Dunedin sound (revisited)
by NICK BOLLINGER
FIRE WORKS, High Dependency Unit (Flying Nun)
DOWN AT THE END OF THE GARDEN, Cloudboy (Arclife)
At a time when a growing number of local records sound as if they were designed by major-label A&R departments, it's heartening to hear two that defiantly do not. It may be no coincidence that HDU and Cloudboy both have their stubbornly non-market-driven roots in the deep south, almost as far from the heart of New Zealand's music industry as possible.
In fact, to make Fire Works Dunedin's HDU went even further afield [...]
At the other end of the sonic spectrum are Cloudboy. They formed in Dunedin as an offshoot of the now-defunct electro-pop conglomerate Mink, and released a 1995 EP centred on the quietly enticing vocals of Demarnia Lloyd. Now, after more than five years (during which time Lloyd relocated to Wellington), comes the long-promised album. Not that Down at the End of the Garden suffers from the delay; its baroque construction and pick'n'mix arrangements would have seemed as stubbornly individual and curiously beautiful whatever date it had appeared. And yet this is a pop album. It's just rare to find pop music these days that works its way into your consciousness by stealth rather than frontal attack.
Like Mink, Cloudboy maintain a loose line-up, with Lloyd's chief collaborators being multi-instrumentalists Craig Monk and Johannes Contag. Drawing in guest specialists where required, this core trio has created an hour-long cycle of songs that live principally in the recorded realm. This is where tablas and synthesisers meet, where trombones link with percussion loops, and cinematic strings accompany funky drum breaks. Though the approach invites comparisons with Portishead and Goldfrapp, Cloudboy don't particularly sound like those English outfits. They are simultaneously spookier and more playful than either.
The songs are arranged in an arc that begins with sparkling poppy gems such as "Teaboy" and the insanely hooky "Red Rubicon" (a hit, if any radio station was brave enough to high-rotate it), but grows increasingly dark, through the jazz-meets-industrial textures of "The Play" to the ruminative coda of "No Room Between". It's a journey to the bottom of the garden and beyond.
(New Zealand Listener, April 21-27 2001)
Cloudboy: Down at the End of the Garden
New Zealand Herald, 14.04.2001
By RUSSELL BAILLIE
(Herald rating: * * * *)
Cloudboy are another outfit of arty Dunedin origins, but there's not a tortured guitar within earshot on their delightful latest offering.
A collection of deadpan and downbeat electronic pop enriched with many an organic instrument, Down at the End of the Garden suggests the result of the city's lo-fi creativity blooming in a digital setting.
It's an album of foggy atmospheres infused with beguiling melodies care of the breathy vocals of frontwoman Demarnia Lloyd.
Her singing and the semi-electronic arrangements can prompt a Bjork echo or two (especially on Feudal and Ahoy), but Lloyd and co don't pale in the comparison.
Mostly, it's sad, sweet pop gone weird and dreamy, right from the tabla and violins opener of Teaboy, through the lava-lamp Latin of Red Rubicon, and on past the dubby throb of Cup Of Roses and the cool sweet-nothings of (You're So) Pretty.
It's imaginative pop of just-so poise with a hint of darkness which maintains its grip throughout its 15 tracks. And while mildly unconventional, at least for this country, Down At the End of the Garden actually manages to give "quirky" a good name.
It's a heady album that deserves to drag Cloudboy out of southern obscurity.
Down at the End of the Garden (Arclife)
When the sitars and tablas welcome you on Garden's opening track, you realise Cloudboy are about to take you on a journey far far away from their hometown of Dunedin. Made up from the remnants of electro-loungers Mink, Cloudboy have recently played a series of concerts around the country in art galleries. It's a fitting environment for their sound, which is equal parts psychedelic fantasy and orchestral experiment. The tracks themselves move from classical ('No Room Between') to industrial ('Brimea Pretty') to electronica, each held together by the familiar voice of Demarnia Lloyd. It's her breathy, elegant vocals, simultaneously portraying innocence, pain and a sultry worldliness, that really set Cloudboy up as unlikely giant killers. On the gothic weepy 'Cup of Roses', she swoons while violins and cellos catch her dramatic fall. On the single, '(You're So) Pretty', they picture themselves on a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies, with more sitars and sooting harmonies that play around with the bliss-inducing bits in your brain. One of the more uplifting highlights comes from 'Daydreamland'. Starting with a slightly vocoded vocal and a string sample that could've been ripped from the ghostly ballroom scene in The Shining, it grows and electrolyses and turns into four minutes of stunningly romantic pop that could compete with Groove Armada's 'At The River' any day of the week.
The fact that Cloudboy have made and distributed this album without any record label assistance is both a credit to them and an embarrassment to the talent spotters who haven't picked them up. Down at the End of the Garden is an eclectic slice of brilliance that will be treasured by those that possess it.
