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With its title, “Excursions to Cloudland,” the travel itinerary designed by Dire Wolves could be mistaken for seeming to promise something of a gentle journey, a breezy, psychedelic semi-saunter, held aloft by a Floydian pillow of winds.
Dire Wolves have other plans. This is your Captain speaking – your Captain is dead.
While the echoes of previous, pioneering excursions may occasionally, faintly bounce off of the walls that make up the circulatory system of “Excursions to Cloudland,” the blood coursing through its collective veins and organs is a particularly spirited strain, a fully original concoction, manifesting in the sounds of Dire Wolves – a sound that pairs perfectly with quickening pulses and flipped lids.
Tracing the bloodline of Dire Wolves may require an exhausting form of archeological exercise, collecting the shards left behind by their ancestral and aesthetic predecessors – organic, barrier-resistant bands like Jackie-O Motherfucker and Kemialliset Ystävät, not to mention Amon Duul, or the previously-referenced Hawkwind. Dire Wolves are indeed a band freed from the constraints of clearly demarcated borders, let alone members; some twenty-plus unique heartbeats have served to animate Dire Wolves over the years, no doubt all contributing something to the indescribable, undeniable span and scope of sound throughout “Excursions to Cloudland.”
The first track on “Excursions to Cloudland” – “Enter Quietly,” at over twelve minutes, the album’s longest, though not by much – stands as a clear enough expression of the benefits derived from Dire Wolves’ multi-dimensional membership, ineffable though it may be. There’s something in it to remind grey-haired listeners of The Incredible String Band; for less aged ears, it simply sounds incredible. At just over a minute in, we hear the first indication of the presence of Lau Nau, a.k.a. Laura Naukkarinen, whose fine, otherworldly vocals effortlessly wrap like wisteria vines around the yearning violin employed throughout the album, rapidly becoming the Polaris of Dire Wolves’ expansive sky, and ultimately, the defining characteristic of “Excursions to Cloudland.”
But then, perhaps too much time has already been spent on trying to define the sound of “Excursions to Cloudland,” rather than merely reveling in the grand, bewitching baying of these Dire Wolves. The sister-songs that follow “Enter Quietly,” “Fogged Out 1” and “Fogged Out 2,” can be experienced as twenty-minute companion pieces, but more importantly, they should simply be experienced – not necessarily stoned, but, yes, beautiful. By the time the album closing “Cerebration Day” emerges from the fog, the songs of “Excursions to Cloudland” feel like an unbroken line, a vast quest and adventure that’s larger than Dire Wolves themselves, a holy racket that seeks to wake us, rather than occlude us. Listen up.
- Ryan Muldoon