Sunday, November 9, 2008

Review: Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (* * * *)

If there's a word I use too often when I do reviews, it's "unique." Some of it stems from the fact that my music knowledge isn't as deep as perhaps it should be, and I suppose that occasionally it's just lazy writing, but I'd like to think that there are actually quite a few truly "unique" artists out there making music to which it is difficult to draw comparisons.

The problem with my overuse of the word becomes apparent when I run into an artist or band who leave me without any idea of how to accurately describe their music. Cloud Cult is one such band. The group, led by Craig Minowa, might best fit in the electronica-folk-indie-chamber-pop-rock genre, though I'm not sure if anyone else does (Polyphonic Spree, maybe?). That won't really give you an idea of what goes on through the 13 tracks of Cloud Cult's latest album, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-partying Through Tornadoes). It's a genre-mashing set of songs that is at once weird, wonderful, inspiring, exciting, and strange.

Opener "No One Said It Would Be Easy" kicks things off with an arpeggiated piano line over synthesized bleeps and bloops before the acoustic guitar and drums take over to support lyrics about man's search for meaning in life. Eventually it all comes together in a tremendous, noisy climax; a Cloud Cult specialty. "Everybody Here Is A Cloud" continues a similar musical and lyrical theme before the album's first truly weird moment. "The Tornado Lessons" begins with an intense, minor-key intro featuring organ and electric guitar, and ends with Minowa rapping, the band shouting, and somebody's singing sped up so fast it makes the Chipmunks sound tame in comparison. It's over-the-top and borders on silly (also a Cloud Cult specialty), but insanely catchy and fun. Elsewhere, the band explore more organic (and relatively normal) sounds, such as on the orchestral folk tune "Journey Of The Featherless" and the gentle, acoustic "The Ghost Inside Our House."

Much of Feel Good Ghosts forgoes typical songwriting for a variety of unique (yes, I mean it) structures. The fantastic "Hurricane And Fire Survival Guide" starts with a long instrumental introduction that eventually explodes into a danceable electronica vocal chorus. "Love You All' is simply one line repeated as the music slowly climaxes and subsides. Minowa often keeps the lyrics simple and few, though he's certainly capable of telling a story or creating a character, as on "Story Of The Grandson Of Jesus."

Your ability to digest the often bizarre lyrics is what will ultimately determine your ability to enjoy Feel Good Ghosts. The writing is open and honest, though occasionally walks (or crosses) the line between clever and just plain odd. Lyrics like "I've had enough of hiding underneath my covers, I'm done with all of that poop that brings me down" or "you have a precious little mind, you paint a perfect little rainbow" might derail a song sung by anyone but Minowa, who always sounds completely sincere. Even "Love You All" which repeats "I love my mother, I love my father, when it's my time to go, just want you to know, love you all" somehow comes across as heartbreaking rather than silly.

Cloud Cult is a remarkable band who have made guessed it, unique album just as full of melodic hooks as mind-blowing experimentation. It's sure to end up at the top of several lists at year's end, but I imagine it will also find it's way to the bottom of others. Feel Good Ghosts will be both loved (by me, anyway) and hated, though I doubt anyone will find it boring.

Favorite Tracks: "No One Said It Would Be Easy," "Journey Of The Featherless," "Hurricane and Fire Survival Guide"

Apparently, Wikipedia has three songs available for download