Crack Cloud – ‘Pain Olympics’ review: an electrifying sonic barrage fuelled by communal spirit

The Canadian collective’s debut album feels like an extension of their invaluable work as support workers on the frontline in the fight against their country’s opioid crisis

As well as a band (or collective, as they’d rather be labelled), the idea of Crack Cloud represents something entirely more for its seven(ish) core members and countless others who dip in and out – it’s a road to recovery.

Largely meeting through addiction recovery programmes in their hometown of Vancouver, the collective – many of whom, including singer and unofficial leader Zach Choy, openly identify as former addicts themselves – have now turned their attention to prevention, working in harm reduction programmes. “I think it was important for us to be transparent about where we come from as addicts and as people with histories of destruction,” Choy said in a recent interview.

The communal spirit and fierce dedication of these recovery programmes runs through every part of ‘Pain Olympics’, Crack Cloud’s debut album. As much as it’s a fizzing, irresistible musical statement from one of the world’s buzziest new collectives, it also feels like an extension of their work on the frontline against Canada’s opioid crisis, and a testament to the power of strength in numbers.

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A sonic journey that mirrors the real-life one that the collective remain on, ‘Pain Olympics’ is a disturbing, joyous, cataclysmic listen that travels from claustrophobia and fear into wide-eyed expressions of joy. Opening track ‘Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation)’ is an astonishing five minutes that travels from the kind fidgety post-punk that the band mastered on their early EPs, to a heavenly interlude of choral beauty, and then a parting of the clouds that employs the kind of anthemic guitars that turned their countrymen Arcade Fire into arena-dwellers.

From there, ‘Pain Olympics’ swings wildly between jazz, hip-hop, and outlandish pop music it’s a hive mind from a collective to whom genre means little or nothing. Their collective spirit is shown best on ‘The Next Fix (A Safe Space)’, which starts out as a twitchy, paranoid struggle that exists within the grasp of addiction (“Melts away the sorrow, opens up the sky / Life is meaningful, only when we’re high”).

Single ‘Ouster Stew’ and the furiously energetic ‘Tunnel Vision’ see the band stretching their legs, showing they can be as fun and free as they are vital, before it’s up to closer ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’ to reach a place of something close to acceptance, with soaring vocals and screeching post-rock guitars carving a path forwards into a future with just a little bit of light. “The game of life is a misery,” the sample that closes the album proclaims, but in acknowledging our darkest, most dangerous corners, and coming together in a show of vital communal spirit, Crack Cloud will play on together.

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Crack Cloud

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Release date: July 17
Release label: Meat Machine

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