Since 2002, Cloud Cult has used their albums to plumb the depths of grief experienced by frontman Craig Minowa and his wife Connie, who paints stage-side during each of the band's live shows, following the loss of their first son. The band's eighth album, Light Chasers, stands as a significant departure in a couple of key ways: In addition to drawing inspiration from the Minowas' birth of a healthy baby boy in late 2009, Light Chasers is the band's first proper concept album.
Opening with "The Mission: Unexplainable Stories" and concluding nearly an hour later with "The Arrival: There's So Much Energy in Us," Light Chasers crafts a singular, linear narrative, chronicling the journey of an astronaut from the planning stages of his voyage to his landing at his eventual destination. Along the way, Minowa uses this character's voice for both personal exploration on songs like "The Strength: Forces of the Unseen" and to capture a sense of adventure on "The Battles: Room Full of People in Your Head" and "The Escape: Running with the Wolves." There's a certain level of pretense here, as evidenced by the cumbersome song titles, but, as an overall construct, the idea of equating space exploration with self-discovery works quite well.
The songs that emphasize personal reflection are generally the album's most successful. "The Birth: You Were Born," on which Minowa sings "You were born to chase the light" to a newborn is especially moving. "The Acceptance: Responsible" is no less thorny, tackling issues of accountability with heady lines like "I am a wrecking ball, I've run the guillotine/And I blame everything just to keep my hands clean." There's real meat to the songwriting, even if Minowa's commitment to the album's concept results in some awkward lyrics about fastening safety belts and running low on fuel.
Still, that's a minor offense, and Cloud Cult's arrangements and performances generally match the scope of Minowa's vision for the project. Songs like "The Lessons: Exploding People" and "The Surrender: Guessing Game" boast an impressive depth of texture, with subtle use of brass instruments and orchestral string sections, while "The Awakening: Dawn" ends with an effective use of birdsong. The sweeping grandeur of Cloud Cult's chamber pop draws favorable comparisons to Arcade Fire, both in terms of scope and impact. For an album that's set in the coldness of space, Light Chasers impresses for its warmth.