Smile Politely

Nothing Atlas, Cloud Nothings

Some call him a mastermind. Some call him the second coming of Kobain. Some call him a scratch golfer. I call him a dude.

We seem to be past the point of rock stars. What have they done for us lately?

Who has really brought personality and powerful songwriting to us in a unique, iconic manner in the past 25 years? I don’t ask that rhetorically: fill in the blanks in the comments section, but not before listening to Cloud Nothings’ Attack On Memory.

  • Yes, it was produced by Steve Albini.
  • Yes, it has an energy reminiscent of Nirvana.
  • Yes, it sounds like Yuck.* (Editor’s note: Isaac LOVES Yuck)
  • Yes, it’s been overwrought in its contrast with “mastermind” Dylan Baldi’s former Cloud Nothings records.
  • Yes, I’m tempted to call it “scuzz rock.”**
  • Yes, I’d feel more comfortable calling them a “post-genre” rather than a “blog buzz” band.

* They are, at least, similarly indebted to Sonic Youth.
** Even though the timbre of the strings is such that there’s more overdrive than outright distortion, let alone fuzz — which I think is Albini’s singular contribution to the album’s expression of insurgent existentialism.

But none of that matters to me. Really.

What matters is that, as boring as the descriptor “raw” can get when rabbled through rounds of media and even word of mouth, that doesn’t matter; it rings true regardless. Baldi’s voice carries the record through style, genre, vibe, groove, and attitude. And he sings with the raw yawp of a man set aflame by (post)modernity and the anger it affords a middle-class white man coming of age in an era dominated by relentless, rapid-fire bullshit. Cloud Nothings have become a band; and they have made an amazing album. It recaptures, revitalizes, reinvents, and redefines genre. Or maybe THAT is bullshit and it’s just some songs. Maybe it’s just music.

That is exactly the philosophical/ethical and aesthetic/invective dichotomy Baldi employs and destroys with his third set of songs. The timing was right for this expression: this seems to be the first time that he’s exercised his band as a band. They’re still certainly his songs but, this time round, the band has made a Cloud Nothings record rather than just Dylan Baldi making a Cloud Nothings record. The vibe is right, the groove is immediate, determined, intuitive, and intense. The dynamic follows the melody/hook/lyric. This is decidedly more post-hardcore than post-rock; however, if we bring up genre at all, we must mention the emo leanings. And I mean Urbana emo, not Hawthorne Heights screamo.

It would be narratively pleasing and conclusive to classify Cloud Nothings somewhere between Grizzly Bear and Dinosaur Jr. However, that would mostly be because they’re playing the stage opposite those two modern juggernauts; and that would be fucking lazy … it isn’t, though, the farthest thing from the truth. 

I promise you that you need to listen to this album, and you need to see this band. There’s a lot of hype and that deters some people.

Yet, where there’s smoke there’s fire — and Cloud Nothings are on fire, NBA Jam style.

P.S. — I interviewed Dylan on the phone, which was great, but yielded no relevant information other than that I can honestly report the dude is such a dude. And the good “dude,” not “DUDE.” People keep calling his music “raw,” and he IS straight up. I see a connection. When I asked what he was doing, he said he was staring at the wall in his room in Ohio. This kid who wrote a record of the same feelings you had when you were 20 is just that: 20. He attacks memory with an abandon and intelligence; and, appropriately, a yawp that volleys audibly when you’re staring at a wall.

Cloud Nothings headline the Highdive Outdoor Stage 2 on Saturday, September 29, with New Ruins, Common Loon, Evil Tents and Grandkids sharing that stage with them, playing opposite Grizzly Bear, Dinosaur Jr., and many others.

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