“This is a song that is totally new to our live set…all these guys got together… last week and gathered around the Christmas tree and this is one of the songs we pounded out to figure out the live arrangement of it.”
It’s an easy image to conjure up. The members of folk-rockers Cloud Cult, tucked inside as snow comes down and instruments ring out. The chiming backgrounds and smooth harmonies are becoming to the cozy setting. The Southern Theatre isn’t as intimate, but it still serves Unplug well. This massive live album is brimming with beauty and occasional corniness, with the grandest songs surpassing their studio counterparts.
Craig Minowa has always spearheaded Cloud Cut and he continuous his strong presence here. Even in the indie-folk world, where having a voice like Robin Pecknold is common, Minowa’s vocals work in strange ways. His high tenor has gravel at the edges and after long stretches of harsh vocal turns you can hear Minowa’s voice crack and falter. It never takes away from his performance, though. On the excellent “Chemicals Collide” Minowa’s voice takes on a rougher tone as the rest of the band’s harmonies swoop in. It gives the section a raw, but not unpleasing feeling. It’s actually a welcome move as the rest of the album can be too reliant on simply pleasant melodies. The piano chords of “Responsible” are straight out of a hymnal and the constant repetition of the guitar line in “You Were Born” becomes tiring.
Thankfully, even over 17 tracks, Cloud Cult make the most basic of melodies pop with ornamentation. “Breakfast with My Shadow” is centered around a plain banjo line, but the addition of violins and sparkling harmonies makes the track blossom. Similarly, “Ghost in Our House” is built on harmonies that blanket the song in reverence that seems to come from a religious experience. “Step Forward” builds with grace and power and instrumental interlude “Light at the End of the Tunnel” is a wondrous composition. Unplug shines when Cloud Cult burst into anthems. One of Cloud Cult’s biggest songs, “Running with the Wolves” sounds like a lost song from Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack with Minowa recounting thrilling adventures away from the urban sprawl. “Chemicals Collide” completely explodes at the halfway mark making it irresistible. Finally, the closing duo “Complicated Creation” and “No One Said it would be Easy” show off the rougher side of Cloud Cult’s folk musings. Both ring with energy and focused ferocity and “Complicated Creation” in particular bounces with a dark edge. “Can’t know beauty if you don’t know pain!” the band yells.
Despite the length, Unplug isn’t a demanding album. Most of these songs are easy to swallow and can be placed as background music. But with deeper listens Cloud Cult reveal more passion. No, it doesn’t demand much, but it does quietly ask you to think. Skip over the cheesier tracks and head off into the woods for the best listening experience. Just try not to feel something while among nature when the crescendo of “Chemicals Collide” or “Complicated Creation” kicks in.
// Notes from the Road
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