Cloud Castle Lake
Cloud Castle Lake
9 Aug 2018 (21:00) at Róisín Dubh
Not every new band has to burst out from a bustling scene to be legitimized. In fact, often it's the artists who exist completely within their own realm that become the most compelling talents. Dublin-based four piece Cloud Castle Lake may make beguiling, complicated and bold compositions, but theirs is a breed of experimentation totally individual to their own searching experience, and they share a common ambition to push the lens of live performance wider, to go outside the constrictions set by genre names, and to explore beyond traditional sonic structures, offering listeners a challenging, immersive escape from the world outside.
When lead vocalist, synth player and lyricist Daniel McAuley (27) met bassist Rory O'Connor (27) and guitarist/pianist Brendan William Jenkinson (27) in boarding school as a young teenager, he didn't have any musical tendencies. He didn't even realise he could sing, and has only recently taken vocal lessons. For a guy who has a falsetto that seems higher than Thom Yorke and Wild Beast's Hayden Thorpe combined, that information comes as quite a shock.
“I was the band's fake manager,” he laughs, thinking back on their time together in County Kildare at Clongowes Wood College. The school, famed for its sporting achievements (and for famous alumni in 'Ulysses' novelist James Joyce), the young co-horts decided to start a band as “a minor act of rebellion”. O'Connor inherited his dad's love of music, initially picking up a guitar but committing to bass for the purposes of the group. Jenkinson, the instigator for Cloud Castle Lake, also grew up in a house orientated around music. At that time, the threesome's motivation was purely one of fun-seeking, with little thought given to it being a viable career option.
“It was the most enjoyable thing in the world to do,” they recall now. Via local battle of the band contests and performances, it soon dawned on them that what they'd conjured together out of a mutual affection for Radiohead and Sigur Ros, Aphex Twin and Bjork, was really working and that they should stick with it and see where it could take them. Siring themselves Cloud Castle Lake (McAuley's doing) after a Vladimir Nabokov short story of the same name, it’s a tale about a voyager who finds a place so beautiful he wants to spend the rest of his life there, but is cruelly dragged back to reality, physically beaten by his fellow travellers. Similarly, Cloud Castle Lake's music juxtaposes lyrical darkness and despair with an almost euphoric catharsis, spurned on by crescendo-ing choruses, McAuley's sky-high vocals and gorgeous rhythmic flourishes. It's the sound of an intangible beauty that temporarily pulls you into an idyllic reality.
Newest recruit – drummer Brendan Doherty (22) – joined the band only two years ago, and has been instrumental in evolving their sound from the post-rock leanings of their 2014 debut LP 'Dandelion' to something far more jazz-inflected, electronic and indelibly liberated on their forthcoming follow-up album 'Malingerer', which itself draws on different influences, and American jazz composers such as Alice Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders.
The group tends to agonise and meander over every detail when it comes to writing. As a result, 'Dandelion' was a long process. With 'Malingerer', they wrote and practiced the songs at home, but decided to maroon themselves in the remote Donegal to record. They hunkered down for just five days in Attica Studios [Villlagers, Sam Smith] with acclaimed producer Rob Kirwan, known for his work with PJ Harvey on 'Let England Shake' and Hozier’s 'Take Me To Church'.
Being accustomed to recording themselves, the foursome had to learn to trust in Kirwan's leadership. Having him at the helm helped them make decisions faster. In fact, they didn't even realise they were making decisions. “Rob had this way where he would just ask us to 'live with it for now'. It was his way of delaying decision-making, but it was kind of a lie. We were under the impression we could fix it later so we moved on. When it came to later, we realised the decision had already been made.” They laugh.
Kirwan also encouraged more of a sense of improvisation. Some of their favourite moments on the record are tracks like the cacophonous, off-the-cuff 'Fern', which was a direct result of that sense of throwing caution to the wind, and it brought out the love the guys have for playing their instruments live in a room together, going where their collective journey takes them. “Excuse me, I'm a mess,” sings McAuley,“Uncurling like a fern.” It's an almost literal commentary on what's happening in the room as the foursome eke out that lilting instrumentation. 'Bonfire' is another particularly proud moment. A track seemingly riffing on themes of miscommunication and dissipating relationships, it features a choir – a highlight from the recording process. There's a newfound sense of increased confidence among them that stems from that time spent in Donegal with such an esteemed collaborator. “It made us feel like a real band in a way,” says O'Connor of their current mindset. “It's now or never. It's very real now.”
Named 'Malingerer' after the track of the same name – the centerpiece for the record – the album is a moment of respite from the shadows of life's hardships. McAuley, however, is quite opaque when it comes to revealing what those hardships are. “I guess I am slightly coyer than most about my lyrical inspiration,” he notes. “The songs are a way for me to excise things that have been weighing on me. That's why they seem dark. Those are the times that need the most reflection from me and the songs are opaque for that reason. They're coded messages to process things.”
That lack of specificity only serves to enhance the listener's experience, allowing the listener to work through their own struggles, to discover the light at the end of the tunnel, and to eventually feel the same sense of emancipation.
The invigoration that Cloud Castle Lake has felt off the back of recording 'Malingerer' has already made them more productive than ever. They've recently finished a score for short film 'Ballet Atha Cliath' and they're already talking about writing for their third record. But first and foremost, their main focus is on building their live performance before a budding fanbase. With ambitions to tour America, the UK and Europe, they're eager to build on providing the type of transportive atmosphere for others that they themselves relish together.