[17 April 2008]
Classifying bands into “indie” genres these days gives me a headache. Let’s be honest, there is even a genre called electroacoustic. How precious can this categorizing get, I ask you? Music is music and creating a cool new label/genre to individualize a band is self-indulgent and limiting to the creation at hand. Yet, there are still some bands around that anxiously defy pigeonholing and develop albums that, although they may not be perfect, are expansive and fearless. Cloud Cult are helmed by the inspired Craig Minowa and have released their eighth album, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornados), continuing in their unpredictable, expressive, and innovative tradition.
Cloud Cult began as singer/songwriter Craig Minowa’s solo efforts and then evolved into a seven-member family that includes two artists who paint during live shows. With cellos, violins, and a child’s wonderland of electronic gadgets, Cloud Cult present a lengthy list of entertainments, but underneath it all there is something raw and private that drives this band of minstrels. With albums revolving around the death of Minowa’s son in 2002, previous themes have delved into emotional releasing about love and loss. Paralleling this album’s title, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes), thematically, Minowa is looking upwards and has literally “…had enough of hiding underneath my covers. I’m sick of all this poop that brings me down, down, down”.
The launch of their newest album is electrifying and musically celebrates this theme of rebirth: “You came up from the ground…from a million little pieces. Now you’re a pretty human being”. With a sweeping piano and electronic opening, the song crescendos even further into drums and guitar and then explodes into an Arcade Fire-like anthem. As the album continues, there is an overall sense of an appreciation for just simply “breathing” and Minowa comments frequently on a greater presence. Against lush classical arrangements, he states, “When the angels come ... they’ll find a heart-shaped locket with an old photograph of you in Daddy’s arms. Then they’ll sew you closed and give you back to the water, from where we’re all born”. True to the title, Cloud Cult may be forced to endure their share of emotional disasters, yet they’ve come out smiling and seal the album with the eloquent line, “And when it’s time to go, I want you to know, I love you all”.
Lyrics aside, the album is explorative and although the tracks don’t necessarily run flush with each other, Minowa maintains a quiet cohesiveness throughout. Cloud Cult explore with so many sounds and genres, it’s hard to classify one as “off” because technically each one is in a world of its own. The opener “No One Said It Would Be Easy” may not compositionally represent what follows on the rest of the record, but it does make way for a grandiose entrance. For the charming pop fans, “The Ghost Inside Our House” is an excellent track and is actually one of my favorite on the album. And for the closet soundtrack fanatic, “When Water Comes to Life” presents a score that is worthy of the big screens. With dramatic strings opening, a solo violin takes over and shepherds the composition into lush layers that are, quite simply, gorgeous. Yet, third track “The Tornado Lessons” has the hardest time fitting it. With peculiar Y.A.C.H.T.-esque beats and vocals, the guitar and sounds hit too hard and lose all of the grace that was commanded so effortlessly in previous tracks.
With the release of this album, the group has planned an American tour from March through May and will take a break from performing afterwards. With a performance that incorporates videos, live painters creating on stage, and a mosaic of musical originality, this is one group that every listener who appreciates live experiential performances should not miss. And if not to support their music, Cloud Cult are one of the pioneering “Green Bands” in recent independent rock and have been promoting and utilizing this lifestyle for the past ten years. They have planted thousands of trees, educate fans at concerts on how to counteract their own carbon tracks, and all of their products are 100% post-consumer recycled. Supporting this band goes a long way: it supports a good cause and it supports a strong musical act that continually explores and delivers.