Woodlawn Miscellany

The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart

Posts tagged Cloud Cult

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Best Birthday Present Ever…

I recently passed one of those milestone birthdays and, much to my chagrin, my old DC crew was hell bent on commemorating it. I was adamant they would do no such thing. 

We had our annual spring weekend in New Orleans this year, far enough after my actual birthday that I thought I’d safely dodged their good cheer. Mercifully, they made little noise about it until Saturday afternoon, when they told me they’d gotten me a gift.

But not just any gift…

Fans of this blog and those who know me are aware of the fact that one of my favorite bands in the world is Cloud Cult. If you’re not familiar with the band, you need to know that whenever they do a concert they have two artists who paint canvases during the show. At the end, they auction off the paintings. It’s an amazing visual complement to the audio experience, and it’s part of what makes every Cloud Cult show a unique and memorable event.

Anyway, as my friends snooped around for a gift, they stumbled across the Cloud Cult website and noticed that the artists are available for commissions. Unbeknownst to me, they contacted one of the artists, Scott West, and arranged for him to create a painting based on any concept I had in mind. 

They told me this as we sat around a bar with a balmy New Orleans breeze wafting through the open windows. Then they looked at me and asked if I had any idea what concept I’d want him to paint for me.

All at once, it hit me…

I’ve got a novel manuscript that’s right now looking for a home with publishers. Why not give Scott the manuscript, have him read it, and create a painting based on whatever ideas it brings to mind? When I told the crew my plan, they were speechless. They knew they’d gotten me a great gift, but I think in that moment it struck them just how amazing it was.

Later that next week, when I proposed the manuscript-based painting to Scott West, he loved the idea. He told me he’d always had a narrative element in his work and this should play right to that strength. 

While Cloud Cult did a west coast tour swing last week, Scott read the manuscript. This week, he’s going to work up some concept sketches. If he agrees, I’ll share some of them here. 

It was an amazing present. Unexpected and incredibly thoughtful. Old friends really do know us best.

Filed under Cloud Cult Scott West Birthday present Fiction Novel The Last Good Halloween Art Painting

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Album Review: Love by Cloud Cult

Caution: This blog post is a conflict of interest. You wouldn’t ask the pope for an unbiased opinion on canonical doctrine. And you can’t expect me to give a fair review to a Cloud Cult album. 

Being objective about Cloud Cult’s music is nearly impossible because listening to them isn’t so much an activity as a way of seeing the world. Being a fan of their music means stripping away the layers of cynicism and negativity we accumulate like armor. 

The new album, Love, is available now for pre-release at the group’s website, and will be available in wide release March 5. Unlike their last album, Light Chasers, which followed the narrative arc of a couple’s relationship through various trials, the songs on this new album are not as tightly linked. Their subject matter deals largely with struggle, loss, and the possibility of achieving grace by overcoming them. The approach to these subjects on Love is more oblique than on earlier albums such as Feel Good Ghosts. Thematic differences aside, the songs on Love still have that classic Cloud Cult sound: haunting strings; tender vocals; small beginnings and slow, majestic swells that lead to triumphant finales. Which is a slightly longish way of saying, the songs on the new album are great.

The standouts on Love are the hard driving “Complicated Creation” which fits neatly into the group’s self-helpy, don’t-let-life-get-you-down wheelhouse. The largely instrumental “All the Things We Couldn’t See” is a rousing knee-slapper that won’t fail to get you wound up by the conclusion. Easily the top song on the album, though, is “Meet Me Where You’re Going” which was originally written as a wedding present for some friends of songwriter Craig Minowa. Listening to it is a simple, legal way of feeling a lot better about life. 

I’m not making any promises here. I’ll be the first to admit you may not buy into what Cloud Cult is selling. Their music and lyrics have a tendency to stray into the saccharine and ocassionally into the didactic. I realize that’s not to everyone’s taste. If you give them an honest listen and decide they’re not for you, I wouldn’t hold that against you. But sometimes a band comes along at the right time and catches you defenseless, helpless against its charms. That’s what Cloud Cult did to me.

Let me illustrate this strange power the group has. This past summer, Cloud Cult did two shows on consecutive nights in Chicago. The first one was at Lincoln Hall, the cozy little club where they usually play when they’re in town. The next night’s show — an outdoor concert at Pritzker Pavilion — was free. It was a hot and sultry evening and it took a while for both the band and the crowd to get into the show. There was a lot of picnic eating and wine sipping, which inevitably causes a show to lack the kind of intimacy we’d come to expect from their indoor concerts. It seemed, too, like the band hadn’t quite adjusted to the open space and ambient noise. For about an hour, it seemed like both crowd and band would somehow miss each other — asymptotic lines that would never quite intersect. Then, on the last song of the set, something happened. It started the way any mass movement starts: with someone being unafraid to stand up and look foolish. In this case, it was a hippie-looking guy with gnarly dreadlocks. He got up in the middle of Prizker pavilion and began dancing around, let’s just say, interpretively. A moment later, some fratboy-looking guy in a Jets jersey got up and started dancing, too mostly, it seemed, to make fun of the hippie dancing guy. At that point, though, the seal was broken. People all over the pavilion got up. They started dancing, most of them badly, but they didn’t care. And as the song built, there seemed to be an energy coming off the crowd, we were all standing and dancing and surprised to be doing it. It was as if we’d been hypnotized — fooled into being less-cynical, more awesome versions of ourselves. 

That’s what happens when you listen to Cloud Cult. That’s why I should not be reviewing their album. As exhibit A of my biasedness, you could point out that I’ve just written an entire “album review” and I’ve hardly written about the actual album. Guilty as charged. I have no defense. You shouldn’t trust me. Not at all.

In that case, don’t listen to this album. You’ll hate it.

Filed under Cloud Cult Music Review Album Review Love Feel Good Ghosts Light Chasers Pritzker Pavilion Craig Minowa Music

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A Novel Soundtrack (Pt. 2): The Last Good Halloween

Like any list, there’s always stuff you end up leaving out. In fact, just as I was putting the finishing touches on this post I realized I hadn’t included any Cloud Cult, which, if you know me, is a huge oversight. Regardless, I’m going to stick with the list I originally came up with. So..

Here’s Part 2 of my novel soundtrack. 

9. 5 Years Time, Noah and the Whale

10. Last Stop: This Town, Eels

11. There Will Be No Divorce, The Mountain Goats

12. Weighty Ghost, Wintersleep

13. Birdhouse in Your Soul, They Might Be Giants

14. Welcome Home, Radical Face

15. Mighty Little Man, Steve Burns

16. P.S. You Rock My World, Eels

Filed under Novel Soundtrack Novel fiction writing writing process music Noah and the Whale Eels The Mountain Goats Wintersleep They Might Be Giants Radical Face Steve Burns Cloud Cult The Last Good Halloween

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