A Liminal Review: Hold Everything Dear by Cindytalk (September 23rd, 2011)

Cindytalk - Hold Everything Dear
The power of emotion, or rather, the desire of an artist to articulate and communicate emotion to her or his audience, is a key motivating factor in the creation of music, popular or experimental. From singer-songwriters laying their souls bare in their lyrics to snarling metal vocalists via the minor chords and soft-to-loud progressions of mop-haired post-rockers, the desire to express one’s sadness, joy, love or anger holds sway even over political messages and evocative story-songs.Cindytalk have long been the perfect example, in the manner of Swans or Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, of an act that has forced unfettered, uncensored emotions to tumble onto the ears and hearts of its audience, creating intensely affecting music for the best part of 30 years now. In the eighties, the music of Cindytalk, at the time a full band, was the sort of oppressively dark and paranoid Goth that had made Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees so successful, and they were for a while closely associated with 4AD stars Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil. But cross-dressing frontman Gordon Sharp’s possessed bark and the general slovenly atmosphere of bleak desolation that hung over albums like Camouflage Heart was too much even for the era’s Goths, and Cindytalk have been forced to eke out a living in the unending shadows, beloved of a lucky few who were keenly attuned to the raw emotion Sharp and co. have continuously displayed, despite constant changes in personnel and styles. The feelings inherent to the music of Cindytalk cast a terrible spell, so much so that nearly everything Sharp does under the moniker is essential listening, albeit occasionally harrowing.A lot has changed for Sharp since those early days at the Batcave. Cindytalk is now very much a solo effort, at least on record. Hold Everything Dear (Editions Mego) is the third edition in a trio of albums that are far removed from the cavernous Goth of Camouflage Heart, with Sharp eschewing conventional instrumentation in exchange for laptop-driven electronics and field recordings. If The Crackle of My Soul and Up Here In The Clouds demonstrated that this new direction was a valid and heartfelt one for Sharp to take, Hold Everything Dear elevates Cindytalk to new heights of emotional purity, and it is easily one of the most instantly affecting and emotionally resonant albums you will hear all year. It’s all the more remarkable given that, as some have noted already, the tools used by Sharp are not anything especially new in the world of electro-acoustic music. Some of the minimal tones evoke post-Eno ambience, whilst the use of dense electronics is oh-so-very Mego. With an emphasis on mournful piano on several tracks, it almost feels at times like Michael Nyman’s sitting in on a Fenn O’Berg session, which is no bad thing, but doesn’t help a poor old journo like me identify what makes Hold Everything Dear so powerful.

And so I come back to emotion (and yes, I’m afraid the word’s going to be something of a leitmotiv, if you hadn’t already guessed as much!). The Nyman comparison is actually unjust, for there is a starkness to Sharp’s quiet piano that echoes the sparse ambient masterpiece by Steve D’Agostino, John Foxx and Steve Jansen, A Secret Life, on which bleak piano was offset by rumbling tam-tams and disquieting electronic drifts; and a similar strain of understated discordance runs through Cindytalk’s work. As on A Secret Life, electronics, drones and random effects bleed into one another, creating dense, impenetrable waves of sound that build up slowly, almost imperceptibly, before washing over the listener like a torrent. Hold Everything Dear was recorded over the course of five years by Sharp, in collaboration with longtime musical ally Matt Kinnison, who tragically passed away last year. As such, the melancholy ambience of the album is imbued with a strong sense of loss and sadness. Found sounds of playing children, passing vehicles and daily life dissolve into oceanic walls of compressed digital noise, as tinkling bells, wind chimes, tentative synth lines and distant piano notes seem to herald the passing of souls into the next life. There is something deeply spiritual about these impassive drones, perhaps an echo of the buddhist traditions of Japan, where much of the album was recorded.

But where Jansen, Foxx and D’Agostino were content to linger over the empty passages and reverberating silences on A Silent Life, you get the palpable sense that Gordon Sharp has retained enough of his refusenik, Gothic spirit to rail, albeit elusively, at the disparate forces and elements that he’s channeled into his work. Perhaps the album’s high-water mark (most of the tracks seem to ease fitfully into one another, a dense sequencing that only adds to the album’s potency and is barely elevated by the brief piano/drone snippets that are tracks 2, 5, 8 and 11) is ‘Hanging In The Air’, in which a cloud of electronic drone is punctuated by staccato bursts of indefinable noise, somewhere between a cash dispenser releasing money and a burst of machine gun fire. Meanwhile, Sharp’s unintelligible vocalisations are subsumed into the sonic tapestry, a strangled whisper of humanity amid so much digital fug. The overarching sensation is one of acute anger, of brittle frustrations and deep sadness bubbling to the surface before being subsumed by some unidentified mass. Hold Everything Dear may be seated on a familiar timeline, but in Sharp’s fitful attempts at what appears to be rage or protest, it suddenly becomes so much more.

In a post-digital, post-noise world, Hold Everything Dear stands as a troubling, affecting expression of all the inchoate, intangible emotions that make up the erratic reality of the human condition. The titles of the first and last tracks say it all: ‘How Soon Now…’ ‘…Until We Disappear’. In a subtle paradox, Sharp has taken a musical means that can often seem artificial and dehumanising, and made it almost unbearably heartfelt. Life, love, death and loss jostle for space in the troubled roils and sudden explosions of this album; Gordon Sharp stares at all those emotions, embraces them, and serves them up for our contemplation. As a result, Hold Everything Dear is one of the most beautiful albums you’ll ever hear. But it won’t be an easy ride.

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