The central metaphor of Cloud Cult’s concept album “Light Chasers” is space exploration equals self exploration. For a band that’s never been light on symbolism, it breaks with previous albums with its optimism. This move is largely inspired by the birth of band members Craig and Connie Minowa’s son, and a some of the tracks can be thought of as addressing baby Nova. They manage to balance emotional variety, so you don’t get bored, and emotional cohesion, so you don’t get lost; it is, after all, a concept album.
There’s a lot of genre variety. You’ll find songs and sections of songs that are indie-rock, borderline electronic, sweeping cosmic orchestral sounds, and touchingly simple piano. Sometimes these blend, like “The Exploding People,” which transitions from synthesized beats and auto-tuned vocals to dynamic and ultimately sadness-tinged violin, and back.“Dawn” begins with flowing water and wind chimes and ends with bird song; howling wolves and indistinct background conversation sound out the sound effects. “Today We Give Ourselves to the Fire” goes from electronic guitar, to an emotional cello and violin, to back-masking (yes, they play it backwards) as it transitions into the next song. Under appreciated percussion work permeates almost every track. The strings get fullest treatment in “You Were Born” and “Responsible,” where piano and harp accompany members of the violin family, unprocessed vocals, and nothing else save passionate songwriting. And rather than being arranged in a linear gradient of styles, the order keeps things lively and unpredictable. This smorgasbord is sandwiched between “Unexplainable Stories” and “There’s So Much Energy in Us.”
Like many concept albums, the first and last tracks form a unit, both musically and emotionally. It’s a space age, 2001 meets Star Trek metaphor and music, with somewhat clumsy to a Kirk-like captain and low fuel, but it still manages to set the tone for the album. “Energy,” the seven-minute finale, builds to a powerful conclusion both musically and emotionally. It takes a lot of musical maturity to pull off this sort of track, and they do it admirably. In fact, the album’s vast range of sounds is pulled off with flair and expertise, and reflect the outer space metaphor.
The concept of ‘chasing the light’ is referred to several times, but what that means is left vague, sometimes infuriatingly so if you’re looking for more than just wishes to a newborn. The band has always had lyrics that make you think: metaphors and images and parings of concepts that you would have never thought of on your own. You’ll leave things you’re used to having behind, like gravity. So sit back and let Cloud Cult drive the spaceship, and you’ll feel like you’re going somewhere. And even if you’re not, you’ll have a fun time getting there.