(Real Groove, May 2001)
One thing you can guarantee with any musical recording from the southern depths of Dunedin, is that the sound will be full with a sense of space, the biggest sky in the world and magical soundscapes floating in the ether.
Cloudboy is the creative tangent of the now defunct electro pop group Mink. At the helm is Demarnia Lloyd with a myriad of crackling yesteryear samples and orchestrations of lush areans at her disposal. In its entirety, Down At The End Of The Garden is a fragile lullaby that swoons and crystallises like snowflakes, gently brushing your senses. It is a territory like The Cocteau Twins meets Bjork, with all the angular bits taken out. With tracks like Teaboy, Cup Of Roses, Daydreamland and the single Pretty, it is the kind of cinematic electronica that carries the illusion that it has been lifted from a remote time capsule from some exotic and Celtic land. This is Devonshire electronica, with minimal lashings of cream.
(Rip It Up, April/May 2001)
Cloudboy's debut brings intelligence back to Kiwi pop.
down at the end of the garden
Fantasy vistas and bizarre shifting fields of nothingness open before the listener of Cloudboy's debut album, Down at the End of the Garden, an album of rare beauty and exquisite composition. Nothing like this has appeared from our enchanted isles, which is strange. This album compares with the likes of McCahon and Hotere for dark majesty and with many other Aotearoa artists, writers and film makers for its dreamlike evocations of landscape and form.
It seems Cloudboy have taken the traditional dark side of the Kiwi psyche and created a startlingly original avant-pop album that outshines any other album I've heard this year.
Four or five years in the making, this album's elements are many and varied without ever rippling the complicated tapestry of sound. Electronica, free jazz, experimental noise, funk, rock and pop all merge into grandly composed songs that fade in and out of existence like the dream realities that inspired them.
Demarnia Llloyd, lyricist and songwriter, reputedly keeps a dream diary by her bed and many, if not all, the songs on this album have been drawn directly from her night-time fantasy sojourns. There is genius hidden in those dreams, expressed not only in Demarnia's song writing skills, but in her exquisite seraphic voice. A lilting, beautiful singer she lulls and cajoles the ears, letting dark mists advance unnoticed while the listener sits enraptured.
My most prized track of Garden is Red Rubicon, a funky piece describing a fashionable lover with narcissistic tendencies tying up lies and love in a twisted little fantasy, and Cup of Roses, the first radio release from the album, a magnificently soaked-in-strings pop song, needs mention as well.
It's bloody heartening to hear a really good Kiwi pop band. These last few years have been a wasteland when it comes to local pop music; all industry-created-factory-form-vacuum-packed fucking radio's instant top ten hits. Thank the Gods for intelligence, style and skill in pop music writing.
All Hail Cloudboy.
(loop.co.nz april 2001)
Cloudboy are a Dunedin band which has migrated en masse to Wellington. Recorded over a period of four yeras between these two cities, and drawing on a range of musicians and instruments, Garden is an album that has evolved out of the chaos of movement and sound. The result, however, is often as their name suggests: ethereal, ambient, atmospheric.
Their album title calls to mind the kind of faery visitations that Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle wanted so badly to believe in at the close of the nineteenth century, and much of the music is suffused with the same kind of faery-land wonder. Blending synths and samplers with violins, tablas, vibraphones and flutes, they create a hybrid musical topography that can be at once mechanical and organic, beautiful and menacing.
One of the most strongly defining elements of Cloudboy are the vocals of Demarnia. At certain points throughout the album, reminders of other vocalists peek from around corners; the breathy ethereality of the Cocteu Twins' Liz Fraser, the deadpan delivery of Suzanne Vega. However, the singer I was most reminded of was Bjork, in the inflection of certain phrases or the shapes of certain vowels. This influence is most strongly evident on 'Feudal' and 'Ahoy'. Nevertheless, despite such hauntings, Demarnia's voice has a very distinctive timbre and an alluring quality, and is a strong instrument in its own right.
The songs tend to have a meandery feel to them, drifting gently into being and then out again. When lyrics and music collide in all the right pressure points, the result is sublime. One such example of this is the first track, 'Teaboy'. The music is achingly beautiful, evoking sepia-tinged images of languid Oriental afternoons. The lyrics are an exercise in graceful, economic story-telling, communicating volumes within a single phrase: "acacia concealed love". It is when this artful simplicity becomes too cluttered that the effect is slightly sullied, as in the conceit of the Tom-Waitsish 'The Play'. However, this does not happen often.
In short, a lovely, wondrous, sometimes sinister album, which suggests that the Bats shows will be well worth attending.
