In the underworld of political, personal and worldwide issues, there is a streaming flow of sound crashing over itself that takes a moment to harmonise and soothe its belly on the floor, then jumps right back into its thundering spirit to demand it is heard. This is the refreshing, enthusiastic feel I get when listening to Pain Olympics – a truth to life, discovered in playful and ambitious vocal-instrumental collaborations and a renegade-fronting album cover.
Crack Cloud is a band one has never quite heard the likes of before, though most certainly I am excited to have been able to review their upcoming debut album, ready to be released on July 17th via Meat Machine. As rightly explained by Q, ‘to describe this band would be to undersell them’, though each song on this album deserves its own review – the best justice to this album will come on July 17th, when Pain Olympics will be released to the world.
Opening the album up is ‘Post Truth (Birth of a Nation)’, the frontrunner for the theme of the lyrics in the whole of Pain Olympics. Crack Cloud have raised our blindfold veils and given us a stern marching drum, a passionate vocalist – Zach Choy – to match, before settling us in with an angelic interlude. This nation they are bringing to us is built on such a foundation, on harsh truths and the prospects of spiritual communalism, and the symbology here represents this as their message as a band. Though the poeticism floats their lyrics, the underlying drum brings gravity to the song and reminds listeners to balance both within themselves to achieve a certain level of resistance to the norms of society and the struggles it brings to everyday lives.
Following on is ‘Bastard Basket’, where the saxophone can stretch its legs. There’s communal laughter, a remembrance of the delight in friends, before a stiff bass brings all attention back to the music. Synthesisers provide an eyeliner for the conventional guitar-drum-bass trio of instruments thought of to be vital to every band, setting Crack Cloud apart from what we think is standard straight away by their style. The lyrics remain spread out across the song, sparse and poetic, united by the introduction of a badass saxophone solo that makes its stand between the percussion and string, between the rise and fall in the intensity of the song and – it sends us into a blissful rollover into ‘Something’s Gotta Give’.
We’re introduced to the third song by an overhead, wavering siren that is overtaken by the bassline and picking guitar. A more verse-esque voice joins in with harsh, spitting vocals giving the orders for peace. This song appears much more conventional in the sense that there is a clear stringing of lyrics, but the message remains the same. All voices joining on the track are unified, gaining organised hysteria as the music rolls on to ignite a passion within the listener that turns them towards Crack Cloud’s condition. This medley appears much more personalised, playing on the engrained structure of a song that people aim to find and recognise in music, therefore identifying with the track, while ensuring that the band still inject their style and import.
‘The Next Fix (A Safe Space)’ revives us from a broken record and adapts a new style, where the pace is upheld by rapid vocals from Choy with input from the other members of the band, calling out words that exigence for attention. The focus of this track is on the voices: some humming, some whispering, and some singing – all beautifully. We get a glimpse in at a conversational section, as though the very song itself is undergoing interview before a crowd of people call out in sympathy to create the safe space the title promises. It is a well-crafted song addressing such area of life, the ‘Fix’ being a craving felt by everyone whether they have experienced drugs or not, and by the end we are thrown back into the haze of unknowingness to bring a cyclical feeling to enjoyably enduring the fix from Crack Cloud’s symphonies.
Halfway through and we find ‘Favour Your Fortune’, where we are brought along by a whispering ‘narrator’ taking us through the world in a hybrid of poetic and performing vocals. It is as though we are being taken through the world of Pain Olympics, where there is no set structure and reliance lies on culture and community. A chant rises against harsher instruments, broken by our narrator’s suddenly impressively fast detailing of lyrics and returning on a whistle that sends us underwater by the end, hazing our understanding and intriguing us on towards the next song.
‘Ouster Stew’ begins with a cheery synthesiser, reflecting an ‘80s vibe with the vocals reminiscent of Jarvis Cocker. It is hard not to at least tap one’s foot to the music, enticed in by the medley of music highlighting Choy’s creative singing style with a collective voice formed by the harmonised band. Then, it appears, the percussion is given free reign and an extraordinary drum solo ensues, broken by the slicing of a knife and the lowly incoming saxophone making its return. The song is set apart from the rest of the album in the sense of its ‘80s-punk-like style, though the lyrics remain true to the message of a new nation, post-truth as one would describe, and the reliance on being together in hope for something better than the world we have now.
The bass encapsulates one instantly in ‘Tunnel Vision’ and the spitting vocals are highlighted by a rapid, underlying synth. Though there are many instruments present here – percussion, synthesiser, bass to name a few – and the vocals overlap and clash against each other in anarchy, the tune forces you to stare only at the end point while enjoying the tune as one goes. It opens into a true flexing of the band’s skills, with an epic guitar overarching the rest of the instruments as they guide one along through this new world painted in Pain Olympics. It brings us away from the reliance on the synthesiser and exercises a wonderful display of Crack Cloud’s capabilities, seemingly under the control of every contributor as Choy brings the attention back down to the tunnel with his wide singing and returns to the charismatic anarchy that is the album’s front-page aura.
Finally, we fall into ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’. To go out in a blaze of glory, Crack Cloud invite us to sit and let the music lower onto us from above, at first beginning far away and floating around and around, carefree, and easy. The vibrations from the guitar appear closer to us than the rest of the music, an instrument we can identify with to bring ourselves into their heavenly symphony. A halo of angelic singing guides us around this track, underlying and submitting to the guitar and recognisable chatter bringing the message home of falling short of glory, but we have a chance to better ourselves and have this reflect on the world around us.
Pain Olympics, in short, is so original and carries a message that is so widely known and yet not always perceived. It is raw, passionate, and changes its course so often between tracks that the band becomes hard to pinpoint with a specific genre, as ‘punk’ singularly does not to them enough justice. The tagline states that the album is ‘based on true shit’ and we are invited to experience it; they make it enjoyable, euphoric, and above all allow themselves to be the guide through the vision they hold as a band for bettering the world. Surely, this is what music is truly about – providing something to the world that is both gratifying to listeners and provokes a change, be it internally per person or widespread across the globe. July 17th, there will be the Birth of a Nation invited by Crack Cloud. Keep an eye open for Pain Olympics because it is the guide for a greater vision, a fresh genre and a new set of voices advocating their message of hope.
Pain Olympics is released on 17th July via Meat Machine Records. It is available to pre-order now on vinyl, cd and digital download through Bandcamp.
Review by Caitlin Colley