Though musicians make music in relative quarantine all the time, there’s undoubtedly been a different feeling around songwriting during the coronavirus lockdown given the sense of claustrophobia that’s being universally experienced at present. Though the sample size for quarantine-created records so far has been small — Charli XCX spun the anxiety-inducing situation together wonderfully on ‘how i’m feeling now’ while Daniel Avery took tour-penned demos and pined for the hedonistic energy of the club on ‘Love + Light’ — you’d expect the music that’s being written in this period to be intense, electrically charged and anxious.
It’s a surprise, then, that ‘The Black Hole Understands’ finds Cloud Nothings sounding freer than ever. “When the world shut down in March, making music was the only thing keeping me tethered to any sense of normalcy,” Cloud Nothings frontman and mastermind Dylan Baldi says of the 10-track album that was borne from this period which, Baldi acknowledges, does channel “this early quarantine anxiety and confusion”.
Created entirely over email — Baldi’s skeleton song ideas were sent to drummer Jayson Gerycz before making their way back to the frontman for a final polish — ‘The Black Hole Understands’ is a complete re-calibration of the process behind the making of a Cloud Nothings album. So much of their music is fast and frenetic, often recorded live as they feed off each other’s energy and thrash it out in a room together. Given the manner of its creation, their seventh album, which has been self-released on Bandcamp, feels suitably looser and more melody-focused. “Life won’t always be like this,” Baldi sings on the chorus of ‘The Sound Of Everyone’, coming across like a lifeline to both himself and the listener as we all desperately try to cling on to the idea of another brighter world post-quarantine.
It might be this sense of willing a better situation into existence that makes ‘The Black Hole Understands’ such a vibrant, melody-packed joy. ‘A Silent Reaction’ has a powerful, uplifting ‘90s pop-rock chorus that trades Baldi’s trademark grit and fury into something more soaring, recalling the breeziness of Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco at times. ‘Right On The Edge’, meanwhile, sees Baldi’s vocals follow a perfect, sugary guitar line that ends up at something approaching pop heaven.
Baldi has also described ‘The Black Hole Understands’ as “poppy and also kind of sad, which is more or less my state of mind”. Another new Cloud Nothings album, recorded as a live band just before lockdown, is said to be arriving soon, but this coronavirus-era album will still serve as a moment in time that’s detached from everything that came before and likely everything that’s still yet to come. After all, it’s hard at the moment to imagine a world in which we aren’t all quarantined.
On ‘The Mess Is Permanent’, another of the album’s buzzing pop-rock highlights, Baldi sings: “It’s hard to be in this place when all these walls are coming down.” Though much of lockdown has felt like the walls are closing in, the joyous ‘The Black Hole Understands’ sees Cloud Nothings help us feel like we can bust right through them into a brighter future.
- Release date: July 3
- Record label: Self-released