Dylan Baldi and company returned with their fourth studio album this month, and man was it a welcome return. Music is no exception to the idea that everything has become “so politicized” these days – even politics, jeez! – and in this disturbing state of flux, I must add that it’s for good reason. That abundance of doom and gloom can have a weighty, paralyzing effect if exposed to it for too long, though. So while there’s a place for music in spite of the inauguration or “inspired by reading about accelerationist theory,” sometimes it’s just delightfully refreshing and cathartic to escape into apolitical power chords and crashing cymbals.
A certain lyric from Cloud Nothings’ previous album Here and Nowhere Else would seem to be eerily prescient of the current political climate – “New creeps gonna rule the nation / I don’t like that sound” – but Baldi apologized off the bat in 2014 that his lyric was a personally meaningless placeholder that was ultimately left in. Also misleading in a sense, Baldi headline quotes from this album cycle (“I don’t feel like I’ve wasted my life anymore”) obscure the fact that he was saying things like “I wasn’t as depressed as I was when I was making the last album” soon after Here and Nowhere Else. Still, Life Without Sound is unequivocally lighter than any of their previous works. Hell, “Things Are Right With You” explicitly states “Feel right, feel right, feel right / Feel lighter,” to give a more obvious example aside from brighter guitar work on the likes of “Modern Act” and twinkling piano keys (piano keys!) that commence album-opener “Up To The Surface.”
A parallel can be drawn between Here and Nowhere Else‘s epiphanic self-improvement maxim “I’m learning how to be here and nowhere else / How to focus on what I can do myself” and Life Without Sound‘s “Saw what I’d done and who I’d be / I was uncomfortable with me,” but the latter album again proves more upbeat and further removed from these 20-something existential crises, even as Baldi only just begins the second half of his third decade. The poppier bookends of Here and Nowhere Else (“Now Hear In,” “Quieter Today,” “I’m Not Part of Me”) devolved into the heavier aspects of the album’s core, highlighted by the unintelligible screaming on “Just See Fear” and harsh “swallow” bridge on “Giving In To Seeing.” Life Without Sound, meanwhile, places the blissful “Enter Entirely” at its epicenter, a near-perfect five-minutes whose second half features an incredible sequence from guitar solo, to the most subdued vocals on the album, which eventually crescendo and lead into a second, more raucous guitar solo.
Even in their darker moments, Cloud Nothings take punk structure and imbue it with a heavy dose of melody. Every verse, every lyric that comes out of Baldi’s mouth sounds like it could be – or is – one of several choruses, while the driving instrumentals carry that momentum with force for some of the best, catchiest, quick-fire rock that you’ll find, this year or otherwise.
2017 isn’t supposed to be a year for guitar music, but 2017 is supposed to be about doing the opposite of what you’re told you’re supposed to do, or so I’m told.
Other Notable Releases
Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart of Life
Allison Crutchfield – Tourist In This Town
Migos – Culture
Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
Ty Segall – Ty Segall