Ampeater Music

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AEM009 Color of Clouds

AEM009 Color of Clouds
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Personnel: Kelli Scarr (vocals), Dan Chen (songwriting & production)

As a musician and music lover, I’m always on the lookout for new bands. Over the years I’ve found music in a lot of interesting places, but I’ll always remember the way I discovered Color of Clouds. We’d all like to be famous. A few months ago, I plugged my name, Nate Greenberg, into Google to see how many hits popped up. Sadly, I did not top the list, nor was I even the most famous Nathan Greenberg in the music world. Instead I stumbled across a music producer named Nathan Greenberg from Brooklyn and his band, Color of Clouds. And they were good. Flash forward to October-Ben Heller, a friend and Ampeater Review co-conspirator, tells me that he met Color of Clouds during a recording session at Serious Business Records and that they were interested in an Ampeater write up. It seemed so serendipitous that I jumped at the chance to write the review.

Color of Clouds is an electro-acoustic trio featuring members from the electronic rock outfit Moonraker. Singer Kelli Scarr, who appears on several tracks of Moby’s latest album Wait for Me, resumed collaborating with songwriter/producer Dan Chen in late 2008. Soon their collaborations became the impetus for a new band and they recruited production master Greenberg to fill out the lineup. The resulting sound is a mixture of indie-folk/pop, tinged with electronics, which has been described as “what it would sound like if Feist were to sing with the Flaming Lips”. Simple electronics accent the flowing, yet restrained instrumental parts, providing the perfect background to Scarr’s sultry vocals. Chen also sings on several songs, and the subtle blend of their two voices sometimes sounds as if only one vocalist were in the room.

A-side “Brother” is a smooth and poignant jam. When I listen to it I feel like I’m gazing out at the world through a raindrop glazed window. Everything is soft and a little blurry. A meandering cello, wavering guitar, subdued piano, and gently brushed drums melt into a lush background. Scarr’s voice takes the spotlight and her lyrics shine over the mix. Chen notes, “Kelli brought it in as a pretty complete sketch on her acoustic, and it didn’t take much for us to come up with the extra sections needed to finish it. I love this track because production-wise we left a great deal of it untouched; we got great performances from Yair Evnine on guitar, and Dan Mintzer on drums, and of course, an amazing vocal right off the bat from Kelli. The song stands on its own so well that we really didn’t feel the need to add any bells & whistles, just a touch of delay and such here and there… it offers a glimpse into where most of our songs come from – heartfelt lyrics and a bunch of musicians quietly playing along.” I think that’s a fairly accurate description. Scarr’s lyrics are stunningly simple, but dead on.

All I wanna do is tell you one more time
Brother, brother
But there’s nothing I can do when the feeling isn’t right
Move on brother, move on brother

But four bittersweet chords continue throughout most of the recording, creating a sense of cyclical momentum which complicates Scarr’s pleas to move on. The song builds slightly but never really goes anywhere. And yet it seems strangely complete. The ending dissolves without ever really resolving, like that last raindrop trickling down the window.

The B-side is a cover of Lou Reed’s 1972 hit “Satellite of Love”. I’m usually skeptical of covers, but every now and then I find a cover that eclipses the original. This is one of those covers, and that’s quite a claim, since I love Reed’s version. But Color of Clouds strips the song down to its bare bones, leaving a sense of intimacy not present in the original. Chen recalls, “[the song] has been a favorite of mine since high school, and during a week of recording sessions with Color of Clouds, it popped up randomly on my iPod, and I immediately knew that we had to cover it.” It’s a natural enough choice; the song is a perfect fit for Scarr’s voice. But with her singing, the song takes on a new life, approaching something that Mr. Reed’s voice never could: cute. While the lyrics tell a story of a jealous love, the music is full of hope. The outro boasts one of the most uplifting chord progressions in any song out there, and Color of Clouds rolls with it. The intimate acoustic sing-along, clap-your-hands vibe accentuates the joy embodied in those three chords. On that note, their decision to cut the bridge, which returns to jealousy and tinges the original outro with a sense of bitterness, seems wholly appropriate.

Color of Clouds’s debut, The Look EP, was released in May 2009, and they plan to follow up with a full-length album in early 2010. Stay tuned. I expect it won’t be long before my poor name is brutally overshadowed.