So Cloud Cult has a new album out. Sadly, I'm past being excited.

I've only heard the one single above. But I can already tell. It's going to be a bad album, stale and inane, lacking all the purity of emotion and sonic drive that made them irresistible in the past. Cloud Cult has gotten almost to the point of being a parody of what they were in the "golden age" of the band. Through their early albums there was a build to the effects of Aurora Borealis and Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus: a raw, bleeding edge to the music, an urgency, and a clearly unresolved, heartrending anguish, brought out by a sort of lo-fi, DIY grunge. That's all been lost now -- faded on Meaning of 8, and all shot to hell by Feel Good Ghosts. In its place has grown up a happy, we're-all-connected-so-let's-just-all-feel-good-about-ourselves-because-life-is-really-wonderful, love-the-earth hippie vibe. But I don't even care about the message -- hell, I thought Neil Young's Living With War was one of the best albums of the year it came out. I'm glad Craig Minowa has gotten past his personal demons, worked through his pain. But the band is resting on its laurels, cannibalizing their own ethos and their past catalog, turning to schmaltz the purity of the past. It comes out in the production: the recent albums are produced to death, entirely unable to connect to the emotional core that makes (or made) the band so great.

Of course, they're poorly served by having their own record label: there's no outside pressure to see what they're doing to themselves, how autopilot the whole thing feels. There's no one to drive them forward as they slowly step back into a mushy comfort zone. And they have enough of a fan base to be able to cruise -- plenty of people will eat this all up.

They're still one of the best live acts you'll ever see, and they have a way of transforming the weakness and stagnation of the albums into driving, crowd-unifying anthems on stage. But I'm long past the point of buying their albums.