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What have Pantera, Tim Hardin and Digital Mystikz got in common? OK, it sounds like the feedline to a particularly geeky joke, but the answer is that they’re the wellsprings of the musical intensity which flows through Apollo Records’ brilliant duo Cloud Boat. Sam Ricketts and Tom Clarke have been steadily getting a foothold in the world of bass music over the past couple of years as they tour their stunning and ever-evolving live show around the clubs and festivals of Europe – and now are ready to drop their deep and dreamy debut album ‘Book of Hours’, which brilliantly showcases them as part of the generation for whom electronic production and songwriting are no longer separate worlds – but though they are still young and fresh-faced, their roots go much deeper than any current scene.

Tom’s limited experience of electronic music at that point was through drum’n’bass nights, and he considered himself firmly in the leaping-around camp – but gradually, as dubstep leaked from nearby Bristol into Bath, he too began to understand the deep musicality of it, “the fact that electronic production was a really powerful method of expressing emotions and ideas without words.” As the two friends’ music taste converged once again, and they were introduced to the music their childhood friend (and sometime labelmate in the R&S stable) James Blake was making – and via him to acts like Mount Kimbie – they began to experiment with electronic sound, and quickly discovered that this was something that they could both naturally combine with Tom’s songwriting, and translate to the live stage.

This live performance, with Sam and occasionally Tom on guitars, and both triggering electronic instruments, is the crux of Cloud Boat. “I think what sets us apart,” says Sam, “is that we can do it completely live, not just rearranging songs, but building them from the bottom up. We have written whole new songs during live sets or soundchecks.” He looks back fondly to a set they played at Manchester’s Warehouse Project where he began a set playing the sinister circling riff of Slayer’s ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ and they built an entirely new track around it. It’s this inventiveness and flexibility that has allowed them to grow and mature musically so far and so fast – they can literally rebuild themselves and their sound on the fly.

And it’s this which has led to the absolutely staggering confidence of ‘Book of Hours’. Listen to the way those soft-edged but monumentally huge bass tones in ‘Youthern’ support Sam’s Ennio Morricone-esque guitars and Tom’s velvety folk lament – nothing else but a few elegant licks of percussion are needed. Or ‘Dréan’, which is even more bare still: a fingerpicked acoustic ballad with insidious waves of background guitar that well up through it, sounding both ancient and sci-fi despite having none of the obvious signifiers of “futuristic” electronica.

On ‘Wanderlust’, Tom hits a liturgical tone, a hymnal yearning filling the song as a cloud of Burial-like crackles and clicks rise up around it, creating pressure despite their delicacy and demonstrating how it’s possible for Cloud Boat to maintain intensity with the most unlikely source materials without ever succumbing to cheap tricks or pumping beats. ‘Pink Grin’ and ‘Lions on the Beach’ do have more obviously dancefloor beats, both riding along on hyper-syncopated UK garage rhythms, but texturally and emotionally these fit perfectly as part of a greater whole with the tracks that drift and bloom more gradually. It’s easy to see how Cloud Boat’s sound could work for demanding and hedonistic techno crowds, yet this is also an album for headphone reveries.

They’ve already played right at the heart of techno’s establishment in Berlin clubs like the notorious Berghain (“we’ve never cleared a dancefloor,” smiles Sam proudly), in gig venues large and small and at outdoor festivals, at every turn reacting to their audiences and adapting their sound to suit. And now with their album they are able to reach into people’s homes and hard-drives, to consolidate what they’ve achieved so far. It’s a long way from schoolboy metal bands, yet at the same time, the fearsome dedication to the music is the same as it ever was. “This is what we do,” says Sam, “we don’t have a plan B, so we need to do it well!”

Current Release


Cloud Boat
Book of Hours
(Apollo Records)
Street Date: May 27, 2013

1. Lions On The Beach
2. Youthern
3. Bastion
4. Dréan
5. Amber Road
6. You Find Me
7. Wanderlust
8. Godhead
9. Pink Grin I
10. Pink Grin II
11. Kowloon Bridge

Pics (click for high res)