Cloud Cult “The Seeker” Review

If you were already a fan of Cloud Cult, The Seeker will make you love them even more.  If you were not a fan, this may be perhaps the 2nd album (only after Light Chasers) I’d recommend, which means it’s still a great place to get acquainted with these heroes of the Minnesota indie rock scene.  Cloud Cult is a band that evolves, and that is one of the reasons why you should love them.

Craig Minowa is an ambitious man and his ambitions led them to take on a film/album combo on their latest outing.  I’m familiar with how hard it is to put an indie film together, so I can only imagine what a huge undertaking this is — and how easily it could have been a disaster, both artistically and financially.  It remains to be seen how the film fares on the latter matter, but having seen the film and now lived with the album, the project as a whole is a resounding success artistically.  But if I have to pick one over the other, I’ll still pick the music any day.

All the Cloud Cult hallmarks are there among the songs.  Classical instrumentation? Check.  Cynicism-free uplifting lyrics?  Check.  Rousing sing-alongs with the whole band?  Check.  The band did not abandon its core strength just because they are making a movie.

But the faithfuls will find that this is indeed a more cinematic album.  They rein in on the pounding of drums (not exactly the showcase of their new drummer Jeremy Harvey) and more pensive soundscapes take up a greater share.  Apparently some of the songs became so layered that the band is choosing not to take them out live, because they’ll have to be drastically stripped down in order to execute.  Cloud Cult’s always been into fairly crafty production touches, but this has less of the blips and bleeps of Craig’s sampler and more of positively orchestral passages, where individual instruments are harder to pick out because they do sound more like an big ensemble.

The opener “Living in Awe” is a good representative of the bigger scope, where a brief presentation of the project’s theme (“Life is a story we’re meant to live through/ Then both me and you are the pages/ I’ll tell you a tale, and most of it’s true/ You see, I came here for you through the ages”) leads to a serene and grand instrumental soundscape that takes up the rest of the song.  Several other tracks such as “Chromatica,” “Three Storms and Until You Learn to Float,” “Prelude to an End”  are words-free soundtrack pieces as well.   Minowa has done film work in the past and his composing chops are in ample display here, as these pieces ably conjure up images ranging from wide blue sky and open fields to the approach of an impending storm.

Other tracks lean on the intimate and light-footed side.  High piano tinkling abound in child-like “Days to Remember” and “Everything You Thought You Had.”  “Time Machine Invention” is a rustic, folky little number that delivers the familiar Minowa message of living the moment rather than desiring to go bak in time.   “To the Great Unknown” “Come Home” “The Pilgrimage” and “You Never Were Alone” all have dramatic build-ups but they also take their time getting to the climax.  Which leaves the lead single “No Hell” as the only fist-pumping rocker of the bunch, which is slightly misleading if you came to the album looking for more songs like it.

But if you spend time immersing into the cinematic universe of The Seeker you’ll soon realize that a slow build-up is a journey indeed worth taking with this collection.  The whole experience can be compared to revisiting an old Disney movie looking to recall the happy experience of watching it as a child, only to realize that the story is deeper and more relevant than what the younger you understood.  The album closer “Through the Ages” is indeed a satisfying conclusion but there have been plenty of climactic moments before that point that getting there isn’t required to having an uplifting experience.  This is an expertly put together concept album where it achieves the rare feat of having quality individual songs that all fit together to make a greater whole.

I had the chance to watch the film on a big screen at the Minneapolis screening.  It’s a well-intentioned art film that takes many creative risks while sticking to a small budget.  You have to keep in mind, though, that while Cloud Cult has honed their music chops from years of writing, recording and touring, they just took the first big step in the world of filmmaking.  The film plays like one long music video, where the music does the heavy lifting and the film not quite able to stand on its own.  Again, if you are a Cloud Cult fan already you will not be disappointed with the film either, but don’t go in expecting an Oscar-worthy film.  Filmmaking is a very challenging art and I have no doubt that they’ll get better with each film (which I assume they plan on doing more, judging from the establishing of “Cloud Cult Films” brand).  As the first feature-length film, this is a noble and laudable attempt — not without value of its own but will probably be viewed as the stepping stone for how far they’ll go in the subsequent films.

All in all the heights they reach on this ambitious project is nothing short of amazing.  I’m sure the music alone will top the best-of-2016 lists for many critics and listeners, and the film rides atop the strength of its soundtrack telling the story.  The Seeker is another high point in their illustrious career, and I consider myself fortunate to experience it in real time, locally, as it unfolds.