I tend to throw around the phrase “performance art piece” quite a lot when dealing with bands and artists too beautifully esoteric, too tonally exquisite, too powerfully evocative to merely be called music. I’ve used the term repeatedly in the past to describe groups like Ought and the unapologetically delivered musings of its frontman Tim Darcy, I’ve attached it to near extraterrestrial, ephemeral groups like Sigur Ros and Radiohead, to those that tend to transcend and push the limits of what sound and voice can be. Now, I’m using the term yet again to describe Cloud Castle Lake, and this time, if I may aggressively pound my fist on the table below me, I really, really mean it. There’s something about them that screams passion, mystery, wonder, intrigue, something that has never been done, something that will never be done again. It deserves to both somehow be dissected and to be left alone simultaneously. Through their music, they strive to “juxtapose lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis,” and Malingerer is the near flawless result.
The Dublin quartet don’t really have a set genre, at least, not to me – though you could probably take one listen to their debut EP as well as the first few seconds of “Twins” and tell me they’re unpredictable and fluid in nature, something that could only be described as experimental jazz. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, something I’ve only admitted to friends and family due to fear of being ostracized: I’ve never been the biggest fan of jazz. Don’t get me wrong. I respect it to the highest degree – I understand its intellectual nature, the unrelenting passion, patience, and skill it takes someone to compose and perform melodies that have no limits, no boundaries, no rules. I worked at a jazz radio station for two and a half years, blasted it day and night with my fingers perpetually hovering on the levels to get that perfect, balanced sound, memorized countless bands and artists like my life depended on it. And yet, for whatever reason, its a genre that I just can’t immerse myself in, no matter how hard I try.
I want to refrain from calling Malingerer a jazz album considering my aforementioned statements, but yes, okay, it truly does embrace jazz at its core, the way it purposely lacks pace, verse, chorus, everything that allows it to lean away from traditional music and more into the realms of experimental sound. Everything about it tends to reach beyond what is capable, everything – even the vocals of Daniel McAuley, a sharp, falsetto croon existing as the very definition of fragile and delicate, still manages to stretch and soar, and even when you think it’s about to crack, about to split open and spill all of its emotion, again it soars higher, again it stretches further.
It’s interesting to note that each track is longer than average, swelled and drawn out, and, while that can perhaps be considered needlessly prolix and overwhelming on first or second listen, its something that simply needs to be, instead referring to their utter tenacity in composing, performing, living and breathing what they produce. That time and space is needed to house every complex melody, to toy with every sonic structure they emit, and tracks like the lush, atmospheric “Fern” – a dream-like requiem lasting exactly eight minutes – and “Two Birds” – a slow-building ballad clocking in at twelve minutes – exist as direct results of that focused mentality. Yet they also prove that they can condense that energy as well in their shorter tracks, and those do tend to be the more powerful – mainly because they more effectively convey each member’s near telepathic manner of communicating, managing to play off each other in the most cathartic ways.
“Twins” is the true epitome of “euphoric darkness” all the way down to the fervid, unparalleled emotion in McAuley’s voice, making brilliant use of brass and orchestral instrumentals, not attempting to overpower or overemphasize. “Bonfire,” one of their older, recently revamped tracks alongside the wobbly, timid “Genuflect,” utilizes the haunting piano of Brendan William Jenkinson and the scattered percussion of Brendan Doherty, transforming from sparse and minimalistic at the beginning to large and threatening towards its close. Inspired by ancient Irish myth, its dark, cavernous sound is made further intimidating with the addition of Rory O’Connor’s thunderous bass and its choral interludes, making it one of their more pronounced pieces, as well as the most powerful. “Malingerer,” described by the band as the evocation of their true, unadulterated sound, is smoldering and scintillating from the initial lamentations of McAuley, as is his signature. Then there’s Jenkinson’s wandering, fantastical piano a minute in, completely changing its tone, continuing to flourish and grow, carving curlicues into its woodwork with a dagger hot and jagged. Much of the album also deals with or evokes heavy themes like introspection and isolation, terms not far off in describing where it was recorded – Attica Studios in the north of Ireland, basically separated from the rest of the country. That loneliness comes out most beautifully in “A Monument,” where the instrumentals and McAuley’s voice fall in perfect, perfect consilience. The guitars are darker, intentionally muted with finesse, and yet bites and claws simultaneously, at the beck and call of the vocals that hover above. Sure, it’s the shortest track on the album, but somehow the most sprawling, the most unforgiving in the best way.
I want to hearken back to “Sync” for a moment, the track that first introduced me to Cloud Castle Lake, the track I use to introduce others to them. Every time I listen to it, I realize new aspects of it, notice and emphasize different sounds, attach myself to different words. I don’t know what it is. The trumpets blare more passionately, the drums more aggressive and bleeding, the vocals teetering more and more on the border between pain and pleasure. What I mean to say is that I’m not done with Malingerer in the slightest – how could I be? Each track is a different world, a different environment housing a different atmosphere that requires its own set of tools and supplies to survive in. And though I’m still hesitant to merely call it music, I like music this way – threatening, intimidating, but with a little tenderness, with the ability to show itself as vulnerable, delicate, human beneath all the chaos.
photo courtesy of artist