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Jeremy Aaron 02/13/12 01:49 PM

Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
 
Cloud Nothings - Attack on Memory
Record Label: Carpark
Release Date: January 24, 2012

What a difference a year makes. Or maybe it was just the recruitment of famed producer Steve Albini to sit behind the boards. Regardless, nothing could have prepared us for the tour de force Cloud Nothings have unleashed upon the world with their third album Attack on Memory. Just last year, the band released their self-titled sophomore effort, their second consecutive helping of pleasantly effervescent power-pop. While traces of that aesthetic peek through occasionally on the new record, it's mostly uncompromising, gritty and intense. While its release comes to us via the indie-oriented Carpark label and it's been hyped by most of the blogosphere's powers-that-be, Memory sounds more informed by the D.C. punk scene of the '80s and the Midwestern scene of the '90s than anything hailing from the home of everything stylish in 2012, Brooklyn.

When the album's first track, "No Future / No Past" hit the wires back in November, my first impression was that it sounded like something from a follow up to Spiderland some twenty years in the making. Like Slint's 1991 masterpiece of mood and dynamics, the song snakes along hypnotically and demonstrates mastery at pitting quiet versus loud to achieve emotional catharsis. Perhaps it's simply the absence of any obvious studio trickery, but there's an overwhelming sense that what's on display is an unalduterated representation of the artist, the purest of expression unadorned by unnecessary embellishments. Of course Dylan Baldi's raw-throated vocal approach doesn't hurt here either-- clearly, every word bursting out of him is coming from somewhere deeply personal.

Even if it's not necessarily easy to agree with. On the more driving mid-tempo "Wasted Days", Baldi repeats "I thought I would be more than this." It's hard to imagine what expectations he might have set for himself that a remarkable success like this very album doesn't live up to. Yet at the same time, the song's concept is probably all too relatable to most of us content in our middle-income jobs and modestly successful lives who would have seemed like such miserable failures (and corporate sellouts!) to the teenage versions of ourselves. That sense of dissatisfaction is hardly anything new-- quite the opposite actually-- but much more powerful than Baldi's lyrical expression is his use of most of the song's nine minutes to let scratchy guitars do the talking for him. Musical tone-setting is at the core of Attack on Memory's success, an nowhere is it more effective than on "Wasted Days".

Not to say that the album's two opening songs are completely atonal-- indeed, while rather stark and austere, their success owes more than a little to their penetrating melodies-- but it's not until "Fall In" and "Stay Useless" that Cloud Nothings' pop hooks make their way to the fore, though unlike the parallels to fuzz-coated indie-rockers like Wavves one might have drawn from their earlier albums, the former sounds like a more serious and musically tight incarnation of Cap'n Jazz, while the latter-- easily the most immediately accessible of the album's eight cuts-- invokes all the crunch and infectiousness of Superchunk.

But clearly, a vehicle for snappy jingles Attack on Memory isn't. The album's second half starts with "Separation", on which Baldi foregoes lyrics entirely, and the furious guitar work-- which pulls from the likes of Jawbox and ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead-- announces that whatever light-hearted moments the album might have are pretty much over. "No Sentiment" is crushing, dissonant, and one of 2012's most poignant musical moments so far, while "Our Plans", all angst and repetitive riffing, wraps the most revered touchstones of '90s emo into one neat package.

For all its maturity and homages to the past, Attack on Memory still occasionally reflects Baldi as a bit wide-eyed. On the album's closer "Cut You", he sings, "Is he gonna work out? I need to know. I deserve to know." Naturally, relationship drama needn't be limited to the young and naive, and it is somewhat refreshing that an artist with any sort of indie-cred aspirations would admit to feeling anything other than indifference about anything. While head-in-the-clouds brooding is a predisposition for many an artist, that seems to be less so the case for real people living in the real world. Baldi's ability to encapsulate both camps is a triumph.

