Take me down to the Uncanny Valley: Cindy’s lost album I’m Cindy is a zeitgeist-defining project (out now via World Of Paint).
We’re big fans of Cindy here at Highclouds. One of the most ambitious musical projects we have come across recently, the Cindy experience is layered and multidisciplinary, mixing up music, real-life film, and animation. To put it shortly: Cindy Savalas is a character created by Palmbonen II mastermind Kai Hugo and brought into the flesh by the singer and actress Blue LoLan. The character was first brought into the picture in a song off Palmbomen II’s self-titled album, released in 2015. Since then, Cindy has been explored in myriad ways, finally leading to a full album detailing her backstory. We recently had the chance to have a chat with Hugo and go through the birth and gestation of the project, their new record, and what the future might hold for them.
In an age where the predominant trend in music is to wear your heart in your sleeve, it is refreshing to see someone coming up with a character and fully fleshing it out through different media. There is a coolness to Cindy, but that doesn’t necessarily imply detachment or impersonality. In fact, it might be argued that the very coolness that lures you in with its uncanny valley aesthetics is what opens the door to the heart of the project.
This is perfectly exemplified in Cindy’s new album, aptly titled I´m Cindy. Conjured up as Cindy Savalas’s lost album, the record is a mostly synthetic affair, every track boasting coatings of synths blanketing your ears. Cindy’s vocals, on the other hand, are everything but cold. She is basically whispering into your ear throughout the entire album, giving an eerie, contradictory feeling – think Twin Peaks but every scene, including the soppy ones, is happening in the Black Lodge. It’s like being personally lured by a cult leader, except that she also happens to be an otherworldly entity. Cindy is a human, but she’s not. Both our awareness of this paradox and the project’s playful, metanarrative acceptance of it (see the video for “Justin” as a prime example) mould our listening experience. Yes, we’re in on the joke. And we’re also in on the fact that, though this liminal reality might not be believable, it speaks to us.
Though the dream-pop and shoegaze influences are easily distinguishable, any sense of candidness produced by the vocals is instantly chaffed by the hypnotic, almost psychedelic loops that make up for most of the melodies in the record. Take lead single “Never Let Me Go“, which effectively consists of the same line sung over and over again. When speaking to Hugo, he made a point of the effectiveness of repetition: “We actually scrapped a lot of material for this album. For instance, I had written full verses for “Never Let Me Go”, but in the end I decided to keep it as it is on the record.”
Even the songs with a more conventional structure rely heavily on repetition, from the “I Will not let you down” mantra of “Justin” to the aloof “I remember how much fun we had” of “2y & 6m.” Both sides of the album, the more experimental and the song-based, have more than enough going for them to be equally admired. However, it must be said that the one peak of I’m Cindy is precisely its most openly heartfelt, and, shall we say, human moment. Built around the prettiest synthesiser line you can think of, acting both as hook and stepping stone, “I Love You” sees Cindy going as full out pop as she ever has. If there ever is a Cindy film, this is the song that will be used in its emotional peak, its glittery synths and breathy vocals instantly evoking the most intense moments of romance.
And to be fair, evocation is Cindy’s middle name at this point. There is a strong visual component to this music – hear it and watch the music videos playing in your mind; watch the videos without the sound on and Cindy’s vocals will start popping up in your head. Hugo and Blue LoLan are filmmaker and actor as much as they are producer and singer. And Cindy is, well, the brainchild of the two. “There is something of both of us in Cindy”, says Hugo when asked whether this project is a sort of impersonal outlet of emotions. “Blue definitely did an amazing job quite literally bringing Cindy into the flesh, but there’s also parts of me in her.”
The videos that accompany the album are bound to pique your interest as much as the music, if not more. When asked about the possibility of expanding the Cindy universe with more videos, Hugo understandably gets giddy. The combination of film and 3D animation results in an unsettling yet impossibly alluring end product, very much like the peak of survival horror videogames and their wonderful exploitation of the uncanny valley.
Hugo, who funnily enough does not play videogames, is happy to acknowledge this influence in his visual style, and opens the door to more Cindy material, whether animated or not. We even speculate on the idea of having a Cindy show without Cindy herself. “We actually did this for a bit,” Hugo recalls. “We had a show booked in Russia and Blue couldn’t get her passport sorted in time, so I asked her to record herself doing the songs and then we projected it onto a screen. And it worked, the audience seemed to be really getting into it.” Of course, this has happened in the past with bands like Kraftwerk or Gorillaz, or with the infamous dead celebrity hologram performances that big festivals seem keen on implementing.
It’s a particularly alluring approach, even more so that now that live band shows seem far from happening in the near future. Cindy is, after all, about the intermingling of the weird and the real, and about our ways of reacting, confronting, and, ultimately, embracing the paradox. Now that our experiencing of the world has been seismically altered, Cindy might unintentionally become one of the zeitgeist-capturing projects we will look fondly on in the future.