Cloud Nothings third album Attack on Memory was a joy to behold. From a reviewing opinion - initially, personally I didn’t rate it. But like many 2011 releases, it was a grower. Attack on Memory is now considered an early highlight in 2011 music, and it set up a road of expectation for fans of Cloud Nothings’ modern era of lo-fi punk rock / indie rock with a foot in grunge and a head in pop melodies - put that with Steve Albini, and you have a platform to build on. Here and Nowhere Else is Cloud Nothing's next step, and a step which will ensure their survival.
I've held back from putting out this review for weeks, mainly because I just wanted to enjoy the music. First and foremost, Here and Nowhere Else is for fans of Cloud Nothings' previous album, and that’s the way I approached listening to this, and eventually reviewing. It's easy to throw around wrong accusations, but I honestly didn't appreciate Attack on Memory compared to what I think now. It's coarse progressions and eagerly approaching layered riffs attracted both the indie pop fans of lead guitarist / primary member Dylan Baldi's past, and the grunge droolers of Albini's past. The influences were set in stone, and Baldi and his entourage played successfully to that influence, creating a standout sound, not too close to any genre previously heard, within the bounds of post-punk, post-hardcore, and noise rock.
So I listen to Here and Nowhere Else with my arms wide open, as I did two weeks ago, as I do right now writing this. I and listeners alike can hear many aspects of Attack on Memory, but it's not a developed sound; it's progressed, but in a fast-paced, burst of passion way rather than a Captain Beefheart Safe As Milk to Trout Mask Replica way. The change of producer from Albini may have been the iceberg for many Cloud Nothings fans prior too listening to this album in depth, but I believe this change to be the right choice. Baldi employed John Congleton to do their finer work, Congleton has credits with Xiu Xiu, Swans, and Blood Red Shoes - a repertoire of variety, and more importantly abrasiveness which I’m sure played a major part in Cloud Nothings' desire to use Congleton over the experience and proven prowess of Albini. But it's in fact Congleton's contribution which has completed the toned down Cloud Nothings' sound this time around.
Album opener "Now Here In" tells us exactly why we continue to listen to Cloud Nothings - it's exciting. There’s sounds of Baldi's past, but this introduction is mostly relevant to the music of their now, and how Here and Nowhere Else is different to Attack on Memory. There's a four chord intro which builds over powerful bass and a newly refined percussion sound - building even further in to the blood thirsty post-hardcore track you're expecting it to be: "I can feel your pain, and I feel alright by it," sings Baldi - "We're moving quickly to the sun / I feel there's nothing left to say / A simple life could be so strange." Energy is has been a big part of Cloud Nothings' ethos, and Here and Nowhere Else is no exception to the rule. "Quieter Today" has all the venom and angst you expect from a hardcore punk track from the 70s, but the sweet sensations of indie rock on the chorus. It's not the best track on the album, but it's by far one of the angriest lyrically and progressive, leaving small segments of silence to allow the chorus to enter with maximum effect - a great all-round punk rock track with features previously untouched upon by Baldi and crew.
This album is infectious, it's the music you expect from Cloud Nothings if they were recording at 6am after staying up listening to records of punk's past. Energising to say the least, but tracks like "Just See Fear" and "Psychic Trauma" are held in high regard because of their pace and ability to create a vibrating foot stomp. The former is recognised on Here and Nowhere Else because of the powerful lead guitar riff on the chorus, echoing around the bass and percussion like a post-rock band so far out of their depth in hardcore music - and the latter similar, but more controlled in a structural manner to be considered one of Cloud Nothings' stand out tracks so far. But "No Thoughts" takes the award for the standout punk track here - “You don’t really seem to care and, I don’t even talk about it.” Baldi's venomous vocals feature throughout alongside a rich percussion sound and an even greater guitar battle. This natural loud energy and screaming is welcomed and almost expected from Baldi and co, as the previous album was a pre-attack to the fierce touring schedule and lack of time the band have had to write, record, and complete this album. The process all comes together in the 30 minutes because it has to - ushered together like a Clash record without the sentiments. "Pattern Walks" is the answer to the critics question mark looming over Here and Nowhere Else. The lengthy (7.23) penultimate track is a sign of good things to come from the ever experimenting rock outfit. Instead of looming tome signatures and eventual breakdowns, Cloud Nothings embark on a straightforward punk rock masterpiece with progressive bass, spacious and (to me, the best sound to come out of Cloud Nothings so far) beautiful percussion work, turning an original four-chords bass led punk track in to dream pop / shoegaze start-up with delay on Baldi's vocals, and what appears to be a simple synthesizer line - three chords this time. It's.. it's beautiful rock music for the lost generation of punk fans, those that can sit through hours of GY!BE and still return to Cloud Nothings to clap your hands and say 'yes' to this 30-minute follow-up to one of 2010s biggest American rock surprises.
"It starts right now, that's the way that I was before, but I can't be caught how I was those days anymore," sings Baldi on the album closer "I'm Not a Part of Me", the apt closer to a short but strongly sweet album. The Cloud Nothings' journey comes to a chartered stop on their long stretch to future platforms - "But I'm not, I'm not you, you're a part of me, you're a part of me," shouts Baldi on the hook, one of their catchiest on Here and Nowhere Else. As an audience participant, you're expecting a sudden stop here. Previous Cloud Nothings' album closers have been fantastic for providing a little relief, and an answer to the previous tracks of menacing thoughts and ferocious instrumentals to convey the feelings and emotions of front man Baldi - and "I'm Not a Part of Me" is another one of these relief songs which you find at the very core of Cloud Nothings' albums. Here and Nowhere Else doesn’t always convey the audience aesthetics of Attack on Memory, and it's a stretch from the "Weird Sons" of Leave You Forever, but this partially aimless lo-fi punk rock has something to it. The teen angst isn't as noticeable on this album like it was on Attack on Memory, and the musical quality without Albini (to me) sounds much finer and enthusiastic. It's a shorter piece with less experimentation in the boundaries of post-punk, but as a Cloud Nothings' fan, yeah, this is great stuff to hear and keep for 2014 and years to follow for American punk music taking on a natural edge - as a critic, there's flaws of course, like with the mid-album track "Giving Into Seeing", which although sounds like an Attack on Memory cut, comes across as a noise facade centrepiece gap between the anchored pop side of the album, and the latter louder and more admirable final few tracks. Overall, Here and Nowhere Else comes down to its closer - the pre-release single holds the key to Cloud Nothings' progression from their earlier stages to the Here, now. Expect Cloud Nothings to deviate from this sound and recording / production structure in the future if they're given more time and resources. They've done the best they could while working hard as a band, and it's come across as a hard-hitting punk album for the gritty noise rock fans of Japandroids' evil twin sister.