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It was nearing the end of the first night of Boston Hassle Fest, after everyone shuffled through the November cold from the Lightning Bolt set at the Elk’s Lodge over to Cantab Lounge for the final bill of late-night acts. I was standing in the hot, crowded bar, mainly there to see Krill, when through the chaos the band on stage began to play some of the strangest music I had heard all night: a series of chaotically colorful songs that swerved through the rowdy bar, tying themselves into tricky experimental knots before bursting free with melodic fireworks. At the time, I wrote, these songs “sounded like punk rock coming from a music box.” I learned the band’s moniker — Cloud Becomes Your Hand — along with some plans for a debut album in the new year. Now it’s 2014, and after repeated listens to that debut, Rocks Or Cakes, I can safely call Cloud Becomes Your Hand one of the most exciting and wonderfully strange bands I’ve encountered in some time.

Cloud Becomes Your Hand began as the solo bedroom project of guitarist and vocalist Stephe Cooper (the name is a reference to a cloud hand-puppet Cooper used as part of a previous band’s stage show). After recording a number of songs, Cooper got together a full band in order to bring his music to a live setting. And that band’s chemistry is fully realized on the upcoming Rocks Or Cakes. On the album, the band plays music that’s avant-garde while also infectiously catchy. Tracks are often structured like a labyrinth, while sounding like a carnival. Listen to the opening beat of “Felt Beetle” (below) for instance: It’s the first song on Rocks Or Cakes and suggests punk rock before ecstatically shooting in every direction, as jazzy keyboards, Residents-style chants, rushing melodies, and pounding percussion mix and match. It’s a focused opener on an album often just as happy to let its songs hang and float in fluidity — from the shimmering folk pop of “Sand Of Sea” to “Theme From Baby Age,” which pairs energetic violins with elastic lounge keyboard riffs that sound straight out of B-52 Pat Irwin’s surreally sleazy score for Rocko’s Modern Life.

Rocks Or Cakes is unpredictable, and it’s easy to sift through the tracks to find multiple hook-worthy moments. Meanwhile the longest cut on the album, “Bay Shamps,” acts as a sort of centerpiece, as it explores and deconstructs its main opening riff. When it finally tumbles into the mix it sounds as unwieldy as it does excited — it comes leaping in like a big, friendly dog unaware of its size. The track grows sparser and eventually floats down into a lengthy drone as quiet snippets of the melodies resurface like faded memories.

Cloud Becomes Your Hand is so skilled at breaking and challenging song structures that they occasionally bring to mind Jim O’Rourke and David Grubbs’ legendary collaborative band Gastr Del Sol, who stretched the idea of a song to (and often past) its structural breaking point, though Cooper’s crew allow more color and warmth to come through. A great example comes midway through the mercurial pop of “Sand Of Sea,” as sampled sounds of gargling gently blend into the rest of the music. Rocks Or Cake really has to be heard from start to finish, as each track responds and adjusts to the ones surrounding it. For now, though, enjoy a perfect one-two punch introduction via “Felt Beetle” and “Sand Of Sea,” plus a new video for the song “Doggy Paddle,” directed by Japanese animator Nanako Tsuruta. You can see them in the next few months when they open for Guerilla Toss.

Tour Dates:
1/25 Death By Audio, NY with Adventure, Jimmy Whispers, Laser Background
2/28 TBA Boston, MA with Guerilla Toss
1/30 Silent Barn, NY with Guerilla Toss, Ryan Power, Horse Lords, Sediment Club
2/08 Silent Barn, NY with Celestial Shore, Aye Aye Rabbit, Little King
2/14 The Ho_se, NY with Celestial Shore, Ava Luna, Killer BOB
3/02 Roulette, NY with Guerilla Toss
3/05 Golden Tea House, Philly with Guerilla Toss
3/06 The Crown, Baltimore with Guerilla Toss
3/7 TBA Richmond, VA with Guerilla Toss
3/08 Mammal Gallery, Atlanta with Guerilla Toss
3/9 TBA Athens, GA with Guerilla Toss
3/10 Firehouse, Birmingham, AL with Guerilla Toss
3/11 TBA New Orleans, LA with Guerilla Toss
3/13 TBA Austin, TX – SXSW
3/14 Palm Door, SXSW showcase
3/15 TBA Austin, TX – SXSW
3/17 TBA Tucson, AZ
3/18 TBA San Diego, CA
3/19 TBA Los Angeles, CA
3/20 TBA Los Angeles, CA
3/21 TBA Oakland, CA
3/23 TBA Sacramento, CA
3/24 TBA Eugene, OR
3/25 TBA Seattle, WA
3/26 TBA Portland, OR
3/27 TBA Boise, ID
3/28 TBA Salt Lake City, UT
3/29 TBA Denver, CO
3/30 TBA Lincoln, NE
4/1 TBA Minneapolis, MN
4/2 TBA Madison, WI
4/3 TBA Chicago, IL
4/4 TBA Chicago, IL
4/5 TBA Indiana
4/6 TBA Athens, OH
4/7 TBA Pittsburgh, PA

^ – with Guerilla Toss

Rocks Or Cakes is out 2/25 via Northern Spy and Feeding Tube. Check out their website for more.

Comments (2)
  1. YESSS! I missed this feature! Glad to see it back.

  2. Playing at Living Lodge Candy Mansion, 8th and Peralta, in Oakland!

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