Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound
I’ve got to admit, initially, I wasn’t sure what to make of Cloud Nothings’ new album Life Without Sound. I’d even go so far as to say my first impression was anxious disappointment. “It’s so clean,” I thought. Smoother. Slower. More subdued. And lacking the same threat of imminent rhythmic violence pulsing through the angsty Cleveland, Ohio indie rockers’ 2014 album Here and Nowhere Else.
I wasn’t begrudging Cloud Nothings their success. They worked their arses off touring Here and Nowhere Else. And naturally, this time around, they were always going to sound bigger, bolder and more expensive. But frontman Dylan Baldi’s voice sounds unfamiliar early on, lacking the same desperate rasp and emotional hints of madness I’d come to expect. For lack of a better word, Cloud Nothings sound more… “mature.” Contemplative, that’s it.
But track four, “Darkened Rings,” brings the roof down on that theory. Baldi’s voice sounds raw again. Deeper. Less Ben Gibbard, more Kurt Cobain. And drummer Jayson Gerycz slips back into the busy fills and frantic, aggressive rhythms he brought to Life Without Sounds’ predecessor. It’s a stark, sudden reminder.
After that, things mellow out again, but the melodies and hooks gain momentum and personality. “Modern Act” is an instant classic. A quirky, thoughtful indie rock jam with a bleeding punk rock heart and a chorus that’s catchier than nursery rhymes. Baldi’s voice sounds more natural. You can almost feel his breath in your headphones again, yet the hooks are still poppy enough to infiltrate your brain. “This is more like it,” I thought, as broody, emotional banger “Sight Unseen” builds to its explosive conclusion.
Then penultimate song “Strange Year” heads out in a slower, grungier, more kicking-and-screaming direction that sounds a million miles away from the first three tracks. Before album closer “Realize My Fate” comes on like a funeral procession, as Baldi tackles his own mortality with chugging rhythms, dark melodies, death-marching toms and a mantra that gives way to desperate screams in the dark. It’s an intense, abrupt and final way to bring things to an end.
Life Without Sound definitely peaks towards the middle, where it blends the sweet pop sound of the first few songs and the gutsy, angst-ridden malaise of Here and Nowhere Else perfectly. But there’s enough going on to get into your head, get into your blood and make you feel what they’re feeling.