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Dreaming of Another World December 21, 2010

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Herein lies entry #4 in my random list of Favorite Albums of 2010.

Cloud Cult – Light Chasers

Strip away Arcade Fire’s bombast, self-importance, and the calculated “anarchy” of their live shows, add in a palpable feeling of optimism and euphoria (even when their lyrics are dealing with melancholy and loss), and you’ve got Cloud Cult.  A true indie band – singer/guitarist Craig Minowa started his own label in rural Minnesota in order to release their music in an environmentally-friendly way – Cloud Cult continues to hover just on the cusp of greatness with this, their seventh album.

Light Chasers is their most ambitious work yet, a song cycle purportedly about “an astronaut’s journey from liftoff to landing” (or so says AllMusic Guide).  Cloud Cult’s own website describes it as an album about the search for answers, so, yes, there’s definitely a whiff of pretension hovering over the proceedings.  But here’s the thing: their melodies are so fucking beautiful and uplifting that it’s one of those rare albums where you come away feeling like you just experienced something important.

Across 16 songs (some fully formed, the others shorter sketches), the band does what it does best, mixing guitars, strings, brass, and electronics with Minowa’s delicate tenor to create songs that are both ornate and majestic. One of the most entertaining things about the band is how they make this particular quality work within the strictures of conventional rock music (in the “Unexplainable Stories” clip, watch how the song kicks into high gear at 3:25).  It’s fun, inspiring stuff, and it’s driving me bonkers that the closest they’re coming to my neck of the woods in support of this album is freaking Memphis. Disappointing, Cloud Cult.

Here are two songs from the album, recorded live at Seattle’s KEXP.  The first is “Unexplainable Stories,” the second is the gorgeous “There’s So Much Energy in Us.”

*****

Current listening:

Lilys – Precollection (2003)

Gonna Get Along Without You Now April 15, 2010

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I’m sort of surprised at how irritated I am not to be attending this year’s Coachella Festival.  It’s been a yearly tradition of mine for the last decade, and I vividly remembering walking on the grass last year on the first day of the fest, just after the gates opened, passing a pretzel/churro/frozen lemonade stand near the Coachella Stage, and saying, “Ah, it doesn’t matter how far away I am next year.  I’ll be here for sure.”

Then budget cuts in Georgia caused furlough days at my university, cutting into my income by a couple hundred dollars a month.  Then my not insubstantial student loans kicked in in January.  Then I was worried that the state’s budget crisis was going to cost me my job altogether.  Then, even when my job appeared secure, there was (and still is) the chance that I’ll lose one or both of my summer classes due to low enrollment.  And by the time I might have been able to eke out enough spare change for the trip, the festival was so close that flights were well over $500.  Oh, and my students have a major project due on Monday, which I really can’t afford to miss.

A perfect storm of bullshit circumstances interrupted my yearly three-day respite from work and stress, but even so, I wasn’t expecting to take it so hard.  Yeah, I was disappointed in January when I saw the lineup and first had the sinking feeling that the trip wouldn’t be possible.  But I’ve been in a pissy mood all week, and it can be traced directly to my non-attendance this year.

But, because if there’s one thing I’m known for, it’s my relentless, creepy positivity, I’m not going to let it get me down.  In the spirit of celebrating what the festival’s all about, here’s a small sample of the photos I took last year.  Enjoy.

Los Campesinos!

White Lies

Fire snake

Tesla coils

Cloud Cult

Bob Mould

Henry Rollins

Band of Horses

No Age

The Gaslight Anthem

Lykke Li

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

So, I’m not there this year.  But I’ve already starting saving my pennies for next year.  And, if all else fails, I could easily be talked into harvesting an organ.

*****

Current listening:

Sennen – Age of Denial (2010)

Song of the Day (4/12/10) April 12, 2010

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Cloud Cult is easily one of the best kept secrets in music.  They sort of remain willfully small-scale, recording their music on singer Craig Minowa’s organic farm in rural Minnesota, and releasing the subsequent albums on Minowa’s Earthology records, using only recycled materials in the process.   Oh, and all profits are donated to environmental charities.  Their music, however, is widescreen bliss – soaring, anthemic melodies shot through with a bittersweet undercurrent (due in no small part on their early songs to the 2002 death of Minowa’s two-year-old son).   They’re great on record, but live they’re even better, performing their panoramic epics accompanied by two visual artists (one of whom is Minowa’s wife) who complete paintings during the band’s set, which are then auctioned off following the show. Simply put, Cloud Cult is everything that’s currently right with music.

The first video is a promotional clip for their song “Chemicals Collide.”  The second is their song “No Said it Would Be Easy,” performed at 2009’s Coachella Festival (probably my favorite set of the weekend).   Enjoy.