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Crack Cloud
Tough Baby Hayley Scott , September 19th, 2022 08:34

The DIY collective cast any semblance of genre to the wind, as choirs and strings rub up against kazzos and jagged guitars

“Music is an excellent way to let your anger out, put it all on paper” advises drummer/vocalist Zach Choy’s dad on the third full-length from Vancouver art collective Crack Cloud. What follows is an uncharacteristically introspective opener, with a Kaufman-esque sincerity and sweeping melodrama, akin to a more palatable This Heat. From the very start the intent is clear: Tough Baby is centred on the alchemy of turning trauma into triumph through creativity, and making art that nourishes oneself.

Tough Baby is a monumental stylistic leap forward that, in hindsight, could have been anticipated. When you strip away all of 2020’s Pain Olympics’ cultural influences, it boils down to the emotional scar tissue that Crack Cloud were packing. The same applies here: on Tough Baby, the collective are essentially unravelling themselves – their own fears and anxieties and delusions – feelings that are conventionally negative but turned into something positive by virtue of it manifesting as a work of art, and not an act of deprecation.

The traditional post-punk dynamics of agitated, jagged guitars and abstract wordplay are exchanged for local female-voice choirs and effusive cinematic arrangements. In spite of this bold evolution, signs of the old Crack Cloud bubble beneath the surface, spilling through the cracks: ‘Crackin Up’ retains a semblance of earlier releases, with its sharp angles and jittery exterior. The inclusion of brass, alongside myriad esoteric details (tape loops, sound collages, kazoos and synthesisers) adds emotional resonance to the intensity of Zach Choy’s vocals, which sound practically chewed and spat out. Tough Baby is the sophisticated sister of Pain Olympics – more XTC than Gang of Four – while also being weirder, more satanic, and more brazen than ever. File under: Apocalypse Disco.

More preoccupied with visual storytelling than confining themselves to musical categories, genre is practically abandoned on Tough Baby. Contrary to the way records are popularly digested, the album functions the same way as a novel or film. It’s the kind of storytelling that Kendrick Lamar is a commander of, with an ability to transport the listeners into a world outside of their own – to laugh and suffer vicariously through the music.

The fluidity of Tough Baby feels like a concept album, but while concept albums are typically neatly tied together with an element of viscidity, Crack Cloud omit the logic by allowing their emotions to run free. The contradictory nature of life isn’t a cohesive experience. The concept here, then, may simply be about being yourself, and giving priority to feeling your feelings.

Anyone who has been to an AA meeting would be familiar with the discourse of giving yourself up to a higher power. I don’t often write in the first person, but this album touched my partner - who is currently on his own rehabilitative journey – on a deep, personal level. Tough Baby sounds like the audio equivalent of recovery from addiction. It accentuates the importance of creativity as an act of healing, and the negation of ego in favour of community, solidarity and action.

Despite their relative success, Crack Cloud remain vehemently independent. As a DIY collective, they work within their means, with their only limitations being themselves. Released on their own label Meat Machine, Tough Baby is dedicated to the idea that if you cut out the middleman and leave a group of people to their own devices – giving them uninhibited, creative freedom – it can yield profound results, and in the case of Crack Cloud, timely masterpieces rooted in hope rather than despair.