Review Summary: Cindy Lee tries to have the best of both worlds, to middling results.
Plenty of lo-fi acts that have made the decision to go in a poppier direction, especially recently it seems. While people just a few decades ago would have been less inviting of a move like this, pop experimentation is met with very little resistance these days. In fact, some bands even find not just commercial success, but also critical success that they may not have received before their transition. I’ll fully admit that I’m one of those stubborn few that are skeptical of any band moving into the realm of pop. But in the case of Cindy Lee (Patrick Flegel), I seemed a bit more lenient (at least at first). I guess the reason was because theirs was more of a gradual progression from lo-fi noise rockers to noise pop troupe to hypnagogic/dream pop project. It didn’t feel too out of place.
But with so many artists/bands going this particular route in such a short amount of time, I can’t help but feel like so many of these bands just go this route not to expand their sound, but as a fast-track to coverage by tastemakers and good reviews by music fans. However irrational that idea may be (and make no mistake, I have no basis for thinking this is the case), I can’t help but find traces of that thought process float around in my brain when listening to What's Tonight to Eternity.
For one, it’s easily Cindy Lee’s most pop-forward record to date. The production is cleaner and the instrumentation is tighter on What's Tonight to Eternity, at least compared to past Cindy Lee releases. Which, for some, might be exactly what Flegel needed to pull off this new change in style. But it falls short, constantly sounding too sterile for the music they're trying to make here. Take “One Second to Toe the Line” for example, a strange, Black Keys-esque blues rocker coated in a layer of lo-fi pop gloss. That lo-fi sound may work for their early experimental rock work, but here, it’s extraneous at best. It doesn’t help that almost every song has that gritty filter pasted on top of it. If Cindy Lee intend to become an underground pop outfit, they might have to shed their old identity.
There’s also a fairly big issue when it comes to the ‘pop’ side of Cindy Lee’s new sound, in that they don’t seem to be committed to it. What I mean is, for all the changes What's Tonight to Eternity makes, Cindy Lee never feel comfortable making the switch entirely. That ‘gradual progression’ I talked about earlier may have been more of a detriment than I thought, because for every poppy hook this album has, there seems to be a string of experimental flourishes to accompany it. “I Want You to Suffer,” probably my favorite track on the album, does this in a more noticeable way. The 7-minute long dream pop tune starts off fairly standard but is then interrupted by a wall of noise. On tracks like this especially, Cindy Lee seem to want to keep holding onto the tricks that defined their music in the past.
The sad truth is that Patrick Flegel cannot have it all. At least without it coming off as them not ready to let go of their roots. Which should be a good thing, right? Since when is an artist/band bringing elements of their old sound into their new sound a bad thing? Hell, I myself praise bands that do that all the time. But what separates those from What's Tonight to Eternity is that Cindy Lee’s version of it seems to be less a spectrum of influence and more of a segregated list to check off. Maybe it’s to ease people into this new sound, maybe it’s because they want to keep their trademark lo-fi stylings despite the changes they’ve made. Whatever the reason, What's Tonight to Eternity ends up sounding too divided for its own good.