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July 18, 2011
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss
Cloud Cult can’t be classified

Some music fans may know more about Cloud Cult the band than they know about their actual music.

After all, there are several unique aspects to the band that lend themselves to frequent discussion. There’s the green record label bandleader Craig Minowa and his wife Connie run on their organic farm in Viroqua, Wis. There are the live paintings on stage by Connie Minowa and Scott West. And then there is the tragedy that informs so much of Cloud Cult’s music, the untimely death of the Minowa’s young son Kaiden.

While all of these elements are frequently used as the crux on which articles about Cloud Cult hang, focusing exclusively on the narrative elements of the band’s story does a disservice to the music itself. Yes, all of the above is crucial to a complete understanding of the band. But none of these background elements would matter at all if the music wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own. And Cloud Cult’s output has been most certainly been strong.

Once described by the indie music tastemakers at Pitchfork.com as “otherworldly lessons in being human,” and “insane genius,” Cloud Cult’s music is at times haunting, catchy, upbeat, wrenching, strange and approachable. Some Cloud Cult songs are joyous, others confessional and others still inscrutable. Over the band’s existence, Craig Minowa has written enough radio-friendly singles to make Top 40 bands jealous and an equal number of strange tunes that push the boundaries of conventional rock music. Classifying Cloud Cult has thus been a tricky proposition for music writers. They’ve been called art-rock, folk, psychedelic and everything in between.

On July 29 at 8 p.m., Cloud Cult will take to the stage at Orchestra Hall. Along with the full eight-person band, the show will also feature an extensive multimedia component, which includes pre-recorded video montages created specifically to sync up with the live music. The band will play many old favorites from its 15-year career, as well as tracks from the most recent album, “Light Chasers.” The band’s first album to make it onto the Billboard chart, “Light Chasers” includes several singles that will be familiar to fans of stations like The Current, including “Running With the Wolves” and “You’ll Be Bright (Invocation p.1).”

The religious undertones of the songs on “Light Chasers” will come as no surprise to those who follow the band. Cloud Cult has always had a deeply spiritual streak, one reason the music has touched so many people so deeply. The loss of his son sent Craig Minowa into a period of explosive productivity as he used the creative process to deal the tragedy, and not surprisingly the raw emotion of these songs connected with many listeners dealing with their own tragedies. The organic farm and green record label on the Minowa’s property are another spiritual expression of how their creative endeavors fit within the world on a grander scale.

Perhaps this is why so many writers talk about the story around the band when writing about Cloud Cult. The elements that make them easy to write about are so intertwined with the music that they cannot be separated from the actual songs. But those who only know them for their story and not their songs are missing out. On the 29th, they’ll have a chance to change that.

LIVE Cloud Cult performs at Orchestra Hall, 1111 Nicollet Mall, on Friday, July 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20–$45.