Review Summary: Cloud Cult combine elements of Folk, Indie-Pop and Electronica to create a highly enjoyable, albeit too long, 4th album.Advice From the Happy Hippo
is too fu
cking long. If one was searching for the most blatantly obvious flaw in Cloud Cult’s 2005 album, this would have to be it. For me, an album with 15 [normal length] songs seems to stretch forever. Happy Hippo contains no less than 25 songs, 20 of which are of normal length. This makes it near painful to listen to the album cover to cover.
Yet somehow, Cloud Cult really deliver on their fourth record. When first introduced to Happy Hippo, I was told by my friend, the introducer, that track 19 was the album’s best track. And, after listening to the whole CD multiple times, I have come to the same conclusion. That Man Jumped Out the Window
begins sounding like, at any moment, it will explode. Pleasant acoustic guitar is combined with a suppressed string line, atop this lead singer, Craig Minowa, sings lyrics like: “It's the thoughts that you feed/It's the habits you need/It's the things that you don't think that you're seeing/When you're really seeing/That man jumped out the window
”. Midway through all of this, slightly distorted drums barge in, and then, as predicted, the song explodes. More guitars join, resulting in a brief, yet blistering solo, before everything drops out again, leaving Minowa alone with the same guitar and violin the song began with.
As a whole, Happy Hippo is a fairly poppy record. Cloud Cult do a good job of fusing catchy melodies with the kind of experimentation that isn’t usually found in such a place. Their brand of Folk goes Electronica goes Modest Mouse-esque Indie Rock is best exemplified on the one-two (okay, seven-eight) punch of Washed Your Car
and Transistor Radio
. The former utilizes a machine-created drum loop and a relatively fast paced acoustic guitar part as a home for Minowa’s vocals. Towards the end, an out of tune Piano joins the song and Minowa finishes off the song singing “ You said no no no
” over top a chaotic mix of both the piano and the guitar. Transistor Radio, while not nearly as up beat, is also acoustic guitar-driven. The song’s lyrics are comprised of a tale of a young boy on a quest of sorts, to find out what his Grand Father has to show him. Over the course of the song, Minowa’s soft vocals are joined by more, subtle, instrumentation, mostly string swellings and xylophone hits.
Not all of Happy Hippo is so acoustic driven though. First [real] track, Living on the Outside of Your Skin
, has a very danceable feel to it, utilizing distorted guitar, subtle circus organ and real drums. Moving to Canada
is another of the more “rocking” tracks on Happy Hippo. Driven by distorted guitar, a quiet synth line and Craig Minowa’s strained shouts of “Moving to Canada
”, Moving to Canada is probably the most “Punk” track off all 25.
Other than Hippo’s ridiculous length and a couple of substandard tracks, the album’s only real flaw is Minowa’s voice. While not necessarily bad, his vocals sound very child-like and aren’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to get into, right away. Sort of like Isaac Brock meets Conner Oberst as a pre-pubescent youth. On some songs though, like track 16, Clip-Clop
, Minowa really shines. When his voice strains above the raucous stomp of acoustic guitar and slightly distorted drums that makes up the backing music, he sounds like he could be the greatest singer in modern Indie music. However, this is not so much the case inn other tracks. If you can past this minor detail, Advice from the Happy Hippo is one of the better Indie-Pop records you will ever come across.