Monday, September 05, 2016

Clouds 'Octopus' - Album Review

Gee, it has been awhile since my last post.

In 2014 I found a local music appreciation website called Mad Fa Music which was run by Lex Cran.
They were calling for music review submissions, so I contacted Lex and submitted my review of Clouds 'Octopus' album, which was accepted.
  The site has ended, but is still online, so I thought I should post it on my blog in case Lex eventually takes the site down.
  So here it is:

Clouds 'Octopus' Album Review 

Album Details

Recorded: at Periscope in the Autumn of 1992
Released: October 1992
Chart Position: Peaked at 24 on the ARIA charts; in the charts for 5 weeks (October - November 1992) 


1. 'See You're Leaving'  2:48    Phillis
2. 'Blood and Bone'        2:39    Phillis
3. 'Maryanne'                 3:39    Young
4. 'Apollo'                        2:12    Young
5. 'Misery'                      2:49    Phillis
6. 'Loud'                          2:34    Phillis
7. 'Say It'                        2:14    Young
8. '3 Minutes'                 3:55    Phillis/Young

The first time I heard Clouds was on Triple J in late 1991. It was a song from their debut album Penny Century (released in October 1991) called “Anthem”, which was the second single after “Hieronymous”.

I really liked “Anthem” for its thick fuzz guitars, the delicate 'jewellery box' tinkling in the verses (which give the song drama and mood) and the rockin' rhythm section. I also loved the vocals of the two women: Jodi Phillis and Patricia Young.

At only 2’12”, “Anthem” is short and sweet.

I bought Penny Century not long after that, and was happy to find it was a very good album, with interesting lyrics, great 'power pop' sounds and skilful arrangements. I was definitely a fan from then on.

I was into lots of music at the time, being 24 (The Stones Roses' self-titled album, Gish by Smashing Pumpkins, The Lemonheads' It's A Shame About Ray and Going Blank Again by Ride, to name a few), so I didn't get onto Octopus until early 1993 or so, but it quickly became a favourite of mine. To this day I still love each song, which is a great testament to the album.

Little things, like the title being Octopus and there being 8 songs, gave the album some charm. There was also some discussion at the time (with my friends anyhow), as to whether Octopus was a mini-­album. At only 22:57, it is on the short side, so you could call it a mini-­album...but I WILL NOT!

Another great thing about Octopus is the arrangement of the tracks. Each song starts fairly abruptly, but either ends on a slow fade to silence, or includes a short gap of silence, with some songs blending beautifully together.

Clouds' line­up, like many bands, changed a bit over the years. Octopus was made with Jodi Phillis on guitar and vocals, Patricia Young on bass guitar and vocals, along with David Easton on guitar and Stuart Eadie on drums.

The album opens with the slightly pissed off sounding “See You're Leaving”, about the mixed feelings of someone left behind in a romantic relationship. It begins with a wistful guitar phrase that winds its way down to the verse, sung by Jodi and accompanied by quiet but squeaky bass notes, which get more insistent as the bridge (“Got ready for this, baby”) builds to the chorus and the full band kicks in. As is the case with many Clouds songs, they use variation and dynamics to create an interesting sound. I think something that is overlooked with Clouds is that this band could rock. Just listen to the instrumental section in “See You're Leaving” from 2:10 on and the subsequent outro. It’s epic-sounding rock and then the counterpoint vocals (“Go on, go on, go on”) chime in, carrying the song through to its defiant ending.

“Blood and Bone” enters with a nice drum fill, and is driven along by hard drumming, bass and guitar locked into a repeating phrase, and nice exotic sitar­esque flourishes. Jodi sings lead, with Patricia adding backing vocals, which is always a beautiful combination. The drumming quickens and the song builds to what feels like a chorus, with Patricia taking the lead briefly (“But above all...”), but it quickly dissipates back to the verse. Next time around the build up does lead to a chorus and on to the instrumental section which brings the sitar­like guitar from earlier to the front. The break ends with a subtle tinkle, but is followed by a powerful rock section of great drum fills and power guitar that carries the chorus along to the outro, where the familiar riff brings the song to a decisive end.

