Following up the highly successful debut album Comfort Songs, Cloud’s second album Zen Summer, the first to be released on the Irish label Paper Trail Records, provides a different feel for the listener, yet in the same vein musically. Layered textures of sound and reverbed, echoing lyrics pepper evaporate off each track. Songs wash over the ears, bright and clean like a warm summer morning. The opener “Fly Into Mystery” chugs into existence over ocean waves in the background at a steady pacing rhythm. A guitar riff reminiscent of Broken Social Scene preambles Cloud’s mastermind and lyricist, Tyler Taormina’s voice as it trickles to the forefront.
Like warm laundry, Cloud’s sound envelopes and draws you in with an undeniable upbeat charm. “Sunshine Psych” and “Luana” provide catchy melodies and looping melodies with little additives of sonic manipulation, creating a friendly wall of sound to sidle up against.
In comparison to Comfort Songs, Zen Summer carries a more positive vibe. In interviews, Taormina stated that he was in a dark place after Comfort Songs, which was a catalyst for his move to LA. With Zen Summer, he seems to have emerged from whatever dark place he was in. Whatever dark reflection pokes through in his songwriting is usually accompanied by a feeling of hope. The album, while lacking some consistency in songwriting when compared to his previous effort, nevertheless provides that shiny psychedelic pop atmosphere, and one can immediately feel the LA influence.
Some of the standout tracks, “Melting Cassettes,” “Electric Smile,” and “Mantra One,” transition from guitar dominant to bass and piano driven, while infusing electronic elements. However, Cloud is at its best when fusing all of these branches of sound together simultaneously. “Night Ride” is a beautiful song—aptly named and sonically ear-gasmic—the rhythm bubbles in the background while punctuating guitars float in and around Taormina’s voice.
The album closer “Rainbow Road” feels like a concert encore. It also makes a viable finale for this album. A kind of culmination. Simple with a steady pace and bouncing piano riff, Taormina is backed by a chorus of voices letting everyone know that everything is going to be alright.
Cloud’s sound is quintessential indie pop, with trickling guitars and enough electronic experimentation to give just enough of a modern edge. Taormina knows his wheelhouse and sticks to it, almost to a fault. The lyrics are friendly, lightly introspective, and conversational. However Taormina’s voice can be a hang up. Nasally and high pitched, often echoing and repetitive, his lighthearted way of talk-singing can grow old at points on the album. One can’t deny his talent for blending and layering music together though, creating an expansive sound that can blossom and resonate in the listener’s ear.
Zen Summer has its zenith moments, and the scope of sounds contained within the album are astonishing. But this genre-centric music has its limitations. While it may very well be a gem within its own niche audience, it doesn’t cross-pollinate or evolve into something innovative.