Following the sudden death of his two-year-old son, Cloud Cult leader Craig Minowa dropped out of society and nursed his wounds in seclusion on an organic farm in rural Minnesota. In six months of self-imposed exile, he composed the songs that would become They Live on the Sun
. Considering his tragic loss, it would be understandable if Minowa were to bare his eviscerated soul and drag you down into the depths of his despair a la
Bonny "Prince" Billy. But he is not that kind of guy. The album is definitely tinged with heartbreak, but Minowa's optimism in the face of this tragedy shines through.
"On the Sun" opens the record with a percussive march that builds to a stirring chorus, which details a future when everyone will live together with all of their loved ones "way up on the sun." This inspirational motif is the album's primary musical theme. Minowa's liberal use of vocal effects sometimes results in a dead-on impersonation of Buggles, with lyrics that belie their delivery. If you were unfamiliar with the album's back story, songs like "Turtle Shell" and "Fairy Tale" would seem to be nothing more than clever allegories based on children's fables. Their esoteric meaning only becomes clear as the album progresses.
A sample of Minowa's late son's voice is the centerpiece of the moving "Took You For Granted", and also your first tip-off that Cloud Cult may be more afflicted than they seem. The next track, "Toys in the Attic", finds Minowa ranting like Roger Waters at the end of The Wall, even copping his lyric for the song title. But this despondency is short-lived; Minowa keeps it together for most of They Live on the Sun's second half. Cut-up beats keep the synth-based songs lively, giving light to the occasional heavy material that finds its way into the mix. Songs about starting over are peppered with farmyard metaphors -- Minowa refers to rutabagas and potatoes more than once. Even "Your Love Will Live Forever" sounds like the work of a songwriter who has come to grips with his loss.
However, that's just a brave front. "I'm Not Gone" once again features Kaidin Minowa, and hearing this precious two year-old playfully say "daddy" will break your heart. If that doesn't reduce you to tears, "Sleeping Days" will. In this soft, piano-based song, Minowa is barely able to choke his words out. "Good night, baby / Daddy's going crazy / I'm choking on my sleeping pills," he confesses. That's when you realize that he's still a long way from okay.
They say there's a fine line between genius and insanity, and Minowa dips heavily into the latter for inspiration. Genius shines through his crippling despair, revealing poetic lyrics and (mostly) uplifting song structures. They Live on the Sun won't be for everyone, but it should be. While it's sometimes upsetting, it is also a cathartic release (pun intended) -- and if necessary, you can always skip the really sad songs.