Attack On Memory
Daniel Dylan Wray
, February 9th, 2012 11:27
This is the third album in little over a year from Dylan Baldi's Cloud Nothings. The first, Turning On was a series of lo-fi bedroom recordings, fuzzy and ramshackle, yet given a certain charm and likeability by Baldi's clear ear for a melody and goofball lure. The self-titled follow up, was a cleaner, more distilled affair, all power-pop and saccharine three-minute nuggets which lost a bit of the grit, charm and appeal of its debut. With Cloud Nothings no longer a one-man project – Baldi's touring band are now ingrained into the recording process - Attack On Memory is supposedly the 'dark' album, with Steve Albini behind the recording knobs.
At just 20 years old, Baldi may not even be legally old enough to buy a beer in his home country, but musically he's advancing at a rapid rate. In many ways, his output has been directly representative of the hormonal behaviour of a teenager – fun, unpredictable, angsty and occasionally disappointing. However, if the ages of 18 to 19 were his milkshakes-and-french fries phase, then based on the opening 'No Future/No Past', his 19-20 period feels like he's already advanced to mainlining bourbon directly into his vocal cords. It's a rousing, malevolent and quite magnificent piece of guitar music, building with a creeping intensity, the guitars constantly teasing and twisting, the drums pound with ominous dread, the vocals building from mumbles into manic, hoarse expulsions that sound like they've left Baldi's throat utterly shredded, a solitary skin flap left hanging like a branch on a tree in a gale-force wind. As it bursts into magnificent glory, it's difficult not to be taken along for the ride. Sadly, Cloud Nothings' greatest achievement both on this, or any other record ends with that first track. While the plummet is not drastic, the descent certainly starts here.
'Wasted Days' is not so much a surreptitious nod to the influence of Wipers, as a glaring molestation. That said, it soon metamorphoses into an altogether different beast. The smash-and-grab guitars and manic pop melody are replaced by solitary pounding drums and thick, heavy pulsating bass. It's another exercise in building a crescendo of guitars, rhythm and intensity by a band that clearly in tight synergy with one another, a gloriously brutal sonic assault that is the albums last truly great moment.
'Fall In' and 'Stay Useless' both fall back into more familiar Cloud Nothings territory, breaking the illusion of vast change and the 'darkness' that the opening two songs and press release suggest. Undeniably likeable and infectious, yes, but a little vacant in substance and sustenance.
'No Sentiment' is an ode of sorts, perhaps the band's intended mission statement, or at the very least a fitting representation of their youthful outlook. Baldo's screamed declaration of "No nostalgia, no sentiment" is bolstered by its blood-curdling delivery - while there's more of a shred of irony, one can't help but believe him.
The closing 'Cut You' should have perhaps heeded its own title – the blazing fire that was started by the opening 'No Future/No Past' sadly fizzles out, last-minute hope extinguished as the music fades like somebody lobbing a deodorant can on the remaining few flames of a fire.
Oddly enough, for a recording session seemingly immersed in apathy ("Steve Albini played Scrabble on Facebook almost the entire time. I don't even know if he remembers what our album sounds like," said Baldi to Pitchfork) it sounds like the most staple Albini-like recording in years. The crunching guitars have genuine similarity to that of the Pixies and the big, hammering drums, while occasionally nodding to Albini's own Shellac, bear a close resemblance to his work on PJ Harvey's Rid of Me.
The album also succeeds in capturing a spirit and essence of youth; Baldi is barely finished being a teenager and the spunk, snarl and energy that comes with being one is integral to this record, even if isn't always fully realised. As such, the up-and-down quality of the record is almost something to be embraced rather than vilified; it's both a true and apt representation of the artist at work. Not to say that people of Baldi's age aren't capable of producing flawless work - many are I'm sure - but the volatile nature of being a teenager is half the fun here. The marvels of 'No Future/No Past' and 'Wasted Days', though, are evidence that Cloud Nothings are old enough to do better and have the ability to fulfil their clear potential.