Crack Cloud are more than just a band, they’re often referred to as a cult. Their head count is 7 when they appear on stage (remember those days, when gigs happened and a global pandemic wasn’t a thing?) but behind the scenes they’re a 20-strong gang that take care of all manner of audio-visual, multi-media shenanigans. They’re like a living organism and one that embraces collaborative, creative unity; they all live together in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community, a haven for social activism, community resilience and a rich vein of anarchism. Many of the band members are support workers in the area, which is also an environment that has a prevalence for drug abuse, poverty and prostitution. Several of Crack Cloud are recovering addicts in some capacity and have experienced a wide range of past traumas. The band has become an outlet and a place of solace as the outfit often likened their group to a “vehicle for recovery”.
The Canadian cohort have become infamous for operating in a broad musical spectrum; often tagged with the label of post-punk, which is fairly accurate, the seven-piece aren’t limited by this genre, as they branch off into all manner of disparate musical avenues. Having gained notoriety through their earlier EPs ‘Anchoring Point’ and ‘Crack Cloud’ (these two releases have been squished together to form a double EP under an eponymous moniker as well) the group have readied their official debut LP ‘Pain Olympics’. First glance at the tracklist and runtime, 8 tracks and 30 minutes respectively, you’d assume this album would be a smash ‘n’ grab punk record, but these presumptions are soon decimated by opener ‘Post Truth (Birth of a Nation)’. The track itself has an album’s worth of material shoved into just under 5 minutes, veering from urgent serrated guitar to an awkward angular plod, mixed with angelic backing vocals and Zach Choy’s stream of consciousness sung/spoken delivery. The track constantly evolves into something entirely different, transforming via Blade Runner-esque sci-fi noises, monk chants, pockets of doom-like undertones and then a celestial sway. Suffice to say, the expectations are set; expect the unexpected.
Both sonically and lyrically, ‘Pain Olympics’ oozes with catharsis, whether that’s because the aural unpredictability is so compelling or the snatched lyrics from Choy’s, sometimes, free-wheeling rambles, are a reward waiting to be discovered, there’s plenty to immerse yourself in with the group’s primary outing. ‘Somethings Gotta Give’ dials back the intensity, as a lonesome guitar and persistent, dampened heartbeat thump project a moody, yet serene demeanour. Choy can be heard ruminating “first things first/we must not go in reverse”, which is pretty apt given how progressive Crack Cloud are. Although they are often characterised as post-punk, they also carry a penchant for leftfield hip-hop. ‘The Next Fix (A Safe Space)’, is the marrying of those two worlds, as a relentless lolloping gait is merged with a breathless delivery by Choy as he reflects “I cannot find a way out/is it me or am I my worst enemy”, whilst following track “Favour Our Fortune” commences with a Massive Attack-like take on languid trip hop before exploding with a punkish fury al a Death Grips. When Crack Cloud go down the post-punk route, they sprint down it with gusto, ‘Tunnel Vision’ is a tense, jerking romp through squalls of punk oddities that ends with an elongated jammed outro. The mechanical, nocturnal grind of ‘Bastard Basket’ has the outfit embracing improvised, almost jazzy rhythms as they adopt squalling brass to their overflowing box of tricks. In amongst the eerie textures, Choy questions “where do we go from this life?” with the tone of someone who’s carrying more than one battle scar. ‘Pain Olympics’ is brought to a close by the cinematic, dystopian swell of ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’. As if closing off the album like a film, this is point in the record where things get epic; celestial hues collide with moaning guitars, painting the picture of angels plunging to earth with tattered wings. Choy cuts a fearful figure as he states, “the past/it hunts us down/and the future is littered with doubt”, while the song’s heavenly tones are soon diluted by the closing moments of police sirens and the claustrophobic thrum of a city at it’s busiest. It’s as if Crack Cloud has picked you up, transported you to this ever changing netherworld and in the dying seconds delivers you back to reality.
With an anything goes manifesto, ‘Pain Olympics’ could easily go off the rails and become a train wreck, but Crack Cloud manage to get the balance between artistic freedom and well measured chaos just right. Although the narrative comes from a place of pain, Crack Cloud have produced an album that’s all gain.
Word and Thoughts by Adam Williams
Order Pain Olympics here