opinion by BRENDAN FRANK
It probably isn’t a stretch to say that Attack on Memory owed at least a portion of its success to Dylan Baldi’s choice to take Cloud Nothings from a one-man show to a full-on band. Granted, it had to be done at some point. As fun and peppy as his first two albums were, you can only go so far as a basement pop-punk project before stagnation sinks in.
But the savvy with which Baldi approached this expansion back in 2011 made it seem like little more than natural step for Cloud Nothings. He brought in two band members, TJ Duke and Jayson Gerycz, and cold-called Steve Albini to produce their new album. There was serious talent aboard – and you require serious talent if you’re to be taken seriously when exploring a genre as stigmatized as emo. The result was a monstrous musical effort that brought all the snarling power of a live show.
Here and Nowhere Else, Cloud Nothings’ fourth album overall,is very much apiece with Attack on Memory, musically speaking. Produced by John Congleton this time around, these eight songs crackle and seethe, their Dinosaur Jr. squall balanced with lithe melodicism. It’s equally intense, but also more patient and constructive, and it takes every iota of momentum that Cloud Nothings have engineered for themselves and runs with it. No time is misused.
While Here and Nowhere Else is a victory lap musically, the real shift can be heard in Baldi’s vocal work and lyricism. While Baldi has always had a solid ear for melody, many of the points where he’s pushing the limits of his voice are more tuneful and refined. On “No Thoughts”, the dystonic scraping of the guitar is matched by his tire-hitting-gravel throatiness; he then pulls back along with the music at the second verse, edging closer to a youthful Gordon Gano: “It’s hard to hear what you’re trying to say when we’re just far too loud”.
The message has changed, but for the most part, the delivery has not. This proves a blessing and a curse. Every song feels thrillingly vital, but in a very similar manner to Attack On Memory. Congleton’s dressed-down, compressed production often obscures the album’s inner workings, selective with what it gives away on the first go around and what it wants its audience to discover after a few listens. There are points where a song may have been better served by emphasizing a different component of its sound. For instance, on “Just See Fear”, the vocals are aggravatingly low in the mix, and it muddies some of very strong lyricism from Baldi.
This album is Baldi climbing from out of his own head, seeing his life for what it is and could be, not for what it should be or currently isn’t, and discovering the art of being in the moment. It all comes to a stunning conclusion on “I’m Not Part of Me”, the song from which the album takes its title. It’s Cloud Nothings’ finest moment to date, and serves as a summation of Baldi’s progress as a songwriter and as a kid in his twenties finding his way. “Pattern Walks”, a seven-minute scorcher with a similar build to “Wasted Days”, takes another approach. It takes its progenitor’s memorable refrain of “I thought I would be more than this” and shaves it down to a simple “I thought”. It’s more open-ended and less defined by the tunnel-vision rage of its predecessor.
Here and Nowhere Else’s disposition for self-examination coaxes out a superior depth and nuance when stacked against Cloud Nothings’ previous works. Conversely, it is a little surprising how unsurprising the album is. It’s never less than enjoyable, but neither is it ever completely unexpected. The manic tempos bury a good deal of what ends up making the record worthwhile, and it’s refreshing to hear rock music that’s willing to experiment with both the immediate and the challenging. B