Review Summary: An all-around great album from a band just starting out of its shell.
Dylan Baldi, singer and main creative force behind Cleveland's Cloud Nothings, has proven himself to be one of the more prolific songwriters of the current generation. Writing and recording songs solo but under the Cloud Nothings name since 2009, he's averaged one album per year, and that doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon. For Cloud Nothings' latest record, Attack on Memory, Baldi has gained the studio support of the live band that has played with him for years, resulting in an album that sounds like nothing he's put out before.
The most immediately apparent change from the last release to this one is how the guitars have been thrown to the forefront. Gone is the distant, slightly psychedelic pop Cloud Nothings has been known for in the past. This is a rocking rock album filled with rock music. However, while the instrumentation here is largely conventional, the structure of the music itself sometimes isn't. There are your standard pop songs like “Fall In” or “Stay Useless,” but some of the other tracks vary from standard structure, or would be conventional were they not interrupted by weird, sometimes lengthy guitar excursions. This certainly isn't always a bad thing; if you're into slow-burning rock music, some of these tracks could prove quite rewarding. The peak of the mounting wall of noise in “Wasted Days” would satisfy any patient listener. It's these odd guitar workouts, however, that contradict the album's relatively short overall running time. Still, if you're willing to invest some time, Attack on Memory is extremely sound musically.
Lyrically, the record falters just a bit. Baldi has always been decent at writing pop lyrics, but on Attack on Memory he tries to address very strong, very specific feelings he seems to be struggling with lately. Specifically, the theme of being young and not knowing what to do with yourself is a recurring one on this record. No one should ever be criticized for trying to write meaningful songs, and for the record (ha ha), the lyrics on the album aren't bad. There are just a few technical hiccups along the way. The line “No one knows our plans for us/ we won't be long” from the record's penultimate song “Our Plans” is weighty, but comes across as awkwardly worded when heard on the album. Which is a recurring flaw with Baldi's lyrics; the sentiment is always there, but he hasn't quite developed the technical smarts to adequately convey them. That being said, there are genuinely moving moments in the album's lyrics, and Baldi is making obvious improvements.
Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings is a good album. A very good album, in fact. What this band lacks in technical songwriting chops, it makes up for by simply being an exciting-sounding group. Thrilling, gradual guitar work and some successful stabs at deep lyricism help to make up for some awkward phrasing and the few guitar indulgences that grow tiresome. Overall, those who enjoy those pros and can overlook the cons will enjoy this record. For those hard into lyrics, you may need to look elsewhere, but it's worth giving this a try.