While I quickly shouted out Steve Albini at the outset, I feel compelled to offer him up a fair bit of credit for Attack on Memory's brilliance, to take nothing away from the band themselves. It's a vintage Albini production: agressive, tense, and of course, economical. There's never more here than there needs to be, a move that's transformed a trendy and enjoyable band into something revelatory. Like Cymbals Eat Guitars' Lenses Alien from last year, Attack on Memory succeeds mightily despite exhibiting some fairly obvious idol worship. Looking back on the fertile '80s and '90s-- with a little help from a veteran of the era-- Cloud Nothings have concocted the sound of 2012.

9/10

RIYLSlint's Spiderland; Superchunk's Majesty Shredding; La Dispute's Wildlife


Track Listing1. No Future / No Past (4:41)
2. Wasted Days (8:54)
3. Fall In (3:15)
4. Stay Useless (2:46)
5. Separation (3:04)
6. No Sentiment (3:36)
7. Our Plans (4:16)
8. Cut You (3:17)


Preview/Buy the album at Amazon MP3.

t00latef0rr0ses 02/13/12 02:50 PM

Never heard of these guys, but this review PLUS the RIYL of La Dispute's Wildlife has me intrigued. Well written review broski.

BusterBluth 02/13/12 05:30 PM

great start to the year

Blake Solomon 02/13/12 08:13 PM

i really found their self-titled to be, for lack of a better word, annoying. there was something about the voice and the spastic nature that i just couldn't handle. but this has been getting so much universal praise that i feel like i'm doing myself a disservice by not trying this one out. think i'll do that now!

jake_rm 02/14/12 03:09 AM

Incredible record, very early contender for my end of year list

theotheryabs 02/14/12 05:20 AM

I thought Cloud Nothings was one guy?

Holly HoX! 02/14/12 05:29 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by theotheryabs (Post 103005572)
I thought Cloud Nothings was one guy?


Started out that way.

arson 02/14/12 05:42 AM

So far, this is definitely my favorite album I've heard this year.

xburningcoffin 02/14/12 06:52 AM

this album is really great. this review is pretty much spot on. attack on memory deserves the hype, if you are a fan of la dispute i'm not sure you will dig this as much. I would say any nirvana, slint or fugazi fan would be into this record. when I first hear no future/no past all I could think of was in utero

Jeremy Aaron 02/14/12 07:29 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by xburningcoffin (Post 103006862)
this album is really great. this review is pretty much spot on. attack on memory deserves the hype, if you are a fan of la dispute i'm not sure you will dig this as much. I would say any nirvana, slint or fugazi fan would be into this record. when I first hear no future/no past all I could think of was in utero

Definitely, the similarities to La Dispute are sort of tangential. That inclusion was kind of my way of saying not to dismiss this as some sort of hipster bullshit or whatever. I feel like if this were being released on a label like No Sleep, it would be a huge fan favorite around here. I do believe that La Dispute is the best modern analog for Fugazi and the old Dischord scene, and thought that would be a much more familiar reference for most readers.

Alex_Burton 02/14/12 07:30 AM

Not totally sold on this album. There are some really good songs on it, but I feel like there's also a lot of stuff that comes out of left field, and not in a good way. More like they couldn't figure out which way they wanted to go with the songwriting and style, so it sounds like a different band from track to track. I also feel like the band mimics it's influences more than builds on them. I think they need another album before they really hit their stride, but this is a step in the right direction.

Holly HoX! 02/14/12 07:48 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by xburningcoffin (Post 103006862)
this album is really great. this review is pretty much spot on. attack on memory deserves the hype, if you are a fan of la dispute i'm not sure you will dig this as much. I would say any nirvana, slint or fugazi fan would be into this record. when I first hear no future/no past all I could think of was in utero


No doubt. This album SOUNDS so much like In Utero it's not even funny. I've listened through the album probably a dozen times, but I know it take longer to actually love this one.

Holly HoX! 02/14/12 07:55 AM

Ugh. Jeremy, I had a review for this almost done, but now I just want to scrap it. This was great.

cwhit412 02/14/12 08:04 AM

Hopefully people will listen because of the La Dispute mention.
Though they sound nothing alike imo. This is years bretter though.

screamoutmyname 02/14/12 09:04 AM

"stay useless" is stuck in my head from 3 weekends ago. best song.