Celebrating life through death

Local group Cloud Cult release their new album inspired by the Day of the Dead celebration

Haily Gostas

It’s very tempting to peg Cloud Cult ringleader Craig Minowa as a hippie. He does, after all, use words like “centering” and “evolutionary” on a regular basis to describe ordinary, everyday things. Plus, he shapes his music around the transcendental and lives to exist in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Then, he goes and claims that the most exciting thing about returning from the kind-of-a-big-deal South by Southwest music festival was tending to the vegetables on his 13-acre organic farm in Hinckley.

Cloud Cult
ALBUM: “The Meaning of 8”
LABEL: Earthology Records

Still, it’s a term he shudders at.

“For people who haven’t listened to our albums, but have heard about, say, my system of ecological ethics, they assume we’re a stoner jam band,” Minowa said with a laugh. “It’s an unfortunate cultural stigma, where you must be one thing because you practice another.”

An actual conversation with Minowa will prove him to be completely legitimate in his beliefs and opinions, not to mention a warm, genuine person with plenty of dedication to his multi-functional, Minnesota-bred band.

But yes, getting right with Mother Nature is high on his list of priorities. Minowa started a nonprofit label, Earthology Records, which uses 100 percent reprocessed materials for its album duplications, right in his geothermally powered home studio, where he recorded his debut record, “Who Killed Puck?”

Since then, Minowa has maintained an obsession with what he calls sound sculpture, taking from and stringing together a variety of musical genres in order to form strangely cohesive songs. To call Cloud Cult something like “college indie”-a term Minowa himself uses, albeit reluctantly, when pressed for one-is almost unfairly vague, as their kaleidoscopic sound is as much an unpredictable product of classical music and electronica as it is delicate folk and industrial alternative rock.

“The Meaning of 8,” Cloud Cult’s fifth studio offering, and likely their most aware, accomplished album yet, is a sprawling set of elegant, unapologetically emotive songs that milk the most out of another crop of interesting elements including Ö Christmas music?

“I purposely put a lot of bells and glockenspiel on this record,” said Minowa, who adores the Christmas season and all the sounds that accompany it. “I’ll usually exhaust that stuff well into January,” he joked.

Life isn’t all about dreadhead-type doings like recycling and experimentation, however. Sometimes, it’s about the exact opposite. In fact, Minowa claims the most important shift in Cloud Cult’s discography lies in its lyrics.

The lyrics of Cloud Cult’s second full-length album, “They Live On the Sun,” were written after Minowa’s infant son died of unexplained causes in 2002. The songs reflect Minowa’s wrestling with the dark feelings that emerge from personal loss. The record was angry with death and could only ask “why?” over and over.

Those that followed, 2004’s “Aurora Borealis” and 2005’s “Advice From a Happy Hippopotamus,” attempted more so to offer an explanation for grief and suggest Minowa’s search for a connection hereafter.

“Those two were definitely about a bigger picture,” he said. “Recording them was like receiving transmissions from the other side.”

“The Meaning of 8” is the triumphant product of this laborious cycle of pain and remedy. It is Cloud Cult at their most hopeful and follows Minowa as he finally grows comfortable with not knowing all the answers and learns to rejoice over just being alive.

“With this album, I try to offer some sort of philosophical journey,” he explained. “There may not always be a final resolution, but I still want to explore why we’re here and what we can do while we’re here.”

Much of the album was written during a several-month stay in Mexico that coincided with the country’s Day of the Dead.

“The Meaning of 8” CD Release Party and Tour Kickoff
WHEN: 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Varsity Theater, 1308 4th St. S.E., Minneapolis
TICKETS: $13, early all ages, late 21-plus www.varsitytheater.org

“Here, we’ve just changed it into something that allows us to go door-to-door and ask for candy. There, they completely welcome the participation of the deceased,” he continued. “To them, there is no separation from the living body and those that have passed except time, which is an illusion.”

With newfound strength in such a realization, Minowa constructed “The Meaning of 8” to be an expansive 19-track collection of unassumingly monumental storytelling, swelling sonic grandeur and Minowa’s delicate but unflinching multi-layered quaver. And lyrics like “We can take it in stride / or we can take it right between the eyes” on the excellent “Take Your Medicine” prove that old spirits still pervade, but this time in the most positive and celebrated of ways.