Review Summary: Like that chill kid you knew who came back from college a philosophy major and a total drag.
Dylan Baldi’s gotta have some set of cojones to sing “no nostalgia, no sentiment/ we’re over it now!” A mission statement like that and a title like Attack On Memory
presents the new Cloud Nothings record like an indictment of the very nostalgia-baiting indie rock Baldi was guilty of perpetuating on his band’s summery, eponymous debut. Perhaps the line is a retraction of sorts, but Attack on Memory
isn't exactly modern; defined by Steve Albini’s noisy production and Baldi’s sneering punk affect, Attack on Memory
is decidedly skuzzy, early-nineties gloom. Maybe you’re not really nostalgia-baiting if you sound gritty instead of pretty?
I think it’s more simple than all this; considering Cloud Nothings’ considerable effort towards sounding jaded, the confrontational album title is most likely an extension of their posturing. On a record of what are mostly well-structured, catchy rock songs, Cloud Nothings do quite a bit to make it sound as if they don’t care, giving their songs aggressively maudlin titles like “No Future/No Past,” “No Sentiment,” and “Cut You” and having Baldi sing with a mildly out-of-place rasp. Albini’s buzz and the put-on sense of hopelessness to the whole thing indicate “grit,” but Cloud Nothings lack the substance to really do
dark, and instead rely on Baldi’s affected whines of base-level nihilist platitudes to portray disaffection.
This is something of a shame, because, confused tone aside, Attack on Memory
is way more fun than it lets on. Cloud Nothings’ sense of maturity may be confused with unbridled angst, but their ear for dirty hooks is undeniable. As nineties-fetishizing goes, one could do worse than to ape the Pixies and Built to Spill with as much aplomb as Cloud Nothings do here; “No Sentiment” even rips the main riff from “Randy Described Eternity,” which would’ve been cool if it hadn’t been in service of the album’s worst song. It’s clear that Cloud Nothings work most comfortably within traditional pop structures; the proggier sections of Attack
like the extended instrumental break of “Wasted Days” will probably get the most critical attention for their ambition, but the album’s stronger tracks are songs like “Stay Useless” and “Cut You,” songs that sound like they were tossed out in a couple hours with the writing governed by intuition instead of ingenuity.
Thus when taking in Attack on Memory
as a whole, it sounds as if Cloud Nothings are, despite their best efforts, a pop band at heart. They might misguidedly masquerade as something more “authentic” by hiding behind a bunch of muddy bullshi
t, but the muddy bullshit
is conspicuously calculated, which invalidates its purpose. In other words, they try not to be what they were previously by aping a different, heavier sound, and the resulting record's a hodgepodge. Not to say that I don't think Cloud Nothings could be the kind of band they’re trying to be on songs like “Wasted Days” and “No Sentiment” down the road, but now they sound as if they’re trying to be adults when they’re actually pretty intelligent college-aged kids that just want to rock out. It’d be nice to hear them master that before they grow-up.