Cloud - Comfort Songs
Audio Antihero have made a bold choice for only the third full-length LP release in their history. How about this for a promotional exercise: a selection of self-dubbed Comfort Songs built upon often discomforting polarities of sense and sound. Ten tracks riddled with doubt and often disillusionment, occasionally capable even of causing outright distress, but just as often also full of yearning desire and youthful hope. A debut that’s just as prone to visceral propulsion as drab inertia, and which readily encapsulates the majestic as much as the ramshackle. Hmm.
The source of the meaningful muddle is Tyler Taormina, the 21-year-old who spearheads Cloud as both a solo artist and with a cross-country collective of friends. Fittingly, it’s this slightly fractured creative body that seems the most obvious source of the album’s incongruities in mood.
Opener ‘Cars & It’s Autumn’ is full of adorably rough and ready harmonies, and its lyrics ends on the key self-aware note that comes with a life in music: "It's funny how I'm happy now, singing about my sadness". There are moments of sheer loneliness and angst at the core of Comfort Songs, but equally there’s a sense that ultimately a group of friends will be in the studio and on the road, singing songs about the most personal and introspective moments of their human experience.
From here on out the album proceeds to be resolutely unpredictable, even nigh-on bipolar, both tonally and sonically. ‘Boy Sees Mirror’ is capable of both soaring grandeur and angst-ridden, potty-mouthed rambling. ‘Stomach Pit’ bizarrely echoes the melody of ‘Amazing Grace’, a weird allusion that becomes all the more so with the subdued strain of its male-female duet, and the bridge’s left-field burst into crashing drums and a tilting guitar solo.
It’s clear that the titular comfort here is not one to be drawn from any semblance of MOR or steady keel, but is instead one to be drawn from the cathartic process of confessional art. As a singer, a musician, and more crucially as a human being, Taormina has clearly pushed himself in achieving this sense of release. Undeniably, this can manifest itself in the negative: the overlong instrumental tedium of ‘Desperation Club’ say, or the mutually painful vocal breaking-point he reaches on the likes of ‘Frére Jacques and Me’.
Yet nevertheless, by forcing himself into the territory occupied by the likes of Phil Elverum, Youth Lagoon, and Neutral Milk Hotel – figureheads of this kind of raw, emotionally purgative chamber pop and emo-folk – he finds himself more than capable of standing on his own two feet.
In that vein 'A Light Wish Weighs A Lot' is a highlight. Swaying and warm, it carries an idiosyncratic positivity with its central refrain of “Go for it kid!”, as well as the strange closing motto “Hell is forgetting always remember to smile”, which scans like each person in the studio adding a word to a sentence. It encompasses within its five minute run-time all that puts this band into the black: an earnestness and heart that surmounts the occasionally heavy-handed vocals or downright clanger of a lyric.
Taormina lays himself bare in search of both a sense of self (“I think I’m ready to love myself”), and in constructing shared primal moments through his music, an exercise captured by the metronomic poetry of the final lyric: “Heavy Light Human Collage”. Comfort Songs will certainly not to be everyone’s cup of tea, and I couldn’t swear on my full disclosure if I didn’t admit I loathed as much as I loved. Yet regardless of whether it’s one your albums of the year - or even if it was to somehow utterly repulse you - then clearly it’s very evocative, strange kind of magic is still at work.