On the 1996 Drag City LP Untitled -- a cryptically packaged Dall album that didn't feature her name anywhere on the cover -- the singer was joined by Smog's Bill Callahan and Gastr del Sol's Jim O'Rourke in molding intensely personal and vaguely disturbing chamber rock. The enigmatic effort was greeted by a fair amount of critical acclaim and much record-buyer befuddlement, after which Dall vanished into the ether.
Six years later, we have the second Cynthia Dall album, Sound Restores Young Men. Recorded at S.F.'s Louder Studios by the Fucking Champs' Tim Green, the full-length supposedly was finished a couple of years ago, languishing in purgatory for unexplained reasons. Whatever machinations brought the record into being, Dall succeeded in pulling together a lovely, hypnotic album.
At 12 tracks and 50 minutes, Sound Restores Young Men feels more fully realized than the near-EP Untitled. The LP's friendlier and less jarring, droning along like the Velvet Underground and Brian Eno backing some freaky folk chanteuse. Over her and her brother's methodically strummed guitars, Dall scatters echoey pianos, cathedrallike keyboards, and the occasional drum machine.
Throughout Sound Restores Dall airily warbles her journal-entry observations on boy/girl relationships, playground bullies, and other heart-rending concerns. On the pensive love song "God Made You" Dall wonders, "Why can't I feel tears as they fall?" On "The Party" she serves up such brutal bons mots as "When you talk about her I feel as if I'd been in her myself" and "You have made a profession out of friendship." And on "Wastebasket Kid II," some poor little girl with grape gum stuck in her hair gets her bike stolen, and there are some mean-looking boys on the horizon.
Without a lyric sheet, many of Dall's whispered words are buried and indecipherable -- which is a shame, since the lyrics that do surface prove she has something to say. But Dall's rapturous vocals are exemplary as an instrument in their own right; besides, no one ever knew what the heck the Cocteau Twins were singing about either.