Cloud Cult at the Black Cat

Cloud Cult perform at the Black Cat in DC with their ambient indie pop sound. Photo: Cloud Cult

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2013 — Minnesota’s own indie pop outfit, Cloud Cult, has become a more conceptual band as they have progressed. Their current work, especially their most recent albums, has demonstrated strong thematic currents that run through almost every element of their songs. There are a number of songs that can be consumed individually, of course. But they take on a greater significance when pieced together.

The last time Cloud Cult played at the Black Cat, they were touring in support of their then newly released album Light Chasers. The album had a sci-fi feel that, paradoxically had a cold, albeit not detached, sense of longing to it, adding to its creative tension. They used space travel as a metaphor to signify the loneliness inherent in a life where one is always searching for something truly important. 

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During that tour, their stage presence reflected the outer space motif by employing a lot of blue lighting, which shrouded them in its shimmering, otherworldly presence. Their songs on this tour further pushed their agenda by incorporating more electronic parts into the mix to give the impression of distance, while pushing the string section of their band into the background for significant stretches of time.

It has been just about two years since that last tour. This time, during their recent appearance at the Black Cat, the band seemed interested in a different conceptual. The album they are supporting now is the appropriately titled, Love. Cloud Cult have crafted a much warmer and softer album for this effort than they did in their previous 2010 album.

The electronic element of their last album remains. But the string section of their indie sound is once again alive and strongly present. The whole album promotes the sense of warm colors and feels more intimate than the last.

The reason Cloud Cult feels so much like a conceptual band is that their live show takes on a much different approach each time they are up on stage and relates directly to thematic elements and ideas they happen to be focusing on during their new album.

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They do not focus entirely on the album at hand and move across their entire discography during their set. But all the songs they choose to perform take on a different appeal to fit the mood the band happens to embracing.

When playing to the strengths of Light Chasers during their recent show, everything was cool and the band on stage for the most part was in the dark. This changed quite noticeably, however, when they played music through the lens of Love.

The band could not have been more alive and more visible on stage, creating a closer contact with the audience. They did not seem to be floating off into space this time, and instead were trying to become a more intimate presence by employing a warm color scheme for the background with orange prominently featured in the color mix.

The effect this had on their show was not better or worse, just different. The same thing people have come to expect from Cloud Cult was present as always, namely the quirky and airy guitar playing coupled with sweeping string movements and front man Craig Minowa’s high pitched vocals, all of which kept the indie vibe present throughout. This band is at once ambitious and thoughtful, trying to marry the smaller moments of the indie-pop sound with, at times, a more grandiose feel.

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Viewing Cloud Cult’s show at the Black Cat through the prism of Love highlighted these ambitions by creating a larger sound out of the smaller, intimate moments that run through the material of the album. Their real success in this live performance did not really come as the product of the songs they chose from the album, though. Rather, their presentation was distinguished by how they slightly repurposed their older material so that it felt comfortable in a new context.

Every time Cloud Cult takes the stage, they give off the impression that a good deal of thought has gone into how their performance would be perceived by the audience. And that presence is not simply due to the various moving parts their band normally employs or to the artists and lighting arrangements painted behind the band throughout the show. It is due, instead, to how they incorporate it all into one working unit on stage. It all helps make their presence as impressive as their music.

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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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