Release Date: Jan 24, 2012
Record label: Carpark Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
"Essential/It'll never get old," sings Cloud Nothings' Dylan Baldi. That's the Nineties- nostalgic gospel of this Cleveland band's second record; it’s not a new idea (cf. Yuck, Mr. Dream), but these guys might have the Clinton-era moves down better than anyone. On the murderously slow "No Future ….
With rock music again supposedly on its death knell, along comes Ohio's Cloud Nothings with Attack On Memory, their third and most abrasive album to date. Once bringers of breezy pop-punk, this new release finds the foursome sounding serious and conflicted – imagine The Get Up Kids caught in an existential crisis, glumly thrashing out their upset in bursts of power chords and strained vocals. Then crank the volume several dials.
Some albums move you. Others push you to buy a guitar. Cloud Nothings‘ third LP, Attack on Memory, does both, acting as an aural assault on the heart and the fingers. Singer-songwriter Dylan Baldi vocally gnaws at the microphone, though only when he’s butchering his strings over his now trademark garage punk.
About a year ago, it seemed easy to predict what Dylan Baldi's first great album would probably sound like. After the release of the Turning On, a self-recorded collection of CD-Rs filled with tuneful alt-punk songs wrapped in tinfoil and steel wool that was released by the tiny California imprint Bridgetown Records, Cloud Nothings' self-titled debut on Carpark was an identifiable point on a familiar trajectory. The clarity afforded even by its modest budget made sweet and airy singles like "Forget You All the Time" and "Should Have" sound revelatory, while more overtly aggro tracks like "Rock" and "Not Important" felt thin and regressive, unnecessary vestiges of lo-fi provocation that didn't do Baldi many favors.
Cloud NothingsAttack On Memory[Carpark Records; 2012]By Colin Joyce; January 20, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetDylan Baldi has quite the post-millennial blog rock mild-success story. Kid writes a bunch of buzzy garage pop songs, records them on computer, gets offered a slot opening for Woods and Real Estate, forms a band to play said songs and drops out of college to become a career musician. The parentally-minded of the world might be tempted to chide Baldi for a rash decision to abandon a traditional career path for the trappings of indie rock stardom, the decision seems to have turned out well so far.
The second proper album from Ohio's Cloud Nothings presents a band transformed. And a band it very much is now. Rather than being just Dylan Baldi recording pop-punk songs by himself in his bedroom, as was the case with the first album, this is now a permanent four-piece group, and one with considerable chops at that. Moving away from those effective but simplistic, and pleasurable, beginnings, Baldi's songs are now longer, broader and heavier, fitting into a particular lineage of blustery, melodic indie-rock/post-hardcore bands from the US midwest (Chicago's Cap'n Jazz, Kansas's Farewell Bend).
It’s hard to avoid reading too much into a record cover when its name is proudly proclaiming an Attack on Memory. It also helps that the 2012 version of Cloud Nothings sounds a lot less like 2011. What was once bittersweet and charmingly affected is now atonal, strung-out and stuck in a dour mood. Downward-spiral guitars, roomy drums, a voice summoned from the depths of Dylan Baldi’s core.
The second full-length from Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings (not counting a collection of singles and various ephemera released in 2010 called Turning On) might not exactly be a front-and-centre release for the dregs of January, but it is hotly anticipated in some quarters. Canadian music radio personality Alan Cross placed Attack on Memory, said aforementioned sophomore album, on his most-looked-forward-to albums of early 2012 in a recent post on his blog. There’s likely a couple of big reasons for the slavish drooling for Attack on Memory from those indie music connoisseurs who chart new releases eagerly.
In the ever-expanding indie universe, several ‘90s genre have seen a renaissance of late. You don’t have to go far before crashing headlong into another millennial group refashioning old R&B, alt-rock, grunge, emo, and techno tropes for their current projects. Power-pop punk Dylan Baldi joins the fray with his Steve Albini-produced sophomore effort, Attack on Memory.
Drape this record in plaid, grow its hair past its shoulders and give it some ill-fitting jeans, because Attack On Memory is grunge. From the churning, super-fuzz bass riff in opener No Future/No Past and anguished screams in Wasted Days to the raw drum sound Steve Albini capably coaxes from these Clevelanders, all the trademarks are here, filtered through frontman's Dylan Baldi's snappy power pop talents. Cloud Nothings made their entry in 2011 with the blitz of rapid-fire, throaty songs found on their lo-fi self-titled debut.
Despite the kill-the-past title Attack on Memory, Cloud Nothings' second album conjures up the ghosts of bands such as Nirvana, Unwound, and Fugazi -- acts whose heydays occurred when Dylan Baldi was a tyke, and all of them far heavier than his previous work. In that sense, Attack on Memory is a break with Cloud Nothings' past, and one they're not shy about advertising; the album's first two songs are so different than what came before, they're almost unrecognizable. "No Future/No Past" builds from a hypnotic dirge into scorched-earth screaming that echoes In Utero's bleakest moments, while "Wasted Days"' nearly nine-minute excursion into self-loathing and band interplay is an even bigger departure.
In most pop songs, particularly modern chartbusters with their huge, soaring choruses, the vocal hook is where one’s attention is usually directed. Naturally, however, guitarists will prize axemanship above all other virtues, though whether that means fetishizing funky riffs or just appreciating a really badass solo might vary from person to person. And if you ever talk to someone who tells you that the breakdown is the best part of a song, you’re probably talking to someone who grew up listening to some variant of punk or hardcore.
They say there’s no use in holding on to the past. The reason why the everyday counsellor supports this reflection is because, naturally, we’re trained to believe that time heals wounds. In no-nonsense terms, it will vanish from memory soon enough. But really, the mental faculty of remembering past thoughts is what triggers a series of potentially adverse emotions.
At its best, Attack on Memory is emo filtered through the lens of somebody smart enough to acknowledge the occasional inanity of its sentiments, cynical enough to consider said inanities silly (or perhaps, “useless”), and deeply felt enough to make them convincing. For the most part, the album is an enormous leap forward for a band that, just a year ago, was making music best described as “Wavves if Nathan Williams was actually good at writing songs”; here, Cloud Nothings move past the slacker touches that marked their first releases, their gestures getting bigger and broader as they make attempts at emotional universality. Now, in order to do this, they resort to lyrical content that blatantly shirks maturity, which is a bit dubious considering that Attack on Memory reads like a conscious grab for legitimacy.
It’s easy to forget that Cloud Nothings used to be a bedroom project. Dylan Baldi was responsible for each and every strand of instrumentation, every strain of guitar on his opening salvo of songs, from his house in Westlake, Ohio. There are lots of teenagers out there right now who do a similar thing to Baldi but who for the life of them, can’t write a song like ‘Hey Cool Kid’, therefore the chance of them getting picked up by a concert promoter, before eventually recording with one of the world’s most famous producers, are indeed slim.
Cloud Nothings has a mission statement for its second album. It’s not a complex one, and it’s not cryptic in the slightest. In fact, it’s stated quite clearly at the start of the sixth song of Attack On Memory, “No Sentiment”: “We started a war/Attack on memory/No easy way out/Forget everything.” As an ode to 20-something angst, Attack On Memory succeeds by wearing its insecurities like a badge of honor.
This is the third album in little over a year from Dylan Baldi's Cloud Nothings. The first, Turning On was a series of lo-fi bedroom recordings, fuzzy and ramshackle, yet given a certain charm and likeability by Baldi's clear ear for a melody and goofball lure. The self-titled follow up, was a cleaner, more distilled affair, all power-pop and saccharine three-minute nuggets which lost a bit of the grit, charm and appeal of its debut.