The essence of being jaded is that you don’t feel anything, nothing moves you; everything can be reduced to prior experience, dismissed as repetition and recycling, been there, done that, got the penicillin shot. What’s left is the pursuit of novelty for novelty’s sake, the admiration of technical perfection, and the feeling of disappointment that there’s nothing that that can stir the embers of your emotions. Which makes it all that more remarkable when an album like Cargo Cult’s The Meaning of 8 comes along and you find yourself making excuses about allergies and new glasses to explain the tears in your eyes to your workmates.
I first heard of Cloud Cult through their single "Transistor Radio" on a KEXP stream, a song about the voice of a boy’s grandfather coming to him through said electronic device and urging him into the world. It’s a track that can bring complete introspective silence to a room full of people listening to it, and each of them, at the end of three minutes, will be a little more misty-eyed. All of Cargo Cult’s songs deal with the big mysteries, life, death, love, being-in-the world despite the absurdity all around us. Songwriter Craig Minowa comes to these questions honestly, having lost his two-year old son to sudden death, separating from his wife as a result, and then spending the next year on his ramshackle organic farm where he wrote a hundred songs in an attempt to staunch his grief. When he sings a lyric like”You can take it in stride, or you can take it right between the eyes./Suck up, suck up and take your medicine./It’s a good day, it’s a good day, to face the hard things” you know that it’s coming from really knowing what “hard things” are.
Much of the power behind Cloud Cult is Minowa’s voice. Comparisons to Conor Oberst come easily, but I hear a bit of Bono’s gospel howl in it as well. It’s a voice that sounds younger than Minowa’s years, but perhaps that is only a function of the vulnerability that it conveys. That the rest of the instruments include cello, keyboards, bass, trumpet, and drums enables the band to create amazingly complex arrangements that veer back and forth between basic vocal harmony and strummed guitar to full-on electronic squonk. In songs like “Pretty Voice” and “Take Your Medicine” the band is able to move between acoustic and electronic passages on a thin dime, creating anthemic builds and then releasing into clean, sharp moments that, indeed, hit you right between the eyes.
The album is an extended song cycle that runs a good 80 minutes, though it’s definitely front-loaded with the tracks that are destined to be the big singles (I'm particularly partial to "When Chemicals Collide"). There are hooks in here that will run through you head almost hypnotically after you hear them, and with them will come the feeling that they have changed you in a subtle way. Perhaps you will be inspired to find a way to make you day into gold.
Cloud Cult will be performing at Bottom of the Hill on May 3. I imagine it will be an extremely powerful show, with songs like this that beg for a crowd to sing along with them. I’ve already got my tickets, you should get yours as well.
The Pitchfok Media Review of "The Meaning of 8" by Cloud Cult