Cloud Cult
Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus
Earthology Records

A Cloud Cult show isn’t just a concert—it’s a festival. That’s the impression one gets, anyway, after wrapping one’s head around the idea of the eclectic electrofolk pop band performing with bass, guitar, keyboard, drums and cello, as well as two painters creating work at opposing ends of the stage and a film projector filling the background. If that sounds like a little much, listeners can rest easy, especially after jamming—in the contemporary Birkenstock manner, which readily accomodates laptop loops melded with classic drum-circle percussion—to the band’s infectious 2005 release, Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus. Even after 25 songs and more than 60 minutes of music, Cloud Cult shows a keen control over its union of sound, aesthetics and messaging.

The album is a little Neil Young (“Happy Hippo” breaks into a grooved-up cover of “My My, Hey Hey”), a little The Polyphonic Spree (with big-sound peppiness on “Living On the Outside of Your Skin”) and a little Conor Oberst’s Bright Eyes (the cracked delivery throughout by frontman Craig Minowa). Cynics might be turned off by the band’s overtly enviro elements—recording in a geothermal temperature-controlled studio, tour bus powered by alternative energy, etc.—but as clean as they live, their music, thankfully, isn’t afraid to trade in loud and dirty rawk, funk-filled percussion and filthy riffs.

This is an indie band Missoulians—hippies and rockers alike—should embrace. (Skylar Browning)

Cloud Cult plays The Other Side Thursday, May 11, at 10 PM. This is a Process of a Still Life opens. $6.

Birds of Avalon
Birds of Avalon

The Cherry Valence lost some steam when guitarist Cheetie Kumar and bassist Paul Siler left the band for other musical pursuits, though perhaps the revved up rock ’n’ roll outfit from North Carolina can survive such an excision. As for Kumar and Siler, the eponymous album from their new band Birds of Avalon is a savory bit of 1970s-styled rock with vocals boldly reminiscent of Foreigner’s Lou Gramm and a second track that sounds like a cooled-down, less hormonal version of “Hot for Teacher.” Fortunately this album doesn’t rely only on beat-to-death arrangements crammed with riff after riff. In fact, there’s enough variation between each of the five songs to keep it feeling cutting edge, despite the classic-rock approach. “Keep it Together, Thackery” luxuriates in blues guitar compositions and is dimpled with sultry horn solos. “Up to My Neck” builds up from a slow wail of guitars, lumbering bass lines and soft “ooohing” into an unrelenting boogie that sets your dancing shoes off while maintaining a cucumber-cool exterior.

Foreigner had commercialized arena rock down to a tee, but the Birds of Avalon come close, and with a more organic flair. (Erika Fredrickson)

Birds of Avalon open for Green Milk from the Planet Orange at The Loft Sunday, May 7, at 9 PM. Poor School also plays. $8.

Dual Mono
Big Bender Records

The throw-down hoedown energy captured on Dual Mono—what with its double-beat drumming, periodic plugged-in guitar solos and calls to “shake your ass”—knock Colorado-based Oakhurst out of the realm of traditional bluegrass and more comfortably into the margins of alt-country. These are beer-drinking porch jams tailored to sticky-floored honky-tonks, where the mandolin shares space with the electric guitar and the upright and sideways basses receive equal time.

On “Brigade,” lead singer Adam “A.P.” Hill yells and yells and yells, “Shake your ass for rain” over quick-picking banjo, mandolin and acoustic guitar; on “Can’t Wait,” Adam Smith hooks up an electric guitar and offers catchy lead riffs over Hill’s souped-up vocals for a polished Gin Blossoms-meets-Jayhawks effect; and on “Kooky Eyed Fox” and “Gypsies at JR’s” the band lets loose with up-tempo jaunts that sound like lost tracks from an old Calobo bootleg.

Hill’s voice is too affected to appeal to everyone—on certain tracks he sounds like he’s trying really hard, in a Rob Thomas-bad sorta way—but Oakhurst’s liveliness is undeniable. This is a band that’s raw and real in a recording studio. It sounds as if it’d be even more tempting live. (Skylar Browning)

Oakhurst plays Sean Kelly’s Wednesday, May 10, and Thursday, May 11, at 9:30 PM. $2, with a free Fat Tire draft for the first 100 in attendance.

Return to the Sea
Equator Records

Whereas some albums wax nostalgia, Return to the Sea by Canadian band Islands is a compilation that feels like a roadtrip soundtrack full of bizarre premonitions and dreams of what may come. The lyrical landscape is impressive, marked by water tropes and a peculiar number of bone images: femurs, wishbones and whalebones, among others. A line like “I climbed into the blowhole, in the ribs I found you” is the romantic counterpart to the more hostile, subtly cannibalistic line, “If you ain’t sweet to me, I’ll dessert you in a heartbeat.”

It’s not just clever lines that make this album appealing. The futuristic story within “Humans” is perfectly absurd, but since the song includes a sundry host of instruments (clavinet, cello, French horn, accordion and upright bass), the larger-than-life feel of it overpowers any logic. Which is also what makes the album liberating—once you’re down the Islands’ rabbit hole, anything goes. How else to explain an album that combines melancholy sweetness with a song called “Don’t Call Me Whitney, Bobby” and interweaves funky MC rhyming with a marching band backup?

It may be difficult to understand how such disparate elements work together, but the otherworldliness is undeniably bewitching. (Erika Fredrickson)

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