In the nicest way possible, Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi seems like a real punk; not just in musical terms – although that is a major factor – but also in the anachronistic, once-derogatory (see also “bum”, “scallywag” etc) sense of the word. I guess it’s not his fault: you can’t blame Baldi for being so gifted so young (he’s only 20), but surely the guy could show some consideration for the feelings of talentless old codgers like me by, y’know, not rubbing our noses in it? In 2010, the young Clevelander made available Turning On, a collection of scrappy, self-recorded demos that held its own admirably alongside commercially-released efforts from like-minded souls such as Male Bonding and No Age; less than 12 months later, official debut Cloud Nothings bumped up the production values and sharpened the edges of the punk-pop hooks to stunning effect, resulting in one of 2011’s most overlooked albums. Sophomore LP Attack On Memory marks Cloud Nothings’ transition from one-man band to “proper” group, enlisting the help of the same players (guitarist Joe Boyer, TJ Duke on bass and drummer Jason Gerycz) that backed Baldi whilst opening for Foam Hands favourites Fucked Up last year, and this sudden expansion is indicative of the frightening rate at which this prolific, prodigious talent is developing. But whilst the sound is undeniably bigger, I wouldn’t start throwing words like “mature” around just yet. Grinding curveball opener “No Future/ No Past” may be worlds away from the salt-spiked sugar rushes of Baldi’s earlier work, but the Cobain-esque razorblade howl he employs is one long cry of adolescent angst; in fact, despite claims that Attack’s creation was influenced by heavy rock heroes like Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy, an equally obvious audible precedent would be ‘90s second-wave emo, with the perky hooks and bruised-heart lyrics of “Fall In” and “Stay Useless” recalling the melodic hardcore of bands such as Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate. Flipping from bittersweet, lovelorn nostalgic to moody, petulant rebel at the drop of a hat, it’s a persona that Baldi wears well, even if it does draw attention to his tender age; to wit, this amusing interview with Pitchfork’s Jenn Pelly, where the singer describes working on the record with the legendary Steve Albini – a dream for most musicians – in less than glowing terms, shrugging off the experience like a stroppy teenager simply because the producer didn’t give him his undivided attention. Regardless of whether or not they clicked on a personal level, Albini’s trademark bare-bones makeover has done wonders for the Cloud Nothings sound, drawing the raw aggression out of a band that are surprisingly tight considering their relatively short history together, particularly on the epic, Wipers-like “Wasted Days” where they hammer the shit out of a single chord for five pile-driving minutes without ever losing steam. Like other iconic Albini-recorded albums (Nirvana’s In Utero, the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa, the Jesus Lizard’s Goat), Attack On Memory is both immediate and a grower, like a gut-punch that burns more fiercely every time you prod it, and although it’s hard to picture him in Kurt’s generational figurehead role, here Dylan Baldi has taken some simple, sound advice – surround yourself with a solid group of musicians and concentrate on the songs at their most basic level – and casually knocked out an album that might just blossom into a modern classic.
Attack On Memory is out now in the U.S. on Carpark Records, and February 6 elsewhere on Wichita Recordings