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HEM leader Jason Grier's own experimental pop-funk, featuring Julia Holter and Lucrecia Dalt. Clouds is a little novella of an album; a sphinx-like meditation on fate, circumstance and the oddities of being a perpetual traveller. Fittingly, it was recorded in three years and three cities; between 2009 and 2011 in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berlin. Grier carried the drafts around like a travelogue, and the resulting compositions read like an accumulation of curiously juxtaposed sounds and notes-to-self about the fickle nature of fate. Using deconstructions of private-press bedroom soul music as a skeleton, Grier fleshed out nods to kosmiche, '70s Eno, Janet Jackson, and Jodeci, Terry Riley, drone music, Renaissance organ music, and medieval composers like Petrus de Cruce and Josquin des Prez. He first crafted an original set of grooves, then deleted beats and notes until just-so-little of the original syncopation could be felt. In the resulting void, he sought out hovering musicologies emerging like clouds in tension with nothingness. In "Karma," the gorgeously sparse duet with Julia Holter, the void is filled by one of the album's many field recordings, sourced from a badly-scratched "soothing sounds of nature" record picked up along the way in a San Francisco thrift store. The vinyl hiss creates a double-irony, but more importantly serves as a kind of "springtime mist" where the tensions nothing/something, sure/unsure, and I-love-you/I-love-you-not come in and out of focus. Grier composed the vocals following a medieval technique called "hocket," where a single melody is traded between performers. The result is a love poem that may or may not belong to the same heart, that may be spoken by indifferent voices, or by two people of one mind. Contrast this to the title-track, where bubbling, fizzing energy propels a sardonic exchange between a hapless dreamer (Grier) and a hip stoner (portrayed by Lucrecia Dalt). The dreamer can never convince her that doing what comes natural is extraordinary. But ultimately, both agree "that all you really ever need is in the sky" -- be it a sky filled with dreams or smoke. Between "Karma" and "Clouds" sits ecclesiastical funk ballad, "The Rules." Here Grier claims that fate isn't our maker; it's just a hitchhiker riding our lives to some far off place. The song's A-B-A structure, with a deadpan verse repeat after four minutes of tantric build-up, echoes its theme of eternal return. This probably best sums up the movement of Clouds. We get nervous peering at the void (which is always the true form of "what comes next") even though we're certain to encounter something familiar. You keep meeting the same souls over and over again. And it's quite nice.