It must be tedious at times, this business of making music, selling records and touring round the world. Upbeat folk-rockers Cloud Control probably have less to complain about than most. Their debut album, Bliss Release, came out in their native Australia almost exactly a year ago and in March it won them the Australian Music Prize (like the Mercury, but the water goes down the plughole in the opposite direction or something). But only now are they getting round to releasing and promoting it in the UK – a year after its initial release, and god knows how long after it was written and recorded. Sure, the track list has been re-jigged for us a tad, but even so, you’d imagine (or at least hope) that the band themselves would prefer to be writing a new album before they get musical RSI.
And there’s a bigger problem, in this age where anyone with a broadband connection can more or less get any music they want: Cloud Control’s album has been available long enough for anyone who might have been interested to have heard it already. This is compounded by a more basic problem, which is that the music itself must be at least 18 months old. So no matter how cutting edge it might have sounded when it was written, it’s unlikely to sound that way when it reaches new ears in the UK. And nor will it ride the wave of any musical trend that might have been popular this time last year – unless Mystic Meg is Cloud Control’s tambourine player, and they’ve had the prescience to make an album that captures the current zeitgeist.
All of that preamble though, is pretty much redundant if you take the view that age and immediacy don’t alter the quality of an album. And Cloud Control are lucky, in that regardless of whether you heard it a year ago, or you’re hearing it for the first time now, Bliss Release is made of some very strong stuff.
It opens with a jaunty acoustic chord pattern and wistful vocal harmonies on ‘Meditation Song #2 (Why, Oh Why)’. But before Cloud Control start to sound too much like tree-hugging hippies (for want of a better phrase), a fuzzy, shuddering bass lands on top of the track. It turns a track, which might have become a soggy fart of lame Americana, into the sort of speaker-shattering psych-folk that Neutral Milk Hotel exploded out on On Avery Island.
Cloud Control do more straightforward pop too. ‘Death Cloud’, with its sleek guitar lines and punky build up to a summery chorus, sounds like Deerhunter covering Surfer Blood, with all of the light-versus-shade sophistication that that implies. ‘This Is What I Said’ is equally infectious, for its Johnny Marr jangle and Andy Rourke bounce. ‘Ghost Story’, in comparison, is decisively darker, with a rattling guitar that leads you uneasily into a dark forest, as it’s caught untamed in a call and response with Alister Wright’s pagan falsetto. Then there’s the hushed guitar and vocals of ‘Hollow Drums’, which is lovely and sinister in the same breath.
For all of these strengths though, you get the sense that Bliss Release has come a little late in the day. It sounds a bit too much like it was made a year ago for Cloud Control’s folk-rock to really stand out against new releases from, say, Okkervil River, or altogether newer acts like Grouplove. That doesn’t mean Bliss Release is impossible to enjoy – far from it – but it does make it hard to imagine many new listeners making the time for it, and that’s a shame.
7Robert Cooke's Score