The Minneapolis band's fifth full-length in six years. "...another intensely personal set of expansive songs that blend elements of orchestral pop, folk-rock, psychedelia, electronics, and more. At times, it recalls The Flaming Lips, Arcade Fire, and even Modest Mouse" - KEXP. "Cloud Cult ooze whimsical indie rock like Modest Mouse on lithium" - Village Voice. "A sprawling kaleidoscopic invocation of the life force with songs that veer from jubilation to simmering prayerful meditation" - NY Times.
Review by Stewart Mason
It's hard not to root for Cloud Cult. A Minneapolis-based collective whose social conscience is as important as their music, the bandmembers have made a strong name for themselves in green circles for putting their money where their mouth is on the topic: not only do they tour in a biodiesel van and use recycled and sustainable materials in their CD packaging, the group's profits are donated to charity. This includes the proceeds from the work of the band's two non-musicians, painters Connie Minowa and Scott West: during each Cloud Cult performance, they paint original works on-stage as the band plays, which are then auctioned off from the stage at the end of the show. Furthermore, it seems nearly impossible not to be moved by the fact that since the 2002 death of Kaidin Minowa, Connie and singer/songwriter Craig Minowa's young son, the majority of the band's songs have dealt, sometimes explicitly but more often obliquely, with that loss. But while doing press for the band's fifth album in five years, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes), Craig Minowa announced that this was quite possibly the last Cloud Cult record, or at least the last before a long break. Releasing an album a year -- especially while undergoing the processes of grief -- is exhausting for even the most prolific bands, and unfortunately, Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) shows the strain. Following the band's career high point, 2005's Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus, and 2007's more restrained The Meaning of 8, this has the undeniable feel of a songwriter and a band who have started running out of ideas. To cite the group's most obvious musical touchstone, the Flaming Lips, this is their Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, the album where they recycle the sounds and themes of the albums just previous with considerably less of the imagination and innovation they had previously shown. Even the most devoted Cloud Cult fans will note that while there are undeniable charms to songs like "No One Said It Would Be Easy" (which opens the album with a minute-long fugue for acoustic and electric keyboards that features some outstanding, Pink Floyd-like stereo panning that must be heard on good headphones to truly appreciate) and the Arcade Fire-style urgency of "May Your Hearts Stay Strong," the high points are fewer and farther between this time out than they were before.
"It was so f'in precious." So went a lyric from Cloud Cult's last studio LP, 2007's The Meaning Of 8, and it could've been the understatement of the year. Nearly everything about the group is so admirable (their studio runs on geothermal power) or adorable (live painter onstage?!?!), that you could feel comfortable nominating them for public office or writing about them only in LOLCAT speak. But while 8 wasn't exactly an epic fail, it was curiously underwhelming; pre-leak hype suggested that it would push these industrious Minnesotans to the upper echelon of blog hosannas and year-end top tens that they seemed perfectly constructed for, but it just sort of deflated upon touchdown. But Cloud Cult have developed a self-sufficiency that allows them to exist almost totally outside indie's name-making machinery; simply put, they don't need the help, seeing as how whatever happens, they'll just keep doing what they do, free of the temptation to compromise their lofty ambitions.
So, as expected, Cloud Cult keep it moving with their eighth album in as many years, but Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes) is a pretty marked departure from their previous records. Considering that they've got their aesthetic down pat (a sort of post-Beck kitchen sink alt-rock matched with the 21st-century quasi-religious collectives), it's got nothing to do with sonics, however. Their last two LP's combined to clock in at more than 120 minutes over the span of 44 tracks, but this time, they've damn near put out an EP-- 39 over 13. This would initially seem like a smart move, but sprawl is every bit as essential to what they do as capo Craig Minowa's warble; paddling through all the extraneous dross was part (or most) of the fun. Unfortunately, their batting average is far lower here, magnifying all the nagging problems they've compiled to date. The title rings true, as the contents of Feel Good Ghosts are effusive, but invertebrate.
Essentially, this is where the insularity finally catches up. At the very least, "No One Said it Would Be Easy" begins Feel Good Ghosts with beautifully panned piano, expressing the type of sentiments that are uncut Cloud Cult at their most empathetic-- "You're a pretty human being...living, it ain't easy"-- but overzealous studio treatment has Minowa sounding like Jeremy Enigk drowning in a jar of Smuckers. And then there's "Love You All", which ends Feel Good Ghosts with the scent of an acid-washed power ballad, expressing the type of sentiments that are uncut Cloud Cult at their most cloying. Minowa offers "I love you"'s to his mother and father but does so through a fucking talkbox, which either undermines the emotion or completely cancels it out.
In between, Feel Good Ghosts too often comes off like hamburger phone transmissions from the Juno-verse, force-feeding knotty or naughty feelings through a filter of whimsy. "Story of the Grandson of Jesus", in addition to mining the same territory as 8's "Alien Christ", relates the story of a false prophet with a "penchant for the pinchies," offering "cola and Twinkies." Meanwhile, "Journey of the Featherless" gives you an idea of what an unplugged Her Space Holiday might sound like, impotently namechecking cellphones and eBay as if they're pillars of modern evil after Minowa dispenses a K.I.T. senior yearbook koan-- "It's worth dreaming just for the dream of it." The group's always had a predilection for the boomin' system in their drum machines, but "The Tornado Lessons" is finally where Minowa tries his hand at the rap game. I'll let you guess how that turns out.
I really wanted to see "May Your Hearts Stay Strong" succeed more than it does, as it features one of Feel Good Ghost's most arresting arrangements of machinery clanks and dramatic keyboards, and suggests that Cloud Cult might be willing to strip away their shiny happy defense mechanisms. But nothing about the shadowy love affair described therein feels real-- a nightclub owner who "got his first stitches when he bit an ice cream bowl" falls for a girl who "wore her grandma's prom dress and slippers on her feet." Instead of letting the characters just be, they have to be characters instead, and lyrically, Minowa just sounds out of his element, similar to when he laments "all the poop that brings me down" over the oontz-oontzing fake disco of "Hurricane And Fire Survival Guide".
I'll admit, it's hard not to root for these guys, considering that they mean so well. Minowa will likely always have Cloud Cult as a means to therapeutically address the death of his infant son, and then there's this from the band's website: "We also plant ten trees for every 1,000 albums sold just to be sure any other pollutants are absorbed. We have turned away major record label interests so we can be sure we can maintain control of providing Cloud Cult music in the most environmentally friendly manner possible."
How can I tell you not to spend the ten bucks? But you don't need a Mclusky primer to tell you that good intentions can only go so far and Feel Good Ghosts repeatedly fails to meet the listener halfway; Minowa hasn't run out of things to say, but he's having trouble coming up with new ways to say them, and Feel Good Ghosts unfortunately feels like another byproduct of Cloud Cult's recycling process.
— Ian Cohen, April 11, 2008