By Jesse Marx
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"I knew in choosing the theme of this album of the spiritual journey and whatnot that there'd be critics that'd say, 'Well, it's rehashing the Cloud Cult thing' and 'You've done this before,'" he shrugs. Pitchfork, for one, was less than charitable in its assessment, although others have been more favorable. "There's spots in it that even different people in the band were like, 'Are you sure you want to do it like that? Maybe like adjust this or adjust this?' But they were really important spots for what I needed, and I guess to me on this living journey it's more important for me to create an honest product."
The band's first concept album, Light Chasers is a predictably mixed bag. As is prone to happen with such records, the concept gets cumbersome at times, leading to some awkward lyrical moments and slightly tangential interludes—but then one need look no further than the hidden tracks that muddled up the backside of Hippo to see that such tendencies are nothing new. If some of the carefully considered advice borders on sentimentality and self-help, it's made up for in the transcendence of spirit that pervades each track. Indeed, the strength of the new material undoubtedly lies in the sophistication and subtlety of Craig's arrangements, which put his gifts as a composer on display more than ever before.
Yet the most revealing window into Light Chasers may not be through the album itself but through a pair of recent reissues. Last winter, shortly after Nova was born, They Live on the Sun and Aurora Borealis were rereleased with altered track lists, each missing nearly a half-dozen songs. In the case of Aurora Borealis, in particular, many of the omissions focused on Craig's then-failed marriage rather than the loss of Kaidin.
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"There was enough venting in the albums where I was just trying to get things out and really work out a lot of inner issues...I was just vomiting garbage out of myself," Craig remembers, pointing out that with the number of songs he recorded at the time the track lists were in flux until the last minute. "I feel like it's living art, in the sense that it's a better product now, that it evolves as a biological entity just like the rest of us."
While that explanation is hard to justify on an artistic basis, it's difficult to judge Craig on a personal one. Coming from someone who's always put his own frailty and numerous blemishes on display, the reissues function as a deeply human attempt to reconcile with his past self. And if those albums were almost obsessively concerned with Craig's own devastation, then Light Chasers demonstrates a greater awareness of the world around him and the impact his songs have on others.
"He doesn't want to release music that he isn't willing to repeat over and over and over again," Young agrees. "[Cloud Cult] has become something that isn't just an outlet for him. So now I think he writes music with that filter in. I think if that filter was gone we'd see some different music, but I think that he is responsible to that filter."
Thus, Light Chasers—and the Craig Minowa of 2010—reveals itself like a self-fulfilled prophecy of the band's uniquely fervent mission: the transformation of personal tragedy into something beautiful and life-affirming, not only for its creator but ultimately for others.
THANKS TO THE very personal nature of Cloud Cult's music, they receive scores of fanmail—some of it a simple appreciation of their music, but much of it is surprisingly revealing.
"It's gotten to be where you meet some people who have gone through some really intense things and used the music to help them," Craig explains. "They feel so close to you even though you've never met before—they're wide open with who they are and what they've gone through. And it can be really intense, but beautiful at the same time."
I lost my son very unexpectedly last year. He took his own life.... One way I've been able to deal with such a loss has been through music.... From the first time I heard a couple of songs I felt very connected to this band and their style of music. It wasn't until recently that my older brother told me the story of Craig's son passing away years ago. Maybe that explains the connection.
"Because of the music, I think they write and they think that we're going to have some magic answer," Craig continues, bouncing anxiously as he speaks. "And you really want to help and say the right thing and all you can say is...." A distraught look crosses over his face, his shoulders sagging as he drops his hands into his lap. "That's a really hard spot, and it's really baby steps."
My 20-year-old daughter passed away in late June after a tragic accident. At her funeral one of her friends approached me and offered a Cloud Cult CD to me, stating that it was one of [her] favorite bands and that she would want me to hear it. The Light Chasers album touched me deeply, especially "You Were Born."