If there's any one artist who should make you happy to listen to music, it's Ben Sharp, aka Cloudkicker. Though releasing free music on the Internet isn't anything new, it's safe to say that, in terms of quality, Sharp's in a class all his own. He also voluntarily remains unsigned from a label, ensuring that his music will continue to be free and he'll never have the stress of needing to write as a day job, as well as keeping his music unfettered by commercial needs. And, to boot, all of the money he does make off of his project gets invested right back into the next album. If there's any one person who represents the idealistic pinnacle of art for the sake of art, it has to be this fellow, whose newest offering, Fade, was released in August this year.
Fade may be seen as a return-to-form for those who were uninterested in Sharp's last albums, as it strikes more of a balance between the polar-opposed post-rock of Let Yourself Be Huge and Loop and the ferocious math metal of The Discovery and Beacons. It falls somewhere between Pelican and Mogwai on the post-rock scale, occasionally flirting with the heaviness of metal but always staying firmly in rock territory. At times it even seems like he gets close to alternative rock—you can definitely hear some classic, dirty, early-90s grunge in the mix.
It's not all the same stuff we've heard before, however; Sharp's musical output continues to change in other ways. Though the remnants of his djent days still manifest themselves in the occasional polyrhythmic patterns and complex time signatures, they are very toned down and much easier to parse. You definitely won't need to get out your notepad to understand what's going on here. In addition, though he still manages to have a lot going on at once, there aren't any of the really big wall-of-sound moments that he has become known for. It's definitely a noticeable change of pace for him.
The short rocker “The Focus” is definitely one of the standout tracks on the album, featuring the mix of melody-heavy guitar lines and frantic rhythmic confusion that made us love Sharp in the first place. The combination of heavy-hitting, loud instrumentation and gratifying melodies definitely make this one of the songs you'll be listening to for a while over. “LA After Rain” is another strong track, and certainly one that will delight fans of Sharp's post-metal excursions. “Our Crazy Night”, however, is without a doubt the standout track on the album. The song is full of the same combination of technicality and emotional power that we've come to know Sharp for, and the track ends Fade on an incredibly high note, making sure that you'll be restarting the album before you know it.
The only times the album felt like it was struggling was when Sharp didn't seem to be putting as much power into the music as he usually does. Take the 10-minute epic “Seattle” for example—though you can hear how it plays off of Sharp's love of Isis-esque post-metal builds, the piece lacks any true catharsis, and seems to meander repetitively instead of building towards a goal. The opener “From the Balcony” also seems to lack the true musical force it needs to capture the listener's attention from the beginning, making it feel like a very lacklustre introduction to the album. However, the few things the album gets wrong are more than overshadowed by what it does right, and the overall experience isn't seriously marred in any way.
While undoubtedly a strong release from Sharp, and definitely a step up from his last album, Fade isn't quite of the same calibre as The Discovery or Beacons. Of course, that comparison is the unfortunate side-effect of being written by a musician who's had two once-in-a-career quality albums. You'd be a fool to pass this album up, especially since it's available to download for free through his bandcamp. If you haven't been introduced to Cloudkicker yet or just want some sick, instrumental, borderline post-metal to kick back to, then do yourself a serious favour and give Fade a listen.
8.0 / 10
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