There’s no shortage of catharsis on the sixth full-length from Minneapolis’ Craig Minowa and his band of devoted environmentalists, ideologically-aligned visual artists, and close pals, Cloud Cult. To be fair, The Meaning of 8 — a 19-track dabbler that inches past the hour mark while toying with IDM mechanics, post-rock pathos, various indie-pop idioms, and loads of kitchen-sink quirk — isn’t short on much of anything. Following in the footsteps of 2005’s equally-elongated Advice From the Happy Hippopotamus, Minowa’s latest sprawls almost uncontrollably, attempting to find hope even in its darkest crevices.
In the first two minutes of album-opener ‘Chain Reaction’, the Cult goes from diet-dance drum loops and synth clarinet poots to delicate guitar pop. Minowa’s voice is vulnerable and kindly, as the song digs deeper into itself and a chorus of voices rise out of the ether: “Put your face on mine,” they implore. Why not? It’s ambiguously rousing enough, until the piano and strings emerge, and we’re introduced to act-three: a beautiful confluence of the intro’s beats and pounded, down-stroked guitars. Et voila, the blueprint for the rest of the album, layers of music and thematic uplift working together for maximum impact.
Likewise, Meaning of 8 ’s lyrics pole-spin from science to the spirit. But for all the talk about God and Jesus, Minowa certainly seems to find the band-aids for what’s ailing him elsewhere: ‘Brain Gateway’, ‘Chemicals Collide’ and, most interestingly, ‘Take Your Medicine’ deal in serious soul-repair the likes of which a ‘Good God’ and ‘Alien Jesus’ just can’t seem to provide.
So, no, the story here isn’t the not-for-profit label Minowa and co. put their records out on. Or the 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, non-toxic soy ink and non-toxic shrink-wrap used in the album’s production (however appreciated). Rather, its Minowa’s strengths as a maximalist, an idea guy who can pack the big ones into tiny indie-pop packages. Sure, there’re too many songs here — and each one has too many parts. But that’s the album’s charm: Cloud Cult’s unedited work bears an undeniably warm honesty, and even when focusing on death, The Meaning of 8 seems to brim with life.