Review Summary: Punk is alive and well
The spirit of punk isn't something I ever think about. Like any genre, I usually break punk down to its Xs and Os - what it should sound like based upon the cumulative resume of all the bands that occupy it. Cloud Nothings check most of those boxes, from the uptempo guitars to the pitchy vocals, but there's something seemingly intangible about them that has always helped them float above their peers. It was listening to The Shadow I Remember
that elucidated that mystery for me: they play to the spirit of punk
. A genre founded on the concept of pissing all over the norm has too often become about copying each other's faux-defiance, whereas Cloud Nothings have always defied convention without needing a chip on their shoulders about society, man
. With The Shadow I Remember
, Cloud Nothings once again find themselves pushing the boundaries of punk-rock while offering zero apologies for doing so, and it's a glorious burden lifted.
I say once again because Life Without Sound
and The Black Hole Understands
saw the band succumb to the temptation of creating sparkly lo-fi indie-pop. They weren't poor records by any means - and they were even quite catchy at times - but all of the guts, spine, and ambition that made Attack on Memory
a genre cornerstone back in 2012 were neutered. From the moment The Shadow I Remember
begins, it's clear that Cloud Nothings are back on track. It's not because they mirror the breakneck pace and reckless abandon of their former selves, but because they combine that no-holds-barred attitude with a wealth of experience and an updated perspective on life. Lyrically they confront adulthood and their inevitable mortality, while musically they are able to extract the best aspects of their earlier output (the wiry, unpredictable riffs and wild percussion) and fuse it with the more tangible songwriting and the stronger melodic hooks of their latter years. It's simultaneously a dip into their past and push forward in the right direction.
The best examples of this occur early and often: Oslo's anxiety-inducing waning minutes (existential lyrics, shrill electric guitars gradually climbing in pitch), how Dylan Baldi sounds half a beer away from passing out in a bar alley - or possessing Patrick Stickles - on The Spirit Of, or the way in which Baldi's dulled and disinterested approach to singing the catchiest chorus on the record (Only Light) makes it even more endearing and addicting. The best thing about The Shadow I Remember
is that it doesn't meander through the midsection - sure, I highlighted a few key cuts - but the entirety of the album is essentially devoid of filler and therefore unskippable. A Longer Moon anchors the back end with some of the best and most enjoyable guitar work you'll hear from any punk rock band in 2021, and it's only a slight notch above what's been happening across the whole record anyway.
The Shadow I Remember
puts Cloud Nothings right back where they belong - in the crosshairs of punk and indie-rock fans everywhere. It's a release that sees the band returning to what they do best, but also updating and fine-tuning their craft to reflect how they've matured. Punk as a genre often revolves around youth, rebellion, and politics - but Cloud Nothings are proof that punk is a mindset. The band's latest intersperses melody with mania, and it's a moment of exceptional energy and creativity which should rank near the top of their career achievements to-date. If the fate of punk ends up being left in the hands of Cloud Nothings, then it is indeed alive and well.