Hard-working, hard-rocking indie outfit Cloud Nothings return with Steve Albini-produced Attack on Memory. Is front-man Dylan Baldi ready for “serious” songwriting?
One of the more auspicious young indie-rock acts of the past three or four years, Cleveland’s Cloud Nothings have made a name for themselves with a feverish energy that surges through each of their punky-pop songs. When the band’s eponymous sophomore LP dropped on Carpark Records last year, front-man and songwriter Dylan Baldi generated some impressive buzz for the catchy tunes and searing riffs that drove the album to the top of many “Best of”-lists in 2011. Despite not even being out of his teens, Baldi was quickly rising to the forefront of indie rock’s most prized and promising talents in an age where the guitar-based music of yesteryear was giving way to throwback chillwavers on synths and samplers.
As evidenced in both 2009’s killer comp Turning On and last year’s S/T effort, if there was one thing Baldi knew how to do extremely well, it was write energetic and engaging guitar-pop. So when I got my first listen to Cloud Nothing’s new, Steve Albini-produced “No Future/No Past”, I was a little befuddled. Trading directed, understated songwriting for ventures into instrumental and structural experimentation is one thing, but trying to pull off a five-minute long, slow-burning angst-fest is something completely different. The songwriting was one-note and repetitive to a fault. Within half a minute of this single, I was already skeptic about the direction one of my favorite bands was heading in.
Fortunately, Cloud Nothing’s third full-length, Attack on Memory, isn’t quite the disappointment “No Future/No Past” teases at it becoming. Sure the album starts on a meandering note with both the previously mentioned misstep and “Wasted Days” (which, at a grating and repetitious eight minutes, is a coincidentally telling song title), but energetic and tightly composed tracks like “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” are kept short and fiercely performed, catering to the band’s strengths. Instrumental “Separation” hints at a solid marriage between the pop gems of the group’s finer work and Albini’s noise rock-leaning influences, but fails to rise to the occasion mainly because of a distinct lack of Baldi’s vocal presence, which, despite his recent turns to whiny-ness, often counteract the tedium endured through the rest of the piece’s three minutes. “No Sentiment” plays like “No Future” should have: a minute and half shorter with a chorus to break up the monotony.
Luckily, Attack ends strong: “Our Plans” and “Cut You” are easily the most memorable tracks of the outing, highlighting Baldi’s ballad-sense and riffage. That said, the songwriter’s questionable choice to focus his talents on brooding, lumbering pieces like he has here spotlight a level of immaturity in his talent. At 20, Baldi has plenty of time to write dark pieces on love-lost and hopeless, dire situations. For now, though, he should be focusing his skills on doing what he does best: writing from the standpoint of a youthful musician with the world in his corner and buzz in his pocket. Save the tears for another four years and bring back the energy I fell for back in 2009!
Stand-out Track: “Stay Useless” (mp3)
*Bonus! Probably still the band’s best track: favorite tune of 2009!