Jonah Bromwich is wild like rock stars who smash guitars.
Sequencing and song titles. Admittedly, these are two silly things to start to illustrate why the new San Francisco compilation In A Cloud II is so great, but sometimes it’s worthwhile to start with the peripheral issues.
The album begins Ty Segall’s “Swag.” Aside from setting the precedent for amazing song names, it’s an energetic throwback to his louder, dirtier, faster style. Though the melodies are still as firmly in place as they are on Goodbye Bread, what’s important is how compacted they are — the stretched out soul of his most recent songs re-compressed. In the process, the spry ghost that powered Segall’s earlier, heavier songs is once again let out the trap.
This spirit carries into the next two tracks, though each calms the maniacal high of “Swag.” Bad Backs do this by making their lyrics intelligible and cheerful. Chuck Prophet, formerly of the great band Green on Red, slows things down a couple of measures, with a classicist love song that’s thematically in step with what’s come before, but simultaneously breaks from the racing tempo of the first two tracks.
It allows for a smooth transition into the middle half of the album, which starts in earnest with the Grass Widow song “Octopus Via,” on which Hannah Lew is credited aside from her band, I think because she takes lead vocals. It’s a pretty spiral of a comedown track, evocative of the coffee haze of mid-afternoon blues and it’s mood holds throughout the rest of the album, (save an exception I’ll talk about in a second) as the psychedelic edge that was established early on pleasantly wanes.
After a long stretch of pleasant downtempo, Tim Cohen, the frontman of the Fresh and Only’s (and the second member of F&O to appear) provides the last brief surge of energy, on the appropriately titled “People Like Us.” The track defines “people like us” as exiles, living in a world on the verge of apocalypse, “the bridges falling, the rivers overflowing,” and packing up their things. It’s a beautiful slice of grungy pop, with a tender quality that makes it one of the best tracks on the compilation, adding spirit to the undeniable skill that’s wielded on each and every song here.
Though I think the name In A Cloud probably refers to San Francisco weather, or height, it’s a really appropriate name for a compilation that seems totally unconcerned with what’s happening in popular music, that exists apart. As Steven Hyden noted in his review of Ty Segall and White Fence’s recent collaborative album, “Hair exists outside of what’s commonly seen as contemporary, which is precisely what makes it contemporary.” In A Cloud pulls the same trick; it’s telling that artists like forty eight year old Chuck Prophet and forty nine year old Paula Frazer can sound at home alongside relative youngsters like Segall and Cohen.
It’s extraordinary to me that after centuries of cultural criticism, we still forget to take the longview on much of the work that we talk about. But In a Cloud II is the kind of record to remind us that this stuff isn’t necessarily ephemeral; this album would always have sounded good and will sound good until the vinyl starts to decompose and the robots eradicate our digital libraries.
MP3: Tim Cohen (Fresh & Only’s) – “People Like Us”