Saturday, 6 December 2014

Cloudkicker - Live with Intronaut (Album Review)

Album Type: Full Length
Date Released: 24/11/2014
Label: Century Media Records

‘Cloudkicker – Live With Intronaut’ CD/DD track listing:

01). Subsume Part 1 (04:35)
02). Subsume Part 2 (05:08)
03). We are going to invert.../Here, wait a minute, damn it! (02:21)
04). We're goin' in, we're going down (05:06)
05). Seriosity (04:53)
06). You and yours (05:11)
07). Dysphoria (05:21)
08). Subsume Part 8 (04:32)
09). Push it way up! Ben Sharp (06:42)


Who is Cloudkicker?

For years this was asked on various message boards across the internet. This author posted the same question after a friend from Columbus sent a link saying “this is from a guy around here who gives away his music for free”. This was before that was a cool thing to do. This was before Bandcamp. This was before “pay what you like” was a phrase.

Every now and then a new record or EP would appear online. There was no label ‘hype machine’, no build up, no marketing, just great music and word of mouth. The mystery grew and eventually Cloudkicker was tracked down.

Cloudkicker is Ben Sharp, a one-man project hailing from Columbus, Ohio, he gave short interviews here and there, pieces were put together; he had a day job, music was for fun, he does everything on his own and he’d never tour or never work with a label.

Credit Los Angeles post-prog metallers, Intronaut for helping break one of his statutes. In early 2014 it was announced that Cloudkicker would tour North America with none other than Intronaut as his backing band. It was either Sacha (Dunable, Intronaut vocalist/guitarist) or Dave (Timnick, Intronaut guitarist) or both who floated the idea of using Intronaut as Cloudkicker’s band.

Sharp played his first show as Cloudkicker with Intronaut as his backing band in his hometown. A month of shows followed and luckily enough, the guys found time to enter a studio in Texas and record the set live. With Intronaut being tied to Century Media Records, another one of Cloudkicker’s statutes was broken. Cloudkicker’s Live With Intronaut will be released on 11/25 through Century Media, marking the first time ever prog’s most enigmatic artists will find his records available to retailers and in stores. An historic event on all levels

Cloudkicker is:

Ben Sharp | all guitars, bass, drum programming, recording and engineering

Intronaut is:

Sacha Dunable | guitar, vocals
Joe Lester | bass
Dave Timnick | guitar, vocals, percussion
Danny Walker | drums

Groovy, low-end riffs with simplistic, splash heavy drums are so often the name of the game with Cloudkicker, giving the songs an other-worldly feel. Their whole sound is in an atmosphere of its own, it gravitates within its own unique orbit, much like Ben Sharp, the one man show behind the music, who adheres to know pre-conceived ideas or concepts about how a musician should behave in a commercial sense. ‘Live with Intronaut’ is a historical record as it marks his debut tour, with the prolific post-metallers acting as his backing band. 

It’s only when the songs stop on the record that you are jolted back to reality for a moment, a cheering crowd reminding you which planet you're actually on.  Recorded not at a show on the tour, but at Texas’ Fathom Tree Recording Studio in April 2014 while on the road, the record boasts the crafty ability to send you into another ether while listening.

There is some really dextrous guitar work that sparks off in a multitude of directions throughout this record, with jittering melodies and stammering chugs clambering about the mix. What must be said however, is that, despite the inarguable talents of Ben Sharp and his new, albeit it temporary cohorts, the results are still somewhat limited by the nature of such instrumental music. ‘Subsume Part 1’ and ‘We're Going In, We're Going Down’ are solid songs amass with technicality, memorability and character but the record as a whole has a tendency to lose the listener at points. That's not so much because of the quality of the songs, but a lack of vocals, coupled with the celestial, bordering on psychedelic, hazy elements of their sound, it doesn't have those killer moments that truly draw you in as a listener the same way a strong vocal performance could.

