Posts tagged music
Posts tagged music
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.
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
As my manuscript wends its way through the twists and turns of the publication process, I’ve been toying with something I’ve always wanted to do: create a novel soundtrack. It’s one of those projects that starts small and should realistically take an hour at most, but then I got completely geeked-up over it and it’s ended up consuming way more time than is reasonable.
I was attempting to come up with a set of songs that’re thematically or tonally tied to the story (duh), but I also wanted to get a mix of somewhat obvious choices with somewhat more obscure ones.
Here’s the first half of what I’ve come up with:
1. Unsatisfied, The Replacements
2. This Year, The Mountain Goats
3. I Hear Noises, Tegan & Sara
4. Young Adult Friction, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
5. Afraid of Everyone, The National
6. Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues, Eels
7. The Recognition Scene, The Mountain Goats
8. Mi Fido Di Te, Jovanotti
(Part 2 will be coming shortly.)
Listening to Titus Andronicus’ 2010 album The Monitor, it’s hard not to be struck by the seemingly out-of-place, old-timey quotes that frame some of the songs. You don’t have to listen to the album that closely to know the quotes are all plucked from various Civil War-era leaders.
One in particular, from the first song on the album “A More Perfect Union,” jumped out at me. After a quick search, I discovered that it was a slightly abridged excerpt from what is known as Abraham Lincoln’s Lyceum Address — a speech he gave when he was 28 years old, shortly after he’d to Springfield, IL. Here is the quote in its unabridgd form:
At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?—Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!—All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in the military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.
At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.
As I pondered what on earth a quote like this is doing on a contemporary Punk Rock album, I began to realize the glorious earth-shattering genius of it. These times we are living in — these factionalized, tribalized, extreme times — often feel like our own Civil War. Obviously, the issues of that era are vastly different than today’s and in many ways are beyond comparison, but still… there is the hint of suicidal madness in the political discourse of these past few years.
In particular, I’m struck by the bolded portion of the quote, “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher… [W]e must live through all time, or die by suicide.” It seems to me you’d have a hard time finding a more perfect description of what is happening in our country today. As proof of this, one need look no further than the recent debt ceiling game of chicken that took us to the brink of default and still managed to tank a good many retirement nest eggs. These feel like the convulsions of a sick nation.
Unfortunately, there’s no “good news” in this post. I don’t have any answers or prescriptions for these ills. I can say that we are lucky to have someone as president who seems uniquely suited to dealing with these circumstances, whose calm hand might be the only thing that can steer us through these fraught times. So I do take some comfort from that. And I can also say if you want to listen to an album that seems to chronicle these times with a unique and visceral clarity, you’d do well to pick up Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor.