NATHAN OLIVER :: CLOUD ANIMALS (POX WORLD EMPIRE) RIYL: Pixies, Conor Oberst, Unicorns Our relationships to our favorite bands, in many ways, parallel our relationships to people-at least in trajectory. First we meet, and if that introduction is friendly, we dig a little deeper, seeking further acquaintance before we can find an adequate label. Is this an acquaintance? A friend? A soulmate? And so it continues until one party sours the relationship (which any fanboy'll tell you can be accomplished with just one dud LP), or dies, leaving us to treasure our artifacts, nostalgic for the better times. Or we simply lose touch, each party's oppositional drift widening the chasm where a relationship once stood. But what of those uncertain times immediately after that first friendly introduction-the stellar debut that opens us to a sophomore album, about which we can't possibly be certain? If nothing else, it provides inspiration enough for Cloud Animals, the follow-up to Nathan Oliver's striking 2007 debut. Since the self-titled LP, the Chapel Hill, N.C.-based project has evolved, but retains it's defining sonic characteristics-a balance of Pixies dynamic and Elliott Smith melodicism. The difference is in the approach. 'This one is more aimed toward character profiles, rather than schizophrenic moodiness,' says the band's central figure, Nathan White. 'Some of it's still moody, but it's more directional.' That direction, it would seem, is to treat each song as a new interaction. Most of Cloud Animals' 11 songs were recorded with different collections of area musicians-among whom we can count Reid Johnson (Schooner), Billy Alphin (Schooner, The Rosebuds), John Harrison (North Elementary) and Wes Phillips (Ticonderoga). 'Each person was pretty deliberately chosen to play on particular songs,' says White. 'Mostly, I thought they would get the song.' Additionally, Cloud Animals was recorded in pieces between August of 2007 and the end of 2008. Says White, 'It was to allow room to have more spontaneous sounds and noises. To have some of the creativity be more spontaneous.' But even as it's more spontaneous, the songwriting has grown more deliberate and complex, the arrangements, tighter, more punchy. Certainly, the band itself has evolved, even as it's personnel changes-a sign of maturity gained from sharing the stage with, among others, Neil Halstead (Slowdive, Mojave 3), Bombadil and Des Ark. Perhaps, it's surest sign of maturity is the album's steady theme. White says, 'There's a lot to do with how two people meet or how two people are drawn together...it's supposed to be like the interactions between people before they become friends or whatever.' Fitting for a sophomore disc that, far from slumping, opens a new chapter in the relationship between Nathan Oliver and it's growing fan base.