We are all clouds.
It's trippy to think about. It sounds like something you’d hear in a room with a blacklight, a lava lamp and a lingering haze of smoke. But in listening to Cloud Cult songwriter and frontman Craig Minowa describe his reasoning behind the abundance of cloud metaphors floating through the writing of latest release Feel Good Ghosts (Tea Partying Through Tornadoes), it's clear that the comparison means much more.
“If there was a spiritual form of water it would be a cloud. The majority of our bodies are made up of water and you watch those spirits flowing overhead and mixing and mingling together … that cloud metaphor is really tapping into the spiritual element,” Minowa says.
It's a romantic, if scientific, notion that he takes even further, talking about the interplay between bodies conversing at a club, the interweaving of “baby clouds” from our mouths. “The mix of water in everyday life is so much more dynamic than we're able to perceive.” So, too, is it in death.
Minowa speaks wistfully now as he recalls seeing watching this sort of spiritual evaporation first hand.
“Our son Kaidin, when he passed away [in 2002], we had him cremated. It was amazing how this vibrant life form can be reduced to just crystals and the rest is water vapor that drifts off into a cloud,” Minowa says. “It really is true; every one of us is a cloud.”
Suddenly the notion isn't so silly. It's not a sophomoric scientific revelation. It's not just a chic concept for some song lyrics. It's a comfort, a positive spin one of the saddest times Minowa has faced. If our spirits merely mingle with the vapors, then a little bit of us is left to linger with the living. A pleasant thought for anyone who's had a loved one pass on from their lives, and one Minowa explores with his soul-searching song (literally) “The Ghost Inside Our House.”
Tracks like that one put perspective on troubled times for the characters that inhabit Feel Good Ghosts, a wildly varied, but impeccably orchestrated volume of 13 songs that lyrically explores philosophies of both life and death. From opener “No One Said It Would Be Easy,” to the finale “Love You All,” the characters that comprise Minowa's cast search for whatever happiness can be found in heartbreak.
Minowa notes that the characters in these latest additions to his song catalog have evolved a bit from those in his earlier albums.
“With Who Killed Puck … the characters in general were depressed and weighed down, whereas the characters at this point going through those same types of settings are in the spot of having perspective,” Minowa says. “It's a 50-50 thing. You've got what's going on in front of you, which is your living experience, but the other 50 percent of it is how you decide to interpret it inside your own brain. That other 50 percent can have the ability to shape that experience into something beautiful, even though it may seem ugly to someone else's perspective.”
It's through that lens that these characters can march on through the ups and downs that yesterday held and tomorrow holds. The challenges never change, but the context can. So it is that one man's cloud is another man's soul.
Musically, the complex compositions, bursting at the seems with synths, strings and horns, never sound cluttered. Instead, the additional instruments and multiple layers create an awesome ambiance for these soul-shaking songs, such as the minute-and-a-half intro of plucked and pulled strings in “When Water Comes to Life.” The music builds behind dirge-like lyrics and turns what could have been a baleful ballad into a triumphant march capped by a glorious distortion-drowned guitar riff.
Despite the ironic “smile in the storm” subtitle — Tea Partying Through Tornadoes — raindrops never become rainbows, and the work never wanders into a hyperbolic happiness in the face of tragedy, largely thanks to the brilliant compositions that speak just as loudly as any of the album's written lines. It's a beautiful balancing act in which it's easy to see a narrator who has found calm, if not contentment, after a storm.
• Cloud Cult performs live at the Rock & Roll Hotel, Saturday, April 19. Tickets are $10 for the all ages show. Doors open at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.cloudcult.com.