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Record Review: Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory

By / Posted on 23 January 2012

Cloud Nothings — Attack on MemoryIt’s difficult to accept, at times, that Steve Albini exerts little to no influence on the albums he engineers. Albini famously refuses the “producer” credit on the thousands of records he’s worked on, but it’s hard not to acknowledge the enthrallingly raw voice of so many of the albums he’s had his hands in—seminal and generation-defining works by artists including the Pixies, Nirvana, mclusky, Bush, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, Low, and so many others. It should come as little surprise, then, that the new Albini-engineered album from the young-but-incredibly-promising Cloud Nothings sounds as though it were an unearthed relic of early 90′s guitar rock and could easily have been a contemporary to that era’s music by the Pixies, Sunny Day Real Estate and Jawbreaker.

The overwhelming theme of Attack on Memory seems to be Dylan Baldi’s growing sense of discomfort, unrest, and dissatisfaction, perhaps a result of his sudden success. Nearly one-third of the album is devoted to the track “Wasted Days” with Dylan’s plaintive cries of “I thought I would be more than this.” Baldi’s previous album, with peppy tracks like “Nothing’s Wrong” and “All the Time,” sounds downright starry-eyed with optimism compared to the slower, grimy crawls of “No Sentiment” and “No Future/No Past,” both of which suggest the foregone conclusion of imminent destruction, self or otherwise. It’s an all-too-common concern on sophomore LPs, the fear of burning out or stagnating, which is partially responsible for the decidedly darker and angrier vibe across the entirety of Attack on Memory.

In a rather surprising change of pace for a sophomore effort, the two most “classic” styled Cloud Nothings tracks are tucked away at the very end. “Our Plans” is a decidedly danceable pop-punk standard about futility (“No one knows our plans for us. We won’t last long.”) and “Cut You” is an almost-sweet early-emo-rock letter of bitterness to an ex-girlfriend where Baldi’s voice positively seethes with rage through a grit-teeth-smile as he sings “Do you wanna kill him? Is he gonna work out? I need to know. I deserve to know. I miss you ’cause I like damage. I need something I can hurt.” The middle of the album is a bit more across-the-map, with the high-energy “Fall In,” the guaranteed-to-be-a-teenage-anthem “Stay Useless”—a track that comes across as though it were written with the express purpose of being the most textbook example of guitar-driven angst rock of the past twenty years—and the booming instrumental thrash of “Separation” (no one can fault Baldi for including an instrumental track. With all the shouting he does across this album, his voice is bound to need a break during live sets). The overall package is just as solid as we’ve come to expect from Turning On and last year’s self-titled LP, only a great deal more aggressive, raw, and borderline hostile.

Whether it was merely the natural direction Baldi was going with his songwriting or the invisible hands of Albini steered the new course, Attack on Memory is a remarkably powerful statement about rage and angst from one of the most engaging new voices in indie rock. No longer merely soundtracks for skateboarding, the songs collected here have a unified vision and will likely find themselves used as the voice of an age and demographic much like the Pixies did before. Yes, that’s the third time we’ve reference the Pixies in this review, but honestly, just listen to this album and try not to make the same parallel.

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Derrick Sanskrit has produced critically-acclaimed work as an artist and writer for Nerve, Babble, Pitchfork, The Onion and the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art, among others. He founded The Pop Aesthetic during the coldest months of his life in 2010.