Sunday, October 17, 2010

Prefix Mag review

For all its My Bloody Valentine-cum-psychedelic drone, Cloudland Canyon's last album, Lie In Light, still bore sonic touch points, however few, to frontman Kip Uhlhorn's one-time primary band, the dance-y hardcore outfit Panthers. While the focus of the two groups was irreconcilably different, the guitar tones and vocals-far-in-front approach of Cloudland Canyon tracks like "Krautwerk" and "Mothlight, Part 1" still drew a line, however thin, between the two groups. In that way, it was possible to see how Uhlhorn moved from one band to the other, even if the dense electronic's of Lie In Light's middle section seemed totally out of left field.

In the two years since Lie In Light, Cloudland Canyons lost one major contributor, Simon Wojan, to King Khan and the Shrines, and picked up a few others along the way, including Uhlhorn's wife, Kelly, with a rotating cast ending up contributing to their latest release, Fin Eaves. If the new Cloudland Canyons record does anything, it eliminates the line that Uhlhorn once walked; very little here bears any sort of resemblance to Panthers. The confrontational guitar fuzz and clearly rawk-influenced vocal stylings have disappeared, retreating into a distant, ambient haze. Instead of a line of progression, Fin Eaves weaves together all the threads of Uhlhorn's previous works into one singular package.

Not to say that Fin Eaves isn't still voluminous, it's just more subtle in its approach. Lie In Light was anything but subtle, pushing its attack, whether organic or electronic, firmly into the red and not letting up.Fin Eaves seems to draw much more from classic post-rock influences. You can hear traces of Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky or Godspeed You Black Emperor in the way their songs ebb and flow, especially in an unhurried epic like "Sister," where tremolo keyboards for the bed in which a slithery guitar lead lies. And there are plenty of homages to shoegaze, like on "Mothlight, Part 2," where an elastic bass line keeps the ethereal vocals and other nebulous instrumentation grounded.

Without question, Fin Eaves is the most cohesive and focused album from Cloudland Canyons. Lie In Light tried to switch gears between two different styles, ending up missing as much as it hit. Fin Eavesdoesn't have Lie's highs -- there is no "Krautwerk" here -- but it's certainly more consistent. By backing up the vocals and making them just another instrument, Uhlhorn and company have found room for their electronic ambitions and their natural post-rock tendencies to coexist. The laser beam effects and hazy keyboard backbone of "Gracious Hearts" provides an excellent counterpoint for the song's organic second half, which incorporates roaring guitar atmospherics and a rhythm section that thinks its a garage rock band to excellent effect.

Strangely, how consistent Fin Eaves ends up being both its biggest strength and its biggest detriment. Where the mixing and matching of tones and influences creates an album that's the most put together of Cloudland Canyons' career, it also what causes the album to drag a little bit in its second half. By the time penultimate track "Narc" hits, Uhlhorn has already exposed all of his tricks, and has nothing else with which to surprise. The band's obvious talent for playing with the dense musical world they've created saves it from becoming boring, but much longer than 37 minutes and its possible the ending reprise of "Mothlight" may have been a lullaby, so to speak.

In a way, Fin Eaves picks up exactly where Lie In Light left off, and that's marked obviously by the fact that Light closer "Mothlight" didn't get its part two until two years later and how the same influences still color the swirling, earth tone backdrop of the new record. But what Uhlhorn has done on Fin Eaves is reconcile those influences into something unique to him; this is homage or pastiche, rather than imitation. Rather than playing different influences to different effect, Fin Eaves is a whole work, the first of the band's career.

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