[5 March 2014]
New York rock music has been suffering a real scarcity of rock’n’ roll’s desired components. Assets like attitude, enigmatism, and sexiness have seemingly been shunned by today’s masses, forever championing the neutered and trendy. Clouder, with its proto-punk fierceness and dark airs, is the antidote. On sophomore release Sister Raygun, the band dares to tow the fine line between rock purity and parody with the other foot firmly planted on the right side throughout the album’s sprightly 30-minute run time.
The sense of danger and intrigue permeating the band starts with seeing Clouder live. At a recent show that saw support from likewise impressive acts Veda Rays and Suicide Dolls, the anticipation for Clouder was pervasive. Those in the crowd who chose to pump their fists throughout the band’s set were doing so with genuine affection. Clouder’s urgency in a live setting has translated so well to Sister Raygun that, like Homer Simpson when listening to Grand Funk Railroad, you may want to nod your head “yes” to every beat. Be rest assured though, Clouder ain’t Grand Funk Railroad. Sister Raygun is bare knuckled, break neck speedy, and leaves you wanting like a fiend. Opener “Dancing in the Proving Grounds” sideswipes the listener and the sting doesn’t abate until four songs later, when rhythms slow down for the glammy drama of “The Ballad of Sister Raygun”.
The first few tracks on Sister Raygun showcase Clouder’s strange formula, a synergy where goth theatrics meets power-pop spirit and something close to glam results. On top of this, many songs takes rock ‘n’ roll tropes and distills them down to nothing but their go-go (or, in some cases, glitter) boots. There are even hints of surf rock riffage on “Lost in Reverie”, but these are tempered by lead singer Eric Gilstrap’s cavernous voice. “Lady Retrograde” has a start-stop riff heard in so many power-pop songs, but here it propels a super punchy melody from Gilstrap and quits by a run time short enough to make you wish it were twice as long. “All The Royal Years are Gone” is a waiting in the wings song that sounds a bit like the Replacements if Paul Westerberg had gone through a goth phase. This is the best possible tweaking the overdone Replacements-revival formula could have asked for.
There is no denying Clouder is a musically tight outfit, but the star of Sister Raygun remains Gilstrap. Also of the darkwave outfit Spirit System, his more shadowy sensibilities really make the Clouder formula explode. When he sings, “And when you take me home I dream of castles” on “Lost in Reverie”, he makes the line sound like a threat rather than a fancy. In “The Ballad of Sister Raygun”, the verses are delivered in shrugging talk-singing, making Gilstrap’s move to balladeer belting in the chorus a liftoff for the song’s enchantments.
To give Gilstrap’s band mates their due props, the ‘60’s-inspired rock of “Phantom Girl” resists sounding like a retread thanks to musical toughness. Yet the group can also go softer, as evidenced on “Western Wastelands”, an almost indie pop-sounding tune. Gilstrap sings in a higher register on this. It’s not his strong point, but Max Goransson’s tight bassline and the slightly-too-ramshakle-to-be-chiming guitars of Steve Spinella and Matt Revie keep the song from feeling too out of place on this release.
By sidestepping current scenes and trends, Clouder has released an album that will hopefully outlast the buzz surrounding lesser acts and will ring louder than the complaints of those who feel New York has lost all of its edge. If a ray of light could swagger, then the beams radiating from Sister Raygun surely would.