Cindy Lee - Model Express - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Cindy Lee - Model Express

by Tim Sentz Rating:9 Release Date:2018-11-09
Cindy Lee - Model Express
Cindy Lee - Model Express

Eight years ago, the world became deprived of one of the most promising experimental post-punk bands in recent memory. The onstage implosion between brothers Patrick and Matt Flegel ended the brief life of Women, a Canadian quartet that favored Bauhaus-speckled drone over catchy rhythms. The demise of the band after two masterpiece level records was tragic, and from there they split and ventured down opposite paths. Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace went onto form the modestly successful Preoccupations (formerly Viet Cong). Since 2013 they’ve churned out 3 records and a cassette that ranges from Talking Heads-inspired art pop to Joy Division-flecked post-punk.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum is Pat Flegel, the lead singer of Women, who drifted from the public eye after the break-up. They dabbled in a brief solo project called Androgynous Mind that eventually – after the passing of Women guitarist Chris Reimer in 2012, manifested into Cindy Lee – dressing in drag and tapping into classic 60s pop but drowning it in drone and lo-fi.  A far cry from what their brother was doing, Cindy Lee became a new kind of rock star entirely - an anti-hero of post-punk if you will.

Model Express is essentially two separate entities. At forty minutes in length, Side A is the experimental side of Flegel shining through, whereas Side B takes a more pop approach. Flegel’s always had a penchant for Beach Boys-esque harmonies, similar to how Noah Lennox approaches his Panda Bear project, just steeped much longer in the lo-fi and dripping with drone in more spots. Flegel changes things up a bit here, introducing synths more prominently than ever before, like on the title track it feels like we’re transported to a John Carpenter film – maybe Escape From New York or Assault on Precinct 13 – before the traditional Women guitars are introduced. It’s the kind of track you’d expect from early Deerhunter, pre-Cryptograms, and it circles in and out of the noise while Flegel hangs in the back.

Speaking of Deerhunter, earlier this year Cindy Lee joined Deerhunter on stage along with Animal Collective for an improvisation after opening for them earlier that evening. Over the years, Bradford Cox has been championing both Cindy Lee and Preoccupations, trying to get them noticed. It worked for Preoccupations, but Flegel’s approach to music is difficult for some to handle, plus they’ve removed themselves almost entirely from the internet – a lone Geocities page stands as the most up to date information on the project, but no social media accounts can be found. It’s this kind of exclusivity that has created a small cult following for Cindy Lee.

What’s fascinating about all of this is that the quality of Cindy Lee material hasn’t dipped at all, it’s only improved over time. Their first full-length Malenkost was far more experimental, but as Acts of Tenderness gets going you realize just how much pop is embedded in it, and now with Model Express there’s moments of daring experimentation, but also legitimately structured songs. These songs could soundtrack an old movie – they’re dreamy, ghost-like, and gorgeous. The second half of Model Express is some of the most elegantly positioned pop songs – including a cover of the 1927 classic “Are You Lonesome Tonight.” Only Flegel could pull something off like this, and while it seems very stuck in time, it has a charm to it that you won’t find anywhere else. The alternate version of Tenderness highlight “What I Need” on Side A takes a new approach with synths added in, elsewhere “Burning Candle” feels like a float trip down a waterfall in slow-motion. Since Flegel keeps an almost-Burial like approach to privacy, it’s hard to know who is doing what on Model Express, such as the additional vocals on “Left Hand Path” which balances out Flegel’s falsetto, harmonizing beautifully.

Model Express is meant as just a compilation, it was released in June as just a limited-edition cassette only release, and randomly popped up on streaming services this month. With the exception of “What I Need,” all of the material is unreleased until now. Model Express has the unique trait of feeling like a complete thought, a full statement, rather than just randomly assembled singles as you’d find on a bigger artists compilation. Instead, Model Express feels like an album and flows like one. It’s one of the most thrilling releases of the year, even at the tail end of 2018, it’s astounding that we can still be shocked at something as wholesome as Model Express. Flegel will likely fly under the radar for a bit more, intentionally I’m sure, but with each release their quality increases, making anticipation for the next album intense.

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