Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere Else

Here and Nowhere Else is Cloud Nothings’ fourth full-length LP, and the second since departing…

Here and Nowhere Else is Cloud Nothings’ fourth full-length LP, and the second since departing from power-pop territory. On this latest offering, the Cleveland-based outfit has ditched the internet-age strategy of winning listeners over song by song. Instead, they’ve ambitiously aimed for overall cohesiveness through the scope of harder, less melodic songcraft that still shines brighter than their previous work. Penetrating instrumentals, tempo-changes like short tempers and Baldi’s worst abuse of his vocal chords to date shape songs that whip back and forth like heated arguments. The outcome is a 32-minute triumph that is equal parts therapy session and handbook to mosh-pit anarchy. In an era where the pedantry of genre classification means everything and nothing, Cloud Nothings have recorded an album that delivers on the broad promise of its thematic forerunners in punk and hardcore to an increasingly complex youth: everything’s fucked up, but you’re still okay. 

The band came into existence as just one of vocalist/guitarist Dylan Baldi’s many fake bands on MySpace. He would record music (in his parents’ garage) and post his rudimentary songs under a host of different names. Cloud Nothings was the alias that caught the attention of promoters and so the moniker stuck. 2012’s masterful Attack on Memory saw the forming of a permanent trio as drummer Jason Gerycz and bassist TJ Duke took on co-writing responsibilities. The triumvirate, for the most part, shed the pop sensibilities of the first two records and almost every trace of the pre-nascent bedroom low-fi that first gave the founding member the spotlight as the new unit sought to be recognised for their hard-hitting, experimental noise-rock chops instead. 

Attack on Memory’s success was not rooted in its melodic charm, but there can be no denying its significance. Five years into Cloud Nothings’ career, and this much is clear: Baldi writes great songs. Attack played like a killer, curated setlist compiled of tracks spanning across a brief discography. A meticulously crafted 8tracks playlist would be an appropriate comparison if the ‘live’ feel, with its raw, immediate atmosphere, wasn’t so important to the LP’s personality – indeed a consequence of working with producer Steve Albini. Baldi’s proven that he’s good with melody and, in spite of the sonic costume-change, this shone through Attack’s darkened mantra. Given the frontman’s obvious knack for sugar-coating his rough-edged music with approachable melodies, it was somewhat surprising for the shift to another formula to occur this swiftly – let alone this clinically. 

Here, the tripod noticeably focused on delivering an altogether better album instead of micro-managing each track. The result is a more consistent body of work than its predecessor. In interviews Baldi provided that the new stuff would be noisier, less melodic and less straightforward. Whilst this is clear upon a prima facie glance at each song, one quickly finds that the melodies sit just beneath the surface. Baldi’s inviting guitar leads that shaped songs like ‘Our Plans’ and ‘Cut You’ on Attack are an apt illustration of how melody isn’t employed on Here and Nowehere Else. More than anything else, an aura of desperate vitality is the clear-cut goal. Rather than Baldi’s guitars, it’s Jason Gerycz that leads the charge with relentless, impeccably timed drum assaults – best illustrated by the earth-shattering first single, ‘Psychic Trauma’.

Beach House fans will argue that, when you’ve got a winning formula, variety is overrated. The uniformity of these songs is a calculated achievement. On opener ‘Now Hear In’ the band sound urgent, but more self-assured; aware that the clean-slate statement of ‘No Future/No Past’ set a precedent, the next three-and-a-half minutes need to show what’s going to be different this time ‘round. They deliver, resoundingly, and elegantly crash-land into the anthemic ‘Quieter Today’ where things begin to go beautifully awry as planned. 

The brutality of the final minute of ‘Just See Fear’ and the unforgiving full-frontal attack that is ‘Giving Into Seeing’ are defining cuts, paving way to ‘No Thoughts’, which comes off as a less groove-centric, vocally driven ‘Separation’ with a pissed-off Baldi standing that much closer to the microphone. Clocking in at seven-and-a-half minutes, ‘Pattern Walks’ is the record’s epic. Baldi’s vocals are most affecting here, striking somewhere between a demented Julian Casablancas and a modern-day Iggy Pop with a past to escape. Closing number, and one of their strongest yet, ‘I’m Not Part of Me’ could’ve been slipped onto Attack without anyone so much as batting an eyelid. This occurrence, one may speculate, is a deliberate hint that this no-frills Cloud Nothings might just be a temporary indulgence.

The universal simplicity of the hardcore movement and the therapeutic release it provided for the youth of its time is not something that is easily accessible today. But then an album like Here and Nowhere Else comes along and – genre classification notwithstanding – it connects with the youth without even needing a lyrics sheet. This is because, like the music from which it draws inspiration, the disaffected vocal intersection of anguish and bravado and accompanying instrumental noise alone translate to a dialect understood by many approaching or in the grip of the question, “twenty-one and now what?”. 

Alongside ‘Wasted Days’, this record is Cloud Nothings’ career-defining achievement. As long as there are young people mitigating self-doubt and volatility, this type of music will stay relevant. But when the work itself is this good it makes it damn near invaluable. Labels like “post-hardcore” and “post-punk” have become diluted, nearly to the point of meaninglessness. Perhaps the Japandroids put it best with Post-Nothing. In principle, this album is akin to a Damaged for our generation; albeit in a more eclectic, developed musical style for a more sophisticated youth.

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