Cloud - "Wanker" / Samarkand - "Pitch Wheel" (Semper Lofi 2000, 2-CD's)

From Aural Innovations #10 (June 2000)

This is the second release I've received from homemade musician Michael J. Bowman (MJB), and a package created with more care than this I can't imagine. The 2-CD's come in a unique dual foldout case and, like the Cloud CD reviewed in AI #7, it has drawings and hand letterings throughout. The 2 two CD's are the new Cloud release, and Samarkand, which is a solo project by AUTOreverse editor Ian Stewart.

Since 1989 MJB has been recording in a variety of musical styles, but in 1999 decided to stop writing songs with lyrics and vocals, and to concentrate on purely instrumental music which he records under the Cloud moniker. On Wanker, MJB plays guitars, bass, drums, casio, effects and samples. Songs like "Losing The War With Myself" and "Instantaneous Legendary" feature steady driving beats that set the rhythmic tone for rockin' electronic tunes. And "Black Orchid Extract" just has a niiiiice groooove... though it has some brief cosmic moments too. "Tues. Afternoon At My Dealer's House" is a mucho freaky song with crazed efx'd voicings, freaky loops, and a standard rock beat, along with a trippy guitar melody line thrown in for good measure. Excellent tune!

Among my favorites is "Television Is A Hair Of A Joke", which has a great groove and funky beat. But at over 6 minutes the music moves through a number of themes, some of which are pleasantly spaced out, yet retain the funky groove in the form of a steady head bopping bassline. This would actually make a good sci fi soundtrack. Finally, "L'indiscrete" is another multi-themed piece with a good bit of freaky segments. Trippy organ and rapid looped segments are joined simultaneously by peaceful piano and whacked out voicings. Plus a kick ass rockin' segment at the end in which MJB steps out on the drum kit. Juicy!

Many of the 13 tracks on Wanker feature simple, but inventive instrumentals and several other tracks do a good job of combining this simplicity with just enough weirdness to perhaps think of them as "avant-pop". Overall, an excellent example of solo homemade music.

The Samarkand CD features 8 keyboard and bass electronica instrumentals. The songs typically have simple electro beats that back a primary melody line. Several of the tracks have more of an ambient background, though they're still driven by electronic melodies. At first this sounded like the Cloud CD but that's only because both Stewart and MJB are using Casios. Stewart has an excellent sense of melody, perhaps better so than MJB, but there is little overall musical variety across these tracks. One standout tune is "Aside Of Ambients", which seems to be more concerned with creating a broader atmosphere and stretching out a bit more. An interesting set of tunes that nicely supplement the stronger Cloud disc.

You can visit Cloud at the Semper Lofi web site.
You can visit Samarkand and check out Ian Stewart's other projects at the Bizarre Depiction web site.

Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz

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