I was never too keen on much of the emo themes thrashed out by Fall Out Boy circa 2007. But that famous Top 40 line “This ain’t a scene/It’s an arms race”, as contrived as it is, still rings true to the ever more nouveau niche indie genre. Now with more digital bells and whistles to play with than ever, nearly all buzz songs from last year were drenched in synthesized arpeggios or awash with lo-fi fuzz.
“It wasn’t intended to be a super-produced album, ‘cause I don’t like stuff like that. I generally like albums that are a little grittier, more raw,” says Dylan Baldi, the bespectacled Cleveland whiz kid behind Cloud Nothings in 2009. What began three years ago as a concocted Myspace timekill has now evolved into a Steve Albini (you know the guy who produced In Utero and Manic Street Preachers) produced third album. His first two dabbled in post-punk power pop akin to an Elephant 6 concert bill in the late ‘90s (hear “Hey Cool Kid” for sonic reference).
Now it’s time to get angry. Blacken the skies with ash and pound a two liter of Surge, followed naturally by a handful of Warheads and a trip to Sam Goody at the mall to peruse through CDs you could barely afford. Hyperactive, misguided hormones, anyone? All those buried rabid synapses fire off like 1997 when you crack open standout “Wasted Days” and let it rattle you to the core. Baldi’s kamikaze wails are an ironically more polished departure from the often one pitch monotone that he relied on previously. Halfway through we take a detour down the beautiful buzzsaw grating desert roads hitchhiked by early Queens of the Stone Age guitar. Don’t worry, our diversion into oblivion doesn’t end until we’ve spent a manic nine minutes barreling through Bat Country.
Opener “No Future/No Past” begins with a simple ¾ meter textured with somber piano and a grungy bass line; all slow waltzing with the same tumbler of rye that Cobain was sipping when he sang “Clean Up Before She Comes.” Baldi must have found a vocal coach in Albini. His spectral harmonies carry a low blow wallop when he whispers “Giver/Come soon/No hope/We’re through.” Booming yet lifeless drums propel this number to a bleak resolution.
Smelling familiar odors from that oh-so-forgotten era, “Fall In” retains more elvish elements from their past sound while injecting it with some Albini spiked rage. “Stay Useless” is the most gummy, in a Billie Joe Armstrong Dookie way, on the whole album. It might have been lost in the shuffle back then, but now it’s a refreshing and much needed shot in the arm.
We finish up with some Foo Fighters overdrive on “Cut You.” If they played this song on a rainy Seattle night back in ‘95, there’s little doubt ravenous A&R reps would converge into the green room quicker than any groupie with flannel jean cutoffs could ever dream of. It literally feels and sounds like an alternative hard rock radio hit, and that actually doesn’t bother me one bit.
Enough can’t be said about not only Albini’s ability to not only push them in the right direction, which he most certainly has, but the rarely appreciated aptitude for recording high fidelity bass drums with presence. That’s the audiophile snobbery coming out in me, but all the groups that have worked with him in the past have stated that’s what separates him from the rest. A minor technicality to most has made all the difference on what looks to become a protracted stay in stereo underworld.
With everyone and their brother trying desperately to distinguish their band from the frenzy using viral marketing, warped allusions to the past or pushing whatever button sounds like the future; Cloud Nothings prove that you can still make a big splash without trying too damn hard. Stay true to yourself and don’t get lost in the noise. This is an indie rock band. No crazy experimentation or SEO (un)friendly monikers, just through and through rockers sticking to their guns even if they don’t glisten as bright as they used to.
Stream ‘Attack On Memory’ in its entirety here.