Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Rating: ★★★★☆

Dylan Baldi is hot right now, there’s no mistake about it.  Ever since releasing the self-titled Cloud Nothings album, his star has continued to rise, and deservedly so.  Now, his band returns with their latest album, Attack on Memory, determined to shift gears a little bit by going into the studio with the heralded Steve Albini.  The collaboration definitely alters the group’s sound, yet through it all we’re watching the evolution of a talented band.

Immediately upon hearing the first track, “No Future/No Past,” you’ll realize there’s a drastic change in the overall sound.  Where the band was once brash and pummeling, you find them here in a more brooding state, building the listener towards the emotional release of the song.  What’s great about the track is that you can feel it coming, you’re just not sure when that moment will come to fruition.  Rest assured, the time will come.  And from there you blast off into what is probably the most dynamic track on Attack on Memory, “Wasted Days.”  For a brief moment, it seems as if a more hammering approach to the stylings of Cloud Nothings has evolved, but as the song is well over 8 minutes, one can’t hope to hold that ferocious energy for too long.  And they don’t, offering up some jammy post-punk moments that wear a little bit towards the end.

Still, despite the altered sound on the record, there remains that knack for creating a sharp-edged hook that really captures listeners, such as the opening “fall in, fall in” line that comes with “Fall In.”  Okay, so perhaps it’s redundant a bit, but the drumming and Baldi’s voice are sufficient in carrying out the immense pleasure in this number.  “Stay Useless” offers up a more mature sound overall, though it definitely harkens back to the prominently more energetic times of early Cloud Nothings. Again, Dylan’s forte seems to be his ability to craft momentary hooks in the midst of a track that do more than enough, even with just brief lyrics like “I need time to stop moving, I need time to stay useless.”

Although the album seems brief, at least in the number of tracks – eight, there’s definitely more attention to detail in the fleshing out of tracks, giving more depth and vibrance to Attack on Memory.  You’ve also have to love the slight alterations that really craft beautiful moments like the album’s closer,  “Cut You.”  This song definitely lives somewhere in the post-grunge workings of 90s indie rock, and yet the group sounds refreshing, perhaps because of all the work they’ve put in leading up to this track. It might be the unassuming best track on the album.

For all the hubbub surrounding the usage of Albini and crafting a record around the influences on Cloud Nothings, they’ve really crafted a record that makes them seem a bit louder, a bit more thoughtful, and every bit themselves.  It’s difficult to live up the expectations of the masses, especially when you’ve risen to popularity so quickly, but Attack on Memory serves notice that the group is growing in confidence, both in sound and personality; we’re all better off for it.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/01_No_Future_No_Past.mp3]

Download:Cloud Nothings – No Future No Past [MP3]

Cloud Nothings – s/t

Rating: ★★★★½

It’s funny how one of the great hopes for indie rock is being played by a 19 year old from Cleveland.  Dylan Baldi is the teen sensation behind Cloud Nothings, and perhaps his youth and naivete allowed him to create one of the best records of the year.   The self-titled album is everything you could ask from a record: creative, energetic, heart-felt, and just fucking great.

As soon as you press play you just get highly-fueled kick to the face, as “Understand at All” opens with a statement that you’re not going to have much room to breathe here.  Incredibly, you have these angular guitars cutting in and out, yet it all holds tightly onto several melodic moments of hook; you don’t find good energetic rock these days with such pop undertones.  “Not Important” works as the excellent follow-up here, moving just as quickly into the fray as the opener.  A little twist is the rawness of Baldi’s vocals here, almost straining a bit, but it’s pulled off successfully.  Personally, the drum work on this track really  is the winner, though it’s hard to say there’s anything wrong with Cloud Nothings up to this point.

However, it’s not all high octane indie rock.  “Forget You All the Time” might actually be one of the best kept secrets on this album, wrapped at the four spot.  Pacing is slowed, and the melody is really sensational.  Dylan’s vocal performance is one of the warmest of all the tracks here, and you can’t help but be won over by every inch of the recording.  But, it’s sort of the one-off, and though rewarding, it might be nice to see if Cloud Nothings explore a little bit more of that direction in the future.

You know, writing a record review typically isn’t too difficult. You write about a couple of your favorite tracks, point out the flaws you saw, etc, but Cloud Nothings is pretty impossible to write about if you cut it into pieces.  There’s probably not enough praise I can give Baldi on this installation in his catalogue.  Everything seems to offer up little pieces of my somewhat tainted indie past.  Perhaps its the chorus in “Heartbeat” that recalls twee C86 records on speed or the brashness of “Rock.”  You’ll find bits of influences all over the map, from Superchunk to GBV to possibly Pains of Being Pure at Heart (or the like), but it sounds refreshingly sincere, as if Baldi has no intention of just copying his peers or his record collection.

While I’m not sure Cloud Nothings are here to save indie rock, this self-titled record is about as good a record as I’ve heard in a long time.  You can cut your favorites and put them into playlists, or you can play the whole album in its entirety, as its not too long by any means.  In the long run, I’m sort of glad Baldi is so young.  It means, as long as life goes well, that we can expect more excellent records for years and years to come. And if you take one listen to this record, you’ll be grateful.

[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/11/Cloud-Nothings-Understand-At-All.mp3]

Download: Cloud Nothings – Understand At All [MP3]