It is fair to say that Crack Cloud are a band like no other. Formed by drummer and vocalist Zach Choy and keyboardist Mohammed Al Sharar in order to divert their lives away from struggles with mental health issues and drug addiction, the Vancouver-based collective has now surpassed twenty members.
Unlike many of their peers, this is a band whose primary aims are catharsis and healing, and their music has a strong sense of determination and urgency woven through it as a result. Now releasing their second album, Crack Cloud continues to act as a support system for its participants, providing a positive creative outlet for addiction-sufferers and mental health workers alike.
Pain Olympics sends you on a manic musical and sensory journey. These guys don’t do anything by halves: opening with ‘Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation)’ – the title of which gives you a taste of Crack Cloud’s anarchist attitude and anti-establishment stance. This record repeatedly lunges from vehement art-rock vocals to emotive, sweeping choirs and back again. The sheer amount of musical styles and structural U-turns packed into each song on Pain Olympics explains how Crack Cloud have managed to create such an impactful album in only 8 fervent tracks.
The maniacal laughter that concludes ‘Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation)’ spills into ‘Bastard Basket’, which kicks off with crisp, hypnotic drums and staccato, post-punk guitars, building into a song that is as dark as it is electrifying. This is a common theme throughout the album: each track is nightmarish and hopeful in equal parts, reminding the listener of both the band’s brutal backstory and their promising future. None of the songs demonstrate this better than ‘The Next Fix’, which begins with breathless, rhythmic spoken word and culminates in a rousing, choral climax, as if Crack Cloud are painting a sonic picture of their personal recovery and growth.
The drums are undoubtedly one of Pain Olympics’ high points. They are the pulse that drives the record, furiously pushing each song forwards. Talking Heads-inspired ‘Ouster Stew’ allows drummer Zach Choy to fully let loose in a drum solo that lasts half a minute and makes you stop whatever you are doing to listen and appreciate his insane skills.
The album ends on a more reflective note. ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’ is four and a half minutes of passionate vocals set on a background of atmospheric drones, bringing the heart rate back down after seven fast-paced tracks. It brings Pain Olympics full circle, returning to the same ethereal choral voices that appeared on ‘Post Truth (Birth Of A Nation)’. There is a sense of relief at the end of ‘Angel Dust (Eternal Peace)’, and you can practically feel the immense amount of blood, sweat and tears that have been poured into the making of this record.
Pain Olympics is definitely not to everyone’s taste. This album is very intense; there is barely a chance to catch your breath between the cultish chanting, discordant instrumentals and unabated drumming. On the first listen, the LP could be highly intimidating – especially if you knew nothing about Crack Cloud’s origins. It is a record that is uncompromising in its eccentricity and experimentalism, but there is a beauty to that. Crack Cloud are not your average band, and they refuse to sacrifice their unconventionality by making conventional music.