Review Summary: Grunge, Jr.
Everything moves in cycles. Empires rise and fall and are replaced by others that claim to be their successors. Animals evolve with the traits of their forefathers, learning what they learned, sometimes reinventing the wheel. It is only logical that culture, too, would follow this trend.
And what a case in point 2011 was. With cheesy vintage synths, glam parties, slow and sexy r&b jams, and economic desperation heading the way, the 1980's finally got the full cultural recognition it (kind of) deserved in the form off its appropriation by the indie music scene. Always the "closeted decade", it's been consistently treated as the red-headed stepchild in American popular culture. But no more! Eye glitter and clubbing are back in. Or, at least, they were.
If Cloud Nothings' second LP, Attack On Memory
, is any indication, the indie scene is about to get its flannel back on and time-warp to the 1990's in 2012. Just listen to Dylan Baldi's voice: as the album's taut eight tracks chug and sprint forward, the music echoing off Steve Albini's recording studio, you can practically hear the ghost of Cobain laughing maniacally between his hoarse breaths.
That isn't to say this is just a band aping the cream of the grunge crop. Far from it, in fact. The Nothings apply modern indie-rock sensibilities to the hook-shout-hook formula and, despite familiar indie-rock instrumentation, they switch the formula up enough to keep the proceedings slick and endlessly listenable. Take "Wasted Days", for instance. There's a verse, a chorus, a verse, a chorus, and then five minutes of teeth-gritting, head-banging, mosh-inducing build until an orgasmic release, with Baldi screaming the line "I thought I would be more than this" as if he has come across his future self's corpse wallowing in a pool of its own quickly drying blood.
The end result is a duel between tragedy and triumph in many of the songs, which acts as the grease on this rock formula's engine. Crashing waves of powerchords bring with them a message of disappointment, of underwhelming realization, and of having to live with a change in one's hopes and dreams.
Which gives rise to the overwhelming themes of the album: uncertainty, self-loathing, and contradiction. Harkening to the historical footnote that the Occupy movement has become, there's an omnipresent 'you' throughout the album, a judge, an authority figure that Baldi sings against. "Fall In" romanticizes resistance against such a force ("nothing left for you to use!"); slaphappy closer "Cut You" pins down such resistance as an unnecessary addiction ("I need something that I can hurt"); other times, there are just no words to describe the twisted, frantic energy engulfing us (the ripper of an instrumental track "Separation").
Regardless of what Cloud Nothings started as, with this muscular and historically conscientious release Baldi has elevated his bedroom sideproject to an honest-to-goodness punk-rock outfit, and it's about damn time. Attack...
is just the kind of kick in the proverbial balls the indie scene desperately needs: catchy, frustrated, ready to snap necks, simple enough to appeal the masses but with just enough depth to spin the album one more time.