by Craig Howieson
An enormous rock record of recklessness and precision, Cloud Nothings provide a reprieve from entropy and a timely reminder of comfort in sound
There is a strange duality that comes with the passing of time. As it relentlessly marches on, we pick up clues to answer the questions that hang over us. Yet on the underside of each upturned stone, there are yet more questions. It is a constant cycle of repetition to the end – requiring devotion to the pursuit of knowing your own heart and mind.
A dogged angst has followed Dylan Baldi throughout his time as the songwriter in chief for Cloud Nothings. Laced with self-doubt and alienation, his songs have always carried an exhausted frustration at the world around him. On Wasted Days, a standout from the 2012 record Attack on Memory (and their first dalliance with Steve Albini), when Baldi sang ‘I thought I would be more than this,’ he displayed a startling level of defeatism for someone still so young.
It was more than just a hint at the thoughts and themes that would come to shape his lyrical output as we bore witness to his inner battle to measure his self-worth and perception of failure. Now almost ten years later, he may still be asking similar questions, but this time he has moved beyond aligning self-worth with success – choosing instead to question the impact he has on the world and the lives of those around him.
When discussing his discography in our recent interview, Baldi stated, ‘I guess all the records… felt like they’re about ageing… each album had an almost fatalistic ageing perspective.’ Once again utilising this ageing perspective on the band’s new album, The Shadow I Remember, Baldi finds some sense of comfort. Whether that is in contentment with the life he has made (‘I never wanted more / and I would live alright / I never wanted something more than what I could be in this life’ – Only Light), or in recognising the importance of practising self-care (‘I need to take time for me / to believe in what I can be’ – Sound Of Alarm), his lyrical mantras are no longer as weighed down as they once were; now acting as a rallying call for change rather than exhausted sloganeering.
Baldi has always flirted with extremes – leaping like a trapeze artist from the sweetest of pop-punk melodies to the harshest of noise rock sounds, often within the same bar, never mind the same song. Working again with Steve Albini – who seems to recognise the group’s penchant for controlled chaos – The Shadow I Remember is the perfect matrimony of the two; a melee of butterfly kisses and rattlesnake shakes.
Seeking sense in the love of another The Spirit Of finds the band in jubilant form, as Baldi’s probing guitar lines elbow at the ribs of tumbling drums. After a brief dissolution into snarled vocals at the midway point, a jostling gang chant blazes to a collapsing end of discordant noise. Dissonance has never sounded so euphoric. Elsewhere on It’s Love, the eerie semitone trill of guitars races into an early naughts’ garage rock anthem, complete with a call and response chorus and Baldi’s uniquely brutal take of a Nick Valensi guitar lick.
The Shadow I Remember is an album of pop songs, first and foremost, but like appreciating the shades of purple that accompany a busted lip, you sometimes have to put in a little work to find the beauty. Cloud Nothings like to pummel their songs into misshapen trinkets; the sort of items you find at the back of a cupboard when spring cleaning, bent and broken, but stuffed with so many memories and providing such a warm embrace of nostalgic comfort that you can’t bear to part with them.
Baldi is wise to the power of rock and roll – wielding its source of release as a tool against the oppressive weight of getting older. As he continues to evaluate and question his life, locked in a battle with the cycle that defines us all, he has lost some of the fatalism that appeared in his earlier work. On Only Light, he sets himself a challenge to ‘reset or regret.’ There is a line in the sand on The Shadow I Remember – a motivation to concentrate on changing what can be changed, and not focus on the past which is a fixed part of us all. In the final moments of album closer, The Room It Was, Baldi repeatedly howls the record’s title. The shadow of our past follows us all, but Baldi is determined not to live under it.
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