Dylan Baldi of Cloud Nothings writes records he would want to drive to. A ritual he started in his high school years, there’s something profound and universal about driving with music you can seclude yourself with. The 25-year-old still writes songs to emulate this feeling of a life full of doubt, dedicated for people that often employ apathetic “I’m fine”s to just find an escape. Cloud Nothings, however, have evolved beyond the status of a post-high school band and while still wrought in emotion, their fourth album represents optimism, vibrancy and combative noise in a life drained of sound.
Bleeding heart reminiscence has been cultivated into culpable reflection on this effort. The biggest transition since the their four-piece’s official debut in 2008 has been merging their calamitous distortion with vital melodies. ‘Life Without Sound’ strikes true in achieving this balance.
The opening track ‘Up To The Surface’ experiments with additional instrumentation and slower tempos — a luxury afforded by the year and a half writing and gestation period. Many of these tracks feel like they were written without the intent to be toured into the ground something which, for all its many strengths, 2014’s ‘Here And Nowhere Else’ didn’t.
The creative apex of this album is realised in a marriage of tracks: ‘Internal World’ and ‘Darkened Rings’. The former is a commemoration of honest behaviour and wryly reflecting on imperfect inhumanity: “I’m not the one who’s always right,” Dylan quips. ‘Darkened Rings’, however, is a rip-roaring, punk track with no regard for the limits of amplitude. The production team, led by producer John Goodmanson of Sleater Kinney and Death Cab for Cutie fame, make a special effort to superimpose the breakdowns to snowball in intensity. It’s a real gut-punch of “fuck-yeah” rock that deserves to be spelled ‘rawk’.
‘Enter Entirely’ and ‘Modern Act’ employ brilliant pop hooks and verse structures that weave between melodies seamlessly and sometimes mid-verse. To borrow a phrase from the movie Sing Street, Cloud Nothings lean on the ‘happy-sad’ dynamic of The Cure throughout this portion of the record - with the intoxicating dark comedy to boot.
Whereas ‘Strange Year’ taps into the sinister realms of Dylan’s psyche as we approach the end of this journey. Vocals are delivered with nosediving aplomb while the guitars wail and collide in a distinctly Sonic Youth fashion. “Nothing reverses errors in time,” so the lyrics go. A sentiment that’s thankfully resolved and conciliated in the final and most climactic track, ‘Realize My Fate’.
“Do you know what’s it like to say that you’re doing just fine when you feel like an ocean coming out of a creek?” Dylan asks, seemingly to no one, in ‘Modern Act’. He criticises the everyday fakery and empty platitudes we exchange; the masks we wear to repress our real feelings. Our behaviours and the lives we lead are all an act; one that’s presumably exacerbated when you’ve been in the public eye as a musician for a decade. These sharp self-observations are the lifeblood of Cloud Nothings’ best work to date. The future will always be bright for a band that excels in one upmanship and even when life is noisy, distracting and false, finding solace in something as simple as driving with your favourite albums is more than “just fine”.
Words: Will Butler
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