Last month, we wrote about how Tyler Taormina was back with a new (and potentially final) Cloud album, and suggested you should be excited. Fast forward to release and our suspicions have been confirmed—Plays With Fire is an ambitious and diverse album that stretches genres beyond their boundaries and manages to exist on numerous levels, taking on different shapes depending upon your level of attention and focus.
As we’ve come to expect from the Audio Antihero cohort, the album is essentially about maintaining humanity in the face of contemporary society. That is, moving headlong through every banal custom and soul-crushing circumstance and coming out the other side with some degree of happiness, sanity or at least autonomy intact. Which sounds heavy, but Plays With Fire is anything but, the entire record suffused with a dreamy atmosphere which belies these existential themes. The majority of the tracks are pitched firmly on the upbeat side of the divide, and some, like ‘Disenchanted’, are downright playful. Furthermore, this doesn’t come off as an ironic juxtaposition. The bouncy sound is not the punchline to the cynical joke of the lyrics, but rather a facet of the sincerity with which Taormina pursues his craft, a perspective that is unafraid of honesty or even naivety in chasing its desired tone.
We’re delighted to get Taormina on board to write a track by track to Plays With Fire. This sort of feature is always interesting, but this in-depth and intimate take on the exercise makes for not only an illuminating read, but also an enhanced or altered listening experience that helps you get to the core ideas behind the record.
1. Happer’s Laugh
Comes like a meditation, or a dream in slow motion. I picture this track to be a sort of warning of what’s to come down the dark road of getting older and coming to grapple with what is called the “real world.” The lyrics, although brief explore the frustration of a seemingly impossible journey towards “true strength,” unfettered by externalities.
I wrote and recorded this song having never heard it with my ears until the day recording began. For many moons did it exist only in my head as something I would sing along to. I loved it. I couldn’t wait for the world to hear it. It’s slightly different from what I had originally pictured, I like the recording more than the version I had imagined. Only when a friend was recording on this track did I realize the time signature wasn’t in 4/4.
3. Two Hands Bound
An anthem for hating your job and feeling oppressed to the point of atrophy. Since then I can happily say I have a job that I like a lot more! I question whether this song fits on the record but it has a nice upbeat quality to it despite the lyrics that I think is nice.
4. Me, Her & Lavender
Reminds me of my childhood friend, Greg Salwen’s old band, City Museum. They had a song called “Hands” which took a look at a string of people and how they all dealt with that time period in life when “your friends start making plans.”
5. Oh, So Juvenile
I wrote this song in the ten minutes after the event referenced in the first line happened. Someone smiled at me in a way that opened up something that hadn’t been opened in years. Something where after the Comfort Songs era I was certain was a ruse. I fell in love again, and very unromantically at first. I felt like it was juvenile!
This song I wanted to be a spiritual ascension of some kind—I don’t know where to or why. I just know that it ends with the nagging force, one of the formations of the begging flame explored in this record—the desire to procreate. I was still a virgin when I wrote this song.
I think the first line really sums up so much of the thesis here, “Every flame wants to be a wildfire.” I remember when Nolan from the band Infinity Girl, who also ended up mixing this record, took the train in from Brooklyn to record guitar on this. It was so fun and he Greg Salwen and I had a sleepover where we talked about how pathetic our love lives were.
8. Comet Happer
The title a reference to one of my favorite Scottish films, I won’t say which! I really like the way this came out. The ending especially is my favorite. I think that this title actually brings back an old theme of Cloud’s which is the futility and inevitability of wishing to change your circumstances.
9. Mary Goes Mad Again
So to me, the record is about struggling to keep these human incentives and motivators at balance, trying to remain pure-hearted, happy, and even sane. Well in ‘Mary Goes Mad Again,’ sanity is gone. Written very quickly in a period of time where I’d felt I’d lost my mind. The song has a contented and childlike disposition on these enormous woes that push us over the edge or very close to it. The song suggests, “oh well, I guess it happens,” and with a light smile. I wanted this to feel like a nursery rhyme and a psychedelic experience, which for better or worse seem to be a common pairing in the work I’ve been doing. The vocals were recorded by somebody who I’d met and briefly fell in love with, on the first day I met her. After hearing her speak I asked her to record and she agreed without a care in the world.
Plays With Fire is out now and you can get it from the Audio Antihero Bandcamp page, including a rather lovely vinyl edition.
Photography by Carson Lund