by Jo Higgs
Racing to the end – to make sense of now
Cloud Nothings have come an astoundingly long way from their early days as a Dylan Baldi solo-project focused entirely within his bedroom. While they may now play large tours and record in well-established studios (pre- and presumably post- but not para-COVID, of course), there has always remained a wonderful lingering of that early DIY aesthetic to their music. From the warmly enveloping distorted guitars to the passionately yelped vocals, Cloud Nothings have always stayed true to their roots, and it shows – even as they develop and progress.
The Shadow I Remember, much like The Beatles with Abbey Road and Let It Be, was recorded in advance of their most recently released album, The Black Hole Understands. Of course, with The Beatles, this was due to John, Paul and George having spats as Ringo wept in the corner – while Cloud Nothings find this happening because of the pandemic we faced in 2020 and continue to face in 2021.
The twisted sense of temporality presented in the backwards release schedule of these two projects somewhat plays into what becomes an overriding theme within the album, and as Baldi believes, their discography as a whole. He says, ‘I guess all the records in some way had kind of felt like they’re about ageing, but at different periods of life. When I made the records, I was always like “this is it, I’m old.” Even when I was just 19 or 20, each album had an almost fatalistic ageing perspective.’ This is channelled in the gorgeous album opener, Oslo, in which the chorus sees Baldi lament ‘am I older now, or am I just another age? / am I at the end or will there be another change?’ Despite the track’s seemingly introspective and overtly personal lyrics, it is in fact written about Joachim Trier’s 2011 film Oslo, August 31st, which is a strong attestation of Baldi’s songwriting capabilities.
For the first time since the band’s biggest commercial success to date – the revered Attack On Memory – they returned to work with sonic-abrasion-punk guru, Steve Albini. Baldi speaks of how despite the passing of time ‘he’s like the exact same guy, he hasn’t changed. He looks the same, he talks the same. It’s kind of funny. The studio is essentially the same – like we were going back in time. The thing that had changed was that it felt like we had a working relationship. The first time we went to record, I think I was still a teenager and it was like we went to record with Steve Albini, like “what were we doing?” That was just insane to me.’ He goes on to paint a friendly picture of the producer: ‘It’s like turning up at your friend’s house and they’ve set up some mics and you’re like “can you record us real quick?” but it’s Steve Albini and it sounds amazing’. Further, he tells of how immensely close Albini appears to listen, and gives constructive ideas on the sound. It seems likely that this is partially what allows The Shadow I Remember to become the most texturally delicate Cloud Nothings’ record to date.
Continuing in a similar vein, Baldi details the thought process behind creating such a hearty, full and comforting guitar tone on the album: ‘I listen to a lot of “guitar bands,” but I often don’t like the way the guitars sound. I love how they sound on ambient and shoegaze records, but on angry, punk records I think the guitars sound terrible a lot of the time. I really like sort of pillowy textures, but used for a darker intent.’ On the chorus of Sound of Alarm, this soft and fuzzy texture is at the forefront in a chirpy guitar riff that follows alongside Baldi’s vocal melody.
During such a strange time, naturally everyone’s social life has been totally disrupted, but Baldi hopes (though optimistically, he admits) the post-pandemic period might be an opportunity for old friends from touring and otherwise to reconnect in a stronger way than they had before it. He tells us of how in touring with other bands ‘you’d make a lot of friends. Then slowly they stop playing music and things happen, and the bands that are left that have been around as long as us are almost all in their own travelling unit, so it’s not quite as open. The scenes don’t intersect as much, which is kind of sad.’
With ideas of re-uniting musicians in mind, Baldi went on to relay a hypothetical ‘ideal gig’. For him, the most important aspect must be variety: ‘If I go to a show and the first band is loud and angry and then the second band is loud and angry and then the headliner that you want to see comes out and their also loud and angry, so by that point I wanna go home. I don’t want all this. This isn’t what I wanted to see. So I like mixing up the styles, so your ears are most interested and they last a little longer than if it’s all just loud.’ Harking back to a time (one of many) that Cloud Nothings conscientiously selected a support act that provided a contrast to their own music, Baldi hyped up singer-songwriter, Rosali Middleman, with whom they played in Philadelphia a few years ago. Other creatives Baldi speaks highly of include the Canadian comic artist, Jesse Jacobs, the talent behind the absurdly colourful music video for Am I Something, and the Japanese musician, Eiko Ishibashi who recently composed the soundtrack to the anime Blade of the Immortal, and released the wonderful The Dream My Bones Dream in 2018.
It’s evident that Baldi’s creativity and musicianship is well surrounded and supported by many other talented individuals. When not chipping away at new music as Cloud Nothings, their guitarist, Chris Brown, produces ambient piano music; bassist, TJ Duke, collaborates with friends for the quirky-ambient-folk of Nature Camp; and drummer, Jayson Gerycz, plays in numerous punk bands as well as playing free-jazz with Baldi.
At a time so paradoxically riddled with both too many things happening, and too few things happening, an album that looks back while moving so energetically forward seems a timely project. Equally, the limboistic atemporality of the last year evokes constant questions of ageing: ‘have I aged throughout all this? Or have I at least matured? The Shadow I Remember doesn’t answer such issues, per se, but it presents a vocabulary with which we can begin to understand all this turmoil.
New album, The Shadow I Remember, is out on Carpark Records on the 26th of February.
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