Up until this point, Cloudkicker’s reputation has rested some pretty righteous slabs of instrumental and technical post-metal. 2010’s Beacons earned wide praise for its combination of furious polymetric riffing and unsettling, claustrophobic atmospheres. It was a breakout album whose quality gave some real weight to the Cloudkicker name and raised expectations for what the man behind the moniker, Ben Sharp, was going to deliver next.
It’s doubtful whether many of Mr. Sharp’s adoring legion of internet fans were expecting something like Let Yourself Be Huge. The relentless, disorientating technicality of Cloudkicker 1.0 has been traded for a relaxed and patient expansiveness. The dark, suffocating undercurrents of Beacons have been edged out in favour of sepia-toned and nostalgic melancholy. There are barely even any distorted guitars left; indeed, when the overdrive finally appears in earnest on the excellent “You and yours”, it’s filtered through waves of druggy chorus that gives the song a unique and pleasantly unexpected vibe akin to ISIS jamming some Cocteau Twins covers. But otherwise, the album cruises along unhurried, quite content among a web of acoustic guitar, chill grooves and slow-burning buildups.
The annals of rock history are littered with artists who have attempted these kind of drastic stylistic shifts and failed dismally. New sonic territory contains musical quicksand that will punish those who wander blithely into unknown terrain. But this is not the case with Let Yourself Be Huge. Sharp sounds incredibly comfortable in this new mode and brings care and detail to his songs, having clearly considered how his new musical preoccupations can be best explored. He patiently unfurls melodic tendrils all the way through the stunning and aptly-named “Explore, be curious”, the piece culminating in a simultaneously euphoric and quizzical trance reminiscent of Tortoise’s post-rock masterpiece “Djed”.
Conversely, “It’s inside me, and I’m inside it” starts off with some down-to-earth, folksy acoustic strumming, evoking a long-lost Red House Painters song that maybe Mark Kozelek never got around to writing lyrics for. It continues along like this until slowly-creeping layers of rhythm, ambience and glitchiness send it heading into space.
Such experimentation on this album never feels forced or self-conscious, as each new stylistic homage shines with authenticity and passion. The bold success of the record can be summed up in the final, titual track; a song of immense, unpretentious beauty that marks the affecting vocal debut of a man that had, up until this point, always worked instrumentally. This kind of courage and daring is what gives life to Let Yourself Be Huge.
The one major criticism to be made of the album is that while Sharp’s lengthier compositions are mightily impressive, he peppers Let Yourself be Huge with a number of shorter interlude tracks. More often than not, these tracks feel underdeveloped. This is not due to a dearth of good musical ideas, but more that these brief sketches are so tantalizing that they feel like they could have justified more development. Sharp seems to work best when given the space to stretch out and these tracks, while not impeding the pacing of the album in any way, feel frustratingly truncated.
The inclusion of these shorter tracks on Let Yourself Be Huge is even more confusing given simultaneously released Loop, a collection of sixteen short yet potent loop-based compositions. Singling out any particular track from Loop would be an exercise in fultility; each sonic vignette flits by unobtrusively, giving the album a feel of pleasantly scenic ambience. It works well as a companion piece to it’s big brother yet also succeeds on its own merits, a testament to the deep creativity and generosity of Cloudkicker.
Posted: Mon 23 January 2012