Tag Cloud - Present Nature (Album Review)

The difference between country and city living is quite drastic. A bucolic setting affords one much space for reflection and provides a connection to nature, while the city gives one a sense of excitement and connection to people. No surprise then, that the countryside provides inspiration to artists. From Walden to Bon Iver, the archetype of the purist heading to the woods to find a connection to something higher has been much romanticised. 

One artist whose work has benefited from getting out of dodge is New Yorker Justin Mayfield, whose recent relocation from the city to a more rustic setting upstate has provided his music with a patient and self-aware quality. Mayfield has had a hand in various musical projects over the years, from the surf-group Sheena Marina to the folk indie project Ghedtair Composite. With Joe Maltese on drums and the moniker Tag Cloud, genre takes a backseat as acoustically-driven songs rarely adhere to one style, instead flitting between bossa nova, space rock, and folktronica. This unrestrained approach lends a wild sense of freedom to proceedings. 

Of course, a Sartrean will tell you that we can become trapped to freedom. Mayfield seems to take extreme caution with ever playing it too straight or safe, the commercial appeal of the "Too Middle" is purposefully obscured with out-of-place distorted guitar that wails. His vocals are perennially affected beyond naturalness, be it by reverb, delay, or whatever, like on the psychedelic “Pink Green Slide”, a wonky, gnarly, and ultimately wonderful slice of free-form play. “Lager” further sees expressions of confusion belted out with confidence, and the esotericism of "The Ghost In Her House" takes turns to eerie outsider folk. Another noteworthy moment is the melodic richness of the largely instrumental “Noise Leaks”.  

The cover image by Kohor shows someone sitting on a roof, stargazing under what appears to be the Auroroa Borealis. It’s fitting for an album of hazy songs that are spacious in scope. Mayfield’s music is anything but straightforward, though there is a sense he could make it so on a whim, an ability hinted at on the chill opening track "Bathed in Moonlight", or the delicate title-track which is full of fiery guitar lines, interesting percussive ideas, and barely-there singing. Present Nature by Tag Cloud is anything but dull, nor is it fully coherent, but like a country dweller looking up into the expanse, connecting with the unknown holds far more appeal than small talk.