Syntax Issue 10
Denver Syntax

The morning clouds begin to take shape in the dark end of night, over head. When sunup finally comes, the clouds are the eddy that usher the dawn into day as a lavish, pastel surreality. These clouds are the lesson of duality. They are the lecture on the fluidity of life. They say to us: there is no line between darkness and light, there is only a morphing, a coming together of past and present.

This is precisely the time and place where Josh Wambeke’s Morning Clouds find their wispy formation: in that space of night, just before dawn. For Wambeke’s Morning Clouds are a long, drawn-out perfunctory siren, a warning of the light to come. In texture and timbre, this is a project about transformation, and thought.

If clouds have ever hovered as a symbol, it is to the logic of thinking. In some Dalian way, they mirror our human shape as the light of reflection.

If there was any symphony of the night, Denver’s The Morning Clouds are that sound. Theirs is the sound of a man, alone in the dead wash of night. These are the sounds of his thoughts rocketing from somewhere inside him, launched into the filter of a hushed, lonely house. This is a letting-in, a revealing of the words a man says out-loud to everyone and no one in that quiet time. This is where a man finds himself screaming at the rest of the world just as much as he is cracking his own mirror.

In the clouds, in the morning: this is where the genius of the world is birthed.

The Morning Clouds are about a washing-away and coming-back. For Josh Wambeke this has meant a stripping-away of his stringy musical history just as much as it has been about finding his human skeleton of purpose, the bony frame of his celestial heaven – the firmament of simple melody. You can hear it in the songs: he dropped the complicated alternative tunings and compositional structures of his previous work and he has found his way back into the simpler forms and more-complete understandings of music as a purely emotional consort. Here, the nostalgic guitars in the compositions speak to that kind of remembrance, the looking back in one’s life, the yearning to gain a vision on what is to come.

The Morning Clouds are an abstract conception just as much as they are a linear, logical progression in one’s existence. Concretely: Wambeke has been playing music for two decades now. Even as a teen with his first guitar: he was writing his own material. In his hometown of Bailey, he befriended the New York by way of Colorado songwriter Patrick Porter and they created one of Wambeke’s first bands. Their atmospheric space rock pushed Wambeke to learn what songwriting really meant and it was his often-tumultuous relationship with Porter that walked him into the room of authentic, rounded writing – a place that he’d later need knowledge about. The duo’s act, Phineas Gage, was picked-up by the Australian label Camera Obscura. Just coming of drinking age and Wambeke already had his paws in the real music industry. The success continued into Wambeke’s next project, Fell – where, upon their first release with Camera Obscura, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore gave their album a favorable written review.

Despite this relative success and Fell’s work over the next several years, Wambeke felt the strain. For if the music industry is laden with through lines, one of them is rejection. Another: failure. Next: persistent struggle. Put a band together, keep it together, line-up practices, gigs and try to get on the road. But: do all this while you’re trying to keep your head above water, paying bills and living a normal kind of life.

To this end, Wambeke has been a success: he helped keep Fell together and moving forward, all while working in the corporate world. As his girlfriend and organ/synth player, Lanette Walker noted: He kept moving-up in his position at work, it seemed, so that he could just continue buying new gear for his guitars and recording. Now, he owns a house in Arvada complete with the quality of gear to record albums like The Morning Cloud’s Wasted Youth Blues.

It was in this home, in his studio, where Wambeke created The Morning Clouds. For him, after Fell and working with Camera Obscura, he needed to get back to playing alone. Writing alone. Being on his own schedule and just playing – not even with the aim of playing gigs or touring. But once his initial tracks were sent into the blogosphere, they blew-up. Pitchfork, The Fader picked-up on his new sound and soon, others on the web followed. Then, quite quickly he was as real of a band as anything else in the world – complete with hundreds of thousands of eyes and ears looking and listening. Thing was, he didn’t have a band. So, he put one together: With himself on vocals and guitar; his girlfriend Lanette Walker on organ and synths; Matt Schild, bass; John Fate, drums; and Spencer Alred, guitar.

The response was immediate, and positive. The band has been written-up on multitudes of national blogs, local papers. Then, they were signed to the shoegaze and dream pop giant, Lefse. They acquired a manager and have put together new recordings that will follow the first album’s attention and success. With pure drive and the knowledge of almost 20 years in the industry: Wambeke and gang are set on finding a new label for the band’s second recordings. Wambeke has a team to help this time, to create that lush, siren kind of a sound. And from what this author has heard: these new songs are even more cultivated. Bigger. Stronger. They could catapult the entire band off their Colorado feet and force them into a much brigither national spotlight.

Wambeke is emotionally intense. All of his previous musical work speaks to this notion in the same way that the weighty Morning Clouds do, too. And so, it is an odd, but beautiful contradiction that, in all my dealings with him, there has always been a gentleness. A kindness. A humility. An even pace. Somehow this all makes sense in this project: as though this has all been a long time coming – this maturity and total blending of his past mistakes and successes with who he wants to be, in the future. In The Morning Clouds, you can hear it: a perfect spherical balance.

Maybe he was this way when he was younger, but somehow that kind of balance would be impossible. Maybe it’s because he has grown older and felt the brunt of failures and hard work. Maybe it doesn’t matter why Wambeke is so in control of his humility. At this point, he says, he just is striving to be honest about who he is and what he needs and wants.

There’s something wispy like a cirrus cloud in their first collection of songs. But the elision of the ethereal happens because of the secular space where Wambeke’s lyrics hit the carpet of home, the seat of existence on a broken night. For all the subtle intensity, there is a melding of the soft-spoken. In the same way that a man backs away from the mirror in understanding about what he now needs to do as a human, Wambeke has managed to find his musical chair in composition and texture. For these songs have been balanced and rotated with a precise eye and ear. For every delicate nuance, there is a corresponding silence, or off-setting weight of texture.

Wambeke has had some success in his history. Yet, it is feeling as though this could be his biggest one, to date. There is a bit of a conflict with that, because he is older. He has a house. A direction. A girl. He knows who he is, but that dream of making music for life rides along side it. And really, it has mirrored his life. The new band has helped pull his girlfriend and he, closer together. This project has given him a reflecting pool on his life. It has embellished the nuanced elements of who he is as a man and most of all it has challenged him to continue to reach for the celestial standards – however translucent and cloudlike they may be.

Stay atop the clouds, with their next release and shows, here: www.facebook.com/themorningclouds