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The Lead Review

Rebel Alliance: Pain Olympics By Crack Cloud
Zara Hedderman , July 16th, 2020 07:57

With a shared history of trauma and an open-door policy at the studio, Crack Cloud's debut album is a remarkably focused affair, finds Zara Hedderman

Crack Cloud’s ethos is founded on freedom and community. Previously in interviews, core members of the multi-media collective have described these qualities as a vehicle for the recovery and rehabilitation of their ever-revolving cast of contributors. This inclusivity coupled with the desire to make vital music is motivated by a desire to create opportunities for helping anyone afflicted by Canada’s opiate crisis. Their first-hand experience of trauma, heard across their songwriting, is imperative to their sound. Conscious of preconceptions based on their extended line-up – past and present – and pre-empting any cultish comparisons, Crack Cloud tore-down all assumptions ahead of the release of their debut LP, Pain Olympics: “There is no apocalyptic death drive here; no cult of personality; no hierarchy of power.”

Furthermore, the band quashed any perceptions of how their debut would sound with the singles that preceded its release. To anyone who had enjoyed the Vancouver-via-Alberta collective’s self-titled EP collection from 2018, which mostly echoed the distinct melodics of Gang Of Four and Television, you’re in for a great surprise. If there’s anything you can be certain of with this group, it’s that they strive to be one step ahead of critics and fans to avoid being pigeonholed. They’ve certainly achieved that with this album. There are many contrasting pieces to this puzzle, but once everything falls into place, a captivating – albeit challenging – portrait of modern socio-political pressure is formed.

Operating as a seven-piece when touring – although there won’t be much of that anytime soon, unfortunately – for the recording process, however, the group (led by chief lyricist and vocalist, Zach Choy) holds an open-door policy. This invitation is extended to individuals from all creative practices, from visual artists, to filmmakers and dancers. The diversity of minds at play here, across a number of disciplines, enables Crack Cloud to produce high-quality music videos (such as the striking visual accompaniment for ‘The Next Fix’), eye-catching artwork, as well as fine-tuning hooks throughout their arrangements. Despite their punk aesthetic, every aspect of Crack Cloud’s output is precisely conceived and produced. The fluidity of this record is a testament to that.

Across these infectious eight tracks clocking in at thirty-two minutes, Choy and his cohort throw everything at the canvas. As well as their familiar late 1970s-era post-punk leanings, we’re treated to well-executed experiments in funk, grunge, rock orchestration, and hip-hop. Given the breadth of sounds covered, not to mention the number of musicians involved in the making of Pain Olympics, on paper, at least, this record should be more chaotic than it is.

Instead, we’re presented with a neatly polished snapshot of anarchic demonstrations against a world plagued by adversity. This will to chaos accelerates the majority of Pain Olympics’ arrangements from the pulsing alarm-like, jaunty rhythm inciting Choy’s near incoherent cries on the fiery ‘Tunnel Vision’, to ‘Favour Your Fortune’s’ meandering looped sub-bass melody (resembling Run The Jewels’ ‘Love Again’) which suddenly morphs into anguished cries expelled with so much exertion you can almost see the spit come through the speakers. The gradual build of the latter, in particular, provides one of the LP’s most invigorating moments.

If there’s one word to describe Pain Olympics, it’s ambitious. You needn’t go further than the remarkable opener, ‘Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation)’. An explosive and densely layered track, thumping percussion and spiked guitar riffs introduce an impassioned vocal deliver from Choy akin to David Monks of Tokyo Police Club. This sonic-claustrophobia is quickly countered by a marvellous choral harmony atop a swell of hopeful mellotron, sax, chimes, and harp. The arrangement fluctuates from optimistically inclined instrumentation before returning to a thrashing soundscape met with protestations, “We are all post-truth.” It’s a tremendously captivating and stirring number. Its impact is only rivalled by closer, ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’. Elsewhere, the textured tones of horn and distorted percussion grooving through ‘The Next Fix (A Safe Space)’ demonstrates an air of sophistication absent from their earlier lo-fi compositions. Here, the group proudly demonstrates a proclivity for producing a lingering hook, amplified by a jubilant choir singing affirmations (“When you’re feeling up or down, don’t give up”) that you could imagine receiving radio-play.

For a record shorter than most released in the present streaming age, it’s an impressive feat that Crack Cloud havw managed to cater to all musical tastes. This, of course, makes Pain Olympics an extremely accessible record for a broad-range of new listeners and one that’s easy to return to. Radiohead fans will no doubt decipher similarities with ‘Morning Bell’ and ‘Burn The Witch’ on ‘Bastard Bucket’ whereas Broken Social Scene devotees will easily fall for the gorgeous tonal paradoxes of ‘Something’s Gotta Give’. Finally, the aforementioned ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’ resembles the electrifying nature of Arcade Fire’s earlier output and even features a female harmony that echoes Régine Chassagne’s distinct cadence. Built on a framework of inclusivity and seeking therapy from their music, Crack Cloud have certainly accomplished all they set out to achieve with this welcoming debut.