prodding an alien piece of software at apparent random & with little obvious idea of what direction it might be leading them. Their music - an annoying sonic bricolage of rasping basement yatter & clumping techno beats - & their persistent fiddling with the otic palette (some form of laptop-engendered ADD no doubt), merely irritated. Not dismal exactly, just ill conceived & curiously unengaging.

So, I'm posting two of Grouper's earliest releases - her eponymous 2005 debut, & the following year's He Knows EP. The former, a slightly reticent self-released CDr, reminds me of both Zoviet France & Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (i.e. not bad for a first attempt!). It's 8 tracks, like the disc itself, were all originally unnamed, but were subsequently attributed titles by The Wire's David Keenan, on his Volcanic Tongue mail order site. The latter, another limited edition CDr, was released the following year on Collective Jyrk (r.i.p.) &, though quite short, is a personal favourite.