Tag: Cloud Nothings

Ramblings: on Zak Abel and being back on track

 

logomakr_6gasea

Well the blog is back on track after my week of illness. The A List is done, the Bonus List introduced and the This Week Playlist posted. George posted a review of Cloud Nothings’s Life Without Sound last night and Antonia is back with her At The Movies column later today. Plus there’s a Track of the Day coming up at 0930.

Onto non-blog matters, I’m pretty happy as I’m off to my first gig of the year tonight, seeing Zak Abel at one of his two sold out shows at London’s Scala.

I first heard Zak Abel’s stunning soul voice on Sam Sumthin – which I only found out yesterday was produced by Kaytranada – back in 2015. It’s a voice that’ll please many audiences and belies his young age. Given that he’s a self-taught pianist and guitarist, and was also pretty good at table tennis, he also seems like a pretty determined man.

He also writes cracking pop songs. Say Sumthin was one of the best I’ve heard in years, an instant classic. And he’s followed it up with Everybody Needs Love and Unstable since.

His debut album- Only When We’re Naked – is due out in March and I’m looking forward to hearing some of the new material tonight. This will be my fourth time seeing him live, and every performance has improved on the last. He has an infectious charm on stage, his band are super tight and I fully expect him to be playing much bigger venues soon.

One of the things l’ll keep coming back to on this blog (because it’s something I care a lot about) is supporting young acts – particularly British acts – and the need to ensure they aren’t rushed. A few years ago it became a habit for acts to have a couple of singles or a debut album and to be playing Brixton Academy; it was sad watching them fall flat on their face due to a lack of material and a lack of stage experience.

Zak Abel has done it the proper way. He’s been gigging consistently for the past few years and knows how to work an audience. The first time I saw him was at the Oslo in Hackney, he was the second act on stage with a bill of four; it was perhaps an indication that he was destined for bigger things when half of the audience walked out after he’d finished.

Last year I saw him play the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen, where he tore the place up – Drake One Dance cover and all – and was joined on stage for a duet by Paloma Faith. I had the rather strange experience of being stood next to Paloma Faith for a large chunk of that gig; but it does mean I can say with certainty that she was enjoying herself.

To reaffirm that he hasn’t been an overnight success, he was featured on the Radio 1Xtra Hot for 2015 List, a list that also featured Little Simz, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Raury, Stormzy, Lion Babe, which is a pretty strong list. Yet its interesting that you could easily hear his stuff on 1Xtra, Radio 1, Radio 2, XFM or any of the shit big commercial radio stations. He has a sound – and a quality – that could easily see him become Britain’s next big pop export.

So I’m looking forward to tonight very much and in anticipation below is Zak Abel’s new video for Unstable.

Until later,

Mark

It’s Album Time: Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

It’s Album Time: Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

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”.