A SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE Cloud Cult

 

Soaking
in the rhythms of birth and renewal, the beloved indie rockers’ latest album
shifts towards newness while retaining a satisfying familiarity.

 

BY ANNAMARYA SCACCIA

 

A little over two years have elapsed since Cloud Cult
entered 2008’s Feel Good Ghosts
(Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)
into the ecumenical musical library, and
almost a year since they’ve performed live. This may not seem like a mammoth
deal in the grand scheme of things but, when it comes to a band that’s released
nearly an album per year since unleashing their official debut, Who Killed Puck?, in 2001, and has hit
the pavement roughly non-stop for six, you can’t help but wonder what’s up.

 

“We had a baby and moved the Earthology farm to [Viroqua, Wisconsin],”
says Craig Minowa.

 

The outfit’s lead singer and chief architect is, of course, referring
to the October 2009 birth of his second child, Nova, with Cloud Cult’s visual
artist Connie Minowa, and the relocation of their small, organic homestead,
which houses their not-for-profit environmental organization, Earthology,
established in 1999. He publicized the pregnancy during the chamber-pop
collective’s stint at the 2009 Coachella festival, with the eight-piece – now
comprising the Minowas, Arlen Peiffer (drums), Sarah Young (cello), Shannon
Frid (violin), Shawn Neary (bass/trombone), Sarah Elhardt (keyboard/French
horn) and Scott West (visual artist/trumpet) – touring close to Connie’s due
date. After welcoming their new youngster to the family last fall, Cloud Cult
took a reprieve from the road, affording Craig time to focus on what is now
their eight studio full-length, Light
Chasers,
which arrived earlier this month on their Earthology imprint,
Earthology Records (over the two years, Cloud Cult released a full-length DVD
on the band, No One Said It Would Be Easy and reissued 2003’s They Live on the Sun and 2004’s Aurora Borealis as a double-disc in
December 2009).

 

Written through
both the childbearing and early childrearing stages, Light Chasers signals a notable
shift from anatomizing life’s master plan and coping with grief – the unforeseen
2002 death of the Minowa’s two-year-old son Kaidin informed both They Live on the Sun and Aurora Borealis – to chronicling the
voyage of embracing new life while, as Craig puts it, “keeping close attention
on those that are chasing the light as the deceased.” There were countless
nights, admits Craig, when he composed while pacing in the dark, trying to soothe
their baby to sleep, and other times, he mentally pieced arrangements together because
his studio access was limited during the move. “In having a new baby and a
second chance at being parents, there was a lot of inner work going on during
the pregnancy, and I’ve always used music as a self-help and spiritual tool,”
says Craig, who started Cloud Cult as a solo studio project in 1995. “Cloud
Cult’s music has always been really motivated by the spiritual journey of our
current lives, so the birth of our new baby was a huge influence on this
album.”

 

At its heart, the overall crux of Light Chasers stands as a highly wrought epistle exploring concepts
of joy and rebirth. And, like the releases that preceded it, this latest
addendum to the Cloud Cult index reassuringly channels the organic rhythms the group
is known for and has featured on Weather Channel’s Forecast Earth, on The CW’s Gossip
Girl
, and in an Esurance TV campaign. “We’re woodsy, earthy people,” says
the frontman, who also composes music for National Geographic’s Expedition Grizzly series. “My church is
in the woods and under the stars. And music is very spiritual and sacred to me,
as a tool to get in touch with something bigger, so that natural theme will
always be there.”

 

Considering Cloud Cult’s ecological background and where Light Chasers manifested – on the
Minowa’s Midwestern farm-home, surrounded by hushed wilderness, powered by
geothermal energy and partially constructed from recycled plastic and reclaimed
wood – it’s almost a given that such lofty and transcendental diapasons are
instinctive for the Cloud Cult engineer. It’s an inmost connection that bodes
well for the band, and makes listening to Light
Chasers,
and all of Cloud Cult’s excursions, a more gratifying, if not intimate, experience.

 

You can say that’s somewhat necessary for an album that
spans 56 minutes and is devoid of any audio breaks. Structured “like a book”
(as Craig puts it), with each track flowing seamlessly into the next, Light Chasers is meant to be absorbed as
a whole, rather than consumed as singular refrains, which he equates with
“catching a chapter.” “A lot of music critics have claimed the album is dead,”
he adds. “Most people listen to one or two songs off an album or listen to a
random mix of songs on their iPods. I think that’s great, but I also think
there’s something to be said about the full album experience.

 

“I just really personally enjoy the amount of artistic space
a full hour of music can give you. It lets me take one central concept that is
key in my life and spend a couple of years really trying to figure it out. I
like the process of trying to see how all the songs play with each other into
one large piece. I think it’s probably the classical background I have.”

 

While this isn’t the only musical work crafted by Minowa
during a pregnancy (he wrote Who Killed
Puck?
when Connie was carrying Kaidin), it is contradistinctive to who he and Cloud Cult were nearly a decade
ago. According to Minowa, their first official studio album was fashioned with
the idea that “no one would really care to listen to it,” other than family and
friends, since Cloud Cult’s recognition was nil at that point. In other words: It
was a labor of love made by someone who loves to write and record music. But, with
Light Chasers, he was aware of Cloud
Cult’s fanbase, something he tried overlooking because he didn’t “want to write
to try to fit whatever might be considered hip for the moment.”

 

But it’s much more than the record’s execution that’s divergent.
“I’m a totally different person than I was 15 years ago,” says Minowa, who,
with the other members, will head out on a Stateside tour in late October in support
of Light Chasers. “The band has
changed a lot of faces over time, but I think it really has gradually just come
into its being, and now we’re here. This is a very orchestral album. I spent a
lot of time composing. I spent four years on Who Killed Puck?, so that’s the closest album I can think of that
came close to this. But even that was a different type of composing.

 

“This was a much more spiritual experience.”

 

 

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