Cleveland, Ohio’s Cloud Nothings have never been shy of cranking it up to 11. No doubt suburban boredom had its fair share of involvement in feeding into the band’s angst-ridden earlier offerings, including the biting noise-rock of 2012’s acclaimed ‘Attack on Memory’ and the lo-fi indie of 2011’s self-titled debut. But somehow, Cloud Nothings have always been able to mold their propulsive sound into something essentially different, yet comfortingly familiar. After years of grinding unproductiveness surrounding its predecessor, Cloud Nothings have returned this January with their contemplative 4th full-length, the ironically named ‘Life Without Sound’. As I found out, it could be their most complete record yet?
“This record is like my version of new age music” uttered the brains behind Cloud Nothings, frontman Dylan Baldi in a 2016 press release. However, In no way, should you take away this album as a source of serenity and meditation. ‘Life Without Sound’ settles on smoothing out some of the band’s rougher edges; the characteristic garage-fuzz has been trimmed in favour of a more polished, controlled but muscular sound. It shows remarkable maturity for a band renowned for dealing in scuzzy garage-rock.
As if somehow mirroring the band’s awakening from their recording lull, the fittingly named ‘Up To The Surface’ filters through in a trickle of icy piano (yes, piano) and seamless growling guitars, met by Baldi’s subdued vocals which propel the track toward an unexpectedly massive climax, eclipsed by Jason Gerycz’s anthemic percussion. It’s a welcomingly different opener, striving for melody over dissonance. But don’t be fooled, this is still punk-rock through and through.
‘Things Are Right With You’ balances clever power-pop hooks and serrated, guitar-driven melodies with an optimistic tone, whilst the rumbling slacker-grunge of ‘Internal World’ echoes Weezer at their most aggressive. The track bounds forward beneath Baldi’s chunky garage-y riffs and the soaring chorus hook – “I’m not the one who’s always right”.
‘Life Without Sound’ prides itself on its influences, which span the entire spectrum of ‘90s indie-rock, from the lo-fi chug of Pavement heard on ‘Enter Entirely’ to the deafening snarls of Sonic Youth, Nirvana and Dinosaur Jr, with a few surprises along the way. ‘Darkened Rings’ is a ferocious highlight throbbing with a brooding post-punk energy reminiscent of Eagulls’ debut. It pounds along in a rush of jarring guitars accompanied by Baldi’s desperate bark, later becoming a harsh scream towards the song’s turbulent breakdown. It’s a big jump and perhaps here Baldi is at his most darkly cryptic (“Saw darkened rings with a few bright highlights”?) , but it certainly pays off.
It’s not all doom and gloom however; ‘Modern Act’ and ‘Enter Entirely’ deliver euphoric sing-along choruses, and rich noisy hooks without losing sight of their purpose. Baldi’s delivery is at its finest, resting tentatively between unhinged yowl and restrained melody, whilst ‘Life Without Sound’s beefy production value shines through at every moment, not a hint of feedback in sight. If you listen to any songs on this record, start with these two! It’s here that this album’s descent into darkness begins…
‘Sight Unseen’s high-tempo guitars threaten to veer toward a messy, chaotic end but instead remain clean and sharp, only letting their hair down during the immense climax, this isn’t where it ends however. ‘Strange Year’ is pushed onwards by a thick bass-line, whilst deliberately withdrawn slivers of grunge guitar reach levels of ear-splitting noise within seconds, riding a wave of furious riffs between moments of settling, but uneasy calm before reaching a wall of screeching feedback in the finale. Whatever poppy highlights came before are gone, it’s a stark contrast.
At only 9-tracks long, ‘Life Without Sound’ is remarkably short, clocking in at just over 35 minutes! The final 6 bring the record full-circle, back to where it all began. ‘Realize My Fate’ is a messy 6-minute curveball, Baldi bellowing “I believe in something bigger…it’s hard to realize my fate!” above a dense curtain of deafening noise and drums, it eventually falls into disarray as the band’s instruments collide, it’s as if one is trying to outcompete the other. It ends the album in a far more hectic state than which it started.
On ‘Life Without Sound’, Dylan Baldi’s fraught attempts to move past the “heaviness” stage, away from the unrelenting noise and fuzz may have just payed off. Of course, this is still a punk-rock album full of aggressive tendencies, bullish lo-fi riffs, and characteristic fuzz, but it has a delicate side where clever pop sensibility marries gritty hard-rock to awesome effect. It’s the next logical step in Cloud Nothings’ evolution, and whilst it might not be their strongest work, ‘Life Without Sound’ Is certainly the beginning of an interesting new chapter.
Cloud Nothings will be playing a handful of UK shows on their ‘Life Without Sound’ World Tour. find all UK dates, and stream the album on Spotify below:
Cloud Nothings, March 2017 tour dates:
16th March, Bristol, Thekla
17th March, Glasgow, Stereo
18th March, Manchester, Deaf Institute (Sold Out)
19th March, Leeds, Brudenell Social Club
21st March, London, Koko
22nd March, Birmingham, Hare & Hounds
23rd March, Brighton, The Haunt
Words by Joe Bulger
Featured image courtesy of Jesse Lirola