Cloud Boat | Book Of Hours
by Lee Adcock
// He no longer dreamed of storms, nor of women, nor of great fish, nor fights, nor contests of strength, nor of his wife.
He only dreamed of places now and of the lions on the beach. \\
That’s not a song lyric – it’s a passage from Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The protagonist, an old and anonymous fisherman, has this one recurring dream, which evokes none of the pleasures or passions of his younger days. The next day, he awakens and embarks alone upon a fishing trip far out in sea, beyond where any other boat dares to go.
Now, I could be wrong, but I doubt that British post-dubstep duo Cloud Boat named their first single ‘Lions on the Beach’ for no reason. Their first LP, Book of Hours, is also an introspective journey, narrated in sparse terms, which delves mostly in soft acoustic strums, uneven UK garage beats beats, and haunting vocals. Like the fisherman’s dream above, the album doesn’t evoke joy, pleasure, or excitement. Book of Hours is difficult, even downright overwhelming, to listen through; even though it’s only 39 minutes long, I honestly can’t hear it through in one sitting.
‘Lions on the Beach’, the album’s opener, sets the vibe. With the shaky dubstep rhythm, aimless, post-rock strumming, and distant vocals, Cloud Boat craft a dreamscape of their own, but not of the lush, blissful variety. This is the dream recalled in a half-wakened state – disorienting, blurry, and just beyond reach of your addled memory.
For much of the album, though, we are alone with singer Tom Clarke, who often caresses his lyrics with a polished, folksy voice (in the first verses of ‘Youthern’, he sounds like he could belt into a gospel at any moment). But then, usually about halfway through, the washed-out drum n’ bass influences creep in – like in ‘Bastion’, where a siren from a distant shore cries out over a stuttering bass and softly splashing percussion. More subtly, the achingly beautiful acoustic dirge of ‘Godhead’ churns with a slow, mechanical clank in its second wind, while a restrain violin swirls in the background.
The one-two punch of the divided ‘Pink Grin’, though, is a real showstopper Lyrics be damned – the first section opens with menacing chords, Clarke’s most harrowing vocals yet, and some drifting electric strums – then in part II, the shuffling beat drops in out of nowhere (I literally backed away in awe from my computer the first time I heard it), and the strumming intensifies. Without a doubt, ‘Pink Grin II’ is the best of the “dubbier” cuts – although the suspended, urgent pulse of ‘Amber Road’, with all its moody turns, comes awfully close.
Elsewhere, the beat is shoved aside for the brief interludes of ‘Drean’ and ‘You Find Me’ – indeed, nearly everything else falls away in the latter, leaving only Clarke’s unnaturally slowed, yet still breathless vocals. The former, on the other hand, is little more than a simple, gently plucked acoustic line and Clarke, with nuanced shafts of electric guitar weaving in and out. If there is any light on the album, it’s on the closer ‘Kowloon Bridge’ and its bright acoustic line – but even here, in the pauses and the restrained notes from a french horn, that brightness is subdued.
Beyond a doubt, however, Cloud Boat’s sullen style blossoms into fruition on ‘Wanderlust’. The integration of thudding and clicking percussion, dejected post-rock strums, and utterly gorgeous vocals (here, spookily Gahan-esque) come together so well, and blend so naturally, that it’s nearly terrifying.
Final words? Book of Hours is bleak. Like in Hemingway’s prose, the true power of Cloud Boat’s music lies in its minimal form, in the spaces left within. The masterful writer needs very few words to stamp a vivid impression in the reader’s mind – and, if I should dare to say so, Cloud Boat are already approaching that degree of craft. Mind, Book of Hours is not an easy album to sink into. However, for those nights of total isolation, after the worst moments in your life, when you feel you’ve lost everything and have no one or nowhere else to turn – you’ll seek shelter in this LP.
Buy Book Of Hours here.
Stream it in full here.