Album Review: Cloud Cult – Who Killed Puck?
Cloud Cult is a band with a long history that I have just started to appreciate. They are hard to identify because of their eclectic mix of acoustic and wired instruments with genre busting arrangements swinging from lo-fi to orchestral not just within any particular album, but within a single track!
As concept or “story” albums go, this one’s story is somewhat low key. It is a loosely themed collection of songs telling the story of the birth of “Puck” his alienation from society, his initial attempts to fit and final rejection ending in death. Depressing subject matter, perhaps, but delivered with a lyricism of startling compassion and warmth that sounds more “hope springs eternal” than Armageddon.
At first I was a little underwhelmed, but having become a fan of The Mountain Goats, Elliott Smith and Lost in the Trees, I knew that repeated listens would bear dividends… And I wasn’t mistaken. What at first appears to be a mishmash of unrelated tracks, or unrelated verses within the tracks, turns out on careful listening to be a finely crafted story of the demise of a young man who had done nothing to deserve his fate.
Who Killed Puck?
- Where it starts – A track I prefer to think of as “I found God” since that lyric is repeated throughout the whole song. It is a coming of age classic where a boy is constantly reaching higher highs and lower lows on his trip through adolescent to adulthood. Repetitious and remarkably catchy, the simple construction belies the multilayered music that builds slowly throughout the track. It would appear to be the story of the meeting of Puck’s parents.
- Conception – One voice, one guitar, recorded on a tape deck and filtered to death doesnt get much lower fi than this. A killer melody tugs on the heartstrings and makes this track a Low-Fi masterpiece. Seems to be talking about the soul of Puck moving into its host…
- 9 Months – a meandering, instrumental track that sways from a Mike Oldfield, Amarok-style multilayered drum heavy “native” rhythm to his electric-guitar heavy, riff laden and back without going anywhere… An ode to Oldfield, perhaps… There is a sense of frustration in the song but it’s title would suggest it is the birth of Puck…. Ending inthe whispered lines “I am Human”.
- Pucks 6th Birthday – a Micro segue of a warbling childlike taunt…. unsettling stuff. Thankfully short.
- Becoming One of You – The story of a boy who does anything and everything to fit in with the crowd, ultimately ending in disappointment and rejection. The Eels could have sung the first minute or so of this song, but the almost Heavy Metal like bass and electric guitar which come into the forefront as the track progresses might give the fact away that it wasn’t. At just under a half of the way through, the song takes a left turn and heads into familiar electronica overladen guitarwork with repeated lyrics, as is common throughout the tracks on this album…
- Ad Brainwash (Part 1) – A minute or so is samples and sounds from the swinging sixties, highlighting consumerism and idleness which blurs into the main event:
6 Days – One of the highlights of the album. A mutating rhythm underlies a narrated discussion on the brevity of Human existence. Based on a speech by David Brower, an environmentalist and the founder of Friends of the Earth. Nice, but I don’t see how it furthers the concept of the album.
The lyrics are so compelling, I took the liberty of quoting them here:
Compare the 6 days of the book of Genesis
to the 4 billion years of geologic time.
On this scale, 1 day equals about 666 billion years.
All day Monday, until Tuesday noon
creation was busy getting the earth going.
Life began on Tuesday noon
and the beautiful organic wholeness of it
developed over the next 4 days.
At 4 P.M. Saturday, the big reptiles came.
5 hours later, when the redwoods appeared
there were no longer big reptiles.
At 3 minutes before midnight, man appeared.
One-fourth of a second before midnight, Christ revolted.
One-fortieth of a second before midnight, the industrial revolution began.
We are surrounded by people who think
that what we have been doing for
one-fortieth of a second can go on indefinitely.
They are considered normal.
But they are stark. raving. mad.
- Pretty – Puck finds temporary solace in the infatuation with a girl. The key word being temporary. Starting off with one voice, one guitar, the song builds into one of the strongest, most a soaring climaxes of the album.
- Sane As Can Be – The song starts off as a gentle acoustic track marks the middle of the album and is perhaps the turning point in Puck’s life as he goes over the edge as he reveals his secrets and philosophy to his girlfriend, who appears to reject him. This turning point comes as the song flips to an electric guitar track with some fine Metal drumming. Comparisons might be drawn to About a Boy mutating into Susu or Spoon.
- Do You Ever Think About – Segue hears two people discuss suicide as its rhythms build into something which would have fit on the heavier bits of “War of the Worlds”
- Ad Brainwash (pt 2) – Are two segues in a row technically segues at all? Who knows.
- Ready To Fight – This song continues on where from Becoming One of You left off and reveals Pucks anger boil over and his rejection of society and its values.
- Who Killed Puck? – A “noise track” more than a song. You can quite literally hear Puck’s whole life flashing in front of him with lyrics from ‘conception’ leaking in in the background, suggesting his soul’s return to the ether.
- You Can’t Come Back Again / Close – A beautiful ode to the end of life… turning full circle to ‘Conception’. Again building into a climax of Mike Oldfield “Guitars” proportions.This is where the fun ends, so you might as well stop listening here.
- Bonus track 1: Lies – A funky yet unremarkable track about, funnily enough, Lies. If it were to fit into the album, it would have been something that Puck got angry about.
- Bonus Track 2: The Yin and Yan of Sex: A dull closing track. enough said.