Following a three year absence (with the exception of a collaboration with Wavves), Dylan Baldi and Cloud Nothings return with another healthy dose of lo-fi indie rock.
“I came up to the surface, released the air” seems like the most fitting of opening lines for a band that haven’t released a proper album for a while, and it heralds what feels like another reinvention, from a group that seem to define their sound differently every few years. This time around, there’s an air of early-2000 Deep Elm roster about them, in particular Last Days of April. “Up To The Surface” is a statement of caution, which seems fitting in post-Trump America.
This trepidation doesn’t last long though. “Things Are Right With You” is a blast of vintage Cloud Nothings. There’s a blend of grunge and indie rock, with guitars soaring around Baldi’s vocal, lifting the mood to one more hopeful. “Internal World” follows with a sound that the band themselves describe as akin to Yo La Tengo. The song catches the frontman in introspective mood as he admits “I’m not the one who’s always right”.
With a long instrumental intro, and a bit of rock ‘n’ roll piano, “Darkened Rings” brings a rockabilly sound, reminiscent of Hot Snakes at their “Audit In Progess” best (if you’ve never heard it, you really should!). Hot on the heels of this stomper, as we reach the mid-point of the album, comes undoubtedly the best track on the album, “Enter Entirely”. The song is longer, slower-paced, and feels like the band are once again breaking new ground for themselves. The lyrics again hint at a more grown-up and inward-looking approach from Baldi, as he proclaims “I thought I knew what I could be, and now I’m there”, before going on to lift the melody and mood with “we’re moving on but I still feel it, you’re a light in me now”. I dare you to not give in and scream along.
I read one review comparing “Modern Act” to The Cure, and although I can see where they’re coming from, I still hear more of the 90’s Britpop influence that I’ve always felt was present in previous Cloud Nothings releases. There’s a fine pace and tempo, with trademark percussion and high hats propelling the song forward, and another great singalong chorus. Completing a duo of energetic pieces, “Sight Unseen” opens with the strum of guitar that sets the rhythm throughout, occasionally broken up by delicate guitar picking. A piano loop enters, and the drums push the song on toward its conclusion. Again, it’s uplifting, and Baldi’s vocal is a perfect match. After your first few listens, this will be one of the tracks you’re always looking forward to.
The album draws to a close with a return to the band’s signature chaotic sound. “Strange Year” sees a cacophony of noise being unleashed, as Baldi roars and pushes his vocal chords to their limit. Exactly the kind of lo-fi fare we’ve come to expect from the Cleveland four piece. “Realize My Fate” provides a suitable end to what is overall a great listen. Opening with an almost tribal feel (I could imagine Jordan Belfort humming along and thumping his chest), the band build to a crescendo of drums, guitar and vocals, leaving you shell-shocked at the sheer variety of what you’ve just experienced in only 9 tracks and just under 38 minutes.
“Life Without Sound” is certainly a welcome return from one of my favourite rock bands. Short, sweet and back with a bang, it’s a real assertion from a band that have more than found their place and sound. Their usual mix of angst and hope, coupled with energy and anarchy, still leaves me excited to see just how far they can go, and there’s no doubt that with Dylan Baldi at the helm, they’re in great hands.
I’d strongly recommend you catch them live on their upcoming tour. If you’re at the London show, I’ll see you at the front – I’ll be the one with my arms in the air, screaming along to every chorus!
HIGHLIGHTS: “Things Are Right Without You”, “Enter Entirely”, “Sight Unseen”.