Melodrama is the shortest path between pain and its expression, but that doesn’t make it the most resolutive or the most interesting. Cloud Boat’s second album, Model of You, weighs heavy with melodrama, the kind that happens when you cut the weirdness out of early-’00s Radiohead and play around with the remaining reverb, beats, and space. The English duo have filled in the gaps they left open on their spooky, unassuming debut, Book of Hours, but they do so with the same stuff that’s been circulating through aspiring Radioheads for a decade. Sometimes it’s pretty. Mostly, it’s unsurprising.
Model of You truly moves like a journey, from the lonesome “Prelude” (whose lyrics extrapolate from the words “my love”) to the seven-minute “Hallow”, where Tom Clarke articulates the album’s title for the first time: “I’ll build a model of you.” The chapters in between unfold like fairy tales, full of danger as witnessed by the innocent. “If you sing that song, then the wolves will come,” Clarke sings on “Hideaway”, whose chorus traces the album’s most graspable melody. It’s a full, rich vocal line, well-suited to his classical timbre, but it settles like sediment at the bottom of an octave: round, smooth, and tensionless.
There are moments when Clarke’s lyrics feel young and unpolished in contrast to the high-gloss instrumentation around him, and they become some of the album’s ripest points. “This is not the end of everything ever,” he sings on “The Glow”. It’s a rare flit of hope inside the apocalyptic struggle he’s engineered alongside co-producer Sam Ricketts. The clumsy hyperbole threatens to rustle the words out of their setting, but the tension doesn’t last long enough to feel purposeful.
This sounds like a case of a band unraveling their weirdness. Book of Hours, though too quiet to make much of a dent, held some wonderful, unnerving secrets that Model doesn’t allow. The miniature set piece “You Find Me”, which clocked in at under two minutes, pitch-shifted Clarke’s voice against a couple of sparse guitar notes in a way that was texturally thrilling, if embryonic. But Cloud Boat seemed to have gotten insecure about their sparseness. They’ve clogged up album two with so much stuff (guitar and drum machines and effects and harmonies and those awful house arpeggios that seem to infect every band that boasts “electro” as a prefix) that they lose some of the negative space that lent Book of Hours its mystery. It happens. Cloud Boat could bounce back, and they should, because Clarke’s vocals are fascinating when unleashed in minimal electronic netherworlds.
Essential Tracks: “Hideaway”