Review Summary: Remembering the sound of the tsunami.
As a beloved artist moves from one style to another while retaining and discarding bits and pieces of previous material, I am sometimes perplexed at what they choose to leave behind. The outcome is not that I don’t enjoy the new material, but instead am left with mild disdain in the fact that I would never have another version of that album I had held so dear. If executed with proper care and skill, the jump between albums could easily disorient enough to have me forgetting that entire facet of the artist’s music existed. As such, when Ben Sharp’s Cloudkicker transformed from coarse polyrhythms to more melodic, atmospheric offerings, I never batted an eye. This maturation was expected as it is what instrumental bands do. They tone it down, spread it out, and emotion it up.
That last part is what makes Cloudkicker different. Beacons
already had a story to tell, even with Cloudkicker in its infancy. A tragic, emotive story. Yet as Ben Sharp has progressed through his career he has left his picture painting-side behind, electing for small novellas instead of the grand epics. These works were still stellar and completely engrossing. But it’s on the first listen of Subsume that I realize that those prior works had been criminally stripped of the fervency and plot upon which Beacons had spoiled me. Even though the only clue into the intention of the music is the length song titles, the album contains a thread linking each track and idea to the last to create a complete work completely unlike Fade
and Let Yourself Be Huge
deals in the depression of life and our inability to cope without emotional upheaval.
In keeping in line with his current trajectory, Sharp could have easily just darkened the mood to accomplish this message. It would work, no doubt, but we’d be missing out on the other aspects of such a diverse theme. But Sharp knows the topic isn't that simple, and doesn't squander the potential to attack from all sides. From the melancholy midsection of “A weather front…” to the intense pulsating climax of “He would be riding…”, Cloudkicker brings the kitchen sink of prior works. The most readily apparent is the return of polyrhythms to step up the passion to match the complex nature of the subject matter. They are then shrouded in the airy atmosphere of Let Yourself Be Huge
, and patterns repeat and build recalling (albeit slighty) the experimental Loop.
And in typical Cloudkicker fashion, the songwriting genius brings it all together neatly, expressing anger, frustration, and sadness throughout the albums length. Sharp treads backwards to rediscover his old ideals while keeping his mind firmly on his more recent dealings, effectively moving forward while learning from his past. If only it was that easy for the rest of us.