Last year's self-titled
debut album from Clouds Forming Crowns, AKA ex-Guided
By Voices members, brothers Tim and Todd Tobias, was one
of the nicer surprises of last year, with its cap-doffing
to various old acts like The Move, The Rolling Stones, and
Led Zeppelin. Indeed, it was amongst my
favourite albums of 2005.
And although 'the word on the street' was that the second album would be concentrating more on the raunchy Stones side of the band, whereas most of my favourite moments on the debut album were the more acoustic stuff, I was still looking forward to hearing this follow-up. Things certainly open brightly with Phantom Dog Black Water with its big heavy sound. That's not big in the 80s booming drum kind of way, just that it makes you feel like you're in the same room as the band.
Unfortunately though, this is something of a false impression because too much of Race To The Blackout just doesn't cut it. The production (by brother Todd) is fine throughout in a dirty kind of way. And there are some great intros, be it the early Sabbath-like Matter of Choice, the strident Electric Fools, the Sonic
Youth-like Satellite Ingestions, or the excellent Stonesey riffing of the closing Sea Witch #19 (North Station). But a lot of these songs go nowhere, with Electric Fools sounding particularly sloppy after an extremely bright start. And unfortunately the Dylan-like vocals don't help the cause – brother Tim's voice certainly suited the material better last time around.
Still, that's not to say Race To The Blackout doesn't have its moments. Floating builds from a nice heartfelt intro to a good old-fashioned organ led verse. Have a Dream has some plaintive vocals over some A Thousand Leaves-era Sonic
Youth-like guitar lines. Seat of New Elation opens with a Stones meet T.Rex (It's Only Rock'n'Roll style) swaggering intro and features some nice Jagger-like drawled vocals ("You know it was a lie-iiieee"!!). Finally, Race to the Blackout has a great heavy opening and a sense of anger about it somehow, before it goes all Beatle-ish midway through. But even on this number, I have my reservations. I could certainly do without the fiddly squiddly lead riffs that pop up from time to time.
Ultimately, none of these highlights are enough to stop me thinking that Clouds Forming Crowns have already shown us they're capable of more than this. It gives me no pleasure at all to write school report style that this is "Disappointing, can do better".