Maryanne” has an interesting guitar sound: strumming that is fat and wonky, with a second clearer guitar joining it. The tempo is moderate with simple drumming. Patricia sings the lead vocals this time, harmonising with Jodi to create a beautiful chorale sound which has a hypnotic effect on me. Who is this mysterious Maryanne? Sometimes I imagine she's a cat...The song ends with a distorted wonky guitar phrase which feels like it wakes you from a dream.

“Apollo” to me is quite a pure sounding song. The instruments are clearly defined. The song begins with strummed guitar, fingered bass, and drums struck in unison five times, melding a distinctive sound, which leads to the verse and a faster tempo. It’s a great combination of rhythm guitar, bass guitar, snare drum, and second strummed guitar, with additional lead guitar at the bridge. The lead is sung by Patricia with subtle harmonies by Jodi. 

The chorus features castanets and “Apollo” sung in counterpoint by Jodi and a rare male vocal (Eadie). The instrumental break with great snare drumming by Eadie and expressive melodic lead guitar has a melancholic mood. The last verse leads to an interesting finale with the lyric “then you and I will become one”, with Jodi singing the backing (“dive into the sun”), then Patricia the lead, and then both singing together (thus becoming one). The song ends with an open strum that resonates and slowly fades, and the next track (“Misery”) clunks in.

“Misery” begins with a recording of a man talking to his dog (“here you go Roy”). This song is unusual in that the lead guitar plays pretty much continuously like a solo for the whole track. You could call it a riff based song, like The Beatles “Daytripper”. It’s a straight ahead rocker sung by Jodi, backed by Patricia. Toward the end of the song there's an homage to “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash: with the line “don't push me, 'cause I'll fall off the ledge” sung quietly in a rap style behind the music. As the ending approaches there's dog growling (credited to Henry, not Roy...), and after the song finishes, he barks loudly. It's a great ending.

“Loud” has a loping hypnotic fuzz guitar sound that makes me daydream. Sung by Jodi, backed by Patricia, the choruses in particular are a beautiful example of Clouds playing well together. The song ends on a resonate note that slowly fades, and the next track (“Say It”) buzzes in suddenly.

Part of the charm of Octopus is the linking of the songs by lyrics: “Loud” (“Say it, loud”) is followed by “Say It”(“Say it three times”) and then “3 Minutes” (“Three minutes at a time”). Intentional or not, I like it.

“Say It” was released as a single a month before Octopus came out in October 1992. It‘s similar to “Anthem” with its fuzzy distorted 'power' chord guitars, but faster and punchier, with a bit more dynamic tension (loud/quiet/loud), fast bass, and hard drumming. I love the mad guitar solo section in the middle of the song that ends with a few drum fills. Like “Anthem”, at only 2:14, it’s another great concise rock song. The lone guitar feedback that builds to the last few seconds of the song is a nice contrast to the tight and controlled playing of the rest of the track and flows into the last song (“3 Minutes”) seamlessly.

The closing track is an interesting song: a mix of reggae rhythms, rock guitar, ethereal “aaahhs”, and dub (delay) effects. It is quite intricate when you listen to all the different elements. The lyrics suggest the song is from the viewpoint of a pop song writer: “three minutes at a time to space I go to keep you happy”. The bridge is a work of art with climbing strummed chords and another guitar adding squeaky notes, the descending bass and the harder rhythm guitar, ending with the delicate guitar notes.

The chorus is sung by Eadie and Easton in a low voice, with Jodi following in a spoken style, an intriguing contrast that works well and adds to the calypso feel of the song. I love the instrumental solo: it's two guitars squealing with feedback. Very cool. The song ends with the lovely “aah aah aahs” of Patricia floating by, and an abrupt loop of an abrasive fuzzy guitar effect.

So that's Clouds' Octopus. There was definitely something special in the air in 1992.

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