Over the last decade, Cloud Nothings have grown from a bedroom project to a gritty indie-punk powerhouse by way of frontman Dylan Baldi’s relentless creative drive. The Ohio four-piece have pulled forward with each release alongside the most gruelling touring schedules to establish themselves out as cult favourites in their noisy stomping ground.
While the band assembled their previous lockdown album ‘The Black Hole Understands’ – released just last July 2020 – over email, here they’ve sought joy in returning to old methods, with Baldi reverting to his early songwriting practices, amassing around 30 tracks and trimming them down for eighth album ‘The Shadow I Remember’. To complete the picture the band listed legendary producer Steve Albini.
That staple distorted guitar tone chimes with a little piano to get opener ‘Oslo’ underway. before Baldi’s familiar vocal aches with the lines, “The world I know has gone away / an outline of my own decay”, as though he’s feeling the full trauma of current events. It’s very much business as usual for the group: sprawling guitars build and cut loose before closing on a crushing swell of sound.
While all the ingredients are here – the cracked screams of ‘The Spirit Of’; the gleefully fuzzy guitars of ‘Nothing Without You’ – it’s not long before you realise that this album rarely going to match Cloud Nothings’ best work. Where past releases ‘Life Without Sound’ have embraced nuance and shade in refreshing ways, this record often labours in one gear, as Baldi explores weighty themes of self-doubt and existential confusion.
There are highlights: on ‘Only Light’, their raw-and-ready sound feels completely unhinged, with distorted melody standing up to some of their most thrilling work to date, before the menacing ‘It’s Love’ rolls into the dive bar grit of ‘A Longer Moon’. Yet the likes of ‘Sound Of Alarm’ let the record down with half-baked lyrics: “I need to make time / for me / for me / to believe in what I can be.” It’s a track that leaves you wondering if the mantra could be applied to the musical approach in some instances.
Soaring closer ‘The Room It Was’ reminds us that, even after 10 years in the game, there’s enough punch and gusto behind this band to swerve overall disappointment, despite a lack of inventiveness and some lacklustre songwriting. ‘The Shadow I Remember’ undoubtedly packs enough muscle to excite at Cloud Nothings’ return to chaotic live shows.
Release date: February 26
Record label: Carpark Records