Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (4.5/5)
Cloud Nothings’s songwriter and at one time only member, Dylan Baldi has made the claim in interviews that his latest album, Attack on Memory, felt like such a departure from his earlier, lo-fi static-pop sound that he considered recording under an entirely new name. Dylan’s right that Attack on Memory marks a shift in style for Cloud Nothings, but he’s wrong to claim that this is a complete departure from his first two full length releases. A shadow of doubt and remorse hangs over the album, and while Attack on Memory’s darker themes leads to a rearrangement in sonic textures, ultimately Dylan’s ear for a catchy riff or a snaking guitar line makes it clear that Attack on Memory was written by the same artist who penned the bouncy “Understand at All.”
The opening track, “No Future/No Past,” attempts to strike a clear demarcation between Attack on Memory and Dylan’s earlier four track bedroom recordings. The song, a slow marching dirge, builds from a whisper to a throat searing scream, and it helps form the atmosphere of the rest of the album. But despite this new approach, Dylan can’t help but write some surprisingly catchy tunes. Sure, he’s traded in much of his nasally delivery for a scream that seems to start and stop in his trachea, but underneath the self-torment lies a talented songwriter. In fact, a couple of the songs, such as “Fall In” and “Stay Useless,” could have easily have slid into one of his earlier albums without causing much disruption.
Attack on Memory relies on two elements to truly differentiate itself from Cloud Nothings’s first two full lengths: a full band and Steve Albini’s production. The centerpiece of the entire album, the nearly nine-minute long “Wasted Days,” could never have been pulled off as a bedroom recording. The song’s energy depends on multiple guitar dynamics and clear shifts from one movement to the other. This fuller sound is only enhanced by Albini’s steel hard production sound. Albini is famous for his hands off approach to producing, allowing the sound of his studio to do all the work for him. Like Bruce Lee, he relies on the “style of no style.” And here much of the album feels as if it were recording in an ancient cave, the band surrounded by long forgotten glyphs. And what better environment for Dylan’s intonation of easy self-disgust. At times the album recalls Albini’s most famous production work, Nirvana’s In Utero. And while Dylan doesn’t have Cobain’s gift for layers of irony and somersaulting wordplay, he takes advantage of Albini’s skills to evoke elemental feelings of anger and distrust that can be found in the common 20-year-old American male.