February 15, 2016
By MARK WHEAT
Sorry, I have run out of personal superlatives to describe my love for this band. At a special show at The Amsterdam Bar in 2014 to celebrate the release of Mark Allister's book Chasing The Light, which details their incredible personal story and for which I was honored to write the foreword for, I called Love, their last release, their best album ever. That, I thought then, was a remarkable achievement for a band born nearly 20 years ago. Well … I take that back. THIS is their best ever!
The Current audience must love Cloud Cult, too. The first song we played from The Seeker, "No Hell," has already become Cloud Cult's sixth induction into our Chart Hall Of Fame, putting them at No. 7 on our All-Time Hall Of Fame, the highest for a local artist.
The Minowas are the couple at the center of this tribe of seekers. They have arranged a tightly knit band around them, and a fervent crowd of true believers who have followed them for many years. They still continue to run everything through their own label, Earthology, making the covers from 100% post-consumer paperboard printed with veggie inks. They always have followed these careful environmental practices; they were one of the first bands to do so. Craig constructs the music and writes the lyrics, which are printed on the CD cover, thankfully, as Cloud Cult continue in his tradition of expressing big ideas in a very humble way. Connie (along with Scott West) is a painter who paints pictures live on stage while the musicians play, symbolically representing the idea that their music can be an inspiration to others who create, validating a world view which pits itself against the prevailing strategies of the mainstream.
Another of my heroes, David Byrne, has a theory expressed in his book How Music Works that the creation of any musical form responds to the environs in which it will be heard. Writing for his first band, Talking Heads, when they originally played in lofts and small clubs in New York City was a different prospect than Bono sitting down to pen a song that he knows has to fill a stadium. Along those lines, The Seeker seems to have been conceived as a piece to be played whole, in a large venue, with an assembly of strings. Cloud Cult will play their biggest hometown gig on March 12 at The State Theater.
Cloud Cult have already played at Orchestra Hall a few years ago; that location would be the perfect venue to play this album in its entirety, because that's what this is — a REAL album: a 51-minute song cycle that is thematically linked without becoming an overbearing concept record. It is orchestrated beautifully, with three instrumental tracks fit to be performed by a full orchestra. Even a choir would have a place on the stage, especially during "Three Storms before You Learn to Float," which also includes the sound of a child talking; apparently that's Iris, daughter of Craig and Connie Minowa. Their surname is Native American for "moving voice"; I can't think of a more appropriate moniker, and appropriately Native American chanting is added in at least two songs as well, perfectly fitting the mood of the pieces.
The album is about being a seeker, looking for a meaning to your life, a journey to go on, and faith in "the great unknown." Even the form fits the topic; the CD spirals around in on itself, the last words of the last song are the same that start the album, so if you listen to the CD on repeat you can't hear the join! This mirrors one of Craig's lyrics from "The Time Machine Invention": "There's a reason God is doG backwards / We must chase the tail." An example of humor lacing the proceedings, lest you think this stuff is too heavy! As Craig says in "No Hell," "I'm a happy man, but there are some things I need to get out." I could go on for pages listing my favorite lyrics, but it's the construction of the piece, the segues between songs, even the adequately positioned stretches of almost silence that weave the magic. "No Hell" starts with the phrase, "Mama says the stars are the universe's eyes." Right after the previous track "Come Home" has ended with; "I gave my heart back to the galaxies, so when you look above you, you know I'll always love you."
As if this wasn't all enough, they have made a video for each song and helped produce a feature film of the same name starring Josh Radnor and Alex McKenna. It was previewed in Minneapolis last Wednesday and is having several other local showings before being widely released later in the year. The film version of The Seeker will screen at Zinema 2 in Duluth, Minn., on March 10 before Cloud Cult play at Grandma's on March 11, and at The Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago the day before they play Thalia Hall on April 3.
With the book about their life just released and what I then thought was their best work in the bag, I had wondered in 2014 where Cloud Cult would go next. They have stunned me again, taking their art to a higher place as they continue to seek to unravel the great mystery for us. I have no idea where they will go next, but I'm excited to see where the journey, with this awesome concept album, will take them. The Seeker makes me raise my arms in the air and yelp like Craig does (he has a signature drawn out 'Yup' sound) as a longtime fan, because Cloud Cult have exceeded my expectations … again.
Audience ratings for this album
Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, 99 percent gave the album 5 out of 5 stars. Poll closed at 12 noon on Friday, Feb. 19.