On May 15, 2013, Cloudeater preempted the dropping of their second LP, Purge, by dropping another bombshell: due to an unspecified member's sudden departure, Cloudeater are calling it quits and moving on to other projects. This casts a curious light on the new album – are the seeds of the schism evident on the album? Is it a strong enough effort to make the breakup a serious tragedy, or does its weakness justify Cloudeater's dissolution?
Guillermo Scott Herren, perhaps better known as trip-hop guy Prefuse 73, advised on and post-produced Purge. They sent demos, he sent notes, they sent recordings, and he finished the album. As a result, the music is a lot more developed than their 2011 album Sun and Sidearm, embracing a little shoegaze fuzz here and a little echoing minimalism there, altogether sounding more like a fleshed-out studio project and less like a handful of musicians playing their instruments in a room. The close listener will pick up lots of tiny sonic details, like the skittering around the drums in “Purge” or the quiet pulsing that underscores the spacious chorus guitars in “Lethal.” But Purge has the feeling of an album that was analyzed and picked over so much that the responsible parties overlooked the big picture. If you aren't consciously seeking out the ear candy, you won't hear it. Instead, you'll hear an album whose songs all largely occupy the same mood, soundscape, and tempo, delivered without much passion or personality.
The eight tracks on Purge (resisting a pun here) run at a meager 27 minutes, barely any longer than Weezer's infamously brief Green Album – but it feels like a much longer listen. After intro track “Crushed” kicks things off with some ambient noise that could pass for a lighter version of the intro from "Lost", the sparse guitar riff and barely-there synth chords usher in a mood reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails and A Perfect Circle, or more recently Autolux, bands who wrote those chilly, ominous songs that were dark without being overtly sad or angry, melancholy without being melodramatic. In “Purge,” Cloudeater thrive on that kind of tone, building into a numbly anthemic chorus before sneaking inane lyrics like “Our damnation will be our salvation” into the bridge. “Purge” is good enough to be a standout, but the record doesn't offer much for it to stand out from. If not for its trippy intro and jarringly meaningless lyrics about polyhedrons, “Hedron” would be indistinguishable from its predecessor, and the other tracks just barely change up the formula enough to justify their existence. “Shelter” kicks up the tempo a bit, and there's one little missing beat in the chorus chorus has extra beat in it gives it a compelling, off-balance vibe. “Hollow” throws the beat in a more danceable direction, spicing things up with some contrasting rhythms and a more swaggering vocal performance. “Lethal” has the only real hook of the album, and the lucky combination of chords, melody, more personal lyrics and a convincingly human delivery give it some emotional heft that the rest of Purge sorely lacks. After “Lethal” the album seems to trail off, ending with the blandly detached “Detection” and an outro, appropriately named “Sleep.”
To the close listener Cloudeater sound great on this album, but the songs let them down – you could hypothetically take the chorus of “Lethal,” the verse/chorus dynamics of “Purge” and some of the variations in rhythm and mood the songs that have them to piece together a really damn good song, but the listener shouldn't have to do that. Purge is an album for Cloudeater's ex-members to be proud of, a definite improvement from their debut album, but it's lacking the broader inspiration that a good-sounding band needs to make an album that feels significant and worthwhile. Perhaps this is the best kind of last album a band could make: while it proves that they know what they're doing as musicians, it also suggests that something's missing. Now that Cloudeater are finished, maybe its members will go on to find it.