Review Summary: Cloudy with a Chance of Pratfalls
You see there was this band in the mid 90s called Ash and they were a breath of fresh air in an unassuming 'we only got laid for the very first time last week and now we've bought some guitars' way. Their music sounded like the sort of throwaway trash a bunch of 19 year olds would come up with because, well, they were a bunch of 19 year olds who were kicking out the jams for fun. If they wanted to release bubblegum punk songs with juvenile titles like 'Kung Fu' more power to them. Of course it soon became apparent they were one of those unfortunate acts where as they matured they visibly weakened, every year on the clock hammering a nail into that prematurely prepared coffin. For all intents and purposes the band died real early, leaving behind a beautiful indie pop corpse.
As for Ash still being any sort of key influence on song writers operating today, you'd have to plump for 'not a chance'; as a mainstream concern they've faded into near total obscurity. Well, bizarrely, it sounds like one man still lights a candle in their memory every night. The last time we checked in with Cloud Nothings they'd dropped the rhythmic powerhouse 'Here and Nowhere Else', an album chock full of intense screamed vocals and relentless weapons grade beats. Well that was 2014 and to put it bluntly, something major must have happened in the interim, as band leader Dylan Baldi has decided to completely change the band's approach. For whatever reason he's set out on a new path, one that sees his gleaming Cloud Nothings empire deconstructed into a pile of just so much Ash.
It sounds flippant to state that on 'Life Without Sound' Baldi has taken everything great about his former album and jettisoned it but that's just where we are. Let's not sugar coat this. The man's now in his mid twenties and this was clearly a conscious decision but it can't help but feel like a dumbing down, a lowering of the stakes. The case for the defence would read that if an artist's no longer channeling that same intensity then the worst thing to do would be to force it; if Baldi's started feeling increasingly chipper then, staying true to his heart, he should release a befittingly lighthearted album. Sure, this could well work for some bands, but in this instance a watered down Cloud Nothings equates to settling for a tepid mid 90s sound that would have resulted in an ass whipping had it been released in that decade (yes, even from those sweet young Irish scrotes Ash).
The song writing here is so by the numbers and unmemorable it's genuinely hard to accept. The first eight songs (this is a nine song album) run into one another forming an endless chain of so so, lumpen and vaguely punkish indie pop. The drumming's effectively been castrated and the vocals don't fare much better, sounding like they've been squeezed into a straight jacket. Nothing interesting happens with a guitar of any form. Indeed there's but one small glimmer of hope in the form of set closer 'Realize My Fate', a reward if you the good listener make it that far. This relative epic resurrects the ghost of 'Attack on Memory', in particular that album's opener 'No Future/No Past'. This track stands out for possessing a tangible intensity of emotion and finally building an atmosphere befitting of the Cloud Nothings stamp.
An album this nondescript could bury a band's career, especially following two releases that have almost become cult classics at this stage. They say 'never go back' but what do they know? Turn back those clocks Mr Baldi, but this time don't go as far as 1996, stop at 2014. You really had something then, this just sounds like Ash without the tunes.