Cloud Nothings Continue to Evolve
Dylan Baldi rarely does the same thing twice. Since 2010’s Turning On, his group, Cloud Nothings, have been reshaping themselves with each subsequent release, from the garage rock of “Turning On” to the pop-rock of their self-titled album to their more furious masterpiece Here and Nowhere Else.
In the band’s most recent work, Life Without Sound, Baldi has developed a deeper inclination for introspection, while still rocking as hard as ever. Sonically, the tension between Cloud Nothings’ punk sensibilities and polished pop-rock hooks remains. While their burnished sound may turn off long-time fans of the band, their more weighted efforts in songwriting and dynamics make Life Without Sound worth the three-year wait.
A melancholy piano opens the lead track “Up To the Surface,” a rumination of loneliness and isolation and an apt thesis for the songs that follow. “Internal World” might be the most resonant song of the album. Lyrically, it deals with individuality and “losing all your angles” to cater to everyone at the expense of diluting yourself. It questions the type of freedom that comes with following groups (“who would you follow / any way they wanted / just to be free?”), declaring one’s “internal world” to be the only one worth living. The chorus ends with a repetition of the lyric, “but I’m not the one who’s always right,” perhaps the most anthemic line of the album.
Cloud Nothings might have lost some of the fury that propelled their previous effort, but the introspection for which it made way renders Life Without Sound another solid album in the group’s growing catalog. While it may not top all previous efforts, Baldi’s intellectual growth has set Cloud Nothings up to create another masterpiece.
Producer John Goodmanson (Death Cab for Cutie, Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney) worked with Cloud Nothings on the album, and his influences are apparent. Death Cab can be heard on “Modern Act,” as Baldi sings, “do you know what it’s like?” his voice breaks into a gentle falsetto. And as he asks this question, you’ll swear that, for a moment, Ben Gibbard jumped in front of the mic. Other influences are apparent on the track. The song opens with a “Boys Don’t Cry”/”In Between Days” hybrid guitar riff that continues throughout.
While some of these influences are more noticeable than others, overall, Life Without Sound is consistently constructed with ’80s and’90s-inspired guitars that support Baldi’s vocals by fluctuating between soft and heavy arrangements in each track. Build-ups are also common and often pay off. The final two tracks – songs any Here and Nowhere Else fans will likely appreciate – are the best examples. “Strange Year” uses soft, melancholic breaks to bring relief to louder verses filled with guttural screaming. “Realize My Fate” builds drama and suspense with a beating drum and disquieting guitar strums. At its end, the band falls apart, and we are left with only a few, minor chord strums, ending the album with a question mark; apparently, Baldi has not yet realized his fate. At 25 he has plenty of time.