Dylan Baldi released the cult single 'Hey Cool Kid' under his alias Cloud Nothings in 2010. He later assembled a full band and set out to record his second studio album, and first album with the complete Cloud Nothings line-up. Attack On Memory deserts the happiness and pop hooks of Dylan Baldi's previous recordings, only to insert some sort of evil being. You can call this punk. Alas, Cloud Nothings are far from a punk band. Beneath the screeching vocals and heavily distorted guitars, one man can be found. This man is none other than Steve Albini, who again puts his touch on something quite spectacular. He adds the flare, the pure raw audacity and the sound. You can't take it away from Cloud Nothings, but a huge thesis of this album surrounds Steve Albini.
'No Future/No Past' has a tinny wincey piano introduction before the heavy bass and monotonous guitar work enters. This track is hit or miss because of the structure, build-up and eventual climax. One of the few positives is the imagery of 'hitting rock bottom', along with the ear breaking vocals by Dylan, however it's surrounded in negatives. The simplistic three minute build-up serves no purpose whatsoever. The majority of this track is uneventful with nothing to actually focus on because everything is staring you in the face, plain and simple. It’s lacking characteristics and the 'chorus', or climax as it may be called, finishes in the matter of 60 seconds. And those 60 seconds are hardly anything dynamical or feature any structural changes. The daunting fact is that Cloud Nothings have entered a period of uncertainty, manipulating sound and stretching out instrumentals, as seen with following track 'Wasted Days'. This track covers one quarter of the album. 25% of this album is covered in Wasted Days. The biggest shock here is that this nine minute track features five minutes of aimless noise. With respect, it's not exactly the strongest of build-ups. The first few minutes are brilliant. It's energetic and it’s heavy. The guitars sound raw and the drumming is spectacular, thanks to Mr Albini. The following instrumental segment has some disastrous sounds and some soundscape whooshing which shouldn’t make an appearance. The second, yes second, build-up is much more vigorous and features the final minute of screaming and heavy drumming. This is a major plus to cap off the track, the sudden finish only boosts its creativity.
'Fall In' has the post-punk revival fans beckoning at Cloud Nothings feet. There’s this melodramatic vocal hook which is delivered by Dylan in a clear voice with minimal backing vocals. Dylan continues his stretch of poor vocals when he spouts out the verse which sounds very childish and kind of fake. Sure, the vocal hook is memorable and the instrumental sounds compact, the band have definitely found a sound which is together, content. But It’s not until the later third when things turn sour with an extended outro which has the instrumental take control with the obscured Dylan vocals. The track is sticky, but it's not too sticky if you know what I mean.
The Strokes Cloud Nothings stretch
themselves and completely take a turn in the opposite direction with the fairly
commercial sounding 'Stay Useless'. Although the 2000's indie rock vibes are
present, and it sounds like a mimic... Stay Useless stands tall as the strongest
track on the album. The chorus is a blast of thunder with a very aggressive
guitar riff and several drum segments and sudden breaks which turns the track
into this nostalgic 90's television show. The final third to this track is much
better than the previous few, with an exciting guitar outro and harmonic vocals
which fit perfectly.
The back half to this album has eerie atmospheres and sufficient instrumental ability to keep the listener entertained. It just isn’t enough for me. A 30 minute album shouldn’t have to have long pieces of instrumentals that reach no conclusion and deliver no gratitude. The three minute 'Separation' doesn’t really give me anything other than a short heavy segment which is actually pretty epic, but other than that, it's fade away, forgettable material. 'No Sentiment' has a delicious chorus. The vocal sounds clean but the monotonous Sonic Youth-esque guitars are far too loud and in your face for the memorable chorus. The structural changes here are what we've been searching for, and it's first sign of real improvement as a band over the darkness and punkness of the previous tracks.
'Our Plans' has an Interpol-esque sound with plenty of Deerhunter / The Strokes influences. The obligatory indie lyricism isn’t present, with a lyrical focus on more depressing topics which could be and has been described as 'emo'. I think it's a little extreme to label this band 'emo' because it’s nothing of the kind. The instrumentals are pure rock and have plenty of punk incentives, it’s just the vocals that add shouting and screaming to the mix that make people associate this music with emo, when in fact the vocals are just poor. 'Cut You' is one of the least memorable tracks on the album. The progression is just bog standard with their same guitar effects and drumming structure as every other track on this album. The chorus is really relaxing and has a sweet sound of sensibility within the lyrics. The instrumentation isn’t to bad either.
A dramatically change in direction has seen Cloud Nothings become one of the most talked about bands of the year. Their music reaches a different level of listener, with both lovers and haters squabbling over subjectivity. Different people like different music, and Cloud Nothings certainly fit into that hit or miss category, which is a shame because they could find their feet if they really wanted to. I'm appalled at the lack of material on this album. I wanted 10/11 tracks of this material, just more. 30 minute albums need to leave a major impact on the listener, and make them return wanting to listen to the entire piece. Instead, I want to return for two to three tracks and skip the rest.