This is a fantastic record to stick on, light up and zone out too - it's mesmeric and almost spiritual when lived through when baked out of your mind - but those limitations will stunt their/his growth as a band, not that he’s ever expressed a particular interest for that to happen. But that's what makes Cloudkicker so interesting. As previously stated this really is a one man show, Sharp owns all writing credits; this is his vision, his labour of love. But this is merely a hobby for him. He still works full-time, preferring to keep the worlds of music and work as separate entities. All money earned from his Cloudkicker experimentalism is pumped straight back into making more music. He doesn’t particularly want to profit from his work, or to build a career out of Cloudkicker's success and in fact has even actively encouraged fans to illegally download his music if they so desire. Music for him is about enjoyment - enjoyment in making and listening to it - and so if a fan wants to pay bugger all to wrap their ears around his songs, then so be it. They ARE listening to it and that's all that matters. 

The set then progresses with ‘Seriousity’ which bridges the gap between the unhinged antics of djent with the distinctly ominous presence of post-metal. A genial slab of song writing that writhes within its own distressed confines, the middle section's interlude building emphatically to an eruption of thrashing riffs and drum fills. But then, after the thrill of ‘Seriousity,’ ‘You and Yours’ fall a little flat. It has no real definition to it that makes it stand up on its own two legs, peering its head over the top of the rest of the pack. It just sounds like a Cloudkicker song, and that's a problem peppered throughout. Unless you pay scant attention to the record, it can be extremely difficult to differentiate between the songs. A lot of the time it’s hard to tell where one starts and one finishes unless you notice the applauding crowd between songs, but even that can be deceiving. Moreover, it is only after ‘You and Yours,’ the sixth song on the record that he makes any overt effort to address the crowd – whoever they actually are, with this being a live studio effort.

Cloudkicker was never meant to be a touring, living entity in any traditional sense. Cloudkicker is a musical project by one solitary figure made in the comforts of his own home studio in Ohio. So for him to have gotten this far, performing with a full band, is a miracle in itself really – one brought to fruition by Intronaut passionately offering their hugely talented services as his backing band. Sharp was reluctant at first, with his day job requiring him to travel three to four days a week and with the geographical distance between the two sets of musicians creating a gulf on the face of practicality. However, when touring Ohio, Intronaut stopped by to spend an evening with Ben Sharp, where he was thoroughly won over by Intronaut’s enthusiasm for the project. Since Sharp started all this back in 2007 it has blossomed almost unwillingly, and now he has finally reacted to the calls for live performances, for the band to become something it was never meant to be. And for that we should simply be grateful.

Back to the record, ‘Dysphonia’ is a rampant post-metal track with plenty of nods towards the likes of Neurosis and company. It has a bit more of a bite and energy to it which endeavours to ignite an element of differentiation to the rest of the songs hand-picked for this set. ‘Push It Way Up’ meanwhile closes the record with some more meaty riffs, feedback utilized as an atmospheric instrument of its own. Danny Walker's drumming keeps the song breathing, going schizophrenically from a stampede to a sluggish plod where necessary. It's build up is agitated and paranoid yet agile and pretty. The climax, a barrage of stomping drums and harmonised guitar is just great.

Additionally, we must also remember that this set was in a studio, in front of a smattering of people and so cannot be looked at in the same manner you would a typical live album. Thin Lizzy's Live and Dangerous, Motorhead's No Sleep 'Till Hammersmith are two iconic live records, but these are from two bands arguably at the peak of their fame, playing headline sets in front of massive crowds and are consequently bolstered and electrified by those baying crowds. The record does however succeed in capturing what these early Cloudkicker shows must have been like without really pushing any other boundaries – it’s merely a snapshot in time during a pivotal new turn in the band’s history. For Cloudkicker fans though, that's all that was craved.

It's a strong record of a very clever musician's work. It isn't particularly ground breaking, but it's not trying to be. To a tee, ‘Live With Intronaut’ is just a bit of fun. Gets stoned, stick on some headphones with this booming and I dare you to argue otherwise.   

Words: Phil Weller

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