*Cloudboy at Bats Theatre on the 29 March - 1 April
(City Voice Wellington, 29 March - 4 April 2001)
As first full-length albums go, this one should be held up as a "how to" guide for those intending the task. It is a full album, like a book telling a story, from cover to cover. The sound production is first-rate, well worth the Creative New Zealand grant.
Opening track Teaboy has a strong Hindustani feel, with tablas and sitars being used, alongside Demarnia Loyds voice and Craig Monks violin. Track two, Red Rubicon is a playful tune, right down to the trombone and swinging funky beat, and counterpoint bass line, all tied together by Lloyds vocal. It is pop heaven. Chair dancing can attract strange stares, as I found out on my second full listen. It makes me really wish Id seen Cloudboy play at Arc recently, when they toured to support the release.
Track four Tae k is an ambient intro to (Your so) Pretty, a song that received much radio play when it was released. (Brimea) Pretty is a great re-working of that song with some outstanding vocal harmonies. The closing track, No Room Between, puts the album to bed with a hottie, luke-warm chocolate drink and a good book.
It is an indy-dance pop album of international standing, just "alternative" and original enough to earn critical acclaim, and commercial enough that it should break Cloudboy on to the radio network and beyond to the world.
(Otago Daily Times, April 2001)
Shape of the Land / Paramount Theatre, Wellington, 15 & 16 Feb 2002
[…] But perhaps the most interesting local development, in terms of opening up possibilities in the area of live musical accompaniment, is a series of events involving Wellington band Cloudboy in an ongoing relationship with The Film Archive. […] By not playing on the stage itself, Cloudboy managed to sidestep the film-with-musical-accompaniment syndrome. Instead, they laid down an enveloping carpet of ambient sound, which rather than commenting on or emphasizing the images on screen, simply co-existed as a separate but parallel stream to them. […] The films gave us images of an older, rawer, less sophisticated New Zealand, whose values were rooted in a small community ethos, The conjunction and intersection of these kinds of images and Cloudboy’s technologically based soundscapes made for a compellingly double-edged form of time travelling. Occasionally, certain films threw up moments which gave the group the opportunity to perform in the manner of accompanists to a form of ‘silent’ comedy almost worthy of the American masters. […] I gather that the next step in Cloudboy’s continuing association with The Film Archive is to take this programme of films on a tour of selected European venues, a move likely to enhance the profiles of both parties.
Lawrence McDonald, Illusions 4/02
Sat, 31 March 2001: An ocean of radiance
Cloudboy? Simply sublime.
The Wellington-Dunedin avant pop outfit had sold out BATS for a third night running when I finally managed to get myself into the theatre. It wasn't easy, seats were at a premium. Cloudboy have become - in a very short time, it seems - a very hot property.
Everybody's buzzing about them, it's Cloudboy fever around the CD stores, desks and the quiet serious bars. It may seem they've come out of nowhere, but they've been working on the material for this CD release tour for more than four years, gigging around Wellington and Dunedin in the interim.
Saturday night's performance was hindered slightly by some feedback problems, but aside from this they delivered a stunning performance of their album material.
Mime, dance, masks, costumes, quirky set design, a backdrop of historical and contemporary bizarre film footage, sampled music, recorded music, live music and Demarnia Lloyd's seraphic voice - it was an evening of surreal beauty, humour and darkness lying somewhere in the murky moors between theatre, performance art and musical concert.
Many readers may well have heard the album, or read reviews, and know it's dreamy, epic, beautiful. Many may ask why Cloudboy were cooped up in a venue the size of BATS when there were people turned away at the door every night and their sound is potentially stadium-filling.
We all have to start somewhere, but when Cloudboy return a bigger venue must be on the cards.
The wash of strings and Demarnia's incomparable voice on their closing (and radio release) song, Cup of Roses sent visible shivers through the audience. The sound is huge, an ocean of radiance, a sweeping vista of things half discovered, half revealed. Many of the songs are spine tingling, some are funky, others soundscapes that ebb and flow in and out of existence like clouds on a stormy day.
If you missed Cloudboy in Wellington this time round, they'll be back and they will be utterly unmissable a second time.
(loop.co.nz april 2001)
Cloudboy at BATS, Friday
Fri, 30 Mar 2001: Back down at the end of the garden
What with the Prozac taking the edge off my self-loathing I thought I'd give Cloudboy another swirl tonite, and gee I'm glad I did.
This gig was better than last night, no first night jitters, no unplanned technical hitches, two smiles(!) one pure theatre (hey, they're acting) but Demarnia looked like she was enjoying singing Rubicon. It looked like a smile. The tune got a spontaneous burst of applause (this was a Welli the-aytre audience - we don't clap until we're sure it's over).
The music started to unfold for me tonite, there's lots going on for sure. I don't think the theatre setting suits the more angular free-form stuff, like the instrumental sections of Ahoy and Down At The End Of The Garden - I mean, how free can you be when you have to finish at the same time as a movie?
