Favorite Track: "Ouster Stew" Least Favorite Track: "Somethings Gotta Give"
In 2018, vocalist/percussionist Zach Choy and keyboardist Mohammed Ali Sharar decided to create a musical project to mediate their drug addiction, and formed Crack Cloud, a once-small musical project that has now grown to a collective of 20 people. Crack Cloud’s newest record, Pain Olympics, is a wonderfully dark and heart-wrenching exercise of despair. With everyone in the band either having a background with mental health or drug addiction, it seems quite fitting that this album is nothing short of dismal in subject matter, with themes of addiction, animosity towards the government, and the sad reality of our modern world being explored thoroughly.
The album gets a running start with the brilliantly produced “Post Truth (Birth of a Nation)”. This track feels so gargantuan that it is very hard to do it justice with words alone. The track goes through plenty of genre switches, with elements of hard rock, post-punk, and even industrial being utilized. The lyrics are abysmally dark, detailing a revolution against a system and calling for a politically unbiased vigilante who can “wear both shoes”. The political lyricism is heavily displayed on this record, most of it being comically jovial despite the weight that the topics carry. A great example is the genius “The Next Fix”. The lyrics are tongue-and-cheek, but rapped in a manner that feels very urgent over the claustrophobic, Talking Heads-esque instrumental.
As I mentioned before, the instrumentals on this record feel larger than life. With Crack Cloud being a 20 person collective at this point, it isn’t surprising that almost every sound you can think of is on this record, accumulating into a listen that feels so musically well rounded that it is astounding. My favorite song on the LP, “Ouster Stew”, has such an upbeat and fun instrumental that it gets me dancing every time I hear it, yet still somehow manages to sound unsettling at the same time. This record seems to draw a lot of influences from bands like Talking Heads and Sonic Youth, or even more recently Black Midi, but Crack Cloud manages to also retain their own style. The overuse of influences does show up briefly on tracks like “Ouster Stew” or “Bastard Basket”, and it can become a bit too derivative at times. Nonetheless, the instrumentals feel very new and fresh at large, bringing a new light to some older ideas if nothing else.
The mix on this record is sometimes a little too focused on the instrumentals and not the vocals, with the vocals being drowned out at a few points, most notably on the closing track. There are also a few points where it feels as though there could have been other musical elements added to the instrumentals for more impact. The back half of “Tunnel Vision” feels as though it drones on forever, with a samey guitar riff and a straightforward drum beat. It feels as though this track could have ended a minute earlier and not much would have been lost. The track “Somethings Gotta Give” is a lyrically important point on the record, detailing the writer’s feeling of exhaust with a system he feels he is constantly butting heads with and the urgency of something needing to change, but it feels as though the relatively bland instrumental doesn’t reflect that very well.
With the few criticisms I have about this record, I still come out the back end of it on my 6th listen finding more things to be impressed by. The instrumentals are gorgeous and anxiety inducing at the same time. The lyricism is cynical and defeatist, yet still lighthearted and sarcastic. Pain Olympics is smart, visceral, lyrically interesting, and it just sounds damn good to top it all off. This record stands as a gleaming example of the possibility for darkness to breed something beautiful.