January 1, 2012

Album Review: Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory

Cloud Nothings are proving to be a band whose sound is defined by constant evolution. From the humble lo-fi bedroom beginnings heard in the 2010 singles compilation Turning On to the bubbly and refined pop punk that made last year's self-titled debut one of 2011's Best Albums, the Breakthrough Artist honoree's are maturing faster than most teenagers do during puberty. In fact, adolescence and growing up may have a lot to do with it. Cloud Nothings mastermind Dylan Baldi was only 18-years-old when he started off the project, writing bubbly songs that reeked of naive young love. On their sophomore effort however, it appears Baldi -- now in the ripe old age of his early '20s -- has tasted the bitter fruits of a soured relationship and gnaws his reaction of anguish in Attack on Memory.

Cloud Nothings' new visceral sound can be attributed to Baldi and his bandmates' reconfigured recording dynamic. Unlike previous efforts where the frontman -- who had yet to assemble a permanent lineup at the time -- was the only person putting in studio time, Attack on Memory is the first all-inclusive release by the Cleveland quartet. Cementing any gaps between the four is iconic alt-rock producer Steve Albini, whose bare bones recording technique gives Cloud Nothings a gristly '90s post-punk / post-hardcore makeover à la Wire and Jawbox. From its opening moments in "No Future / No Past," it's evident that the feel-good sunshine sound that lit up last year's self-titled has been pushed out of the way by an angry thunderstorm made of high-decibel riffs, deep bass lines and way harsh drums that never seem to let up even when Cloud Nothings lighten up the slightest (the epic downward spiral "Wasted Days," the confrontational "No Sentiment.")

Even when it sounds as if Baldi is about to crack a smile in Attack on Memory's punchier moments, the frontman has penned a whirlwind of emotive lyrics that outline the LP's aggro rock identity. Whether it be paranoia ("Fall In,") self-inflicted martyrdom ("Stay Useless") or that torturous feeling you get when your heart won't allow your head to let go of an ex ("Our Plans," "Cut You,") Baldi covers all the bases of a bad break-up's long-term effects. In fact, it's the young punk's heart-on-his-sleeve approach that is one of few things about Cloud Nothings that hasn't changed here. While the Cleveland quartet's sophomore LP is an exercise in exorcising one's romantic demons, it's these raging emotions (alongside another excellent production credit by Steve Albini) that successfully catapult Cloud Nothings into a bigger, noisier direction without compromise. These may very well be the sounds of a past love Dylan Baldi would rather forget, and yet through his purging, he and Cloud Nothings leave their most lasting impression to date with Attack on Memory.

Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory will be released January 24, 2012 on Carpark Records.

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