196538 the saxophones to be a cloud

The Saxophones – To Be A Cloud (Full Time Hobby)

“The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.” It’s a passage from the existential book No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, originally published in 2002. The publication suggests that nothing, whether it be a human or a cloud, never really ceases to exist but has an impermanent nature to constantly transform into something else. California-dwelling multi-instrumentalist Alexi Erenkov and his uxorial bandmate drummer Alison Alderdice – known under the group name The Saxophones – have used Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings about the cyclicality of life as guidance to help them navigate and balance the early stages of parenthood with their passion for creating music. The duo’s third release To Be A Cloud, could imagine the married couple swaying their legs over the mountain ridges of Inverness, California – a place they are very much inspired by – and looking below at the tranquil bays beneath their feet, as they use their parental time-out to reflect upon their life up until now and how to bring up their two sons.

This tranquillity, nostalgia and rumination about the future are showcased through Alexi’s Erenkov’s impassive baritone that on most occasions imitates Johnny Cash, as well as by his impressive smorgasbord of retro-sounding instruments (including atmospheric flute, efficiently used saxophone and inventive uses of the keyboard all being recorded on a 24-track tape inside a previously-functioning church), along with Alison Alderdice’s clean and metronomic drumming. It’s easy to imagine The Saxophones as a jazz group performing slow numbers at a 1950s prom that is taking place out in a candle-lit forest.

‘In My Defense‘ and ‘Hunter’ are the obvious nods to Thich Nhat Hanh’s metamorphosis philosophy. The latter, which has the guitar pace of The Righteous Brothers’ 1955 song ‘Unchained Melody‘, acknowledges the idea that humans transforming into something else should make us less worried about death, but he laments at the idea of losing self-identity: “To be a cloud, to have a name, to be one to be all the same.” While the former, which hears Erenkov’s voice develop from Johnny Cash into the vulnerable sweetness of Erlend Øye, further criticises the lack of the thrill of being a non-human: “Don’t want to be a cloud, it bored me then and it will bore me.”

It would have been interesting if The Saxophones had developed this concept throughout the whole of To Be A Cloud’ especially considering it is the album title, but the intriguing idea of things happening in cycles is only partially hinted at on other tracks and even then it’s more cryptic. While much of the album deviates from the original strong topic.

Somnial opener ‘The Mist’, which puts us in a dream-like state immediately through Ereknov’s flute, uses nature (from hawks, to trees, to smoke, and to light) to metaphorically depict the duo’s fleeting stays in California. Stuck in a loop of loving the state before having to leave again when it becomes untenable for them. ‘Boy Crazy’ – which directly discusses Erenkov and Alderdice’s parenting anxiety, could be hinting at another cycle. The cycle of trying to nurture boys to be good influences on the world only to find that parents have developed a beast and have failed once again at their responsibility. “I still think to myself again and again what could’ve been? Then I take each day and throw it away when it comes to an end. To give myself a second chance through you, it’s true. That’s why I do the things I do.”

Although ‘Goddess In Repose’ strays away from To Be A Cloud’s messages, it is noteworthy for how it sounds like another 1950s style classic in ‘Beauty School Dropout’ if it was given a science-fiction flourish. Imagine the combination of the films Grease and Species, through Alexi Erenkov’s inclusion of spooky theremin sounds and lyrics about sexual temptation. “I still resist the gifts of my time. Love overwhelms me. My defences fall, I’m touching your body.”

This, The Saxophones’ third album has a sophisticated and soothing ode to nostalgic jazz and dreamy blues and its curious take on parenting and death make it a worthy listen. However rather ironically, considering its transformative subject, the combination of its persistent slow pace and how the similarity of the tracks blend into each other, might make it too soporific and forgettable for some.

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