During my first listen to the debut record from Cloud, I found myself questioning just who these songs are supposed to be a comfort to. It doesn't appear to be the artist, who has made odd-pop songs within which he seems constantly unhinged and bedraggled. These unbalanced and hectic projections also make it difficult for the listener to find much relief; however with some dedicated exploration some respite and resolutions begin to appear.
Comfort Songs is the work of Tyler Taormina, a 21-year-old from LA who has crafted an album that is rich in both ideas and weighty substances that belie his somewhat tender age. Despite the help from his friends, who flesh out the tracks with full and vibrant musical backdrops, it's very obviously his record, and an extremely personal one at that. Halfway through opening track 'Cars & It's Autumn' he delivers the line "and sometimes, though it's futile, I fight these ghostly demands", and those words are a nicely succinct description of the record's narrative arc, which constantly feels like a confrontation of afflictions.
Playing out like a spirited but often embittered battle of persuasions, Comfort Songs' pace and tone is constantly shifting - often within the very same song. 'Cars & It's Autumn' delivers swaying group vocals that range from a sad sigh to a throttled grimace before the whole thing is turned on its head and drifts away inside a tenderly composed piano-led coda that "oohs" and "ahhs" in all the right places. What the track best highlights, however, is that Cloud know their way around a pop song, and for all of the album's off-beat charms, and occasionally hard-to-grasp content, it's a true pop heart which can be found at the centre of every song that helps to make this such a rewarding listen.
'Wish Little Fish' is gloriously elegant; the languid vocals sit atop a piano that weaves itself around some loose and shuffling percussion. 'Frere Jacques and Me' also has a soft charm to it, albeit charm tinged with the dull ache of growing up and the changes that brings.
It's certainly not all light and air though. Taormina is possessed with a voice that can mutate to a feral cry in one sharp midnight gust, bringing visions of a disheveled and drunken howl to the moon. 'Mother Sea' begins as a sprightly piece of straight-up indie rock, before it descends in to a unraveling self-evaluation ("I think I'm ready to love myself!") as the music builds and rises in to a hefty mass of guitar feedback, crashing percussion and half-buried, decaying keys.
Across Comfort Songs, Cloud present two very different sides, and it's difficult to say which is the more successful. The ballad, 'A Light Wish', is wonderfully heartfelt and grand. However, the band are just as enjoyable when romping through short-and-sharp pop songs such as 'Boy Sees Mirror' and the majestic 'Authorless Novel'. Thankfully we need not pick a winner, and it's actually the two poles that give the record the kind of balance that is much needed when presenting such a brow-furrowing and personal record.
There are moments when they get a bit carried away. The instrumental closure of 'Desperation Club' is lovely, but at least two minutes too long, while the slow-burning closing track 'Halleys Comet', with it's jazzy interludes and wistful romanticism's, plays out like a lonely 4am waltz and makes for a slightly wandering and underwhelming end; the album drifts away rather than delivering the final flourish that you might be waiting for given what came before it.
But that's almost certainly nit-picking, for Comfort Songs is an impressive debut record; an endlessly charming collection of strange and nuanced pop songs that manage to appear decidedly complex and yet satisfyingly basic. It's a record to get lost in. It's the sound of someone facing up to the age-old problem of growing up too soon and all the trials and tribulations that come along with that. What Taormina has done here is turned those vexations in to songs for all of us to confront and consider and explore - and there's always, eventually, a comfort to be found in that.
8Thomas P. Johnson's Score