By Rocco Prioletti, Contributor
[Crack Cloud; 2022]
Key Tracks: “Costly Engineered Illusion”, “Please Yourself”, “Tough Baby”
The opening track of Tough Baby, “Danny’s Message” acts as the band’s cathartic preface for lead singer Zach Choy’s late father, Danny Choy, who tragically passed away at only twenty-nine. Through television static and a sparking lighter, his father is heard relaying to Zach the importance of music; how he hopes his son to see the beauty within this form of expression. He passionately states, “Be amazed at how good you can feel afterwards / After you express what- what’s been bugging you / Or [after] a great event in your life / Anger, an excellent way to let your anger out / Put it all on paper”.
The multimedia collective Crack Cloud fully embraces Choy’s sentiment: enacting music as a deeply therapeutic outlet. A vast majority of the nearly-thirty contributing members met through an outreach addiction recovery program, others through work in mental health services. The group, essentially, acts as a rehabilitative outlet for those in likewise situations of addiction: banding together to aid each other through art. However, their sophomore release Tough Baby may be too overly ambitious, and subsequently unfocused, which I could expect out of a thirty-piece team.
Discrepancy in the overall consistency of the album is hard not to notice, as the most attention and care are clearly given to the lead singles, with each of them supported by an accompanying music video. The title track, “Tough Baby”, easily has the most captivating visuals of the three. Treading a tale of a Neolithic caveman family helping a modern-aged woman adjust to prehistoric life. I would have liked to see these more narrative approaches applied to the others, instead of the more traditional live performance style used. Especially when more than half of the collective specializes in visual production, a more cinematic narrative is to be desired and expected.
The title track is the record at its most calm and sorrowful. The female vocals and dense group vocals are beautifully layered and rich. Although captivating, the collective oddly decides to switch-up musical phrases multiple times to varying degrees of success. Like throwing a bunch of melodies to the wall and hoping one sticks, the changes are sporadic and unfocused. It is saddening, as it’s evident that the collective has obvious potential and talent. Further developing each section would have truly transformed this song, as in its current state it feels more like unfinished sketches than a complete idea. Even the most cohesive track, “Costly Engineered Illusion”, fails to fully reel me in.
The album’s mixing is one of the biggest factors holding it back. In the case of the previously mentioned track, the drums sit so low in the mix they’re practically missing, and as a result, bare no meaningful impact. A more rough-around-the-edges and gritty approach would have better suited the scattered and snarled post-punk vocal inflections given throughout the record. Like this,“Virtuous Industry” attempts to convey a distorted manic feeling, but the production is so flat and overly polished it falls short of being anything more than a poor attempt at being abrasive. However, through brief glimmers, the rich compositions overpower the mixing’s shortcomings. For example, the chorus of “Costly Engineered Illusion” has Choy crooning along like an exaggerated impression of Archy Marshall or Scott Walker, while falsetto harmonization fills in the empty space.
“Please Yourself” displays an ideal blend between Choy’s frantic ranting and the pop bliss of the chanting female vocals. Aside from the two tracks previously listed, these groupings of female vocals sadly never appear on the record again in the same manner. And like that, Tough Baby drops significantly in overall quality, further failing to reach the highs of the first half. The track, “Afterthought (Sukhi’s Prayer)” annoyingly snarks in surface level commentary on the effects of technology. “Because it’s 2022 and there’s no more illness / Social media’s cured us of anxiety and depression / And there’s no more war and no more hate / And there’s no more stigma, nothing left to debate”. Lines like these come across as something aligned with Boyinaband’s horrendously elementary critique on education, “Don’t Stay in School”; an embarrassing and unflattering comparison to say the very least. Coinciding this, “115 at Night” annoyingly blairs these cheap distorted guitar and synth arpeggios, sounding like a free Splice royalty-free loop.
While the first half of the album is decent, the second half is incredibly half-baked and void of any sort of longevity. The collective, frustratingly, has a lot of potential. However, their inconsistent output certainly makes it harder to hope for them to fulfill it.