I hated Led Zeppelin because I hated the glass-eyed hippie/skaters and football team weekend rockers. And then because Zep just wasn't fast enough. And now I've hated them for so long that I can't bear to betray my adolescent self (we're close) for some British dudes who invented heavy metal according to Rolling Stone. Thankfully, some American dudes who used to be in Cave In and other bands, and who are much more forgiving (or just musically open) than I am, have made it easier for me to get my crunchy Gibson-based blues-style thrills without the guilt of caving into collective memory.
Clouds second album, We Are Above You (I laughed), grabs everything each "heavy" band has pioneered and/or ripped off and blends it all together with raspberries and ice and hardcore and other genres mentioned on the cover sticker. Licks, yes. Breakneck drumming, on occasion. Howls and hollers in abundance. Gut-stompers, tambourines, sing-alongs and power chords. It's a lot like Legendary Demo, in that both are scrubbed with swamp water production -- the guitars sound rusted --through thanks to the multiple distortion and phaser pedals, and there are shades of sloppiness, or rather, a live feel, because the rhythm section is taut as a tripwire, but the songs are still loose and ready for rockin' the fuck out. The solos aren't technically mind-blowing; they're fun, but they're still a blast -- you can tell these guys are shredding for the pure joy of it rather than to impress anyone. That's the lesson punk sort of slips into the record -- imperfection, or at least the unpretentious illusion of it, can be a much more useful tool than anything a computer could offer.
Where Legendary Demo blows by in eight songs, the last of which is a dubbed out studio trip that I usually pass on unless I'm in the right mood, We Are Above You does more with peaks and valleys in mood. "Empires in Basements" is a somber opener compared to how the curtains spread on the band's first disc, but it's ruse -- the song's a manifesto, referencing the basements where so many guitarists and rock-nerds came to master their craft. Clouds claims their own culture, bitch-slaps hipster elitism and channels Sabbath for the first of many spreads throughout the album.
The burners are there, but the band takes more liberties with horns and piano, such as in "The Bad Seat," a swinging affair that builds up rather than busting through the gate (and which molts into a campfire jam at the end of the "secret track" with congas and sing-alongs of "some can('t) be persuaded") only to end with calls for "one more" that lead into the asphalt-melting throbs and screeches of "Heisenberg Says" with the aforementioned phaser solo that's almost too cheeky; then again, phasers were invented for a reason, and that reason is melting faces.
We Are Above You braves some of the slow jams that might have eluded Legendary Demo, but those spots split the difference between stoner moments and "Stairway" moments; the record never feels self-indulgent even in these areas, but rather, like a bigger embrace of a breadth of rock. This isn't music for trust-funded bougie fucks, but people who know what a punch-clock looks like, who wear camo shorts and black T-shirts on the weekend and drink shitty beer because they actually like it. Clouds isn't afraid to step up to their blue-collar rock heritage throughout "Slow Day," where the band lurches through fears of the "mundane" only to start taking giant gulps of air and then launch through "Horrification" in what seems like a single breath.
Though only 30 minutes (minus the bonus quiet minutes of the secret track), Clouds has taken a bigger bite of blues-based guitar anthems than on Legendary Demo, which didn't seem possible before I actually heard the album, but it works so well. They cram it tight; there's hardly a wasted second (that wasn't meant to be). We Are Above You might seem short, but if they were to get any longer they'd be more cock than rock, which is what's so great about Clouds -- they won't wash away in the tide of fame that drowned the creative hunger of their influences.