Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cumulus Never Meant It Like This

Led by the sprite-like vocals of Alexandra "Alex" Niedzialkowski, Cumulus manages to lighten up the otherwise proper indie pop-rock toughness created by Lance Umble (guitar) and Leah Julius (bass). It's a juxtaposition that fits the debut, which took some toughness and a ton a heart to produce.

Like some startups do from time to time, Cumulus is one of those increasingly few to almost self-produce a worthwhile and listenable debut with a Kickstarter campaign. But that's not to say Cumulus came together yesterday or is some sensationalized overnight success. It's mostly the opposite.

This Seattle-based band is something that Niedzialkowski has been kicking around for six years, writing and sharing songs with her friends like others might write and leave open their diaries. The rest of the elements came together later when she and Umble started to figure out all their chance meetings after high school might be something more than happenstance.

The same can be said for the addition of Julius, whom the duo met after playing a Bruce Springteen tribute show last year. Kyle Holland and Ryan Sprute came later, lending some drums to finish it.

I Never Meant It To Be Like This was never meant to be like this. 

Getting back to the reason almost was set in italics. Cumulus was never given the chance to self-produce their album because Chris Walla (Death Cab For Cutie) sent the group an email just before they wrapped everything up. He wanted to see what would happen if Trans-Records put it out instead.

They readily agreed, giving the the album an added bounce after Trans-Records lined up their first national tour with the Lonely Forest prior to the debut. And as soon as they finished, they put out a video for Middle, a track that sets down why this deft and determined pop-rock combo works.

Middle is a brazenly sharp-sounding song that talks smartly about isolation. It acknowledges those moments and feelings when people feel vulnerable and alone. But the chorus dares anyone feeling lonely to be that third wheel, keeping friendships together instead of letting them fall away.

The release of the video was timed perfectly to coincide with the album's continued climb, an ascent that was started when Trans-Records first released the lighter, poppier Do You Remember. At first pass, the single was almost lost in the delicacy of the album opener. It nearly floats away until you focus in on the lyrics, which are grounded in a triumphant sadness — triumphant because everyone feels that way, sad because everyone loses that feeling.

There is a bittersweet story told across this intentional debut. 

Fortunately, there's much more than two songs to explore on I Never Meant It To Be Like This. Hey Love is an impossibly tender power pop piece that cuddles up to more loneliness. It's brisk and hopeful, bookended by the two mentioned above.

The three of them together set the stage for what will become a storybook of young love, with each track serving up a chapter. The first four tracks all address the end to being lonely — that naivety in feeling invincible as long as the other person stays by your side. All that changes with the broody and muted Wanderlust, when things slowly begin to churn, turn and tear it all up.

The bottom five tracks swirl around with darker clouds as an increasing maturity begins to seep into the songs. The progression is what makes all 10 tracks readily addictive on I Never Meant It To Be Like This. By the time you get to the end, it becomes painfully clear that is a lost love story.

Night Swimming is the perfect closer, a simple but raw track that captures Niedzialkowski in a different light. She isn't all sugar. There is an untapped roughness there too. And as it emerges, you might find yourself wondering about the first track. Do you remember that feeling? Maybe.

I Never Meant It To Be Like This By Cumulus Floats 9.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

With impeccable songwriting and the talent to tell a complete story, I Never Meant It To Be Like This is a bittersweet indie pop-rock astonishment. Listening to a single track or two doesn't convey the real depth of the debut, one that is poised to keep climbing as more people discover this isn't a bubble gum indie pop band. They have laid out something substantial.

You can find I Never Meant It To Be Like This by Cumulus on Amazon. The vinyl release is available at Barnes & Noble or you can download the album from iTunes. For tour listings, check out the band on Facebook.
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