A battle of the bands is about to take place. Not live in a little club somewhere; this battle will take place in the iTunes arena. In the race to be the next big thing, The Cloud Room is about to give Bloc Party and The Dears a run for their money.
The Cloud Room's debut in only just out this month, but for the past few months the hype around their live shows, boosted by gigs at SXSW and at some smartly chosen magazine parties, has kept them consistently on the radar here in New York. They've even self-selected their first hit single, "Hey Now Now", a song mentioned in nearly every review or interview with the band and featured prominently on their website. Though they may be a little late out of the gate, they have every chance to outstrip Bloc Party's early lead.
"Hey Now Now" isn't the band's only good track, either. At Rothko, they showed off other potential follow-up hits, including the garage-y "Blackout!" with Benjamin Nugent's chipper keyboards and singer J's punchy refrain that just begs for a sing along. The band has a cheerful, relaxed stage presence that doesn't fall in for the posturing of The Dears, even when songs like "Waterfall" and "We Sleep in the Ocean" skirt the edges of melodrama. These tracks are almost epics, but not quite. More like epic mini-series.
J (yep, he doesn't even go by one name, just one letter) sings like someone who spent his teenage years with U2 and his college years with the Strokes. His voice is too good for that smoke and mirrors, filter and radio-hiss that Julian Casablancas hides behind. But he seems to struggle with his talent, as if he'd prefer the rock 'n' roll authenticity of a Lou Reed or Iggy Pop rasp to his own pristine pipes.
The band's set is brief and energetic, never giving them a chance to lose momentum. Their last song, predictably, is "Hey Now Now", ushering a surge of recognition from the filled room. The song has everything you could want in a single: great opening hook, a memorable chorus, easy to swallow lyrics. What more could you want?
It's not yet who will win the "next big thing race" this year, joining the hall of fame alongside the Strokes, Interpol, and Franz Ferdinand. Whether its Bloc Party or the Cloud Room or some dark horse candidate, nobody can say. It remains to be seen which of these bands goes down in history as 2005's Beatles and which as Gerry and the Pacemakers.
In a recent public appearance at Columbia University, the young author Jonathan Safran Foer talked about the difference between novels that are perfect and novels that are difficult, ambitious, and willing to show their seams. The first are easy to like but quickly forgotten and the second are often shocking or at first off-putting but ultimately stay with you forever. "Hey Now Now" is perfect, and it has a good chance of being on everyone's iPods throughout the summer, but I'm not so sure that it will survive through the fall.
There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.
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