Category: Cloud Cult

Review: Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 3

As new local traditions go, few could be better or more welcome than the Minnesota Beatle Project, now in its third year of collecting Fab Four covers to raise money for music and art education. As on previous editions, Vol. 3 is heavy on rootsy folk-rockers and indie bands, with a notable absence of hip-hop. But if the roster could’ve been more comprehensive, the album doesn’t lack for passion, joy, and listenability.

Beatles covers are tricky, since the original songs are both extremely well known and well played—it’s very hard to top John, Paul, George, and Ringo at their own game. Which is not to say that bands shouldn’t try, but it’s risky, and the most faithful covers on Vol. 3 don’t avoid the pitfalls. Pop-punkers Motion City Soundtrack deserve credit for recreating the gentle beauty of George Harrison’s “Here Comes The Sun,” but they don’t put a lot of their own stamp on it—which makes the cover pointless, because Harrison’s version isn’t exactly hard to find. The key to a great cover song is not to hit the target dead-center—that’s for tribute bands—but to make it different. One way to do that is to deliberately wrench an over-familiar song out of its original context, as Solid Gold does on a marvelously reworked version of Harrison’s “Love You To,” translating earthy, sitar-drenched psychedelia into its own icily sophisticated, synth-heavy milieu.

The rest of Vol. 3’s best songs take a simpler approach, choosing songs from the Beatles’ incredibly broad catalog that fit each band’s individual personality but allow for a little wiggle room. Cloud Cult’s version of “Help!” forefronts the pleading in John Lennon’s lyrics, highlighting Craig Minowa’s great gift of capturing emotional vulnerability in his music. Shoegaze/noise duo Red Pens find a perfect match in “Helter Skelter,” giving guitarist/vocalist Howard Hamilton a great opportunity to scream and shred. Duluth bluesman Charlie Parr’s old-school authenticity is a breath of fresh air on Paul McCartney’s “Rocky Raccoon,” and blues-punkers The 4onthefloor deliver a stomping version of “Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?” that roars with caveman-like lustiness—which is really the only sane way to approach that particular song.

Minnesota Beatle Project Vol. 3 shares its official CD-release show with Minnesota’s other great Beatle-related tradition, Curtiss A’s annual Dec. 8 John Lennon tribute at First Avenue. Bands performing include White Light Riot, Dark Dark Dark And Her Choir, and Me And My Arrow.

Originally published Dec. 5 on Read the complete article.

In Tune With Nature: Cloud Cult mixes music and environmentalism

Since he was a child, Craig Minowa’s two driving passions have been music and environmentalism. As the leader of critically acclaimed indie-rock band Cloud Cult, he’s built a career that puts both at the center of his life.

Cloud Cult began as a solo project in 1995, while Minowa was an environmental sciences student at the University of Minnesota. It has grown into a group that’s earned a devoted cult following for its philosophical and expansive indie-rock on albums such as “Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)”, “The Meaning Of 8” and its latest disc, “Light Chasers.”

During that time, Minowa and his wife and bandmate Connie Minowa have been trailblazers in greening the music industry through Earthology, a nonprofit organization that functions as Cloud Cult’s record label as well as, more recently, the umbrella for their environmental projects outside of music, including Connie’s green outreach work with local Indian tribes.

Originally published May 1, 2011 in Momentum, the magazine of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. Read the complete article.

Review: Cloud Cult, Light Chasers

Dealing with grief has been the primary driving force behind Craig Minowa’s songwriting since the 2002 death of his 2-year-old son. It’s been at the heart of each subsequent Cloud Cult album, providing a grounding element to his cosmically minded, vaguely New Age-y explorations of the big philosophical questions of life and our place in the universe. It’s significant then that Light Chasers is Minowa’s first since the 2009 birth of Nova, his second son with wife and bandmate Connie. On its eighth studio album, Cloud Cult’s musical approach remains a sweeping mix of Arcade Fire-esque indie rock, electronica, and symphonically tinged folk—but new fatherhood brings a subtle, important shift in focus. Light Chasers isn’t about living with death, but about becoming better equipped for the journey through life. Minowa, who also produced, dives in with typical gusto, building the album into a sprawling, intricately interconnected 56-minute concept that often soars into emotionally operatic, cathartic heights. At their best, as on “Blessings” and “Today We Give Ourselves To The Fire,” Minowa’s songs are like hymns for a religion that hasn’t been invented yet. In weaker moments, they come across more like a self-help book, and occasional overindulgent touches, like the processed robotic vocals on “The Exploding People,” exacerbate that. It’s fitting, perhaps, that one of the album’s sparest songs, “You Were Born,” is also one of its most powerful—a simply stated father’s declaration of love.

Originally published Sept. 21, 2010 on Read the complete article.

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Review: Cloud Cult, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)

The accidental death of Craig Minowa’s infant son in 2002 has understandably dominated his songwriting. It’s fair to say that the tragedy is the key to understanding his music, including Cloud Cult’s sixth disc, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes). But he very rarely deals with it by being maudlin or excessively dark; rather than brooding, he deals with his grief by using it to explore more universal themes about the fragility and beauty of life, the importance of love, and finding peace amid devastation.

Ghosts—self-released on Minowa’s environmentally conscious label—finds the Minnesota band more vibrant and creative than ever, surpassing last year’s The Meaning Of 8 with even lusher orchestration that draws on classical, electronica, folk, and Flaming Lips-esque indie-rock. Though it’s an extended meditation on mortality that includes the declaration “There’s so much more to see in the darkest places,” Ghosts sounds surprisingly innocent and joyful; where The Polyphonic Spree’s optimism sometimes seems creepily facile, for Cloud Cult, it seems like hard-earned wisdom. At its highest points, it approaches transcendence, as on “When Water Comes To Life,” which turns a description of a child’s autopsy into a heartbreakingly lyrical statement of what’s left after we die: water, sand, and memories.

Originally published on April 7, 2008. Read the complete article.

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