Cloud Atlas – Beyond the Vale

Cloud Atlas - Beyond The ValeHome to Mostly Autumn, Halo Blind and Heather Findlay’s various projects, York has been a centre of progressive and contemporary classic rock for quite a few years now, and Cloud Atlas are the latest in a string of excellent bands to emerge from the city.

Cloud Atlas is the band formed by former Stolen Earth, Breathing Space and Mostly Autumn vocalist Heidi Widdop. The band features Martin Ledger on guitar, one-time musical partner with Heidi in the duo The Secrets, a rhythm section of Neil Scott and Mostly Autumn alumni Stu Carver, and Dave Randall on keys. As is becoming increasingly common nowadays, the band crowdfunded the album with a pre-order campaign.

The album begins with two and half minutes of eastern-sounding atmospherics, with electronic drones, wordless wailing vocals and controlled guitar feedback. Then Martin Ledger’s guitar riff hits you right between the eyes and “Searchlight” explodes into a powerful rocker with a great bluesy soulful vocal. It ends with Martin Ledger cutting loose with a glorious extended solo. The effect is Janis Joplin fronting The Cult circa “Sonic Temple” with Steve Rothery on lead guitar. And that’s just the opening song.

The acoustic guitar and breathy vocals at the beginning of “Siren Song” recall the fragile beauty of Goldfrapp’s last album before building into another atmospheric rocker flavoured with Martin Ledger’s e-bowed guitar. The over-ambitious “Let The Blood Flow” is the one song on the record that doesn’t quite work; the hard-rocking opening part is great but it loses it’s way with its awkward middle section, and the whole thing comes out sounding disjointed.

But we’re back on track with with two following numbers, the length, brooding “Falling” and the piano-led “The Grieving”. Instrumental passages in both recall recent Marillion, especially the minor-key piano chords leading into Martin Ledger’s overdriven solo at the beginning of the latter.

The final part of the album includes two real highlights, the big epic “Stars” with its memorable hook, and atmospheric ballad “Journey’s End” with some beautiful cello playing from Sarah Pickwell, after which the acoustic “I’ll Take Care of You” forms a coda for the album.

Heidi’s distinctive vocals set them apart from many of their obvious peers, but this album’s sound is as much about Martin Ledger’s soaring melodic lead guitar. There are still a few echoes of Heidi’s previous band Stolen Earth, and anyone still missing that band should find a lot to like about Cloud Atlas.

It’s big widescreen rock with an epic scope, with just one song under seven minutes and some stretching to nine or ten. It may be that some songs might have benefited from slightly tighter arrangements, but the music still feels as though it’s likely to come across very powerfully live. It amounts to an impressive d├ębut from the latest addition to their home city’s already strong roster of bands.

The band will be launching the album at Fibbers in York on June 28th, and the album can be ordered from http://www.cloudatlas.org.uk/webstore.htm

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5 Responses to Cloud Atlas – Beyond the Vale

  1. Graham Meigh says:

    Well… that sound very exciting. Can’t wait to hear the album and see them at CRF.

  2. Nicky says:

    Great review……really looking forward to the album launch :-)

  3. Synthetase says:

    I’ve been listening to this a lot lately and really like it. Although I do agree that some of the arrangements could have been tightened up a little, it’s still a great effort. What’s interesting about criticising an album like this, is that if there’s room for improvement in what is already a great piece, it makes me look forward to the follow up :)

  4. Tim Hall says:

    Comes over well live, especially now we’ve had the chance to hear it without people talking all the way through it.

  5. Synthetase says:

    Heh. At least you can hear it live. ‘sif they’re ever going to tour oz… ;)