When Vancouver based art collective, Crack Cloud, emerged three years ago, causing eyes to open, ears to prick up and hairs to stand on end, the future looked prosperous. Dropping a couple of EPs in quick succession – 2017’s Anchoring Point and the self-titled Crack Cloud a few months earlier – both of which later appeared on an eponymous compilation in the latter part of 2018 and made several end of year “Best Of” lists.

Their ability to craft sonic experiments by fusing genres and melting together a never-ending stream of juxtaposed ideas made them one of the decade’s most exciting discoveries. However, it was the collective’s backstory that drew undivided attention. The very existence of Crack Cloud was born through its members – and that number can change sporadically from a core of seven to double figures and regularly does – shared collection of traumas. Many of those emanating from addiction; Vancouver has one of the highest opioid addiction rates in the world with over 3,500 overdose fatalities in the last five years.

That the notion of Crack Cloud was formed at addiction recovery programme meetings speaks volumes. Their leader and main mouthpiece, Zach Choy among them, Crack Cloud have developed into far more than just another independent rock band. Using the collective to spread their message, Crack Cloud has become a means of salvation. A polemic support network who’ve also been labelled a cult and protest group in equal measures, even if neither are exactly correct.

Using their diverse musical construct as a vehicle for (mainly) Choy’s words, ‘Pain Olympics’ is a powerful statement of intent. Not only documenting the past lives that brought them together in the first place, but also serving as a therapeutic and at times cathartic voyage towards recovery. ‘Pain Olympics’ doesn’t hold back or rest on its laurels.

There’s no template or formula at work here. Instead, Crack Cloud pool their collective influences and resources into one distinctive melting pot and the results are astounding. While a lot of the lyrics are indecipherable at times, the message is loud and clear. None more so than on ‘The Next Fix (A Safe Space)’, where the outfit’s insistence “Life is meaningful only when we’re high” becomes their epitaph.

Musically, Crack Cloud are an impossible beast to pigeonhole. Although why anyone would attempt to defeats the object. As with Late Of The Pier, Animal Collective and These New Puritans (to name three musical reference points here) before them, Crack Cloud’s beauty lies in the unexpected. Studious yet equally maverick in where each venture takes them next, a point none more pronounced than on sprawling opener ‘Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation)’. This is a record that takes sonic invention to the next level. Another galaxy even.

So, when the savagely off kilter ‘Bastard Basket’ gives way to the haunting ‘Something’s Gotta Give’ then the aforementioned ‘The Next Fix…’ – essentially three and a half minutes of furious hip hop set to African rhythms – before heading off into the post punk underground (‘Ouster Stew’) then back again. It becomes evident this is no ordinary world Crack Cloud inhabit.

Nevertheless, it’s also a place one would rather not leave any time soon.

Pain Olympics is out now via Meat Machine.

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