Over the past two years, I’ve found myself gravitating towards music that speaks to the fear and anxiety I’ve felt on a daily basis throughout the pandemic. One of the bands I keep coming back to is Cloud Rat, a self-proclaimed “grindpunk” band from Michigan. On albums such as 2019 pollinator, Cloud Rat uses dizzying explosive beats, paired with more experimental interludes, to create an intoxicating and disorienting sonic experience. At best, the band is exhausting to listen to, which is meant as a compliment.
This balance between aggressiveness and something more complicated is perfected on “Mother Tongue/Glitter Belly”, the group’s recent single, released via the Adult Swim Singles series in June 2021. “Mother Tongue”, with lyrics alluding to “A Hex Leading to Suffocating Drought” and “Coffin Chest Pain” seem tailor-made for the COVID-19 era. Yet it’s “Glitter Belly” that has me excited about Cloud Rat’s sequel. Midway through the track, the band essentially deconstructs the song, ripping out all vestiges of traditional instrumentation until all that remains is a steady drum beat and a whirlwind of electronic sounds. between the sheer noise of the track’s opening moments and the relative calm of the song’s end further stokes the sense of uncertainty that Cloud Rat excels at capturing.
Some of this willingness to experiment may come from the conditions created by the pandemic. As drummer Brandon Hill explains, “the writing process for the music we managed to record last year was wild.” Having spent much of their career already living hours apart, Hill – along with fellow Cloud Rat members Rorik Brooks and Madison Marshall – set out to find freedom in distance even greater than COVID-19 created between band members. This space, both physical and intellectual, allowed the band, in Hill’s words, to “lean more into the weirdness of things”. For Hill, the inability to exist as a band in the traditional sense has forced Cloud Rat “to go back to our DIY origins a bit, which perhaps influences the creative vibe?”
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That being said, the band doesn’t view the pandemic as some kind of blessing. “It just,” Hill notes, “it sucks.” For a band whose lyrics express intense pessimism about humanity, the global spread of COVID-19 was far from shocking. “If anything,” Hill explains, “I personally find myself saying ‘I hate it when I’m right’.” Yet music can serve as a way to document conditions associated with something like a pandemic that many choose to overlook. For Hill, “the human race has shown its true colors for generations, but never before with globally unified interconnectivity, panic, misinformation, confusion, madness, greed, etc., all under the electronic magnifying glass of social media and hyper-globalism.The world and its state speaks for itself.
Fortunately, the group still sees the need to document such a world. The band are currently wrapping up a new record, featuring – according to Hill – their “most challenging and intense material to date”. And a spirit of exploration guides this writing process.
When asked for his final thoughts, Hill replies, “All one can say is step into the void, never stop looking for sounds within sounds. New sonic brain territories are everywhere, [and] there is always something new to learn every day. One could not ask for better advice in these troubled times.
Cloud Rat performs with Northless, Closet Witch, LIFES and Ballstomper at Cactus Club on March 11.