Each afternoon my mail carrier not so carefully throws a wad of rubber-banded-together jiffy-packs against my front door, alerting me to the arrival of a fresh batch of packages to open. I rip open the top, yank out the CD contained within and throw it into my computer. Then I hit play and track through the album as I briefly look over the "one sheet" and decide whether to "import" said CD for my future listening pleasure or to simply eject it and file it away in a box, never to be heard from again. Regardless of the outcome, however, the discarded "one-sheet" and jiffy-pack get tossed into a recycle bag. I go through at least one of these bags per week (and they are big), which when I stop and think about it is 52 bags per year, which when I stop and think about it harder, is a hell of a lot of trash (and I'm just one journalist writing for a relatively under the radar website).
It doesn't take a genius to figure that out, but the simple fact is that I had never really considered the absurd amount of waste that must come as the result of one single album's release before I received Cloud Cult's The Meaning Of 8 in the mail. The band, who are strict environmentalists, insisted that their album be sent out to the press without being stuffed in a jiffy pack (or any other sort of packaging). Instead, the PR firm had to stick a stamp and mailing label directly to the cardboard CD case, along with a piece of tape to hold it shut. The "one sheet" was tucked neatly inside so as to avoid any unnecessary waste.
The album's hand-drawn artwork was captivating and intense, giving the impression that the contents within were far more thoughtful and involved than the certainly more expensive and wasteful over-nighted folder from a major label that I had opened 10 minutes prior containing a full-page glossy band photo and a color-copied 20-page press packet.
I began the "import" process without so much as previewing a single song and what followed was the best full hour of music I had heard in months (the album is exactly 1 hour long). Starting off with an almost IDM-sounding synthetic drum beat and underlying layers upon layers of strings, the four minute intro track, "Chain Reaction," builds and builds, bringing in a chorus of vocal harmonies and emphatic bass and drum lines before cooling off - just for a moment - to give way to the high energy indie rock explosion of "Please Remain Calm." By the end of this song, I was on the phone with the band's publicist to get the scoop on these guys.
Turns out they've been around for some time, making D.I.Y. albums in Minneapolis and releasing them on their own Earthology Records imprint. They've turned down major label deals in favor of maintaining 100% creative control over all aspects of their career. They developed their own CD production methods, making their cardboard cases out of 100% recyclable material. They plant acres of trees before heading out on tour to offset the Co2 emissions from their van (on which they've installed solar panels). They even purchase wind power credits to power their equipment on stage.
Clearly, this is a band with a vision, with an ideal outlook on life and music and the passion and daring spirit to do things their own way, no matter what the cost. This spirit is reflected in The Meaning Of 8. The album is an odyssey, a musical journey the likes of which I haven't heard since Broken Social Scene's You Forgot It In People. It's extremely dynamic, yet cohesive. The driving, Arcade Fire-esque vibe of "Take Your Medicine," the minute-long collage of spaced out noises, found sounds and crowd chatter that is "Everywhere All At One Time," the grinding guitars on "A Good God," the disjointed drums and nonsensical electronic noise of "Shape Of 8" and the simple acoustic ballad, "The Deaf Girl's Song," are all vastly different, yet they fit together like the pieces of jigsaw puzzle. This album is an adventure, revealing something new with each listen, exposing a different layer or subtle nuance each time through. You must buy this album, period.
The Meaning Of 8 will be available through the band's website starting next month, but it won't be available anywhere else until April.