Upon only minimal initial exposure to their music, even the average listener couldn’t be blamed for having the temptation to dismiss Aussie indie rock upstarts Cloud Control for just being one of the more recent in a long, long — long — line of Anglo rock bands that just happens to have an uncanny talent for impossibly irresistible pop melodies. They’ve already caused quite a commotion in the Anglosphere and beyond, but if Cloud Control ultimately do become one of those countless one-hit wonder bands that pop in and out of NME or that suddenly get ridiculous heaps of praise dumped on them by Rolling Stone — only to never be heard of ever again — it would be a real shame, because close listens reveal that there’s plenty to be appreciated on their debut album, Bliss Release.
To be sure, everything about Cloud Control seems to scream business as usual, but their ability to both weave together the sounds/styles of quite disparate influences and make them their own proves to be the decisive factor in turning their music into something special. Lead singer and guitarist Alister Wright’s vocals at times recall those of Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes) and Alec Ounsworth (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), while the boy-girl dynamic with keyboardist Heidi Lenffer’s supporting vocals are reminiscent of the innocent sexual tension heard on the very best indie pop. Wright’s guitar and Jeremy Kelshaw’s bass, meanwhile, knowingly draw upon a rich tradition of Anglo rock, bringing to mind the mystic, ominous retro-psychedelia of The Stone Roses and the Britpop-filtered rock abrasiveness the likes of which Blur would occasionally employ so well. All of these references, eclectic as they are, feed into the band’s music: it sounds like 1960s-era Kinks and some Beach Boys surf mixed with the New Wave aesthetics of bands like Orange Juice and even fellow Aussies Men at Work, then fused with the clean, minimal production style characteristic of Vampire Weekend and the quirky, playful “exoticism” of bands like The Ruby Suns.
Indeed, the slightly idiosyncratic sonic concoctions found on Cloud Control’s songs — the result of generously sprinkling touches of New Wave-inspired eccentricities and gloomy variations on psychedelic sounds, among other elements, onto their sunny, catchy melodies — are what ultimately draw the listener in. Behind that bright, chipper veneer, there’s a complex mixture of mystery, wonder, darkness, and straight-up weirdness sometimes. When the hard guitar distortion kicks in a quarter of the way through opening track “Meditation Song #2,” for example, it comes as a particular surprise, as its sonic texture contrasts with everything else that’s preceded it. Somehow it works beautifully, and one can’t help but follow the song through to see where else it goes. On third track “Death Cloud,” that textural clash is revisited, the song based upon soft vocals and guitars dramatically taking turns and alternating with a constant buildup of immense-sounding shoegaze-style guitars. Fourth track “Ghost Story,” for its part, could be the quintessential Cloud Control song, for nowhere else on the album are the band’s inclinations toward both lightness and darkness so successfully combined; throughout, deceptively whimsical vocals contend with abrasive guitar distortions while also hiding the song’s lyrical content — which implicates an account of murder.
Cloud Control close out Bliss Release with “My Fear #1,” a song that seems only to partially fit in with the rest of the album; the psychedelic and quirky vibes are toned down, and the sound production evokes something of the somber and melancholic, even the epic. It provides for an exciting taste of what the band is capable of when branching out musically, something they most certainly will do to some extent for future releases. That’s not to say that Bliss Release will have one pondering what Cloud Control does next; quite the opposite. This is their debut, after all, and although the album’s been released in the United States a year after it was in their native Australia, the songs have held up quite nicely, memorable and unique as they are, a confirmation of sorts that Cloud Control need not worry that the ever busier and/or more distracted listeners of today will miss out on their peculiarly singular sounds.