Cloud Nothings Puts Listeners on Cloud Nine

In a world where indie music runs the gamut of quirky synth pop, lavish baroque pop, and guys wearing suspenders who sell lots of albums, it’s hard to forget that, for a while, indie rock wasn’t hard to define – grungy, sloppy, yet heartfelt rock music a bunch of guys probably wrote in their friends basement.

Few other bands understand that as well as Cloud Nothings, and their latest opus, “Here and Nowhere Else,” serves as a hard slap in the face to those who think you need suspenders to be “indie.”

Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Cloud Nothings was initially the one-man music project of front man Dylan Baldi before morphing into a full band to record 2012’s masterful “Attack on Memory.” Where Cloud Nothing’s early material consisted mainly of scrappy, catchy lo-fi pop rock Baldi conceived out of boredom, “Attack on Memory” was a fully fleshed out barrage of post-hardcore angst and massive hooks that would be an enormous challenge for just about any band to follow up.

However, “Here and Nowhere Else” not only lives up to the task of succeeding one of the decades best indie rock albums, it pretty much tops it. Though it only clocks in at a half hour, “Here and Nowhere Else” is densely packed with savage riffs and some of the strongest hooks Baldi has ever written, interweaving the two seamlessly into an album that is endlessly listenable and a front to back blast.

It’s not unreasonable for fans to have been a bit worried that Cloud Nothings wouldn’t be able to top itself, as it almost seemed like a fluke the band transformed from a poppy one-man project to a powerhouse rock band. The band also experienced a few changes this time around, with guitarist Joe Bayer leaving the group and legendary producer Steve Albini (who helped give “Attack on Memory” its blunt force trauma sound) sitting this record out, so there certainly was room for skepticism.

Listening to “Here and Nowhere Else,” however, you’d barely notice any of these changes at all, as the band actually sound even more savage this time around. Baldi’s guitar, which now has to stand on its own, sounds thicker and more serrated than ever, filling in any spaces that otherwise would have been left, and Jason Gerycz’s gymnastic drumming is just as massive and manic without any help from Albini’s mixing.

But what makes “Here and Nowhere Else” really stand out against its predecessor – rather than just being “Attack on Memory Pt. 2,” is the way the band’s approach to songwriting has balanced itself out. As consistent as the “sound” of “Attack on Memory” was, the songs often played on varying sides of a spectrum, with some songs being particularly noisy and terrifying (“Wasted Days,” “No Sentiment”), while others were irresistibly catchy and pop-punky (“Fall In,” “Stay Useless”)

On “Here and Nowhere Else,” however, everything finally starts to pull more towards the center, as pretty much every song on the album maintains a flawless balance of noise and pop. Tracks like “Quieter Today,” “Just See Fear,” and “No Thoughts,” for instance, aren’t as monsoon-inducing as “Wasted Days” or as purely fun as “Stay Useless,” but instead take the best elements from both sides of the spectrum and combine them to make a string of endlessly enjoyable tracks that offer the best of both worlds to listeners.

This focus on consistency, however, could be seen as a blessing or a curse for the band, as bringing everything together so tightly could also mean for a more predictable album that sacrifices any spontaneity or surprises. But Cloud Nothings are certainly not above throwing listeners for a loop, and when this is pulled off on “Here and Nowhere Else,” it’s nothing short of magnificent.

Take “Psychic Trauma, for example, one of the first songs written for the record and an early single. With its shimmering guitar rift and tender, almost ballad-like pace, “Psychic Trauma” makes an all-too friendly first impression, introducing itself as the obvious single. Once those first 45 seconds pass, however, the band feverishly kicks up the tempo and barrels forward for the rest of the track with relentless intensity, with Baldi’s nasally voice transforming into a blood-curdling scream for most of the track.

The band also manages to surprise with the nearly eight-minute “Pattern Walks,” albeit in a less deliberate fashion. Starting with the most gnarled bass riff the band has ever produced, it would be safe to assume – based on its first few minutes – that the track would follow in the footsteps of “Attack’s” eight-minute romp “Wasted Days” and dissolve into an onslaught of feedback and angst. But in its last minute or so, the band builds the track not into something terrifying, but celebratory, pushing the noise away in favor of something much more splendorous and even beautiful.

Despite all this, “Here and Nowhere Else” might just be at its best when Cloud Nothings are just being Cloud Nothings. This is especially true with “I’m Not Part of Me,” the album’s last and debatably best track. Though relatively straightforward, the track is a microcosm of the band’s best aspects condensed into one little track that could, with the hooks morphing and building on one another to make something equally fierce and catchy. Believe me when I say there’s no way you won’t be singing “I’m not I’m not you / You’re a part of me, You’re a part of me” after only one listen.

With his cheeky, bespectacled grin and nasally voice, Dylan Baldi is a musician who’s all too easy to underestimate on the surface. But just one listen to the sweltering yet irresistibly catchy indie rock he crafts with Cloud Nothings is enough to silence any skeptic from judging a book by its cover. Cloud Nothings are a force to be reckoned with, and “Here and Nowhere Else” is the perfect document of that force.

PHOTO TAKEN from thelineofbestfit.com