Review Summary: Here and Nowhere Else is stark and simple, but often stunning, rewarding those who are willing to find beauty in shades of grey.
Cloud Nothings started as the solo project of Cleveland then-teen Dylan Baldi, making breezy, wistful indie-pop in the basement of his parent’s house. His first two releases, early demo collection Turning On and a more proper self titled album, were low in fidelity and ambition, content to craft sunny tunes with just a hint of angst and longing under the surface. In late 2011, however, the project took a turn in a slightly different direction. Baldi consolidated his touring band into Cloud Nothings and began recording with legendary indie producer Steve Albini, known for his work with Nirvana and Superchunk, among others. The result of these sessions was Attack on Memory
, a much darker and diverse sounding effort which showcased a host of influences from indie and punk music past and present. AoM was an interesting and rewarding listen for old and new Cloud Nothings’ fans alike, but raised the question of where the group would take it’s sound in the future.
Here and Nowhere Else
answers that question definitively, simplifying and maturing Cloud Nothings’ previous sounds while infusing the albums’ eight songs with a sense of urgency never before heard, even on the punkier, tenser Attack on Memory
. Opener “Now Hear In” bursts into your eardrums with grungy, quickly strummed guitar and puts the petal to the metal immediately with the driving percussion of drummer Jayson Gerycz. The song doesn’t let up for the duration of it’s 3:30 runtime, and Baldi’s vocals give an air of desolation and anger, singing repeatedly “I can feel your pain/ And I feel alright about it.”.
The frenetic energy of “Now Hear In” carries through the album’s 31 minute runtime, and every single track hits certain signposts: simple, catchy chord progressions played FAST AS HELL, technically impressive (but not showy) drums, and the simple but emotive vocals of Dylan Baldi. The album’s lyrics are probably the least dense thing about it, and they aren’t complex either. In fact, in an recent interview with Pitchfork Baldi admitted that he wrote most of his lyrics right before the songs were recorded. This simplicity yields a lot of hits, but a couple whiffs as well. On one hand, there’s the identical verses of “Psychic Trauma”, which starts as a driving indie-rock song but eventually evolves into a screamed punk freakout. On the other hand, however, there’s “Giving Into Seeing”, where a minute and a half of Baldi growling “SWALLOW!” kind of feels like a placeholder for better material that never was written.
The simplicity and basic structure of the uptempo pop riffage found on Here and Nowhere Else
might be a little monotonous for some, but the album is chock full of great moments. Baldi’s lyrics have an overarching theme of personal isolation and disconnect with others, and “Quieter Today” synthesizes these ideas in a 3 minute song which also manages to house a soaring chorus and an awesome guitar solo. The penultimate track, “Pattern Walks”, is an eight minute jam, starts as a downtrodden punk scowl which has Baldi exclaiming “I don’t worry, I just feel strange!”, segues into an frenzied instrumental section, and ends with a celestial, swirling coda, as Baldi’s longing phrase “I thought” is repeated over and over again until it practically melts under a barrage of synth noise. It’s unexpected and beautiful, standing in wonderful contrast with the 5 minutes which preceded it.
Here and Nowhere Else
closes with “I’m Not Part of Me”, easily the most upbeat song on the album. After almost a half hour of seething in various states of anger and paranoia, Baldi acknowledges that maybe it isn’t so bad after all, crooning “I’m not telling you all I’m going through/ I feel fine” over a fun, poppy chord progression. The song isn't quite another side of Cloud Nothings. Rather, it’s the same side in a different light, a different shade of gray. Here and Nowhere Else
is an album that demands your attention and refuses to cut corners, and serves as a culmination of Dylan Baldi and his band’s work thus far. Cloud Nothings started with dreamy pop songs and made it’s way into the dreary world of punk; on this album, they’ve realized that one can't exist without the other