Three years on from Bliss Release and with a subsequent relocation to London, Cloud Control offer up reports from deep inside their Dream Cave. How has a move from the bucolic Blue Mountains to dirty old London town affected their sound, if at all?
Dream Cave introduces itself, naturally enough, by breathing in to life with a ‘Scream Rave’. A brief assault of scraped backward chamber-chanting and primal wails that slowly build with preliminary bass and beat. Like a gathering together of the muses, it’s a psychological sound-check that doesn’t linger long before giving way to the majestic lumbering groove of ‘Dojo Rising’. This has a subdued yet wry tone, contrasted with a breezy, washed-out smooth rhythm track. It’s a song of anomie, or negated romance, suggestive of a stoner’s drop-out resolve (“Just wanna get get get lit, yeah/Then I’m gonna break your heart”).
‘Promises’ alternates between raw, lazy shouts and leaping falsetto, hovering over a funky bass progression, whilst ‘Moonrabbit’ is a cute little package of Syd Barrett-esq childlike psychedelia, twee lyrics, pop harmonising and big drums.
‘Island Living’ is similarly anachronistic without being arch, its flavour almost mid-90’s acid house, fey stabbing woodwind-effect keys and lingering strings which counterpoint the driving beat, the chorus delivering a solemn, if simplistic, admonition “there are things in this life, where the truth could hurt you”.
‘Scar’ is the most precisely crafted pop track on the record, the first where Alister Wright‘s vocals are delivered cleanly and without synthetic effect. The more ambitious sonic considerations perhaps temporarily reined in for a straight-forward shot at putting food on the table via a radio-friendly single. Its concerns appear to be an anthem to morning-after morality, the necessity and (possibly masochistic) pain of emotional honesty. A recurring theme of this record could be said to be the expression of a desire not to allow thoughts of romantic or material commitment to curtail an adventure, the free-spirited ethos sometimes couched in the mood of a bitter-sweet apology. ‘Scar’ shares with other single, ‘Dojo Rising’, as the most structurally traditional effort on this record.
What does a band attempt to achieve on their second long playing bid for your precious attention? Do they jam it with hits and bring home the record label’s bacon with ruthless efficiency, bartering longevity over a fading sense of charm and alienation of the grassroots? Do they showcase the expansive and mercurial talents that were not given full breathing space on the debut? Do they gather together the orphaned threads of songs that have played well live and haven’t yet seen life on an EP or single? Cloud Control have themselves called this “a collection of songs”, rather than an album unified by either conceptual theme or marked by stylistic departure, it comes across as a smoothly constructed and enjoyable exposition of the sound we already know and love, a refinement and a celebration.
‘The Smoke, The Feeling’ sounds, if you’re in a certain mood, a bit like an ABBA-inspired serving of Euro pop, Heidi Lenffer’s vocals smooth and light. There’s distortion and echoes, pop-sensibility pauses, studied and affected reprise. If I wasn’t looking at an album with their name on the cover, I wouldn’t bet my life on being able to identify this song as a Cloud Control release.
‘Happy Birthday’ is an indulgent and near faultless slice of retro fun, a blast of late 60’s pop with deliberately chaotic production values to match (coughs, ashtrays and drinks chinking along with muffled enthusiasms that briefly augment the background and pauses, it’s an affectionate Beach Boys or Mamas and Papas nod). It’s a song elevated by its light touch and entertaining evocation of a gone era, avoiding the trap of clumsy homage.
‘Tombstone’ (my favourite track) has a subterranean, lo-fi atmosphere; crisp drum breaks reminiscent of Unkle or other precursor triphop. It’s a song which arrives as though listened to through the thin walls of a seedy apartment two doors down, a hymn to velvety murk and poised distortion, built upon lyrics which suggest something both accusatory and resigned, dark and lovely.
The overall theme of this album (if indeed there is one) appears to be a struggle between recognising and celebrating the affectations involved in striking a nonchalant pose, whether toward love or even toward musical formalism itself. Lyrics, vocal attitude and the range of ethereal, disjointed musical ideas all speak to the flashes of clarity achieved in the joy of connection (romance, commercial success, stylistic repetition) and the euphoric release (experimentalism, adventure, curiosity) that comes with individual or creative freedom.
The eponymous track marking the album’s close is a gentle, lilting love song. An unadorned statement of love by the band for one other, and for the music they are making. It departs with the sound of trickling water, murmuring away with those ever-present echoes from somewhere within the depths of the Dream Cave. There is an intrinsic elegance to this record, a balance is achieved between a shuffling cute throwaway attitude and a clear vaunting ambition.
Dream Cave has drawn fire for its sometimes maddening radio ambience. Whether it’s an album which professes to map the modern psych outer limits, or just to amusingly dabble with classical late 60’s recording craft, there is possibly a feeling that it should not be so consumable, so fleeting and so gorgeously smooth. Yet, this is a genuinely enjoyable record. Cloud Control are a band who will continue to command my curiosity.
Cloud Control are currently playing shows throughout Europe before heading back Down Under for a few dates in the new year. You can find all of that info on their tour page.
Dream Cave is available on iTunes.