Cloud Cult

Aurora Borealis

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In 2004, Cloud Cult continued their prolific output by releasing Aurora Borealis, their most consistent and focused record to date, and set the blueprint for their magnum opus follow-up, 2005's Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus. The overall sound is more refined, featuring less scattershot programmed beats (thanks to the contributions of a live rhythm section and cellist), more mature arrangements, and a tighter set of songs without the abundance of throwaways appearing on their previous album (unless you count an apparently sincere homage to "The Princess Bride"). The lyrical content is more universal here, too, since bandleader Craig Minowa tones down his (understandable) obsession with the death and loss of his two-year-old son, the only exception being the excruciatingly poignant "live radio performance" of "Beautiful Boy," which the listener who would prefer not to break down weeping openly would be advised to avoid (this song and the tail end of "Grappling Hook/Northern Lights" have samples of his deceased son's voice that are heartbreaking when one knows this back story, so weepers beware). For the most part this time out, Minowa offers somewhat more oblique existential musings with which many a young adult would identify and thus is arguably more successful if less direct and literal, depending on one's preference. The exhilarating immediacy of tracks like "Breakfast with My Shadow," "Alone at a Party in a Ghost Town," "As Long as You're Happy," and "All Together Alone" define the Cloud Cult ethic: an irreligious faith in the goodness and purpose of life and mankind. And with the closer, "State of the Union," featuring cleverly manipulated samples of a speech by George W. Bush, Cloud Cult begin exploring the overt political themes that would preoccupy their later work, a theme that supplies this communal collective with the righteous power they conjure for the sake of humanity.

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