Clouds: We Are Above You

[7 August 2008]

By Andrew Martin

Things have been going rather well for Clouds. The Boston natives are signed to Hydra Head, one of the premier metal labels in the country and boasting a roster of Jesu, Torche, Boris, and many others. Oh, speaking of Torche and Boris, Clouds hit the road with them this summer after Wolves in the Throne Room pulled out of the lineup. And that last minute decision could not have come at a better time, as Clouds recently released their follow-up to 2007’s Legendary Demo. As evidenced by their live show, however, these Beantowners get lost in their inability to find solid ground. As they wade through hardcore, stoner-rock, and metal on We Are Above You, it all makes for a disjointed listen.

Before moving on, I would like to provide full disclosure: I love what Clouds are reaching for on here. I have always been drawn to early hardcore as well as heavy, riff-laden rock. But what happens on here is simply too vague, too frequently rambling.

Yet, upon hearing Clouds’ indecisive genre-bouncing material, there is a hint of sincerity found in their meandering. It’s clear to anyone that they’ve been heavily influenced by the Melvins, who are known for not exactly sticking to a tried-and-true sound, somehting evident on their latest, Nude With Boots, which sounds like a classic rock record more than anything else. Besides the music comparisons, frontman and guitarist Adam McGrath—who shares vocal duties with guitarist Jim Carroll and bassist Johnny Northrup—sounds like head Melvin Buzz Osborne at times.

But some of Clouds’ songs are just too sloppy for their own good. Oddly enough, “Bad Seat” is a strikingly catchy track at first listen. As it goes on, however, it seems to fall apart on itself. The jangling piano is a nice touch, but the scrambling guitars and vocals don’t play well off one another. The riff toward the end also sounds like a straight jack of Green Day’s “Hitchin’ a Ride”; and that goes double for the acoustic reprise at the end of “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. Then there’s “Motion of the Ocean”, an amalgam of straight-up punk and riff-driven rock that could be something greater with more focus. The only exception to the rule is opener “Empires in Basements”, though it’s still not perfect.

When the band gets centered, though, these guys can craft some damn fine tracks that remain as gritty as the others. “Heisenberg Says”, clocking in at one-minute and 39-seconds, is a quick ass-kicker that truly comes to life in a live setting. Equally rushed is “Horrification”, a borderline grindcore track that nearly falls apart at the end, but thankfully doesn’t. “Slow Day” is one of their best, simply because of its steady pace that never hits the band’s fork-in-the-road mentality. It also acts as a great contrast to the two aforementioned tracks. Like “Slow Day”, the ballad-esque “Glass House Rocks” is grounded and entertaining.

But Clouds’ inconsistency makes We Are Above You a tough album to go back to. Instead, you find yourself yearning to hear songs like “Slow Day” or “Horrification” while skipping over the others. And besides it being filled with hits and misses, this album suffers from severely grating mixing. The vocals tend to get drowned out by the over-driven bass, and it makes you reach for Tylenol rather than the repeat button. Like any decent album, however, this is a testament to the fact that these guys have something truly great brewing inside of them. Whether or not it gets translated to an album is up to Clouds.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/clouds-we-are-above-you/