Some of the greatest music I have heard comes from the DIY (do it yourself) underground. The DIY spirit dates back (at least) to the mid-'70s, when the music industry had become a bloated beast. Kids in garages could never hope to be Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, so they just bashed it out. While the music of Cloud Cult has very little to do with that of the Ramones or Sex Pistols, the motivations are certainly similar. Do it yourself, or die trying.
Cloud Cult are an eight-piece "experimental chamber rock band from the Midwest," as their press release describes them. "Experimental chamber rock" is a fascinating term, and one I could never have made up myself. Yet it works to describe the13 songs that comprise their new album Love. Among other ingredients, the tracks boast horns and strings along with your typical rock and roll instruments.
One undeniably impressive fact about this group is the fact that they have been at it now for 15 years. Love is their ninth record, and (again according to them), they have sold north of 100,000 albums over the years. Those are impressive numbers in anyone's book.
The lyrical concerns of the songs on Love are very "positive," (for lack of a better word). Take the opening track, "You're the Only Thing In Your Way" which is an exhortation for people to follow their dreams. Even though they have sold 100,000 albums, and released nine recordings, I must confess that I had never heard of this group before Love. Yet with one listen to "You're the Only Thing In Your Way" I completely "got" the "experimental chamber rock" tag, and it makes perfect sense.
There is actually quite a bit of variety on this album. My first thought was that the songs may just be rock tunes "gussied-up" with horns and strings, but there is much more to the band that that. What intrigued me the most were the "treated" (sounding) vocals on a song like "The Calling." It almost sounds as if vocalist Craig Minowa is singing from outer space, and this effect adds a trippy element to many of the tunes.
Minowa is the leader of Cloud Cult, and his interests extend far beyond the band. There is a very strong environmentalist streak in him, which seems part and parcel with the music. The DIY record label and studio are both called "Earthology." Minowa calls Earthology one of the first "green" labels to come into existence. They also proudly proclaim that part of the studio is solar powered, which is pretty cool.
"Good Friend," "It's Your Decision," and "It Takes A Lot" are three more highlights of the album for me. Each of these songs feature great music, with some very thought-provoking lyrics behind them. Cloud Cult kick off a two month tour in Boston on April 10 to promote Love. I suggest checking them out if they come to your hometown. Extrapolating from what I hear on this album, I imagine they would be an excellent band to see live.