Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark / Mom and Pop)
I thought / I would / be more / than this
Let no one convince you this is the finest album of the year.
“Wasted Days” dropped jaws back in 2012 – and, don’t doubt it, I was flabbergasted the first time I heard this nine-minute master class of the modern-day guitar solo. It’s dramatic. It’s exciting. And so is the college-rock-on-steroids instrumental, “Separation”. But other parts of Attack on Memory sound terribly familiar – “Fall In” could’ve been a mega Green Day cover, and “Cut You” feels like a lost opportunity for the Smashing Pumpkins. (At least, what I remember of Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve only heard one half of Melon Collie, and have no desire/time to tap into it again.) What I mean is, Cloud Nothings still didn’t have their own voice then, even if they did crank out one helluva tune.
Nevertheless, the Attack was still a STAGGERING departure from their flighty lo-fi debut and pretty paisley self-titled sophomore – kinda like the leap from Hannah Montana to tongue-waggin’ Miley. A self-enforced maturation. Adulthood = danger.
Here and Nowhere Else is, in itself, a lie of a title. On this LP, the gang are really only renewing the assault they began on Attack. As the cover implies, Here is still quite monochromatic – LOUD guitars, LOUD drums, attitude first and foremost, and bang it out at 200 beats per minute or else you’re DEAD. Frontman Dylan Baldi does come off kinda snotty, but damn does he throw himself into these melodies. Head first, straight into the flood. Tracks like “Giving Into Feeling” and “Just See Fear” play out like a sparring match between man and guitar, between melody and discord, each side locked in eye combat, each eyeing the other’s movement. It’s a spectacle, and no doubt a more gripping one than what the artsy Brooklyn vanguard have coughed up (see exhibit A).
Mr. Baldi mentioned in this interview that he wanted a rough ‘round the edges kind of sound; “Anything that’s completely perfect bores me,” he told Radio.com. Mission accomplished, I’d say, and not the least bit cynical ‘bout that, either. He’s got this hoarse kind of bellow, which ain’t really a bellow, but I dig that it ain’t. Still, it’s also imperfect in bad ways. “Stale” is too harsh a word, but I can’t wash out the bad taste from the first time I bit into Here. That odd, bitter taste, when you’re not sure how old this slice of bleu cheese is, and if that’s the right type of mold on your tongue.
Now. I imagine the other critics might have told you that the seven-minute “Pattern Walks” is this year’s “Wasted Days”. Me, my money’s on “Psychic Trauma”, which for the one and only time on the album SLOWS THE FUCK DOWN. Baldi leads in with this smooth swag of a voice, the guitars lure you in with this easy-going sway. Peace treaty? Then WHAM-BAM, they’re off again, faster and harder and thicker until the song collapses on itself under a flurry of snare shards. Totally constructed and deconstructed in under three minutes. Dudes. Can we pursue this path a lil’ more, please, instead of always running like hell toward things?
Mind, “Pattern Walks” does break loose from the stormy discontent mold, at least in the last two minutes or so. Baldi has admitted that he wanted somethin’ “prettier”, “happier” even. And, admittedly, after the rudimentary bass snarl and the battering of the first half, the band does plateau to this glittery phase, with traces of fairy dust glinting in the haze. But instead of one mantra to define a year, Baldi clings to half of it –
which could be a verbal representation of remembering, of pounding your head with your fist in a vain attempt to conjure back something vital. Or the dude could just be frustrated ‘cos he can’t think of a better line than “I thought I would be more than this”.
Cloud Nothings ruin the mood, though, with “I’m Not Part Of Me”. Why, guys? Why, after finally breaking through the grey barrier, do you close on this boyish throwaway, with a chorus that might sound inspiring if the listener hadn’t heard the gospels of the Replacements or Lemonheads? I thought we were making progress, but turns out we’re not. Same slavish devotion to the mainstream alternate nineties, after all. Sigh.
I don’t hate this album. In fact, I regret a tiny bit now that I didn’t see Cloud Nothings when they rolled into town last month (but not really because I saw Muuy Biien instead). Ah, well. The problem remains – the bitter taste. How old is this, really? Is this the gourmet mold, or the type that’ll only make us sick?