In a modern age filled with so many great indie rock bands, it’s easy for a group to get lost in the noise; which is exactly what Cloud Nothings are trying to avoid. A band that started out as a solo project by Cleveland native Dylan Baldi, they quickly grew into one of the most catchy and melodic bands in the area, but with a heavy edge. Cloud Nothings began as just another indie band, and soon after their first EP and album, they merged into a group more characteristic of garage rock, with Baldi’s signature shrieks becoming the defining element of 2012’s Attack on Memory. They’ve only released one album since, 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else, and now they are returning with one of 2017’s earliest releases, Life Without Sound.
Life Without Sound’s opening is not dissimilar to Attack on Memory’s, with a piano intro leading into opener “Up To The Surface”, which sets a good tone for the album. Baldi talks about going through changes in his life and dealing with his own personal woes – “In darkness I’ve evolved again” – and how it’s okay to forget the past. The following track, “Things Are Right With You”, continues the upbeat feel started by the first track, with some of the catchiest melodies on the whole album. As always Baldi is self-deprecating, taking solace in the hope that “things are right with you”. Life Without Sound matches its return to musical form with Baldi’s tried-and-true muses, including loneliness, self-loathing, and existential crisis. This album is perhaps different in Baldi’s total commitment to these themes, and he pours every drop of angst into his lyrics. This is especially apparent on highlight and single “Modern Act”, with the chorus lyric “I want a life that’s all I need lately/ I am alive but all alone”. The song comes on very strong but lacks a solid bridge, and thus relies on the chorus line way too frequently.
An important thing to note is that this record is Cloud Nothings’ first release as a four piece, with the addition of lead guitarist Chris Brown. This is less of a total game changer, and more of a subtle improvement. Baldi still maintains massive control over the song structures and guitar lines, but Brown makes some key contributions, like his harmony part on “Internal World”. This track precedes “Enter Entirely”, perhaps the album’s best song, certainly with the strongest bridge: “Moving on but I still feel it/ you’re just a light in me now”. This form stands as a template for how every great Cloud Nothings song should progress: it has a proper build-up with a purposeful first verse, followed by a chorus that perfectly illustrates the track’s subject matter (in this case, Baldi’s warnings about idealizing the past).
It’s nice to see how well this album developed considering the flop joint release between Cloud Nothings and Wavves, titled No Life For Me, from 2015. Where that album lacked consistency and polish, this one was able to find its tone and stick with it (at least for the most part). With an album as consistent as this it’s a shame that the ending is so weak. “Strange Year” takes us into the dark part of this record with no apology, clear and pointed in its raucousness. While I was see what Baldi was trying to do here – that is, surprise and shock listeners by completely diverting from the tonal center of the album – the result is a mangled mess of screaming and unnatural dissonance that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The closing track, “Realize my Fate”, attempts epic proportions but falls flat through all its repetition. It feels just on the verge of exploding and taking off into something bigger, but this never happens, and the hook is recycled to little effect. Thankfully, the track closes with a solo guitar section that left me with at least some semblance of proper conclusion.
Life Without Sound is proof that Cloud Nothings still have a purpose for being around, despite the purported homogeneity of their catalogue. This record is enough of a departure from their previous work that it can function as a proper reintroduction to the band for anyone who doubted their relevance and ability to release a definitive album.
Written by Owen Cubitt