Review Summary: A second album that sounds like a second album.
Cloud Control’s 2010 debut, Bliss Release, had the perfect mix of simple ingredients for sunny days, with its euphonious vocal layering, buoyant percussion, and jolting basslines all contributing to a trajectory that always looked likely to transcend Australian borders. Somewhere along the line, the band (quite rightly) decided the rest of the world needed to hear their craft, packed up, and relocated to England, supported by the substantial cash that comes with winning the Australian Music Prize.
As the Gothic shrieks commence the short opening track, Scream Rave, it’s apparent that the bright ebullience that shaped much of the first album might not be as present the second time around. While one might dub this newfound suitability for overcast days the ‘England Effect,’ a quick examination of the lyrics makes it apparent that frontman Alister Wright has grown up and discovered that fighting whatever’s in the water can be arduous, singing respectively in Scar and Island Living that ‘It’s just so hard’ and ‘I’m tired of living.’ You almost want to buy him a gold canary just to brighten up his day.
But Dream Cave isn’t a total departure from the psychedelic pop sound of Bliss Release. Moonrabbit has an air of familiarity, imbued with a carefree nature while sounding like Donnie Darko discovering music to be a more productive outlet for his angst: ‘I’m not crazy… you’re the one that’s crazy.’ It is, alongside lead single Dojo Rising, the standout track on the album, perfectly capturing the ‘dark’ but ‘vivid hues’ mentioned by keyboardist Heidi Lenffer on The Smoke, The Feeling.
Lenffer takes the microphone on that mid-album track, working as a foil for Wright, whose voice, though much improved since the first album, occasionally still suggests his pipes were never destined for singing. He does try some new things though, channeling the ragged but passionate nonchalance of Edward Sharpe in the jaunty Promises, and doing his best Thom Yorke impression on Tombstone. But in the latter track, just like anyone who attempts to replicate the Lotus Flower dance, Wright doesn’t wholly succeed, and it’s not a unique occasion on Dream Cave.
In a recent show in Sydney, one of the band members mentioned that the new record had far more guitar solos than Bliss Release, but that this wasn’t due to any intentional resolution to include more Jimmy Page moments - it was just the way the songs turned out. It was a comment that spoke volumes about how the new album was composed - focusing on individual production rather than total direction - and it attests to how Dream Cave as a whole doesn’t quite hold together as well as Bliss Release did.
It’s easy to appreciate the doo-wop spirit of the title track; the raw, driving piano in Scar’s third verse; and the ironically rollicking flavour of Happy Birthday’s line ‘I hate my birthday, it’s true.’ But to listen to these contrasting ingredients in close succession gives the album a somewhat fragmented feel. There are some excellent tracks here, but they’re sandwiched between more awkward moments, like the verses of Ice Age Heatwave. This stark inconsistency may be the sign of a band venturing into new territory slightly prematurely, and one has to wonder if they were really ready for English weather.