Clouds Forming Crowns – Race to the Blackout

Clouds Forming Crowns
Race to the Blackout

It’s common knowledge to never mix business with family. The combination usually results in broken hearts, hurt pride, and bankruptcy. Yet while most people take heed to precedence and avoid working with their family like Kansas City Royals home games, brothers Todd and Tim Tobias relish in it, creating some truly amazing music, both with the legendary Guided By Voices and with their pet project, Clouds Forming Crowns.

The latter’s most recent album, Race to the Blackout, is, quite simply, excellent. It’s pure rock and roll pulled straight out of the 1960s, complete with everything I love about the genre: hypnotic and heavy guitars, fuzzy, growling bass, and surreal lyrics, tied together in a concise, no frills package. Mars Volta, listen up. There’s not a filler track or interminable noodling jam to be found on this album. No, Race to the Blackout has nary an ounce of fat on it, as the brothers Tobias choose instead to cut the crap and stuff the record full with some of the dirtiest, meatiest blues riffs this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Within the first five seconds of album-opener “Phantom Dog Black Water,” you’re hit with ball-breaking distortion and grimey cymbal decay. The song segues into the second track, “Animal Drunk,” without skipping a beat, shifting into an ingenious variation on the main riff of “Phantom Dog.”

Throughout the album, Todd and Tim play around with their gritty tone, altering it just enough to keep it from getting boring. On one of my favorite songs, “Matter of Choice,” grungy guitars and psychedelic moans stutter and collide with breakneck intensity. The following tracks, “Have a Dream” and “Satellite Ingestion,” are vastly subdued, airy pieces, like Bob Dylan’s songs after he went electric. And “Floating” features an utterly brilliant, floating chorus that just elegantly drops the bottom out when the up-tempo, bobbing verse and bridge screeches to a halt.

One after another, Race to the Blackout fires off incredibly breathtaking songs, each one memorable and unique in its own right. I have literally been unable to stop playing it, and on each listen, I marvel at the Tobias brothers’ knack for writing swampy melodies and hooks that rival quicksand in their ability to grab hold on someone. Savor this album, as it’s one of the best of the year so far.