“A simple life can be so strange”, laments Dylan Baldi over the corkscrewing guitars on ‘Now Hear In’, the opening track on pop-punk scrappers Cloud Nothings’ fourth album, ‘Here And Nowhere Else’. Quite what Baldi still knows about a simple life is unclear: in just four years the 22-year-old from Cleveland has released three albums dripped in fuzz and venom, built Cloud Nothings from a solo lo-fi bedroom project into a grungy, venomous four-person assault on the senses and toured the globe almost nonstop, racking up over 400 shows since 2010. The Dylan Baldi who wrote 2009’s low-key ‘Turning On’ and 2011’s Vampire Weekend-with-the-dials-cranked breakthrough ‘Cloud Nothings’ in his parents’ basement is presumably long gone by now, along with his simple life.
But each of his releases has eclipsed the last in ambition and snot-nosed punk magnificence, and 2012’s Steve Albini-produced ‘Attack On Memory’ was brutally and brilliantly superior to all of Cloud Nothings’ previous work – a wiry ’90s pop-punk throwback combined with Shellac-style noise-rock influences. So there was just cause to think ‘Here And Nowhere Else’ could be the record that sent one of American indie’s most mercurial and adventurous young voices nuclear. Instead, it shirks away from the snarly edge and cutting cynicism of that last album and feels tame and unimposing in comparison.
It’s not that Cloud Nothings have lost much of their ear-bleeding, window-shaking volume: riffs still come covered in crunchy distortion and drummer Jayson Gerycz still thumps his kit like he’s competing in history’s most ferocious game of whack-a-mole. And you can’t pin the blame on the absence of Albini. He was replaced after allegedly spending the entire ‘Attack On Memory’ recording session “playing Facebook Scrabble”, but cult noisemaker John Congleton – frontman in Texan rockers The Paper Chase – does a solid job swamping the record in delicious grit. The problem is simply the songs: route-one, four-chord grunge adrenaline hits that have none of the haunting and eerie dissonance that set them apart from bands like Wavves, and the rest of US indie’s surplus of breezy slacker-rockers last time around.
Good moments include ‘Quieter Today’, which pays scuzzy tribute to Deep Elm Records ’90s emo and bands like Jawbreaker with its muscular, nostalgic melodies. And also the melodramatic ‘Psychic Trauma’, a song that angstily details a stunted relationship’s communication breakdown: “My mind is always racing listening to you.” ‘Pattern Walks’ packs menace, driven by dirty Queens Of The Stone Age-like bass before erupting into the album’s most experimental moment with dissonant synths, echoing vocals and shredded shoegaze guitars that stretch the song past the seven-minute mark. “I’m moving forward while I keep the past around me”, Baldi sings with strains of Kurt Cobain.
But there are too many tracks like ‘Just See Fear’ and the clumsily titled ‘I’m Not Part Of Me’ that, for all their bluster and noise, are plain forgettable. ‘Here And Nowhere Else’ was written on the road (“I’m pretty sure each song was written in a different country,” says their frontman), and it feels like Cloud Nothings’ prolific work rate has caught up with them. For the first time, they sound tired and lacking in imagination. “I feel there’s nothing left to say,” Baldi growls on ‘Now Hear In’. Maybe it’s time to go back to that simple life.
- Director: John Congleton
- Record label: Wichita
- Release date: 31 Mar, 2014