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Cloudland
Canyon: An Arabesque (Medical Records)

When
Cloudland Canyon were still the duo of Kip Uhlhorn and Simon Wojan,
their music seemed to channel the motorik drive and groove of vintage
krautrock like early Kraftwerk and Neu! fused with a heaping swirl of psychedelia. They were far from concise,
with their tracks tending to sprawl as quasi-jams that effectively
fused steady, driving drumming with blazing, reverberated guitar and electronics and vocals
in ways that felt somehow distinctly masculine. An Arabesque is both
an evolution and a departure from Cloudland Canyon’s previous
trajectory, and this is because of a few fundamental distinctions.
Wojan parted company, and Uhlhorn is forging the way now with his
wife Kelly Winkler as lead vocalist and Pete “Sonic Boom” Kemper
(Spacemen 3) as a co-producer, along with a handful of collaborators
and players that includes M. Geddes Gengras, members of Alex Chilton,
Big Star, Flaming Lips, LCD Soundsystem, and more. The album notes
point out that these tracks had been heavily road-tested for a year
or two before recording An Arabesque, which likely explains how much
tighter and more focused the material is, as opposed to sprawling
suites of sound that blur together on earlier efforts. And yet these
are not traditional verse-chorus pop songs at all, but rather a
shimmering, upbeat, more accessible capturing of the motorik vibe
with cyclical vocal phrases and patterns that infectious sonically,
yet I find myself almost completely oblivious to the lyrical content.
The music tips in the direction of the dancefloor more overtly, with
nods to disco and synth-pop throughout most of these tracks without
resorting to mere pastiche.

An Arabesque (MR-056) by Cloudland Canyon

It is certainly a world toward clarity when considered next to a previous release like Fin Eaves from 2010, whose wall of sound drowned out most of its details. The more deliberate emphasis on concise
songs lends “Try Faking It” a wink of humor in how it simply just
starts full throttle, with no build-up. Many of these cuts share this
evenness, a persistence and consistency that feels in harmony with
the more sprawling nature of earlier albums. But its acid details,
steady mid-tempo groove, and vocals lend it an accessibility that I’d
never felt on their other albums, and this is likely to endear
Cloudland Canyon more to a broader audience without feeling like
they’ve compromised their identity. Instead, it feels like a joie de
vivre has presented itself more clearly, particularly on an
aspirational builder like the title cut, wherein Uhlhorn’s vocal
refrain is complemented by a soaring saxophone that sounds so much
better than it has any real right to. The vocoder drive of
“Rebuilding Capture” would feel right at home on Trans Am’s
Futureworld, an album that is a fairly good touchpoint for the energy
and aesthetic of much of An Arabesque, without the electroclashy 80s
schtick. While I’d say the strongest tracks are front-loaded, the album goes down smooth from start to finish. Its
enthusiasm shines through from its rousing opener to the airy
comedown of “Psychic Insistent” and mini outro “4P.K.” Highly
recommended, one of our favorites of 2016.

Buy it: Medical Records