Artist: Cloud Nothings
Album: Attack on Memory
Rating: 4/5 Stars
By Chris Kopcow
These days, pop/rock revivals seem to be two decades removed. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, bands like the Strokes, Interpol and the White Stripes channeled the post-punk and new wave groups of the late ’70s and ’80s, while Vampire Weekend became successful after studying up on their Talking Heads and Paul Simon. Noise pop, lo-fi and shoegaze made a comeback as the last decade closed out with fuzz and reverb galore, with everyone from Neon Indian to Best Coast to the Horrors owing at least some debt to late ’80s and early ’90s groups like My Bloody Valentine, Pavement and the Jesus and Mary Chain. And now that it’s 2012 (now 2014), we have Cloud Nothings’ third album, Attack On Memory, a full-on assault of 1990s nostalgia.
Before this recording, Cloud Nothings sounded just like what it was: Dylan Baldi’s charmingly low-budget recording project, broadcast from his bedroom studio. Given these origins, it’s easy to assume that Baldi would continue down the sweeter, poppy (if still loud and lo-fi) route when recording his sophomore record. Instead, Attack On Memory is a raw, angst-ridden album, conjuring memories of groups like Fugazi, early Sunny Day Real Estate and Nirvana. In fact, the first two tracks nearly sound like the work of a completely different band. Compared to the first exuberant chords of Baldi’s last album, “No Future/No Past” is like a death march. Beginning at a weary, slogging pace with Baldi droning “Give up,” the song clenches its fist tighter and tighter before releasing in its anthemic conclusion. “Wasted Days” is even more unexpected: At nearly 9 self-lacerating minutes, it’s much, much longer than any other Cloud Nothings song, starting out as a furious rant before launching into an extended post-punk jam that builds until it boils over.
If the change of tone and razor-sharp clang of the guitars here sound alarmingly different, look no further than producer Steve Albini. For decades, artists have gone to Albini when they want an authentic no-frills sound. And though Baldi’s previous output wouldn’t exactly be referred to as “lush” or “orchestral,” Albini invests Attack On Memory with bracing clarity, drawing the anger and ferocious fun from Baldi’s songs that would have been otherwise muted. But it’s not just Albini; Baldi’s songs are stronger and catchier than before, especially in the second half of the record, where the songs are more concise. The thing is, everything here is slathered with a thick layer of frustration and regret. Even on the relatively poppier songs, there’s a good amount of seething underneath.” Stay Useless” ‘almost carefree melody is undercut by the stress of growing up (“I need time to stop moving/I need time to stay useless”), while the hooky “Cut You” is a bit more menacing (“Does he hurt you like I do?/Does he even hit you too?”). Elsewhere, on the grungy “No Sentiment” and the bleak “Our Plans,” the tension and panic are even more palpable.
Attack On Memory isn’t necessarily innovative nor is it a nihilistic landmark like In Utero. Instead, with the noise, echo and wishy-washy effects used in much of recent indie music, this album’s a bowl of chicken soup for anybody who has missed hearing a band simply plugging in and letting loose. On “Our Plans,” Baldi sings “No one knows our plans for us/We won’t last long.” If Cloud Nothings keep putting out albums as good as this, he won’t have to worry.
Text © 2014 Chris Kopcow
Re-print © 2014 The Black Lion Journal
Re-printed with permission.
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