Cloud Becomes Your Hand - Rocks or Cakes

For several pleasant weeks, I have been absolutely tripping over myself with adoration for "Rocks or Cakes," the new album from Cloud Becomes Your Hand. These jams have sailed through the "stages of joy" most of my all-time favorites have done to my head: on the virgin voyage, this record surprises and delights with every turn of phrase, refusing to be defined, drawing from any kind of musical approach it needs to define its own magical space. In subsequent listening, it quickly feels like a familiar friend, music that's somehow been in your head all along but you couldn't make it out before. Upon even further listening, the detailed recording quality and meticulous arrangements continue to reveal new facets of these beautiful songs, imparting new secrets with every spin. Endlessly creative and catchy as hell, this is one for the ages, carefully composed, brilliantly arranged, and perhaps most importantly, deeply felt.

A lot of these tunes are rooted in 60s Canterbury scene vibes, with the gentle upbeat organs of early Soft Machine, the playful carnival atmosphere of early Gong, and the twisting, unpredictable melodies of "Uncle Meat"-era Zappa. And primary composer, vocalist, and guitarist Stephe Cooper's voice reminds me a lot of Dominique Leone (which is awesome, as his voice is pure gold). But those are surface impressions--while this music is incredibly approachable, it's fiercely unique on repeated listening. There are lost b-movie sci-fi soundtracks, weirdo hoedowns, childhood adventures into secluded wooden lots, and vaguely friendly monsters hidden under beds lurking everywhere in "Rocks or Cakes."

I don't want to do a play-by-play of this album, as it's only 35 minutes long and you should totally take the time and reward yourself. If I had to pick a few favorites, though, I'm in love with the Daevid Allen-ish progression in "Sand of Sea" and the great unison-doubled melodies near its center. The wah guitars doubling vocals in "Rat Jumps" are amazing, as is the alien soundscape the whole tune establishes. And the back-to-back tunes that open the b-side of the vinyl edition, "Bees Going Postal" and "Bay Shrimps," are packed with melodies, countermelodies, and fun shifts in dynamics that feel like short films--"Bay Shrimps" especially exhibits its fantastic main melody in a carnival of variations and changes in density. Deep motivic development or "Forbidden Zone" outtakes? Both, dear reader.

This album is a sound lover's dream. If you're listening to a string quartet or a piano trio or the like, timbre is mostly pre-determined by the instruments involved, and the musical focus shifts to melody, harmony, and rhythm. But timbre takes on equal importance in some kinds of imaginative music. "Rocks and Cakes" is a masterful example of very genre-inclusive songwriting rising to the next level with orchestration and sound design choices that are obviously as patiently conceived as the melodic ideas and formal structures. One of the biggest reasons this music can simultaneously feel universal and otherworldly is the obvious dedication to getting every sound into an ideal position. The big-picture concepts in the music feel like they come from pure moments of inspiration, which keeps the music fresh and immediate, but the key to finding yourself fully embraced in the technicolor dreams of other artists is this precise reworking of arrangements and sounds. Every synth tone is exactly right, every effect pedal is dialed in, and every unison line, tiny countermelody, or subtle rhythmic interjection is perfectly placed to highlight all facets of this joyous music.

I love the core instrumentation of this band, too: how many touring bands are working with a full time mallet percussionist nowadays? The bits of vibraphone and marimba one can clearly make out on the album add a massive amount of style and depth to this recording, and it's hard to even imagine how much mallet percussion work is actually on this record: the malletKAT instrument is its own kind of MIDI interface, and I imagine a lot of the synth sounds might be combinations of keyboard and malletKAT work. The violins, synths, drums, and guitars are all immaculately played, too. While this isn't an album of virtuoso shred moments, these are very complex contrapuntal avant-pop arrangements that would fall apart in the hands of less dedicated musicians. These are achingly beautiful performances that add up to a lot of fun.

You can pick up the CD/digital editions of "Rocks or Cakes" from Northern Spy, and the LP version was released by Feeding Tube. Cloud Becomes Your Hand is on tour right now, and word on the street is that their live show is extraordinary--check their website for dates. For my local Lincoln readers, they're going to be at Duffy's this Sunday (March 30). See you there--and save an LP for me, dudes!

 Bonus alternative review of "Rocks or Cakes"

I kind of wanted to make the following my review of this record, but then I remembered how so many folks are annoyed with artsy fartsy reviews that don't describe the music, so...

My dear sweet cat Bill is an elderly little fellow, and he can't quite make all of the heroic jumps he used to manage in younger years. So we've developed a little game I call "stuff up high," where I hold him gently up to various objects and locations that he can't possibly reach on his own, and he sniffs and purrs and purrs and purrs. When I listen to "Rocks or Cakes," I think I know how he feels.


  1. I came here by searching for things about Dominique Leone. So glad to have stumbled on this. I'll be listening.

    1. Awesome! I'm a huge fan of DL as well, and I'd suspect that folks into his music will definitely enjoy CBYH.