David Shane Smith would make a great science fiction writer, and I don’t mean the child-fantasy light sabers and spaceships kind. Instead, the decaying futuristic cities Smith evoked on his last 2 releases (Wintertower and Angry Earth) have more in common with the realistic bleakness of, say, Children of Men, Blade Runner, or a Philip K. Dick short story than the genre’s typical fare. Smith is at his best when painting stark scenes of environmental corrosion, urban degeneracy, and human indifference, and his latest, Cloud Pleaser, is full of them. His recent relocation from New York to Los Angeles has only intensified these themes.
Sonically, Smith still draws from a varied array of sources, including folk, electronica, ambient, and, to a lesser degree, hip-hop. Fingerpicked acoustic guitars blend with bedroom beats and jarring sound effects, and the arrangements often make unexpected twists and turns between these styles. Cloud Pleaser sounds like the creation of a guy equally indebted to Amnesiac, Rejoicing In The Hands, Paul’s Boutique, and Music Has The Right To Children. “Miserablism” is a prime example - it begins as a somber acoustic folk song that jarringly morphs into a minimalist, sleepwalking rap about consumerism and superficiality. Tape glitches and military-march percussion punctuate “Brand”, a song that uses striking images such as “futureless eyes”, “the church has been defaced”, “it’s not the least bit controversial to worship militarism” to map out the apocalypse and its morning after. The funereal nature of the album is lifted, however, with its closer, “Beauty Force”, one of the prettiest songs in Smith’s canon. Sparse piano melds with Smith’s lilting melodies, and the song becomes the proverbial light at the end of the Doomsday tunnel.
Cloud Pleaser is not an easy listening experience. The dark beats, strange noises, and ghost-like folk are a far cry from the crowd-pleasing pop the album title puns. Instead it is the most compelling work yet from an outsider artist with a singular vision. Cloud Pleaser possesses the stunning moments of brilliance scattered throughout Wintertower and Angry Earth, but combines them with a new found consistency from song to song. There isn’t a weak moment here - 10 songs whose shared mood and themes coalesce into something of a personal addendum to the Book of Revelations. Consider yourself forewarned. It will soon be available through Stroboscopic Records.
MP3 :: Miserablism
MP3 :: Brand
MP3 :: Beauty Force
(from Cloud Pleaser. Buy here)