Cloud Cult Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus

Listening to this album is like floating into a musical workshop on Mars. Fuzzy, grinding gears attach parts of rock onto radio pop and screw bits of jazz onto folk, while blips and beeps sound from the machinery. The product is pleasant, well-crafted indie pop: quirky and spaced-out but packaged for mass consumption. Cloud Cult are the brainchild of Craig Minowa, who formed a band to deal with the passing of his two-year-old son in February of 2002. Their four albums are released on Minowa's own label, Earthology, which uses all recycled materials and donates all profits to environmental charities. Minowa's positive attitude shows in his songwriting — the album is upbeat, melancholy at times but lively at most. Though Cloud Cult's whimsy is an asset, Minowa's lyrics as well as his vocal delivery become irritatingly fey at times. Lyrics like "I like my happy hippopotamus/she's sleeping under my mattress" are examples of how Cloud Cult's eccentricity can get to feel a little contrived. The album at times teeters from eclectic to cluttered, but Minowa clearly has a good grasp of every genre he samples from — though his arrangements are good, finer tuning in terms of placement and flow could make them excellent. Overall this album is a fine example of pop music prowess, deserving of praise even if it falls short of some of its goals. (Earthology)