Cloud Cult connect with the heart

Cloud Cult play on Saturday and Sunday at First Avenue
Cody York

It's abundantly clear that the members of Cloud Cult all care tremendously about every aspect of the band. Each uplifting song displays assiduous attention to detail. The new record, aptly titled Love, has sumptuously designed packaging. And the Minneapolis art-rock group's live shows, including live painting and a sprawling stage setup, cultivate intense devotion.

These considerations have paid off, as the eight-piece band have easily sold out both evenings of their upcoming two-night stand at First Avenue. It's a triumphant homecoming, and also a delayed record-release party for Love. As the band gather on a cold February day in their spacious new rehearsal space in northeast Minneapolis, they all seem quite relieved to have the record finished at long last.

"It wasn't really a smooth process at all," says frontman and chief songwriter Craig Minowa, regarding nearly two years of writing and recording the band's ninth studio album. "It went through a lot of manifestations, but since last spring it finally started to sculpt together. Initially, it was really orchestral, and ended up feeling a little more dramatic than was necessary. So a lot of stuff got ditched, then it started getting really aggressive, then it started taking its current Love form."

Love is an all-encompassing concept, and the title brings out a wide range of emotions for the band. "The general idea behind it was to try and put out a purely positive message and intention, so every show and every poster and every T-shirt would have something that could offer some medicine," Minowa says. "It seems like with every Cloud Cult album, there's a searching process — trying to figure out the meaning of life, and why we're here and where we're going and who God is and what it's all about. And looking back on our discography, when I looked back, every album came to the summation of love."

And the 13 songs on Love tie into that overriding theme, from the simmering urgency of "1x1x1" and the assertive experimentalism of "The Calling," to the unifying, Polyphonic Spree-like anthem of "Good Friend" and the tender ode "Meet Me Where You're Going" — which Minowa graciously wrote for the band's sound tech/tour manager Jeff Johnson's wedding.

"[Love is] all about trying to chip through different layers of the self that get in between you and the true source of love — the purpose of life and the divinity that is all around us, but that we're separated from because we have all these layers of gunk that we have to chip through," Minowa says.

It's certainly not environmental gunk created by the band. All of Cloud Cult's music is recorded at Minowa's climate-conscious, geothermal-powered studio/farm in Viroqua, Wisconsin, with the CDs (put out by Craig's Earthology Records) manufactured out of all recycled materials.

The earth-consciousness is dwarfed only by Cloud Cult's attention to their fans — especially those going through personal struggles. Among them was River Falls resident Jessica Schaffhausen, mother of the three young sisters who were tragically killed last summer. Minowa played at the memorial service at her invitation. "It's a huge honor, and it's a huge aspect of why this band is still going," he says. "If this band was just here for music or for a career, it wouldn't be here anymore, for me at least. The fact that it's hitting a niche, that we're able to do something unique like that, feels like a personal kind of calling."

Often with two live painters — one being Craig's wife, Connie — a Cloud Cult show plays out on canvas as well as through the speakers. But the performance continues when they leave the stage and hear the stories of their family and friends. Minowa notes, "The real show is in the everyday."

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