5 out of 5
Producer: Matthew Bower
I’ve remarked that it’s difficult to give some of this psych stuff a definitive rating sometimes. What differentiates one batch of noise from another? What makes one experience worth five stars over four? But of course, it does boil down to how I’ve essentially been rating any form of media: by whether or not I enjoy it, and whether or not I feel the artist accomplished what they set out to. I have a good share of Matthew Bower work in my collection in the forms of Total, and Sunroof!, and any other sundry projects on which he’s collabo’d, but I still wouldn’t say I have a representative set of what he’s accomplished in the music world. Bower’s smash of chaos is what I first associated with the VHF label (and his name is certainly on like half their releases), and my surprising attraction to the first Sunroof! disc I bought (Sound Star Sound) set a precedent for the widening of my taste palette… I had discovered the disc when I was, admittedly, at a phase of just hunting for the obscure, and thus the weird packaging and anonymity of the whole thing appealed, but things I bought during that period I must also fairly say would get tossed if I truly didn’t like them. I couldn’t traditionally listen to ‘Found,’ of course, but it hit me at the right time, when my brain wanted some new sounds to prevent it from stalling in doldrums.
Anyhow. Small percentage of Bower’s work, but I have my own personal history with Sunroof! that goes back over ten years now, so that helps.
And Cloudz! is different. ‘Bliss’ was a ‘prettier’ affair, but it still had that burbling of chaos to it; in comparison, ‘Cloudz’ is almost downright accessible, some tracks paired down to (initially) a fuzzed out beat and a fuzzed out guitar and some keys that might be mistaken for a Neutral Milk Hotel outtake… if it didn’t lurch around for twelve minutes (‘Silver Nazi Suicide’), coming to crescendos blanketed under waves and waves of distorted sound, pushing for an exit or a path. We also see two ‘covers’ on the disc (or something), with two tracks being attributed to some folksters – ‘Grasshoppers’ – and one to trumpeter Lester Bowie – ‘Zero’. I’m not familiar enough with those artists to claim how / if these songs are translated, but it’s all indicative of something that prevents, to my ear, ‘Cloudz’ from becoming the wandering miss that the Allmusic review claims it to be: that it feels much more personal. Bower’s work ranges from aural attacks to an appreciation for sound. Certainly there are ‘themes’ he’s working with, and you can without a doubt get a vibe from many tracks, but from the material I own, this is the first time an individual identity emerged, where I felt like I could understand that there was one person behind the noise. From the way the opener ‘Machine’ lulls you in with its fairly calm loops and scuzz before blossoming into bleeps and bloops, then is followed immediately by that ‘Grasshopper’ cover – which wastes no time in reminding us that all is not well, with an ear-splitting splice of noise, and then the fairly gorgeous ‘Viva,’ which, by god, has a recognizable beat… Each track has just enough personality to allow you in without it explicitly having to be your particular musical niche. The disc also grows up from there, all track lengths sticking to about the seven minute mark and pulsing with a sense of constrained escalation. ‘Universal Acceleration’ and ‘Tornado Rose Canoe’ are like the moment where you almost realize something that will change everything… the ebb and flow of energy within those two tracks is palpable, followed by the emotional ‘let down’ of ‘Silver Nazi Suicide.’ Finally, ‘Silver Zero’ closes things out with some madly distorted, floating vocals (yup) and layers of distortion… Again, a unique note, as it’s an actual conclusion to the experience.
There are other Sunroof! discs I’d give five stars to. I’m probably kinder to this kinda work than other genres, who knows. But during my relistening of discs, I was impressed with how, er, relistenable this particular album was. It wasn’t just a matter of not wanting to change the playlist, but it’s an absorbing listen, and because it effectively takes you on a journey (warming you up, tiring you let, letting you recover), it works perfectly on a loop, each time through getting a bit more from the trip.