Cloudmouth // Feature Friday
Dark Energy is the latest release from dark folk trio Cloudmouth. The album was released in May of this year, and features vocalist / guitarist Kyle Numann delivering delightfully ominous lyrics, Amoretta Taylor on drums + percussion while providing gentle backing vocals, and Chris Wilson lending a hand to cello, bass, and synth.
Right off the bat, it becomes clear that Dark Energy wastes no time testing the waters, and instead is here to pack a punch. The opening track "Hi" provides an upbeat rhythm that segues directly into the light, harmonious track "The Whole Damn Thing." It becomes clear quickly that each track has its own personality, which in turn has its own effect on the listener. While the lyrics to each track are seemingly specific and calculated, they leave room for interpretation and give the listener the ability to morph the to what they need.
Both "Duct Tape" and "Nice Looking Mountain" have beautiful, thoughtful lyrics that are presented in two different ways. The former is a slower number with vocal harmonies, while the latter is a cello driven tune that borders on a light folk dance tune.
"Don't Make Me Watch" stands out as the most serious, in your face track due to the stark reality of the subject matter. "Kids are getting shot, and catching bombs, and packing heat, and bleeding out / No, no don’t make me watch!" stares the fact that many turn a blind eye to current affairs in the face. It's easy to ignore things that make you uncomfortable,but this track serves to call attention to those uncomfortable truths, which in turn gets the gears turning.
"Tree Song" closes out the album with an unsettling yet strangely consoling song about the ultimate final chapter: death. There are no bells or whistles, no frills, and no major metaphors -- just a straight forward song about the great unknown. The opening lines question of "If, in the end, I ask myself one question / When it all goes black, will I have my own attention? Or will I be spacing out?" is one that is debated time and time again -- no one knows. And perhaps that's the beauty of it all.
Dark Energy is simply unpredictable. With it's ability to hit home in different ways for different people, give it a spin yourself to see how it resonates with you. Continue reading to check out an interview with Numann where we discuss technological paranoia, the bands evolution over the last two years, and more.
Q: Dark Energy has a strong sense of unease and mystery from beginning to end. Where do you draw inspiration from when writing, both lyrically and instrumentally?
A: We live on the edge of an impossibly large universe, the majority of which is entirely inhospitable to life as we know it, and bigger than we could ever hope to explore. I think unease and mystery are the natural state of things...
I have always been interested in the artists that explore the strange and exotic, big names like Tom Waits & Radiohead, Kate Bush - she is extremely avant-garde in some of her music. And then the lesser-known artists like Mount Eerie, his sense of space & pacing is always an inspiration. Blonde Redhead, the Jason Molina bands (Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company), Neko Case... they all tend to stay on the darker side of the street. Then bands like Deerhoof when I need to pick up - absurdly inventive celebration music.
Good lyrics are a must, some artists like Joanna Newsom or Mewithoutyou, Doseone, could just be publishing books of poetry out of their lyrics, and that would be enough... but then you get them presented with this beautiful or powerful music, and it is really a gift. I love to get lost in lyrics. Also poets like Dylan Thomas, making epic compositions out of the rough materials of body & earth - the natural world is full of unease and mystery.
Q: While Dark Energy touches on a variety of subjects, technological paranoia is a big one. What does that mean to you in this day and age?
A: We have a natural tendency to be cautious of things we don't understand. And right now, we're in the middle of a wave of technological innovation that very few people, even in the computing world, fully understand. We are building media systems with their own internal, and often rather opaque logic, and trusting them to do pretty important things: keep us informed of world affairs, keep us connected to friends & family, guide our purchasing process, entertain us.
Most of these platforms are free to use and rely on the 'Attention Economy' for revenue, which means that their #1 metric of success is not whether we are well informed, or well connected to friends, but that they keep our attention and engagement, with any means available. This often leads to channels where the outrageous and inane content rises to the top, while nuance and subtlety gets lost in the noise. Everyone gets their own custom view of the world, and the common ground we can all mutually appreciate gets smaller.
This is without even getting into the automation of labor, gene editing and designer biology, augmented reality, transhumanism. We've got an interesting next couple of decades. I have a great appreciation for science and logic, but there is little in the sciences alone that gives us a moral path to follow, we need to figure that out on our own.
Q: Two tracks that stand out to me due to their deep lyrics are "Duct Tape" and "Nice Looking Mountain." What was the writing process like for both of those tracks?
A: They were starkly different in how they came to be. The lyrics for "Duct Tape" came out all at once, almost as a surprise. Like finding you have coughed up a ball of phlegm and need to spit it out immediately. At the time I was really stuck on a song that a friend wrote, 'Know Nuthin' by The New Whole Usuals and I wanted to write a lilting, kind of wandering ballad that evoked the same feeling.
"Nice Looking Mountain" was the opposite, the song and lyrics evolved over months, some of the more stubborn lines really had to be dragged out of the woods. The lyrical idea started as an offhand line my friend said one day: "some people chase their drinks, others prefer it come to them". I loved the turn of phrase, and knew it should be in a song. One of the last parts to be added is my favorite, where Amoretta sings "It's hard enough to keep this smile on my face...".
Q: How has Cloudmouth evolved since your 2016 release Drunk On What I Am, and how does that translate to live performances?
A: For the last album, the band recorded the same way we'd been playing live - as a two-piece. Since then we have taken on a third member, Chris Wilson, who adds three different sounds to the palette, as he switches between cello, synthesizer and bass. From the first practice we could tell he really 'got' what we were trying to do with the songs and the ambient movements. He's a great addition and really adds a lot.
Aside from that, we've got more vocals coming from Amoretta, Cloudmouth's percussionist, she has this high, clear voice which is such a nice balance to my vocals. This record is also really the first time I have written all the compositions specifically for this outfit, these songs are really meant to fit this arrangement of the band.
We've gone a step further in our arrangements for the album, as well. Dark Energy includes a number of song fragment interludes, expanded ambient sections, and song transitions. Once the first song starts, there's not one second of silence in the 10 tracks on the album, until the end, then we give 10 seconds of silence in case anyone missed it. I've always been a big fan of long-form listening, I want to advocate for the album experience and song transitions are a sort of trick we use to keep the listener engaged. I guess we're slaves to the attention economy as much as anyone.
Q: What are your goals as a band for the rest of 2018?
A: To create more & more, share our music with as many people as we can, to play more shows and travel, and write. I would love to collaborate with some of the artful bands in the area that I admire, and to play our music outside the normal rock club settings.
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