I really like the guitar interplay in Ahoy, I'd like to hear a jamming version. The other one, well, not my cup of tea in this state, I couldn't quite hear it hang together, but I preferred it to the overblown sax of Deleuze. That's all it was! Overblown sax! With a rhythm track. John Coltrane's been dead for 30 years, let him rest in peace.
i'm sure they did Deleuze last time they played here, but I don't recall no sax - then it was the noise of collapsing techno I thought. But who knows, my memory ain't what it might be.
Anyway, those dissonant bits would give any art rock band in history a run for their money. Have to be 30 minutes longer to beat the Velvets though.
Some of the theatre bits changed. No ball of wool for catman tonite, but he got to watch a bird hop by. And Lily the dog made two visual appearances and a spontaneous vocal one.
What really stood out though was the anti-American nature of the sound: drawing from pulsy Krautrock, classical, dance, European folk music and anything but the blues.
It was rich and rewarding, seductive and complete. Kind of like Goldfrapp, only really good.
(loop.co.nz / nz pop list april 2001)
Cloudboy at BATS, Thursday
Thu, 29 Mar 2001
Feeling extraordinarily privileged tonite so I thought I'd share it with you.
Just got home from the first Cloudboy album release gig and it was extremely good. (Warning: you have to take into account I have a huge crush on Demarnia - one part fey (Bjork-esquely staring at the ground) and nine parts thousand-yard stare - although in the theatrical setting she made eye contact with the crowd a couple of times.)
Anyway, they did a warm-up last weekend at Shed 11 which I missed (got there at 10.30 and it was over!) but tonite was the first gig with the films etc.
In explanation: this was a theatre show (the rest of the tour is art galleries, the Arc Cafe and Smith's Grainstore in Oamaru). It sort of harked back to the art-band mischief of the late 70s with the sound of the new century - think Mental Notes-era Split Enz filtered through Spiritualized. Set decorated with fabric flats with appliqued trees... costume changes... masks... a man in a cat suit playing with a ball of wool... a dog in a sailor suit... and the obligatory clouds squirted from a fire extinguisher... yes, boys and girls, it's the return of theatrical rock!
And this was the new eight-piece Cloudboy - the three-piece version I've seen before went hard out, but this version with twin violins and three voices, double bass and real drums, mega-samples... Far out.
The size of the venue (BATS theatre, about 100 seats) meant the mix suffered. Even unmiked, the drums buried the bass most of the time, and the heavy cymbals drowned out flute and violins, but you got the idea of the depth of the sound that really sparkles on the CD.
There were lots of highlights: the dance movie playing behind Rubicon, Demarnia's bewitching gown in the very swinging Daydreamland and the home movie of the child walking up the rocks in Same, the new songs, the old songs, the magnificent climax of Cup of Roses.
I've only heard the album once but I already love it - you might be able to get it through the Arc Cafe site - a while ago they had some MP3s but they were only 96 kbs and the full versions are sonic.
Tomorrow night at BATS is already sold out but they're doing an extra show on Saturday for you Welli people.
While I have your attention, there's a big Shayne Carter story in the Listener this week. [...]
And both Dimmer and Cloudboy had the same flaw(?): no-one cracked a smile all night (well, Craig Monk nearly smiled tonight when one of the cymbals holding up a gong fell over). The closest Shayne got to a smile was the guitar-hero cum-face, and Demarnia is renowned for staring right through you, not smiling.
But gee, isn't it supposed to be fun for everyone?
(loop.co.nz / nz pop list april 2001)
we bin in samoa so i have no idea whether the terpers on this list have
been raving uncontrollably about cloudboy while we were away but just for
posterity i thought i should maybe like to say that i would like to rave
uncontrollably about cloudboy, the show and the cd both.
we caught the show at the auckland art gallery on the way out.
unbelievable. i haven't seen anything this good in this country for a long
time. so much to watch and hear and reel from...movies...costumes...weird
people scampering across the stage with bowed shoulders...a
saxophonist....a backing chorus... demarnia was beyond compare. i was
sitting with shayne carter, who as NZ POP readers will know, wouldn't
recognise good music if it was hanging from his schlong. but carter for
once got it right when he sidled nervously up to demarnia afterwards and
told her the show was "brilliant".
good on yer, shayne.
i bought the cd that night but with no electricity in samoa it is only now
i have been able to play it. and it's gorgeous. track three, Cup Of Roses,
is simply as good as demarnia music can get, wonderful arrangement,
breath-taking melody. actually the one before it is as neat as chocolate as
well - Red Rubicon. actually the opener with its lovely trippy instrumental
backdrop, Teaboy, is wonderful too. and then there's.....just buy the
fucker, it's a gem, okay?
(nz pop list 15-17 april 2001)